Spreading the Good Food Word: Erin Handley

Today, we introduce you to Erin Handley, Whole9’s new Director of Operations. Erin has a diverse roster of responsibilities, the most important of which is helping us develop programs so that we can better spread our message of health and wellness to those who need it most. Erin’s background in public health and her personal experience with the Whole30 and Paleo nutrition perfectly suit this mission. In Erin’s own words:

The Law of Averages

I am not now, nor have I ever been, an athlete. I’m not even a mathlete.

I grew up eating Pop Tarts, burgers and fries, drinking soda, and having dessert after the majority of my dinners. I have eaten this way into my adulthood.

I am average weight. Average height. Got B’s in school…I am your completely and utterly Average Jane.

I don’t say these things as a put-down on ME. I actually love being average. It allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening around me because the pulse that my finger is on – that’s mine.

I feel like being average allows me to understand and empathize with most of the people I know. For example, most of the people I know struggle with their weight. Most of the people I know want to eat healthier but find temptation around every damn corner. Most of the people I know have a very confusing relationship with food. Most of the people I know have some little nagging health issue that just won’t go away.

And you know what? We all want more. We want to be healthier, more vibrant, have more energy…we all want to CONSUME LIFE with both hands. We just don’t know how because there are little things that get in the way of this full-on life consumption. Each of you reading this right now can make a list the length of your arm with the minutia that takes up your day. Your week. Your year. Your life.

 My Whole30 “Failure”

About three years ago a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with aggressive Stage IV colorectal cancer. He was 33. So was I. And as people who get slapped upside the head with mortality are apt to do, I took one look at my average weight, my average pantry full of crap, my average exercise routine of nothing and decided I needed to crumple up my list of life-stopping minutia and get healthier and stronger as soon as possible.

I started researching diets and weight loss (I’m guessing I’m not the only person here who got to the Whole9 via Googling “effective weight loss programs”). And yes, I ended up on this website, reading about the Whole30® program. The Whole30 lead me to the Paleo diet, and the Paleo diet stuck. I loved it.

Here is why I loved Paleo: I started taking nutrition classes as an undergrad. So much of what I was learning didn’t make sense to me. Why were fake foods with zero fat grams so much better than real foods with some fat? Why are calories the Holy Grail of nutrition? Why, with all the diet recommendations handed down by the federal government, were we, as a society, getting fatter and fatter?

I remember throughout my undergraduate and graduate schooling watching this obesity map of the U.S.  go from blue and yellow to orange and red. I knew we were all in trouble because whatever we were doing to fight obesity, it wasn’t working. (And it wasn’t working for me either.) In addition to being a little overweight I was tired all the time, regularly bloated, and struggled daily with what to eat and why.

The Paleo diet seemed to make sense to me. Real food. Brightly colored, nutrient dense, satiating plants, meats, and fats. It was so simple. But it wasn’t necessarily easy for me right away. I knew eating this way had the potential to change me but my old habits kept getting in the way. I was eating Paleo on and off and I thought time to time about trying the Whole30. I just didn’t know if I could do it. I loved cheese. And dessert. And beer. But one day I just made the decision. And I did great! I wasn’t getting any of the headaches that some people have in the first few days. My sugar cravings went away immediately. I loved the food. I felt amazing. And two weeks in I even decided to take the Whole30 on the road. My husband and I took a camping trip to Capitol Reef and I stocked our cooler full of Whole30-friendly foods. We were having a great time hiking around during the day and eating our meat and veggie tin foil dinners by the campfire at night.

And then I got a phone call (which is no small feat in the middle of the desert). My friend with cancer was in the ICU. It didn’t look good. We rushed back to Salt Lake and I spent the majority of the next three or four days in the hospital. My friend was dying and the Whole30, understandably, went out the window.

However, I realized that my relationship with food had actually started to change during that first Whole30 attempt. Fifteen days of eating good foods until I was full, not counting calories or fat, and feeling amazing did more for me than 20 years of chronic dieting. I remember many days before I started eating Paleo that I would literally end up in tears about food. The way I was supposed to be eating according to the experts was so confusing, time-consuming, and ineffective. But Paleo and the Whole30? It worked. It was intuitive. And I got healthier fast.

It took a year and a half for me to attempt another Whole30. That was January of this year, and I made it the entire 30 days.

Shifting the Paradigm

Committing to eating real food (vegetables, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, and good fat) changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined and my guess is that if you’re reading this it may have changed yours, too…or it will. But what about the rest of those folks out there that are still struggling to find a solution to their crappy food relationship, their autoimmune disease, or their ever-increasing waistline? What about people in those states on the obesity map that went from blue to yellow to orange to red all in the matter of a decade? The majority of the population is still caught up in the vicious loop of “a calorie is a calorie” and “fat makes you fat” – how do we spread the Good Food Word to them?

There are many barriers out there that might keep the majority of the population from integrating the Paleo diet into their life. Money, time, and lack of accurate and palatable information are a few contributing factors. But, as a society, we can’t afford not to shift our paradigm about the food we are putting into our bodies.

The goal of Whole9 is to get our message to as many people as possible. As your Average Jane and the new Director of Operations for Whole9 I am committed to tapping into the pulse of other Average Janes and Joes and increasing the exposure of our programming to the folks who need it the most. Because if the Whole30 and Paleo nutrition can change MY relationship with food, help YOU lose that stubborn 10 pounds, and eliminate YOUR CHILD’S behavior issues, then chances are it can help many others, too.

About Erin Handley, MS

Erin is Whole9’s new Director of Operations. She has a Masters degree in Health Promotion and Education from the University of Utah and has worked in the public health field for the past eight years. Most recently she was the Assistant Director for a non-profit organization that mobilized high-risk communities around important health issues, including obesity and nutrition. She is also a professional photographer, specializing in capturing athletic events and athletes in action.

You can connect with Erin via email ( and Facebook (



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  1. says

    Erin! I love love love this post so much. Thrilled that you’re joining Whole9, and I passionately hope I get to meet you in person sometime soon. I’ll even cook you dinner! :-)

    You wrote –> “I remember many days before I started eating Paleo that I would literally end up in tears about food.”

    Oh, man. I can so related, and it breaks my heart that so many people are still stuck in that place. But with people like you, Melissa, Dallas, me, and the rest of our real food buddies, we can start turning the tide.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for joining the good fight. XO.

  2. says

    Oh Melissa! If I ever had the chance to eat your cooking I might be able to die happy on the spot. (I just had “Well Fed” zucchini noodles for lunch, actually, as I’m slightly obsessed with them right now.)

    Thank you all for the kind and welcoming words!

  3. Amy Kubal says

    Erin! It’s great to have you on the team and I am so excited to be able to work with you! Your story is awesome and I can’t wait to meet you ‘in real life’! If I bring my shoes, harness and helmet will you take me canyoneering or climbing? Your picture made me jealous!! :)

  4. says

    Amy – most definitely! My picture made ME jealous :) I need to get to the desert. Let’s go!

    Melissa – I’m totally trying that.

  5. says

    “The way I was supposed to be eating according to the experts was so confusing, time-consuming, and ineffective. But Paleo and the Whole30? It worked. It was intuitive. And I got healthier fast.”

    This statement really resonated with me, as for the longest part of my professional career, I have been one of those experts recommending something that was largely ineffective. But from my own personal experience with paleo and the Whole9, you are 100% correct about it all being intuitive. It feels natural and easy.

    From an Average Joe to an Average Jane – Welcome to the team, Erin!

  6. says

    Welcome, Erin! I’m really looking forward to working with you (more)! And I apologize ahead of time for being the unsciencey one.

  7. Jeanye says

    Love the passion in this post! However, you seem much closer to extraordinary than average to me! I look forward to hearing/reading more from you soon!