‘Healthier choices’ are sabotaging your goals

Many, many people want to get healthier.
The first thing they look to, to reach that goal is their nutrition.
The last thing they want to change is their habits.
So their go-to strategy is: eating 'healthier versions' of their usual diet... and that is the quickest way to failing at getting healthier.

"I know that sugar is not a healthy choice, but I found these [insert sweet treat of choice], and they are all naturally sweetened with honey/agave/coconut flower sugar/date paste/maple syrup (cross out what is not applicable). That is at least a 'healthier' choice, right? It's not like I indulge in regular [insert sweet treat of choice]".

This question, and variations thereof, are asked often by people working on changing their nutritional program.  What they are trying to do is changing their nutrition without the discomfort of changing their habits. Short and sweet (pun intended): they want to keep doing the same thing, but get a different result. Einstein calls this the definition of insanity.

"At least I don't..."

Know this: "At least I don't do..." is the quickest way to sabotage your plan. You can smooth over almost any unhealthy choice by making a comparison to something else that is even more unhealthy.

"I didn't do the training on my running schedule, but at least I did take the stairs a couple of times at work."
Or: "I ate 3 muesli bars today, but I at least said 'no' to the person treating us to birthday cake."
Or: "I am on day 22 of my Whole30 and I think I got the message... at least 22 days is better than not starting at all."

Melissa Hartwig

Melissa Hartwig, one of the founders of the Whole30, helped millions of people changing their health, habits, and relationship with food. She has listened to this people using this comparison so many times, that her standard reply is:

Short version: Please do not ever use this phrase with me when I’m trying to help you with change. The end.

- Melissa Hartwig, on Instagram

Third choice

The whole point is: this way it looks like you have 2 choices: cake or muesli bar? Run or stairs? Halfway quitting or not starting? You sweep the third choice under the rug. The third choice is: being loyal to yourself and your long-term goal of getting healthy.

You can choose to not eat the muesli bar and politely declining the birthday cake (especially when not hungry).
Or not to run and not take the stairs (because you sprained your ankle and it's better to stay off it for a few days... didn't see that one coming, huh?!)
Finish your Whole30, all 30 days. (Because you can only know if a program works for you when you follow it, all rules as long as it takes to finish the program).
To explain away your behavior with an "... at least I don't do...", has bigger consequences than you think now.

"A false sense of immunity"

Marshall Goldsmith is an expert in changing behavior and he calls this creating a "false sense of immunity". It gives us an excuse to aim very high with our goals and expectations of ourselves. It justifies doing what we want now (instant gratification) but undermines our motivation to go for what we really want most.
It's like you provide yourself with an unhealthy free pass, which states: "At least I am doing better than most people"... But you should add to that: "... but I am still not going for my full potential."

"At least I don't do..."  sounds innocent enough, but if you want results, to really get into a  lifestyle that will get you to health... it is the quickest way to sabotage that goal.


This is a well-known abbreviation within the Whole30 community. The term: SWYPO. It stands for Sex With Your Pants On. The whole idea is that many people adopting a paleo lifestyle, lose themselves and their health goal amongst the array of paleo treats they can make. On the Internet, a lot of very creative people who are handy in the kitchen made recipes for junk food, but with paleo-approved ingredients. Cake, muffins, pop tarts, cookies, Twix bars... So strictly speaking these 'foods' are paleo, even though they go against the whole spirit of the paleo movement.

Bottom line: for your health it doesn't make a lot of difference whether you eat a real Twix bar or a paleo Twix bar. Chances are that because you think the paleo version is 'less harmful', 'innocent' or 'a healthier choice', you will treat yourself more often to one of those. That will remove you further and further from your goal.
And those 'healthier' alternatives are sometimes quite good, but not as good as the real thing. Just like sex, while keeping your pants on SWYPO!

Paleo sweets & treats

Naomi was the first of us who did a Whole30, in a small group. That group skipped the SWYPO-part of the Whole30 rule book and fully engaged in the paleo treats. One cake after another was baked and shared in the Facebook group (and IRL). At the end evaluation, none of them reached their goals, except Naomi who stopped the SWYPO in week 2. A lot of participants had high body fat percentages and weight than before their Whole30. Who wants to bet they said to each other: "At least we didn't eat unhealthy cake!"?

Sugar = sugar

Keep in mind that sugar=sugar=sugar=sugar. By the time it is metabolized by the body it is really irrelevant if the glucose or fructose originated from table sugar, honey or coconut flowers. And yes, honey has enzyme activity, but that is erased at temperatures higher than 40 degrees C.... like in baked goods. And coconut flower sugar has some minerals in it. But you'll have to eat a whole lot of coconut sugar to get an amount that is beneficial for your health. And these alternatives are very unhealthy for your bank account. What you are buying is mostly the possibility to fool yourself, at a hefty prize. These sugar alternatives are wolves in sheep clothing!

Plan of attack

The only effective plan of attack is: make deliberate en conscious choices. Stop comparing yourself with other people, who binge on junk food, smoke, drink like sailors. That is their life... you are responsible for yours. Your life and your choices have nothing to do with them. Not even if it makes you (undeservedly) feel good about yourself.

So, do you need to eat like a rabbit for the rest of your life, do you have to refrain from all treats forever? Of course not! But choose wisely: when eating something less healthy, it needs to be unbelievably good to be worth it. Or on a special occasion. Champagne on your wedding day! But maybe even Maison Kelders famous hazelnut cake on your birthday... if that is your thing. Go get a fresh one at one of their bakery shops and skip the frozen ones you can get anywhere nowadays... eat a piece, enjoy, savor! Eat a piece big enough for it to be good and small enough to stay special. (Refrain from hovering several pieces just because it's your birthday... always refrain from hovering your food)

Of course, it's no fun that you cannot join every birthday party in the office (with over a hundred employees, so cake every 3 days...). But being unhappy with yourself, your health and your assumed lack of willpower... is also no fun.

Accept your responsibility, don't do bullshit comparisons with your health... or with us. The only thing we want to do is help you reach your goal... to change your habits so they will support you in your quest, for the long run. So you can change your life... indefinitely!

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