Another controversial topic today – Whole30 Food with No Brakes. Yes, I am fully aware that this topic is called Whole30 food with no BRAKES (like car brakes), not food with no BREAKS. These foods, even if they’re Whole30 friendly, may have such a hold on you that they don’t allow you to take a break from them. Thus, these foods have no brakes for you.
This topic of non-Whole30 food with no brakes was first introduced in It Starts with Food, and generally refers to:
“carbohydrate-dense, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods [like chips, crackers, cookies, or other sweets that are usually] designed by food scientists to make you crave them, without any of the nutrition or satiety factors that tells your brain to stop eating them. They rewire pleasure, reward, and emotion circuitry in your brain, creating habit loops that are near impossible to break with sheer willpower. Stress—any kind of stress—makes these cravings and habits stronger. And the kicker? These same foods also mess with hormones like leptin and insulin, creating metabolic imbalances that further promote cravings and hunger such that no amount of willpower can overrule them. (Hormones >willpower.)” Once we start eating them, we just can’t stop. (Whole30.com)
Further, as Melissa explains, “Over time, the overconsumption of foods with no brakes conditions your body to rely on sugar for energy, leaving you unable to burn the fat stored on your body, and requiring you to eat every few hours to maintain energy, focus, and a pleasant demeanor.” Which is exactly what we’re trying to get away from by following the Whole30 guidelines.
This is exactly why a lot of these foods, even when made with Whole30 ingredients, are off-limits for the program AND known as SWYPO. Yes, even and egg and banana pancake. This is also why, after a few years of the program, the rules evolved to exclude all forms of chips (source), yes, even sweet potato and plantain chips – because just like regular potato chips, they’re engineered to be so good you just can’t stop eating them. Even if they’re a little bit healthier than regular potato chips.
So are there still foods allowed on the Whole30 that are foods with no brakes?
YES. And the tricky thing is, they may be different for everyone. There are plenty of other foods that people tend to overconsume on the Whole30 (yes, compliant foods) – like nuts, nut butters, dried fruit, and technically compliant snack bars like Larabars and RXbars, which people tend to rely on as an afternoon or nightly sweet treat. (Which you know you’re not supposed to do, by the way).
Don’t think you’re alone in this struggle. It takes many years (and many Whole30 rounds) to figure out what foods work best for you and which ones still have a psychological hold on you, and there is nothing to be ashamed of with that. All you have to do is be honest with yourself – is this food serving me now? Is it allowing me to achieve the goals I want with the Whole30? And if not, it might be time to reevaluate that food to see where it properly fits in your Whole30 journey.
A few years ago, when I was a young Whole30’er myself, I posted this question on the forum about Whole30 food with no brakes:
“Anyone know why nut butters, but not nuts, might be a food with no breaks for me? I’m in a tricky situation here. I know digestively and skin-wise I feel much better without eating nuts/nut butters, but I have a history of disordered eating (bingeing) so I’m hesitant to cut out another food – which makes me scared of a future binge. I don’t feel this kind of restriction when I’m doing the whole30 (weird, right?) but I do feel that way about nuts/nut butters. I think they have some sort of psychological effect on me too, because even if I only eat about a Tbsp of nut butter with an apple or something, I soon feel anxious, exhausted, and even a little depressed? These feelings become more magnified the more often I eat it/the larger the portion. Do nuts affect anyone else this way??”
I was obviously a little freaked out here. None of us is perfect, not even Whole30 coaches or Melissa herself! The next round I did, I realized that it wasn’t just nut butters, but all kinds of roasted and salted nuts that affected me in this way.
So here’s what I figured out, about these foods in particular:
- Nut butters, no matter how raw or sprouted or whatever they are, are still a processed food (meaning easier to break down for our bodies). When salt is added, our brains are like OH HECK YES EAT MORE I LOVE FAT AND SALT.
- The actual digestion process of breaking down nuts vs. nut butters is very different. With nut butters, the hard work has already been done for your body, so it’s much easier to eat more of them. When nut butters are roasted and salted, they’re more palatable and easier to digest = extremely easy to overeat.
- Many people (myself included) tend to eat certain nut butters straight out of the jar. Like peanut butter, almond butter, etc. You may find that there are nut butters that do not have this effect on you – for me, it’s unsalted, unroasted sunflower seed butter and tahini. So I can keep those around, no problem, and only use them in recipes without being tempted to go spoon → jar → face → repeat.
- Raw, unsalted vs. roasted, salted nuts may give you totally different reactions. While roasted, salted nuts were totally a Whole30 food with no brakes for me; raw, unsalted ones were fine and I didn’t tend to overeat them at all.
- Cashews in particular tend to cause problems for people. When consumed in larger-than-serving-size amounts, they are prone to spike your blood sugar, because they are the most carbohydrate-dense nut. The combination of carbs + fat + salt = deadly for both cravings and overconsumption.
It’s all a learning process. Nut butters and roasted, salted nuts are food without brakes for MANY, many people. The salt/fat combination is delicious but deadly, kind of like potato chips for some (most!) people. So if you’re feeling like you just can’t stop, you may need a BREAK from them, for now.
There may be some nuts and nut butters you can keep on hand that don’t have the same psychological or cravings-driven hold on you, that you won’t be tempted to gorge on during your Whole30. Try raw, unsalted nuts, and the same with nut butters – and keep them on hand with the intent to use them mostly in recipes, not just for snacking. Incorporate them in recipes here and there, for example in a Whole30-friendly pad thai sauce, or as a garnish on salads.
Here’s the thing. YOU know your body best, and only YOU what you’re comfortable with.
Figure out what will help you balance the urge to eat all the things that are foods with no brakes for you with the need to not feel so deprived you might binge on those foods. Because we are working on our health, our habits, and our relationship with food, after all.
So let’s talk about a few Whole30 foods that may be foods with no brakes for you.
You may want to take a step back from the emotional connection you have with those foods or the “OH MY GOD ANOTHER DANG FOOD I CAN’T EAT ON WHOLE30” reaction, and seriously reevaluate whether or not these foods have a place in your Whole30 or not.
Do you have a tendency to overeat this food on or off the Whole30?
Do you rely on it as a crutch for your sugar cravings, afternoon or night snacking habit?
Do you find yourself consistently eating more than the ‘recommended’ (a very loose term) serving size?
Is there a different way I could eat this food that we cause me to not overeat it?
Think through these questions, and check out the most common Whole30 food with no brakes from both the Whole30 forum and the many clients/Whole30 groups I’ve worked with. Keep in mind, THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO ELIMINATE ALL (OR ANY OF) THESE FOODS. Foods with no brakes are a totally personal thing. If you’re eating a food in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or out of control, it might be time to reevaluate the place that food has in your Whole30 and food freedom journey. On the other hand, you may read through this list and find you have no problem with any of these foods. Everyone’s relationship with food is different, and what might be fine for you can be kryptonite for another.
Most common Whole30 foods with no brakes (danger, Will Robinson: slippery road ahead!):
- All kinds of nuts and nut butters (most commonly cashews, macadamia nuts, and almond butter)
- Dried fruit (especially dates)
- Larabars and RXbars
- Grapes (especially frozen grapes)
- Purple sweet potatoes
- Pork rinds
- Coconut butter or manna
- Coconut cream / full-fat coconut milk
- Unsweetened coconut flakes with mixed berries
- Bacon-wrapped dates
- Fresh fruit – if eating it alone, and in large quantities, causes many people to crave more fruit and more sugar.
Read through the questions above again, and evaluate if any of these foods is causing you any of the challenges mentioned above. Determine how you want to incorporate these foods in your Whole30 journey – keep reading for three different methods you can use for approaching foods with no brakes!
In your Whole30 food freedom, aka real life, you may want to ask these same questions of yourself when evaluating the lessons you’ve learned from the Whole30, to determine what kind of place these foods have in your daily eating habits. Some may have to be reserved for special occasions, and you’ll have to be particularly mindful when eating them if you don’t want to totally re-awaken your sugar or cravings dragon.
For example. We all know potato chips aren’t healthy. They have almost zero nutritional value, we all pretty much tend to overeat them, and do you know anyone that actually eats just one serving of potato chips out of a large sized bag? Didn’t think so. They are salty, fatty, delicious, and hard to resist. Think on this for a second: it takes 4 pounds of potatoes to make one large bag (16oz) of chips. Nope, I did not make that up. Google it yourself. Now. Think about eating a bag of potato chips in one sitting (um, easy if you’re watching TV and not paying attention to your food, aka mindless eating) vs. eating four pounds of potatoes in one sitting. Stomach hurt, much? You’re much less likely to overeat plain, oven-baked potatoes than you are a bag of chips. So the solution in this situation may be – instead of going to town on a bag of potato chips, why not just have a baked potato with your dinner instead?
This is exactly why potato chips (and all forms of chips) are off-limits for Whole30. In real life, you’re an adult – you can do what you want. Including (but definitely not limited to) going ham on a bag of chips.
If you’ve determined that a food, Whole30 or not, is a Food with No Brakes for you, you have a couple options:
1) be more mindful when you eat that food (meaning don’t do that mindless eating in front of the TV, while you’re doing work, etc.),
2) limit the amount or frequency that you do eat that food (save them for special occasions like football tailgates or at a mexican restaurant)
3) cut the food out all together.
For that last option, you really have to know yourself well – if restricting them completely is going to lead to bingeing later, that is not the best option for you. The best solution will depend on you, and I can’t tell you the right answer.
With the nuts example, above, I found for me that if I eat raw, unroasted, unsalted cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc. I’m totally fine. But give me some roasted, salted macadamia nuts and I can go to town on those babies without even batting an eyelash.
It’s up to you to determine which foods both in your Whole30 and “real” life are Foods with no Brakes and how you’re going to tackle them. If you do find you have Whole30 foods with no brakes, and it’s one of your first few rounds, I’d highly recommend either cutting them out entirely or limiting them so you don’t totally wreck your Whole30 results with on-plan foods (because been there, done that, it’s the worst!)
If you do find you’ve come to the end of your Whole30 round and didn’t see the results you wanted, these foods with no brakes could have been a big factor. But don’t beat yourself up about it! As I’ve said many times before, the Whole30 is a learning experience – and every round, you will learn something different about yourself. It took me about 3-4 rounds before I figured out my own issues with nuts and nut butters. You’re not alone. You can doooo it. Still having issues with certain foods? You might want to check out this post: Top Whole30 Mistakes you might be making – that are totally sabotaging your progress. Or listen to it in podcast form!
What are your foods with no brakes? On the Whole30? In real life?