Food, Freedom & the Whole30 with Melissa Hartwig - Jen Hatmaker

Food, Freedom & the Whole30 with Melissa Hartwig

Episode 03

The Whole30. You’ve done it. Jen’s done it. Someone you know is on it right now. Melissa Hartwig is the co-founder of this wildly successful dietary program that has helped millions of people transform their health, habits and relationship with food. Melissa tells the story of how her personal 30-day dietary and lifestyle experiment provided the basis for the Whole30 movement, and shares with Jen her journey from the lows of drug and alcohol addiction to the heights of becoming a health and lifestyle maven. This podcast calls for a cake (made with almond flour and no gluten or sugar, of course!)!

Episode Transcript

Narrator:  Welcome to the “For the Love Podcast” with bestselling author Jen Hatmaker.  Come on in, and join us for a chat with Jen and friends about all the things we love. Now, here’s Jen.

Jen:  ?Hey everybody. This is Jen…Welcome to our continuing series here on the For The Love Podcast, and this series is super fun; “For The Love Of Moxie.”  I’m loving this series, it’s loosely based on my latest book Of Mess and Moxie, and this series is  celebrating women who have it in spades. I mean they are just showing up for their lives in the most extraordinary ways. They are building beautiful things, beautiful spaces, beautiful companies, beautiful ministries, and it’s just so exciting to put them in front of you.

So today’s guest is no different.  She’s a pioneer, literally in the world of healthy eating, and so many people, including yours truly here, have followed in her footsteps. But she is the original, so seriously. Not only has she created really a whole new category of healthy eating, but her own story is amazing. She’s an overcomer, really. I can’t wait for you to hear her talk about it. She has overcome some really challenging circumstances and then built something incredible out of the rubble–you’re going to love it. She’s a certified sports nutritionist. Her specialty is helping change people’s entire relationship with food and it turns into these lifelong healthy eating habits. This is going to give it away but she’s the co-creator of the original Whole30 program, four time New York Times best selling author, and she’s been everywhere; she’s been on every show–Dr. Oz, Good Morning America. ?She has been in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Details, Shape; everything. Self–all the things. All the publications because she’s amazing. She’s presented more than 150 health and nutritional seminars around the world and she’s an amazing keynote speaker on the circuit right now. She talks about social media, and branding, and health trends, entrepreneurship. She’s kind of the whole package, so I’m so thrilled to welcome the Whole30 queen herself to the podcast–Melissa Hartwig. Hope you enjoy our conversation. I absolutely know that you’re going to.

?I am super glad everybody, to welcome the amazing Melissa to the show. Welcome welcome, welcome!

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Melissa:  Hello, I’ve been so excited to talk to you. So excited.

Jen: You know, I’m just so happy that we’re getting this voice-to-voice moment. You’ve just been a real voice in my head the last few months and so, this just feels right. Also, welcome home. You just got back.

Melissa: ?I did, I did. Two weeks; I was in Norway hiking for a week, and then I went to Sweden to do some yoga and training stuff with friends. So yes, I just got back.

Jen: Was it bananas?

Melissa: It was. I cried my way through all of Norway, that is how pretty it was. Like, talk about being in touch with God and church? Oh my goodness, it was unbelievable. A once in a lifetime experience, except I’m definitely going to go back, so it will be multiple times. ?

Jen: You had like– I followed your trip online–you made friends over there right through the Internet–Is that how this started?

Melissa:  I did. I was hiking in Sedona two years ago with my sister, and we were sitting having dinner one night, and these two guys walk in and sit down at the bar next to us.  We start talking, and they were from Norway, in the U.S. on a trip. I spent three hours talking to them, and at the end of the chat they were like, “You should come to Norway sometime, it’s really pretty,” and I was like, “Cool!”  ?

?I kept in touch with one of them on social, and sent him a note about six months ago and said, “Hey, remember when you said I should come? I’m going to come!” He helped me with this giant itinerary, he helped me figure out what to see and what to do. I had dinner with him two nights while I was there. All through the power of social media. ?

Jen: That is so awesome. I like the adventurous spirit behind that. You know what, “You told me that I should come, and I’m coming”. So it’s one of those things a lot of us would say we were going to do, and never do.

Melissa: I have very little tolerance in my life at this point for like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so great. We should get together, Yeah, we should get together,” and then no one does anything. So when you say to me, “Hey, we should do a podcast,” I’m like, “Cool, here’s my calendar! How’s Wednesday for you?” Like I said, if I want to do it, I act on it, because otherwise those opportunities just go by you.

Jen: I know, you’re amazing.  I’ve learned that discipline just from watching you. We’re obviously going to get into the amazing empire that you have built. It is unbelievable, but I want to talk about something really, really important first.

Melissa: OK.

Jen: I want to talk about your hair and your teeth. We’ve got to start there. Hair and teeth, in that order. I need you to just—listeners, right now, real quick you might need to pause the podcast and look at Melissa’s picture–like that’s what her hair looks like. All the time–In the gym, in the mountains. I don’t understand it. Are you a wizard? Do you know that my hair has its own Instagram account, Jen?

Jen: I don’t know that.

Melissa:  It does, it does. I will post this really long Instagram caption, this heartfelt post about something really important to me, and the comments will be, “Oh my god, how do you curl your hair?” I do have hair extensions which actually makes things a little bit easier. Like it gives it a little more manageability. But I will just say that I am #blessed with good hair. It does as its told, it stays the way I want it to stay. I can be hiking, like 28 kilometers in the rain in Norway and then go to dinner after, and it still looks ok. just like it. I’m just very lucky.

Jen: It’s so weird. I have dreams about your hair. I’m a person that notices teeth, and I’m telling you, your parents paid some dollars for your choppers. They are perfect.

Melissa: They are perfect, but we did pay some dollars for them.  I had worked with a dentist in Santa Monica last year on some TMJ treatments, because I have really bad TMJ. My jaw was dislocating randomly during conversations and eating. It’s not that fun. So I worked with a dentist, and part of the treatment is like building up your bite. So long story short, I have like veneers over my teeth.

Jen:  How’s your jaw problem. Is it TMJ. That’s what it is right? TMJ?

Melissa: Yeah it’s way better after the treatment. Got way better. It’s not popping, it’s not locking, it’s not clicking– like it is way better. Thank goodness, and I avoided surgery.

Jen: Oh my gosh, and you got those teeth out of it. They are so pretty that I struggle to like listen to what your mouth is saying because I just want to look at your teeth and your hair. OK. Let’s get into this. As you know, as you very well know, I am a recent Whole30 graduate.

Melissa:  Yes!

Jen:  And I remember when I first; I don’t know where I’ve been, I guess under a rock, I have no idea. But earlier in the spring I just felt terrible. I’ve got some weird issues. I’ve got a weird little auto-immune thing that’s the most random thing you ever heard of, and just everything was gross. So I remember asking the Internet “What do I do? I think I’ve got some inflammation problems, I’ve got this hand thing,” and the internet gave me Whole30, which somehow I didn’t know about. I remember the first time I went to the Whole30 website and I was reading through it; just trying to get a feel for it, and I asked online, “Who wrote this copy–like this is hilarious–and whoever wrote this, I would like to force them to be my friend.” You know what’s funny, I kind of assumed it was a man. I don’t know why, because it had this biting, hilarious, snarky way about it. Sometimes women are really precious in this area, do you know what I mean?

Melissa: Oh, I do. ?

Jen:  We coddle one another; “Just try your best, Snowflake,” and you are like, “This is not hard. Cancer’s hard,” and I’m like,”Oh my gosh this person is my spirit animal.” It was you! It’s amazing, it was absolutely amazing and I loved Whole30. I really did. You saw me go through it, but I felt good.  I felt results really quickly, and they were real, not exaggerated. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I dropped some pounds too, so whatever, I did. It was really, really good for my body. So number one; thank you for creating this amazing program. What does it feel like to be you, and know that literally millions and millions of people like me, like I’m such an ordinary person, have basically re-invented the way that they approach food, thanks to you?

Melissa:  First of all, I loved following your journey so much.  I agree, like we are definitely each other’s spirit animals, because your writing and the way you describe some of your Whole30 experiences had me like rolling in my chair. But you know, I think I get very caught up in the day-to-day though; like what resource can I create today? How am I going to respond to this person? I need to do this write-up because this person is asking for help, and I think it would benefit a lot of people. Am I taking care of my team, and am I taking care of my community? It’s very rare that I consciously take a step back and look at the breadth and depth of what we’ve accomplished with the program. When I do, I’m immediately; like I fall down overwhelmed.

Jen: Totally.

Melissa: It’s so much. You know, you talk about millions of people changing their lives, like I so rarely think about it from that perspective, but it’s true. I mean the program has helped so many people completely redefine their relationship with food, radically transform their health, create new healthy habits–I’m overwhelmed.  It’s amazing and it is exactly what I was put on this earth to do.

Jen:  I don’t doubt that for a second. I bet it does feel overwhelming in the best possible way. It’s so interesting, because from an outsider’s perspective looking in, now that I’m like clued in, Whole30 is a phenomenon. I mean it’s like this cultural phenomena, and everybody knows what it is. ?Everybody’s heard of it. You’re in Whole Foods for crying out loud.

You’ve got companies who are doing Whole30 approved products, which is like magic happiness when you’re trying to stay compliant, but you do not have time to make homemade mayonnaise.  And of course, you’re mentioned on my favorite show Kimmy Schmidt, so that’s arriving in my in my textbook. But I mean seriously that’s bananas, that’s bonkers.

I wonder what your take is on this is, because Whole30 is working that well for so many people that are different. You’re not just hitting a niche with the nutritionist crowd, or the young gym people, although you have them too. I mean it’s so wide, it’s men, it’s women, it’s young, it’s old. We’re athletic, we’re not athletic–we’re kind of every brand of human being that has found a lot of success with Whole30. Why? Why, why, why? How have you managed to do this? Why do you think it’s working for so many of us?

Melissa:  I mean, I think at its heart, it’s because the program is just really good. We’ve dialed it in, you know. It was created in 2009 and the rules have changed slightly, and we’ve definitely dialed in the support, and kind of the way we described the program, and the voice of the program–but at its heart, it just works really well. I think people overlook that sometimes. They see a really strong social media presence, and community engagement, and maybe some good branding, or good marketing, and they think like, “oh, that’s amazing–that’s how you’ve grown the program.” But at its heart, you have to have something that’s good and that works for people. Without that, all of the marketing and social stuff in the world is not going to get you anywhere, it’s not going to build that loyal kind of community.

Social media has helped a ton. You know, I think when someone is new to the Whole30, and they hear a description from someone else, or they read a little bit about it maybe in a mainstream publication that didn’t speak of it favorably, they can get some misconceptions about the program. But when you go to the Whole30 Instagram page, and you see real people making real changes—real, whole, nutrient-dense food, big meals, good community engagement–like a really supportive, welcoming, positive, community, I think that goes a really long way towards getting people comfortable with the idea of taking the program on.

Jen: It did for me. That’s what pulled me in and kept me. So, I want to go backwards to those beginning days, because it’s really something you’ve done here, but just for anybody listening who’s isn’t exactly sure what we’re talking about, will you just give like a really high-level description of the Whole30 and is sort of its parameters and all that. So they kind of know what we’re talking about.

Melissa: Yes. So you can think of the Whole30 like pushing the reset button with your health, your habits, and your relationship with food. So for 30 days, you’ll eliminate foods that the scientific literature and our clinical experience have shown to be really commonly problematic to varying degrees, across a broad range of people. Foods that impact your cravings, and emotional relationship with food, your metabolism, your digestion, and your immune system. You’re going to pull those foods out for 30 days, and see what changes. What improves in the absence of these potentially problematic foods?  Things like energy, digestion, sleep, cravings, skin, aches and pains joints; the list goes on and on. At the end of the 30 days you’ll then reintroduce those foods very carefully and systematically one at a time like a scientific experiment and see what changes.

So if you pull dairy out, and your skin clears up, and at the end of that 30 days, you put it back in, and your skin breaks out, it gives you really valuable information about how that food engages individually with you. What the protocol does, this short term reset, it helps you figure out how the food you’ve been eating is impacting you, and create the perfect diet for you long term; because there is no one size fits all.

Jen:  So you bring up an interesting point. It’s a 30-day sort of elimination program. What do you do? Because of course, you’ve been on this now for what; heck, eight years almost?

Melissa: Yes, since like 2009. Are there any of those elements that you’ve reintroduced or do you just stick to Whole30 100 percent, or more or less 100 percent.

Melissa: No, it’s not the whole 365. I don’t want everyone to stay on the Whole30 forever and ever, because you will miss out on foods that are culturally significant. Maybe you have special family traditions that are just so plain delicious, that you don’t want to miss out on them. So after your 30 days, I practice what we call “food freedom,” which is taking the information I learned on the program through the elimination and reintroduction– and I’ve done seven or eight Whole30s–and making my own perfect diet based on that. So when I go to eat sushi, I have white rice on my sushi, and I had hummus with my breakfast this morning, and I love Justin’s peanut butter cups, and occasionally I’ll drink tequila and soda. But you know, these are things that I’ve decided are worth it. I know exactly how much I can consume and how often I can get away with it and still look and feel exactly as awesome as I want to look and feel. So I’ve created this diet that works perfectly for me.

Jen: Did you find any elements that were an absolute no for you; like this just should not be reintroduced because it makes me feel that bad?

Melissa: Yes. Soft cheeses, like goat cheese. I miss goat cheese so much, but when I reintroduced it, it was like an alien in my belly.  It was like so comfortable.

Jen:  It’s not worth it.

Melissa: It’s not worth it. And, gluten is really rarely worth it. So it has to be really special for me to reintroduce that, because it makes me really bloated and I get like really mentally foggy. So, some things are easier than others.

Jen: That mental fog lift was one of the most surprising results of Whole30. That’s not why I went into it; my body did not feel good, and my joints did not feel good, and I was not happy with just any of it. But I was shocked, what happened to me at about the 1 o’clock mark in the afternoon, when typically, I’m like, “Well, I guess my day’s done because I can’t think of anything else to say– I just can’t. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t really know why I have a job.” Some point, the midway point on Whole30, it was pretty startling to notice that right there in the afternoon I had the kind of, I guess, a second wind. I just didn’t lose my first wind, and that was amazing and surprising, among other things.

Jen:  If you will allow us to go backwards just a little bit. I would love for you to share with everybody, if you don’t mind, kind of about your life before this; before your journey toward healthy living. This whole series is called “For the Love of Moxie,” and I really wanted to have women on who epitomize the word –that life was hard. Life was messy; you had struggle, or suffering, or pain, and and there was this “something” in you that just rose up strong and courageous; with grit. You’ve really done this, sister, like you have overcome obstacles and turned them into just smashing victories. So, can you talk a little bit about your life before this, and your decisions to sort of turn your own health and even really your whole life around?

Melissa:  Yeah, I mean I feel a little bit like my teen and college years were like just an ABC After School Special of like everything that you could do wrong; I think I did. When I was a teenager, I experienced some childhood trauma. As a result of like not wanting to deal with that, or process that, I started using drugs when I was in college. So my freshman year I started using and my use escalated pretty significantly by my junior year. I had to drop out of school. Basically, I used for five years. I was an addict. I didn’t have a drug of choice, I used anything and everything I could get my hands on and I spent about five years of my life high, 24/7.

I was very highly-functional for much of it. So, I held the job down. I kind of maintained an apartment, although I was always behind in rent. I kind of maintained family, and friend relationships– although towards the end, it was very clear that something was terribly wrong. At some point I had a live-in boyfriend who really started to realize how bad things had gotten. At one point he said to me, “You know, either tonight you’re going to go to rehab, or I’m leaving.” I’m going to tell you, right now in that moment–like that was divine intervention. I had a moment where I just had clarity–the kind of clarity that only comes from God stepping in and saying, “I’m going to lead you here ‘cause you need help.”

So I went to rehab, and I got clean. I’ve been clean for 18 years–almost 18 years now. But you know, it’s obviously a really long, hard, road. When I got out of rehab. I realized that to be successful–and I had one kind of relapse–so I was clean for a year, I relapsed, and then I really pulled it together. That was the point. The relapse scared the crap out of me so hard, that it came on so fast, that I realized I had to change everything about my life to become a whole new person. I had to lose the idea that I was this useless, worthless, piece-of-crap druggie, and I had to embrace this growth mindset where I was a healthy person, with healthy habits. So, I started paying attention to what I ate. I joined a gym, I met a group of girls at the gym, and we started running together. We did some triathlons. I started going to bed early, I got a new job and really started kicking butt in my new job. I changed the music I listened to, I moved cities–like I did everything to reinvent myself; to kind of protect myself from backsliding into that old behavior.  That’s really where my journey to health, and fitness, and wellness began.

Jen: How did this parlay into food and nutrition? When did this start playing a role? When did that capture your imagination?

Melissa: So I think you know, with any addict, you move from one addictive behavior kind of into another, and it’s a very common phenomenon. I definitely over-exercised and over-trained in the beginning, but that modulated itself really well and everyone was telling me that I was the healthiest person they know. I brought my own lunches, I made my own dinner, I did meal prep. I felt like my relationship with food was great because, I was so “healthy.” But what I didn’t realize at the time, until I did my first Whole30, was that I was using food in a similar way that I used to use drugs; as comfort, as reward, self-soothing, as pleasure, as punishment, and I never had an eating disorder or anything, but my relationship with food was not healthy. So when my co-founder and I created the Whole30 back in 2009, kind of on a whim, we had gone to one of Rob Wolff’s nutrition seminars–he was talking about the benefits of a 30-day kind of dietary experiment. My co-founder had been doing a bunch of research into dietary impact on inflammation in the body, and it was kind of one of those like, “Well let’s just try this super squeaky clean diet thing for 30 days and see what happened” and in those 30 days I realize that my relationship with food was nowhere near as healthy as I had imagined. In the absence of those foods that I used to use to comfort, and reward, and punish, and self-soothe–what was I going to do? I had to create new routines and new ways to comfort, and reward, and self-soothe.

It was such a profoundly transformative experience for me; it permanently transformed my relationship with food from that one 30-day experiment, and now is to the point where I was like; I need to share this and write about it on my blog.

Jen:  You really built that emotional component into the program. I mean so much so, that you’re like “Do not get on the scale; this is not about watching the scale go up or down.” I mean you really, really did sort of force everyone’s hand to deeply consider “What are you eating and why? What are you trying to stuff down?” I didn’t even want to care about that, and you made me.

?So let me ask you this. Not only did you turn your your actual life around; your health, your body, your mind, your entire trajectory. That’s one thing. Like a bunch of people can probably go to a seminar, do their own 30-day deal, and be like “Wow, I am really gonna..”. But you built an insane company on it too. I mean–unbelievable. So you’ve got this this other track here, that you decided to put your energy into, to build what is now like this enormous, phenomenal brand. Can you talk about the early season of; I mean, how did this happen? How on earth are you are you leading this enormous charge now? Did it just start with a Facebook post? Like what on earth? Can you talk through the process of building this company?

Melissa:  Yeah, I mean I started with–I had a blog—a personal blog called Urban gets Diesel; Urban is my maiden name–and it was all about my training and my eating. After I did this 30-day experiment, I posted about the experiment on my blog and said “here’s what I did, here’s–I mean the rules were super roughly outlined, like there was basically no support, no nothing. It was like “Hey, here’s what I did, does anyone want to do it?”  Several hundred people were like, “Yeah, I kind of want to try it, it sounds really good.” So I led people through the program for 30 days, and they experienced a really amazing set of results that were this awesome blend of what I had experienced, and the physical transformation that my co-founder had experienced. You get a hundred people who come back with pretty similar results to a dietary protocol, and you’re like  “Oh, we might be on to something.” So word kind of spread, and we started traveling from Crossfit gym to Crossfit gym, because I was really entrenched in the CrossFit community at the time; giving these seminars and gave a ton of stuff– I mean we just gave everything away for free. The program was free. I started creating resources for it. I was writing blog posts for it, we were traveling for these seminars on our own time on the weekends, and that was really like how everything began and how it grew.

My philosophy has always been, and continues to be “Serve the community.” If you serve the community, the business opportunities will come. But it does not work the other way around. So everything we do is like, “Is this serving you? Is this resource going to benefit you? Is it going to help you share the program with friends and family? Is that going to make you more successful in life after your Whole30?” I’m a huge believer in the idea of that this health and wellness stuff should be as accessible as possible, so we’ve got a bunch of books out now, and some things you can buy to support yourself on the journey.  But the program’s still free. The resources are still free. I’m still writing articles and answering “Dear Melissa” questions, and publishing free newsletter,  and moderating a forum where people can connect, and get answers. You don’t have to buy anything, you can just come and change your life. That’s been a huge kind of tenet of the program since day one.

Jen: I love that–I really respect that. How did some of the commercial stuff come your way? Like how did you get your first cookbook? Because that was quite an uptick in your influence, in your community. I mean, that really helped grow the Whole30 brand too.

Melissa:  So we, my co-founder and I, were traveling three weekends a month for maybe two years doing these seminars, and we were presenting all these seminars at CrossFit gyms about the Whole30, and healthy eating, and our good food standards. At some point in 2010 or 2011, a publisher, a small publisher out of Las Vegas approached us and said, “Do you guys want to write a book? We were like, “Oh, that’s cool– like instead of reaching 150 people on the weekend, we could reach thousands of people with the book.” What we thought was– this is so funny to say now– we thought, “We’ll put everything we know about Whole30 and nutrition into the book, and then we can start talking about other stuff –we can talk about sleep, and exercise, and social. “ You know there was a lot of stuff, that especially Dallas, my co-founder, was interested in. So we wrote It Starts With Food. It published in 2012, and it was incredibly well-received, and that is where the media–that’s kind of where we had our first national media hit with Good Morning America. People started taking notice of our social media profile, but it was really with the publishing of that book that everything started to grow.

Jen: What, so far to date, has been the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do with Whole30? The neatest interview, or connection, or conference or just whatever?

Melissa:  Ooh. I mean I’ve done some really big national media shows, so you know The View, and Dr. Oz, and Marilyn Dennis, and Canada, and like those were really fun and cool. What I like the most about those is that people–

I get a lot of people who say, “I’ve been telling my mom about the Whole30 forever, and she won’t listen to me, but she saw you on Dr. Oz, and now she’s doing the program. So I love that. I think that’s great.?

Jen: Totally.

Melissa: But I think some of my absolute favorite, like the coolest things I get to do are to go out and do these book signings, and tours, and meet hundreds of people at a time, and listen to every single one of them tell me how they have successfully changed their life with the program. That’s the coolest thing I do; is meet one-on-one with people in the community.

Jen: That’s got to be your fuel. I mean, it’s why you started. So, that’s surely always going to be the engine, that’s absolutely the engine behind what I do as well. So if our work is void of human attachment or human flourishing, let’s just quit. It’s too much work. If that’s not the case, if that’s not what gets us out of bed in the morning and gets our our blood racing; I am 100 percent with you. One thing that I super love about Whole30–so you know that I love food. I really do. I love to cook, and I love flavor. I like spicy. Food is a big part of our life; both in our family and in our friend group, and in our community.  So one of my favorite things about Whole30 is that it does not rob me of the opportunity to eat delicious things, or to feed people well. I cook for a lot of people, and I like to host, and I’m in a supper club; we gather around the table as a lifestyle. If I felt like I was destined to just put bland fish and steamed cauliflower on a plate for the rest of my life, I would die. So that is not the case. I’m telling you, you know I feel this way. In fact, we’re going to get to it. We’re going to talk about your latest book in a minute. But I endorsed it wholeheartedly and enthusiastically by saying. “I could make every recipe you’ve ever given, that I’ve ever written down, and I would not even; it would not occur to me that something was missing.

Melissa: Yes.

Jen: They’re so delicious. They’re so delicious and I really love that you prioritize that. You prioritize taste, and flavor, and that we can do this in our real lives with the people that live with us and people that come to our houses. I appreciate that.

Read more about Jen’s experience with Whole30

      1. The beginning of my journey
      2. A game-changing discovery
      3. Today’s winning recipe – chorizo sweet potato frittata with caramelized onions
      4. Update from Week 2
      5. Making it beyond the “Most Likely To Quit” days 
      6. Tiger’s blood in my veins
      7. The home stretch
      8. Jen Hatmaker’s 80/20 Method and a recipe – Chicken salad Jen’s way
      9. Because I love you – Shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping
      10. (Recap) Whole30: A Lazy Girl’s Tale

Have you just always loved food like that? That was obviously important to you, because everything is packed with flavor.

Melissa:  It’s so funny because, so I mean, I do love food. I love good food. I absolutely love cooking and meal prep. It is one of the most self-nourishing activities that I do. But I also could eat the same thing every day for like seven or eight days in a row, and I would be happy, too. I don’t require like a ton of variety.

I think in thinking about how we wanted to grow and expand the program, and I give a ton of credit to the Whole30 bloggers, the food bloggers, the recipe creatives that we host on the Whole30 recipes channel–Whole30 is literally the “anti-diet.” You are not counting, you’re not weighing, you’re not measuring, you’re not deprived. There’s no caloric restriction, there’s no flavor restriction.  The more satisfying, and delicious, and nourishing your food can be, the more likely you are to, not only stick with the program, but want to eat like that when the program is over and embrace the new healthy habits that you’ve built on the program with the kinds of foods that you’re eating. So it will be a much harder sell if I was like, “You can eat steamed chicken and broccoli for 30 days.” But man, our recipe creatives kill it. They are coming up stuff, — it’s exactly what you said, you would serve this to anybody, anywhere, anytime and nobody would think anything was missing.

Jen: 100 percent.  I’m hosting our next supper club, and four out of the eight of us are going to be on Whole30 at the time that they’re coming over, and I’m like, “Guys, no problem. I got this in hand. We’re even going to have dessert, like nobody’s going to be sad.” The other four of us are not even gonna know, so let’s not even tell them.

So you know, because you’re in charge here, what some are going to say. “This is hard, this is hard, this is hard”. Well yeah, because but it’s not that hard, cancer’s hard. I always go back to your copy–it’s the best. Can you talk about some of your best hacks like for somebody who’s coming into Whole30–brand new, fresh, and maybe maybe all the prep is overwhelming, or they’re not used to cooking from scratch, or some of the ingredients are unfamiliar, or they’re just trying to kind of ease in here in the first few days. What would be your best advice for like, “Here you go, Muffin, just come on into the community, and here’s my tips for getting through the first week.”

Melissa: I probably say that I wish I had a dollar for every time I said “planning and preparation on the Whole30 are key; planning and prep.” So you know, having a meal plan for at least the first few days–like the brain really likes a plan. Without a plan, your brain; kind of the information, like the nervousness, the anxiety will just ping-pong around, and when under stress, your brain always wants to revert to what is familiar, and what is easy, and that is ordering take-out from the local pizza place. So, have a plan and feel like you are prepared; you know, come into the community, Look at some of the recipes, use some of our books, or keep it super super simple, and just make healthy ingredients and have them on hand. Hard boil some eggs, make a protein salad, have some roasted veggies on hand. Figure out what you’re going to eat for the first couple of days; prep some emergency food. Having a plan and knowing that you always have Whole30-compliant food at the ready, is going to go a huge way towards alleviating a lot of that nervousness.

The second really big piece is; get some social support. So whether that’s in person, or you’re doing the program with a friend, or a family member, or your church group, or your gym. If you don’t have anyone at home that you’re doing it with, you’ve got to come to our community, come in and make a Whole30 buddy in our forum, join our social media community, get the support, the accountability, the motivation that you need. Surround yourself with healthy, like-minded people who are embracing their growth mindset, and that will go a huge way towards you sticking to your commitment, especially for the first three days when you know the going can get tough.

Jen: Totally. I did both of those and it made all the difference in the world. It was interesting, because in the 30 days that I did Whole30, if you were to look to my calendar you would have said–this is a terrible idea, Jen. I was on the road a bunch, I was invited to the Food and Wine Festival, I was traveling. I just I had these special events that were food-related. The thing is that I learned at the end of it, having gone into those environments where normally it would just be like “wheels off,” right? Just absolutely no restraint–that this is doable. It actually is. Nobody can make you eat something you don’t want to. Nobody says, “Oh, why aren’t you having a glass of wine?” It doesn’t matter. Everybody’s fine. It’s just actually possible; as is the prep, as is the cooking. Everything that feels daunting about something like Whole30, it actually isn’t. It’s really within our capabilities, it’s within our reach. If you can chop an onion, you can do this. So, I think there was this real sense of accomplishment.

I mean really, to have seen through the 30 days without a blip, there’s something that strengthened in my mind, not just in my body at the end of the 30 days.  So, let me ask you, if we were in your kitchen, if we were in your house, in general; what is the non-compliant like the non Whole30 food that you like the most? What’s the thing that you probably don’t even keep on hand because it’s too hard to resist?

Melissa:  I really don’t have stuff that I can’t keep on hand. The closest thing would be like tortilla chips and salsa. I kind of just like–when there’s a bag of tortilla chips open I kind of just like go to town with them. But I had one experience with these kind of, like these alternative-flour tortilla chips, and I ended up being like kind of slamming the whole bag in one sitting. It was such a bad, not-worth-it experience, that like I’m over it now. So I had tortilla chips the other night at a Mexican place, and I ate a couple, and it was good. So I don’t really have anything like I can’t keep at home anymore. I have Justin’s peanut butter cups on hand at all times, and I love those, you know. That’s my jam. That’s all that matters. But everyone knows my love for Cadbury Cream Eggs. My mom sends me a four-pack every Easter. I think I still have like three of them in my tub in my pantry, but I keep those. There’s almost always hummus in my freezer. I’ve got these maple chicken sausage that I like for sort of emergency proteins, like you know the maple stuff, but like mostly my stuff is relatively boring. If hummus is the worst thing in your diet, I feel like you’re probably doing OK. .

Jen:  Seriously. What would you say–if you could had five things; if you’re going to pick five Whole30-approved food-anything–food items or elements or ingredients, what would it be if you only had five to choose?

Melissa:  Okay, so everyone needs to have ghee on hand. So whether you make it yourself from, you know make yourself by melting butter down, or you’re buying one of our Whole30 approved ghee products that you can find basically any grocery store now or any health store. It’s like super amazing for cooking. You can put it on your veggies, on your salmon, and it just adds like so much flavor. So you’ve got to have ghee. You definitely need to have eggs on hand. I mean people, eggs are just quick and easy, you can turn them into a frittata, you can use them to thicken salmon cakes or meatballs, but like you have to have eggs on hand at all times. You definitely need some kind of canned protein. So it’s either like canned salmon, canned tuna, canned chicken, for making really quick and easy like protein salads or just if you need some kind of protein on-the-go.

You need Whole30 mayo. Always. Always.  Whether you’re making your own, because it is super easy, and will also make you feel like a total-kitchen-rockstar to make your own mayo, or whether you’re buying the Primal Kitchen Whole30-approved mayo–I feel like you need mayo in your life. The other kind of favorite is just hot sauce. You can take like any old weird meal and throw some hot sauce on it and some lime juice and it’s just super exciting. ?

Jen:  It’s so true. You give us a lot of suggestions, too. So that’s what I was saying when there’s just not a sacrifice to flavor there’s this. There are all these ways to still be really healthy and everything’s punchy, or it’s spicy, or it’s tangy, or it’s just creamy and I mean I went through, I don’t even know how much ghee–that was amazing. I can’t believe I’ve never used that before, but it’s what I use exclusively now.

OK. One more question for you before we do like the little wrap up.  So lot of people did Whole30 more than once. You said you’ve done it so many times, and just kind of as a reset go back in and do it sort of hardcore for 30 days and then reintroduce after that. So you’re coming out with another book that really helps us take a peek at our own food addictions, and how we can have you know, what you call food freedom. After doing a little jump start with Whole30 already, can you talk about what that is? Can you talk about the new book? Can you talk about this new project?

Melissa: Well, Food Freedom Forever was my last release so it came out at the end of last year and it is the book that I feel the most closely emotionally connected to, like through the process of writing Food Freedom Forever, I developed an even healthier more relaxed relationship with food myself.  Having to kind of explain what I think is food freedom, and how to attain that in your everyday life. This idea that you are in control of food; food is not in control of you, and you just live your healthy balanced post-Whole30 diet, figuring out what’s worth it for you, making sure that you’re always looking and feeling exactly as good as you want to look and feel. But you know the idea of like finding balance or figuring it out for yourself sounds good, but people really need a structured plan for how to get there.

So Food Freedom Foreveroffers a three-part plan.  After your Whole30, here is how you create the perfect diet for you. Live in that healthy balance, however you decide to ascribe that and then if you start to fall off the rails; when you start to fall off the rails because of a vacation, or a stressful event, or a holiday season, or just because you kind of slow slide into old habits–how to come back and reset again and get back to that place of food freedom without beating yourself up, without the guilt, without the shame, without the rebounding.


Jen: I think this is one of the things that sets you apart is this tender care of our thoughts about food, our thoughts about ourselves; it is so incredibly unhealthy in our generation.  Everything we’ve ever been told about food and our bodies is basically garbage. So, I really, really appreciate your approach here to help transform our our way of thinking, which really transforms our way of living. That was some of my best takeaways from all of your instruction.  And then, what about your new book?

Melissa: So I actually have two books coming out,

Jen: What in the world? ?

Melissa: I know, I know– it’s like when a woman has a baby and then your publisher is like, “Hey when are you gonna have another baby?,” and I’m like, “Can I just get like five minutes of not having a baby?”  But I have these ideas for books that are so long and I’m so excited. So, one of them is going to be another cookbook–it’s the one that you have reviewed and endorsed and it’s Whole30 Fast and Easy. Because a Whole30 like, you know, you don’t have to spend an hour in the kitchen to have a delicious, gorgeous, nourishing Whole30 meal; so it’s like super short ingredient list. Very little hands on time. It’s slow cooker meals and sheet-pan suppers, so I’m super excited. The recipes are amazing. They did such a good job with that. Then the other book, which I’ve been researching for about two years now, is called Whole30 Day-by-Day. It is a daily guide to your Whole30, including what to expect on every given day, some motivation from me, a habit hack, or a community tip, an FAQ question, and guided reflections for every single day. So it’s like I come to your house every morning and sit on your bed when you wake up and, I’m like, “Hey, Jen, it’s day three of your Whole30, let’s talk about what’s going to happen today” and then at the end of every day, I am still creepily there saying, “Hey here’s, what I want you to think about and reflect upon for both what happened today and tomorrow”. So it’s part, journal, part kind of field manual for the Whole30. It is, I think, going to be instrumental in helping people stay connected to the process and their growth mindset and helping them succeed.

Jen:  Girl that is useful, because you’re right–there are some semi-predictable little patches to hit along the course of Whole30. So having your community online say “Yes, your day 10–this is how you’re going to feel.”  I’m like, “That is how I feel,” it was just amazing just to have somebody else say, “This is normal and it’s going to feel better tomorrow.”

So encouraging, like, “Oh, I won’t always feel ragey,” or you hit this amazing zone where everything just seems so possible, like, “I am on top of the world.”

So let me ask you this as a writer. Were you writing those at the same time?

Melissa: So the cookbook, I have less involvement in, ‘cause I’ve got a team of recipe developers creating the recipes. But yeah, I kind of was, I was writing the intro for the cookbook and some of my favorite fast and easy Whole30 kitchen gear and hacks and techniques, and then, yeah, writing day by day at the same time. This is the second cycle of me working on two books at the same time.

It’s like madness. It’s madness.

Jen:  I know.

Melissa:  I told all my friends and family that if I did this again to smack me.  But when I have an idea about something that I think the community is going to like, you kind of can’t stop me. I get really excited about putting pen to paper.

Jen:  Yeah. That is so true. My people basically hate me when I’m writing one book at a time. So, like if I wrote two that’s it, I’d have to go move to an island.

All right listen. So, this series obviously is “For the Love of Moxie.” We’re asking a couple of questions of each of our guests in this series, because you’re all just so fierce in your own ways. You’ve overcome so much in your own stories, and in your own lives. You’ve built beautiful and creative spaces. I mean really there’s just so much to be inspired by.

Here’s the first question; we’ve all had a lot of moments that we’re proud of and some of them we’re not. Sometimes those end up being the same; just on the same path. You’ve spoken about some others, but is there a specific “messy” moment perhaps that you’ve had in your life that you  powered through, that you dug deep and you can be super specific, and you got on top it—and what did it teach you?

Melissa:  Yes. Yes.  Whew….This is not one of my finer moments. So a few months ago, I put a post up regarding Whole30 and fertility. Someone had become pregnant and they credited the Whole30 program as helping their pre-conception health, and as a result, they’re pregnant; you know their pre-conception health improves, et cetera. The way I phrased it was rather cheeky right? Like, “Oh, we love it when the Whole30 knocks you up.” It’s kind of my it’s kind of my thing. That’s my language. Well, I started to receive a lot of feedback from the community saying “This was incredibly insensitive. I don’t think you’re aware of how many people how many men and women battle infertility, the seriousness of the condition, the fact that no dietary protocol can guarantee conception.” I started getting these messages, and I got a lot of these messages all at once, and my first reaction of course, because I’m human was to get defensive like, “Look, you’re taking this super personally.” I did respond actually to a few DMs rather flippantly, and I’m really ashamed of that.  But that was how I responded initially.

Then, after I received a few more e-mails, I thought, “OK, I need to check myself because I am obviously wrecking myself right now, so let me look into this issue.” So I started to do some research, and I outreached to some fertility experts, and I happened to get, their marketing and PR manager got on the phone with me and explained it and I did like a day’s worth of research, feeling more and more sick to my stomach as I researched, realizing how wrong I got this situation; how poorly I handled it. So I spent a night feeling ill, and the next morning I woke up, and I wrote what is one of the most heartfelt apologies I have ever written.

It was very clear and it was very direct. There were no buts. There were no justifications. There were no defenses. It was to my community, “I am so sorry for how I handled this. Here is everything I am doing to educate myself. Here is what I will do in the future. Here is my commitment to you; to become a better person through this and that was all I can do.  I couldn’t take it back.

Jen: I watched you do that, and I cannot think of a time I respected somebody more. I mean it. I think the way that you came back around is maybe one of the most important things that I’ve seen this year. We’re just in a culture right now where nobody will own anything; nobody will say “I’m sorry”, or “I’m listening” even. My instinct is always defensiveness. This is what I reach for first; it’s my favorite, favorite quality. To be able to lay that down and say “Wait a minute, OK.  I’m going to listen to your story and not just defend mine.” It’s increasingly rare and we need it these days. You set an example for your community, not just in that one issue, but in the way that we engage with each other, the way that we listen to other people’s experiences that don’t match up with ours. I just felt like I was really proud of you. I was so proud of the way you came back around in humility and research. I mean you didn’t phone it in. You looked stuff up. You came back with knowledge, and I was really moved by that, Melissa. I thought that was just so amazing if I didn’t already believe in you. I was sold that day.

So listen here’s the second question. I obviously think you have a lot of moxie. Can you tell us one last thing here—what was a time in your life you felt like you embodied the word “moxie”? Just something you were really proud of –that this was a moment where I displayed every bit of grit, every bit of pluck, every sort of, every bit of moxie I’ve ever had and you walked away really proud.

Melissa: Yeah, this was during my divorce and my business split which were one in the same; my business partner was my ex husband. That was probably one of the most difficult times of my life.  You’re not only going through divorce, you’re going through a business split, and then you’re not only doing that, but you’re doing it relatively publicly. I had done a lot of therapy, I had done a lot of self-help. I felt like I was at this turning point in my life where I could take all of the therapy I had done and all of the lessons I had learned, and like actually apply it, or I was going to let this time period run me over. And I made a very conscious decision, that despite all of the chaos in my life and all the really awful things that were going on, because any divorce is always hard, and a business split is always hard, that I was going to be happy, and I was. There’s so much discord to say that it was the worst time of my life and one of the most stressful experiences, but I was also happier than I had ever been.

It was a very conscious and deliberate and purposeful decision to be happy despite everything that was going on; to find ways to kind of not let my story run me over, and acknowledge what was actually happening. I wasn’t like living in Lala-Land pretending like it wasn’t happening, I was actually handling it, and then choosing to find joy and like the small moments that I had.  And I’m really proud of how I handled it.

Jen: That’s beautiful. And I think that’s it. I mean because the truth is, life is hard and it’s hard for all of us. You know there’s not a single one of us who’s going to get out of this thing unscathed.

Melissa: Yes.

Jen: And we really are going to struggle. But even in the middle of that, it is possible to look around and say “I’m grateful for this and that, for this—this is a great joy in my life. This is a great treasure. I’m going to choose to not let the tail wag the dog here, but rather show up for my life every day, even in the midst of struggle. I can’t think of a better definition of the word moxie than what you just said.

You’re amazing. Let’s close it up here—can’t you tell everybody specifically where they can find you, all that good stuff.

Melissa: So, all of the Whole30 stuff is @whole30, so all of our social media profiles;
InstagramFacebookTwitteror the website is Everything you need to know about the program is available for free on the website. You can find me on Instagram at Melissa_Hartwig. I’m really active there. I also have an author Facebook page under Hartwig.Melissa. I’m on Twitter occasionally. But, really I interact and engage with my community the most on Instagram.

Jen: Yep, you do. And one thing everybody needs to know about you is you’re hilarious. So, you’re not just going to get hacks, and recipes, and tips, you are going to get some screamingly hilarious snark and humor, I’m so here for it girl, I like you’re life; I think you’re slaying it right now. Thanks for being on today.

Melissa: It’s such an honor and, Jen, you said such nice things. I am so appreciative.  Thank you for the opportunity and it’s just good to talk to you after admiring what you do for so long.

Jen: Thank you, Same girl, same. Okay, this will be the first not the last. I love it. Hey thanks for being on today.

Melissa:  Exactly. I hope so. It is.  Thank you.

Jen:  She’s great right? I like her so much. I like her as a leader. I like her as an advisor. I like her as a person. I like her as a writer. Melissa is great. I hope you really enjoyed that chat, and I hope you know that if Jen Hatmaker can do Whole30, anybody can. That’s a fact. That’s an absolute fact. If you know me–if you’ve known me for five seconds, you know that is true. So if you’re considering Whole30, I’m here to tell you, it may very radically change the way you feel, change the way your body is behaving. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I lost 12 pounds on Whole30. So whatever jokers, I know it’s not a weight loss program, but I lost 12 pounds. Anyways she’s phenomenal. Go check out all of her spaces, all the places that she told you to go; you’re going to want to be a part of this amazing community, and so, I’m so glad to have her on today. I cannot wait for you to hear the next episode. I’m telling you this line up for “For the Love of Moxie” is so phenomenal, and I am just learning. I’m so inspired, and I’m so glad to put these amazing people in front of you. So thanks for tuning in, you guys. I am so loving you in this space; I love hearing your thoughts and your responses and your reactions. I’m listening, so let us know when you go in and leave reviews and all that stuff.  Let us know what you love, let us know what you’d like to hear Let us know series ideas that you think would be fantastic. We’re paying attention, and really want to bring you what you love–so guys, have a super week. Thanks for tuning in today and I can’t wait to join you next week.

Narrator: Thanks for joining us today on the For the Love Podcast.” Tune in next week, when we sit down again with Jen and friends to chat about all the things we love.

We love you, our listeners, so we want to be sure you subscribe to “For the Love,” with Jen Hatmaker, via iTunes or your favorite podcast provider, so you don’t miss a thing. And if you have a minute, please leave us a review. To become a part of Jen’s online community, visit and sign up for her newsletter. It’s full of all the things you love, including free stuff. We love free stuff!  Thanks for listening, and see you next time on For the Love, With Jen Hatmaker.

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