The Whole9 Guide to Eating Dirty (Part II)

If you haven’t read our Eating Dirty (Part I) post yet, do that now. You really do need the background to understand where the below recommendations are coming from. And one quick note – you know we don’t view food as punishment or reward, which means you simply make a deliberate choice to eat something less healthy, you don’t “cheat” or “slip”.  However, for ease of syntax here, we’ll be calling things “treats” or “cheats”, mostly because writing “making a deliberate and conscious choice to enjoy a less than optimal food” takes up too much space on the page.  So if you’re all caught up, let’s continue with The Whole9 Guide to Eating Dirty with our best tips and tricks for staying nutritionally healthy AND sane.

1. Eat treat meals or snacks throughout the week, instead of having a full cheat day. For one, it’s more practical and sustainable in real life. Opportunities for good food and socializing come up at different times. Two, you are just setting yourself up for failure by regularly scheduling cheat meals! So be flexible, and individually evaluate your actual, in-the-moment desire for a drink on Tuesday night, or a slice of your Mom’s cake on Sunday afternoon, or French toast with Nutella at Saturday breakfast.  (See #2 below.)  Finally, your sugar cravings, GI tract, energy levels and mental health will take far less of a hit if you eat clean, slip in a slice of homemade pie and then go right back to eating clean… versus an entire day of Carb-a-Palooza. You’ll recover from your cheat faster, and you’ll feel better about yourself if you surround your treat with good, clean eats.

2. Eat something because you want it, and because it’s special… not just because it’s there. Say someone brings donuts in to the office. You look at the plate and think, donuts are here. You could eat a donut. But you can have donuts any time you want. So if you really want one in an hour, or a day, or next week… you can just go get one. The fact that it’s sitting there does not make it special enough for you to go off-diet. But if your Mum (or anyone else, for that matter) shows up with freshly made snickerdoodles, go on and eat one. Or two. Those are special, and you will really probably really want one. So the next time you mindlessly pop a bagel, slice of pizza or piece of candy in your mouth just because it’s there… Pause. Think, do I really WANT this? If the answer is no, pass it up. If the answer is yes, proceed to numbers 3 and 4.

3. (To be performed in conjunction with 4). Eat only as much as you must to satisfy your craving. If you’ve been dreaming about your favorite snack – say, chips and salsa – bust out the corn chips and get some. But now go back to #2, because you don’t have to eat the whole bag just because it is there. In addition, if you are also properly working step #4, you should have plenty of notice that your mental fix has been achieved. When it has, stop eating. Maybe that’s four corn chips. Or maybe it’s half the bag. Both are okay, as long as you are mindful of the process.

4. When you do go off-diet, SAVOR IT. There’s nothing worse than taking a plate of homemade cookies and then hoovering ’em mindlessly in front of the TV. That is a shameful waste of a cheat. So when you finally get that drool-inspiring, off-plan food in front of you, spend time with it. Take small bites. Share it with a friend.  Savor the flavor. Make it last.  Since we cheat as a means of providing mental satisfaction, squeeze as much satisfaction as possible out of what you are eating.

5. Finally, a more complicated recommendation – cheat smart. There are off-diet foods you can eat with little perceived negative effect, and there are others that will absolutely wreck you if you eat even the tiniest amount. The catch is, these things are different for everyone.  Use our Whole30 program to figure out what foods are okay, and what are not. You will eventually figure out that the not okay foods are simply never, ever going to be worth it. Stay away from those cheats, and find other foods to satisfy those cravings.

So there you have it – our official and decidedly opinionated Guide to Eating Dirty. Post questions, responses or controversies to comments.

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  1. jonica says

    Am I the only person to whom ANY off diet food is just not worth it? Even the “paleo” cheats like nut flour muffins or coconut flour pie crust absolutely wreak me. When I get an emotional/mental craving for baked goods I eat some fruit and the feeling subsides. Everything else I no longer get cravings for. If there’s no way to stick to the diet wherever I am or whatever is offered I just don’t eat. Period.

  2. Cameron says

    I’m mostly with Jonica, though I can tolerate paleofied food reasonably well. My seasonal cheats end up being something like a little egg nog or an apple pie made with a nut flour crust. Some dark chocolate or a glass of wine are available year round, but I’m so much happier without them.

    I can’t imagine what it would take to make me *want* something with gluten in it.

  3. Jen says

    I thought I was the only person that planned a cheat. I have an unopened bottle of soy nog in my fridge waiting for Christmas morning. I love this stuff and by now would have consumed at least one per week since it’s seasonal debut in Nov – lots of soy & lots of sugar. Knowing this treat is waiting for me Christmas morning makes me smile.

    I do want something with gluten in it. But that’s a new development because I am pregnant. I think what I really want is sugar, so I eat a bit of fruit or s.potato and feel satisfied. What I want more is to not feel like I did before.

  4. Joe says

    I just “finished” my first Whole 30, except that it was only a Whole 27. I didn’t quite make it. However, I didn’t really find it difficult at all the first few weeks. At the end I started to crave sweets. I never really felt a huge benefit from eating clean, which was disappointing because I wanted to. I did get leaner, but my goal was more increased energy and well being.

    I am going to continue to eat this way, because I believe in the science. I sure wish it presented a clear reward though to off-set my love of sweets. I have no craving for gluten at all, so I will likely never eat bread/pasta with any regularity again. The same for dairy (with the exception of ice cream). Sweets however are my weakness.

  5. Claudia says

    Joe, I am so with you. I eat clean most of the time, really good with no dairy and starch, not so strong with chocolate and chocolate covered things (mostly nuts) but I eat this way because it is good for my body not because I have adverse reactions to things. I do also enjoy the pr’s at the gym and the leaner midline:)

  6. Lauren :) says

    Joe, I’m very new to whole9, but I’m wondering, how much fruit did you eat during your whole30? I’ve eaten *mostly* primal/paleo over the past year, and had times where I was strictly paleo but ate quite a bit of fruit (which will feed one’s sugar monster…) and continued craving sweets b/c of it (I believe.) Perhaps you might want to try dropping fruit for a bit (or at least the swetest ones) or cutting your intake to no more than 1 serving a day. When I lowered my own fruit intake (and focused on nutrirnt dense, lower fructose fruits like berries etc) I stopped snacking as much as I had been and felt satisfied for much longer…

    Just a thought! HTH!

  7. Joe says

    Lauren – That is good advice. I had read that somewhere and never had more than one serving a day, usually a banana. I think I just have a psychological demon made out of pure suger. I have not worked out much, and I have also gotten very poor sleep. This is the likely culprit, as I know Rob Wolf advocates a good night’s sleep.

    However, two jobs doesn’t allow me the luxury. I will keep it up and maybe I just need a Whole 35, or a Whole 60 to starve out my Sucrose Satan. Everyone’s system is different. Who know’s? Either way, I will continue to eat healthy as often as my will power allows.

  8. Sheilla says

    Lauren, I loved your comment! That makes so much sense. I have only been eating Paleo for about 3-4 months now, and at first the sugar was really hard for me to give up, I made more “Paleo” brownies and fudge babies then, now not so much. Eating them did help me transition from “dirty” eating to “clean” eating. And now I don’t really sit there and crave any particular food I “can’t” have. I think it’s kind of an individual decision, based on what you really want and what you really want to achieve.
    I too, didn’t see any overwhelming results but I believe so much that it’s the best way to eat that I am totally committed, it actually took quite a bit longer for me to see results. But I do see them now, especially if I have a cheat, my system does not like it at all, probably another reason I don’t cheat unless it’s a situation where there is no alternative.

  9. Lauren :) says

    Sheilla, I hear you on the transition from dirty to clean. I’m only on day 6 of my FIRST whole30, and its taken me a year of playing with paleo/primal (and almost 3 years of being gluten and dairy free), which involved many ‘paleo’ ‘treats’, etc. to get *ready* for this. And I’m so excited to be here!!

    I personally _have_ seen insanely amazing results from this way of eating (although I’ve not been 100% before really) over the long haul (lost prob. 70 lbs total, gained health in every aspect, working on healing various minor health ailments that prob. would have turned into huge health problems had I left them unaddressed, etc…) I’m very excited to see how a whole30 will impact everything. I also think the benefits of this WOE incur over time because of the amount of healing that some of us need. (And I’m sure some folks are pretty healthy when they begin, which may be why if they don’t see as much of an impact?)

    And if you eat something and it disagrees with you, to me, that is a sign that it may not be the best food for your body and health, and eating ‘clean’ can make you much more aware of those things!

  10. Lauren :) says

    Joe, I’m speculating about the future here, but I’m thinking I’m most likely the kind of person who will need to stick to whole30 for the long haul (if I want to eat clean 95% of the time.) Personally, if I eat something like a coconut flour muffin–I just CAN NOT STOP–and then I’ll go on to eat anything else that is gluten free and sugary in the house (dried fruits, dark chocolate, whatever I can get in my mouth! I have a history of bingeing…talk a/b unhealthy!) And I’ve been playing around with this stuff for a whle. I think its an emotional thing for me, and a mental issue I have with various trigger foods. (I’m hopeful my whole30 will help with this, but I may just need to stay away from that kind of stuff totally to avoid the issue all together. We’ll see!)

    I agree we are all quite different–good luck figuring out the best path for you! :)

  11. says


    The longer we live this way, the fewer and fewer things we see as “worth it”. Your plan of not eating if there is simply nothing available works well for us, too, though I’d say that planning ahead so you always have something on hand is a better plan. For example, if we’re traveling, highly portable stuff like coconut flakes, (drained) green olives, and macadamias are our ticket to getting some good calories instead of fasting every day we fly. But yeah, fasting instead of eating garbage is a valid strategy. Just some thoughts.


    Those pictures are examples… ;)


    I like your careful selection of your “off plan” food on a special occasion. That’s the RIGHT way to do this. Just make sure that your “special treat” is confined to the special day, and you’ll jump right back on the Good Eating Train afterward. Congrats on your pregnancy, too!


    It sounds like you got some of the benefits of the Whole30, but I’d say that you didn’t stick with it long enough to slay the Sugar Dragon. Those mental cravings are a big part of the Whole30, so I’d recommend sticking with it long enough until those old habits/cravings start to change. You can’t expect to change 100% of your lifelong habits and cravings in just 30 days, but if you stick with it (maybe 45-60 days), those habits WILL CHANGE.


    You nailed our perspective on fruit intake: choose the most nutrient-dense fruit, and think carefully about why you’re consuming it. Don’t get too tied to the “1 fruit a day” guideline – that’s a place to start for some people, but not necessarily where you need to stay. We probably consume more like 1-3 servings a day, but we are well past our struggle with the Sucrose Satan (good phrase, Joe!). Good luck on the rest of your Whole 30 – you’re off to a great start!

  12. says

    Rock solid advice from you AND those commenting.

    I make it through Thanksgiving, passing on bread, dressing/stuffing, cookies, and cakes, and carefully chose my treats over the weekend to make for maximum satisfaction. Three beers and three slices of pie (and passed on the crust on two of them) over the long weekend.

    I did eat tons of food, but I hit the ground running on Monday, feeling good to go because I never really went overboard.


  13. says

    @Adam: I couldn’t find a photo of Nutella-stuffed french toast slathered in maple syrup next to a Grey Goose dirty martini, so I had to make do with some chocolate chip cookies.

    @Phillip: That’s brilliant. Add a few r’s in there… eatin’ dirrrrrrty.

    @Joe: Not enough sleep = sugar cravings. It’s nature at its best, and no amount of Whole30, 60 or 90 can completely protect you from the ramifications of chronic short-sleeping. Read the book “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival”, and do your best to stay away from the sweet stuff (translation – ANY carbs) within an hour or two of bedtime, as (anecdotally) that tends to interfere with my sleep AND my sugar cravings in a major way.


  14. Shelly says

    @Dallas — Are there any posts on the blog that relate to fasting or skipping meals when nothing is available or when you’re just not hungry? I had some fasting situations over this week and I felt fine, but I wonder if it’ll always be fine (when I have less stored fat to burn?). I also wonder about guidelines for beginners with the paleo thing. Should I really not eat until I’m hungry? I’ve been much less hungry since starting my Whole30. But I don’t want to blur the line between “I’m not hungry” and “I’m too lazy to prep my food” and wind up not getting enough of what I need. It sounds like when to eat should be obvious to any functioning human, but my assessment of my hunger is changing and I need to learn about how my body reacts to it individually, of course, but I wonder if there’s a forum for discussing this kind of thing. Thanks!

  15. says

    @Shelly: There aren’t any guides on fasting around here, because we think it’s an emergency, last-ditch effort at preserving a healthy diet. You should always be prepared with emergency snacks, but if all else fails and you literally find yourself with absolutely NOTHING to eat… go on and skip a meal or snack. But that happens to us maybe once or twice a year, and shouldn’t be applied as a normal part of most people’s lives.

    Our Whole30 Success Guide is THE resource for beginners. It addresses every aspect of our Whole30 program, including all of those FAQ questions like “What if I’m not hungry?”. All the information you need to embark upon your healthy eating plan is included, and it’s organized in really easy to follow fashion. That’s your best place to start, in our opinion, combined with the resources available here on this blog.


  16. Lauren :) says

    Shelly, if you google ‘intermittant fasting’ (IF) you’ll also come up with a lot–there is much written in the paleo realm about fasting. I do think there is a big difference between fasting b/c you’re not hungry/it feels right to you at the moment, and just fasting because you were unprepared or had an emergency, etc… (I’m very interested to check out the success guide and see what it has to say!)

    Eating a more ‘clean’ diet leads to me personally being able to wait much longer between meals/snacks. I’ve read it is related to becoming keto-adapted (I believe Kurt Harris discusses that aspect on his blog) and burning fats instead of sugars for fuel. I think Robb Wolf discusses IF in detail as well in some of his podcasts. (And there is lots more ‘out there’ on it as well…)

    I hear you about your assessment of hunger changing for sure–I’m going through that as well (on day 7 of my first whole30)!

  17. says

    Bananas are super-sweet and have a ridiculous number of carbs, 20- 30g depending on the size. Modern fruits are so sweet, they are like bags of sugar. (Thank you, Kurt Harris.) Berries might work better for you. My sympathies anyway! I love chocolate…

  18. says

    I completely appreciate these two posts. Those of us from my gym completed Whole 30 just before Thanksgiving and it’s been life changing. My husband and I did it together and we saw so many benefits (drop in weight, drop in BF%, higher energy, breaking habits, alleviating internal pains, etc). I remember laying in bed telling him, “Ben, I feel like I’ve found food salvation and want to share it with the world.” Now post-Whole 30, I am figuring out what that looks like and how I live it out practically. I value & appreciate your take on the mental side & not being that taxing guest at dinner time. Like Lauren above suggested, I too removed all fruit & nuts the last 10 days of the challenge and it did wonders for me (and my husband). And it’s interesting how it truly took 30 days for us both to think differently. When day 26 hit, I still wanted the sweet stuff. When day 31 hit, I didn’t desire it at all. Thanks:)

  19. Addi says

    @Joe I also have a two-job, less-than-ideal sleep schedule. I’m lucky enough to be a decent sleeper, but I definitely fall short on hours during the week. My husband is a terribly light sleeper, however, and struggles with getting quality rest. We’ve been taking Natural Calm magnesium supplement for a couple months and are seeing big improvements in quality of sleep. Added to a concerted effort to get to bed earlier, and things are looking good.

    I don’t know how it fits into a strict Whole30, but it might be helpful. It doesn’t knock me out, so i don’t have to worry about missing my 4:15 alarm. Also, (and this is just my relatively uninformed speculation) I would imagine that if you are battling the Sugar Demon, it might be best to go with the unflavored, as the flavored versions contain stevia (which I normally avoid).

    Dallas and Melissa, what are your thoughts on this?

  20. says


    We feel like we’ve found your “food salvation”, too. Check out our “Food Evangelist” shirts here: Glad you and Ben did so well!


    You’re totally right. We actually like the unsweetened Natural Calm better, anyway. Remember, it’s a mineral supplement – it doesn’t have to taste sweet. Glad the mag is helping with sleep quality.



  21. gnataxela says

    Can we call cheats “wiggles” instead? Wiggling makes you happy even though you know it’s silly.

  22. Dana Kelly says

    Sometimes we eat things that are they because they are free and we are poor and unemployed.