SWYPO – A Deeper Dive into Whole30’s Most Contested Rule

We’ve all been there.

It’s the end of a long work day and all you can think about is going home and unwinding on the couch with a large pizza and giant pan of brownies. As you’re wrapping up at the office, you get excited for the carbs, cheese, and sugar – and both the rush and the calm that will follow.


Your craving is strong, and you don’t care that you are using food as emotional support, a reward, a stress reliever, a tranquilizer, and frankly, a companion.

It will be worth it, you think. Until the next morning, of course, when you can’t stop hitting snooze, you think you were hit by a train, and you feel beyond guilty for indulging in “bad” food.

Let’s stop right there. We’re in Whole30-land, after all, and we don’t do that! A major goal of Whole 30, according to The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom, is to change “the behaviors that led you to persistent cravings, unhealthy emotional relationships with food, and feeling out of control with your food choices.”

So, imagine, if Whole30 allowed you to have pizza and brownies, but ones made with compliant ingredients. You could still engage in the same post-work behavior – with “compliant” foods – and still feel equally as bad the next morning. Your relationship with food would not change. Your habits wouldn’t change. Your mindset wouldn’t change.

Sure, you might be avoiding gluten and white sugar but would bingeing on some sort of simulated pizza and brownies make you feel any better mentally, emotionally, or physically?

NOPE.

This, in a nutshell, is why the SWYPO rule was invented! It causes more angst that any other part of the program, but it’s there for a reason: To make sure you achieve REAL change on Whole30.

If you rewind to It Starts With Food, you’ll remember that the Hartwigs spell out FOUR “Good Food Standards” for deciding which foods are eliminated during Whole 30. The first standard is that all food on Whole30 should “promote a healthy psychological response.”

There’s an excellent chapter on how our brains are wired (from ancient times) to seek food that is sweet, salty, and fatty – and how modern food producers know that, and take advantage of it. Processed food is modified to make us addicts, and over time consuming this super-sweet/salty/fatty faux food, our brains are “rewired” by it to release endorphins that bring “pleasure and emotional relief, release stress, and generally make you feel good.”

I’ll let you read the whole chapter for all of the science but…the bottom line for Whole30 is that while pizza and brownies (and cake and cookies and bread and pancakes…) are forbidden, so are recreated versions of the same foods! That’s where SWYPO (Sex With Your Pants On) comes in – these recreated versions are still good but nowhere close to the “real” thing. (I’ll let you think more about that on your own!)

Many people don’t like this rule and argue that some of these “off-limits” foods (such as pancakes – yes, all the time!) are not a problem for them. The tough love in the book will remind you that the Hartwigs “created the program rules, and those rules specifically state that certain foods are off-limits, and this is the program to which you committed. Signing up for the Whole30 and complaining about the rules is like joining a soccer team and getting mad that you can’t use your hands.”

To refresh, the following foods are off-limits on Whole30, even in a recreated form, even if you don’t “have a problem” with them: Pancakes, bread, tortillas, biscuits, crepes, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pizza crust, waffles, cereal, potato chips, French fries, and any sort of sweetened coffee creamer. Just don’t do it. It’s only 30 days.

There are also a few other SWYPO footnotes:

  • You’re not advised to sub in something like a Larabar (compliant, made with dates, nuts, and fruit, and SUPER sweet) for your usual candy bar/sugar pick-me-up. Larabars have their place in Whole 30 – like if you are climbing a mountain, running a marathon, or stranded on a broken train for six hours. Eating a Lara Bar as a mid-afternoon sugar fix is SWYPO, aka cheating yourself. It’s all about context here.

  • You can have a personal SWYPO that’s NOT one of the program’s forbidden foods. The example they give in the book is fried chicken. If you have a deep emotional problem with fried chicken that you are trying to crush with Whole30, then you are NOT advised to make Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken. Yes, it’s a Whole30 compliant protein but no, it does not promote a healthy psychological response for you.

  • In our Facebook group, people often post recipes for dishes like pumpkin custard bake or sweet potato apple bake, especially when they are sick of eggs for breakfast. While these contain compliant ingredients, they are 100 percent dessert-like, and can cause that sleeping sugar dragon to roar. When we advise people against using these during their Whole30, and it’s amazing to see the emotional pushback we often get. If you’re arguing about a pumpkin bake (!), then maybe it’s time to step away from it for a while!

  • Also in our Facebook group, we often get questions about why things like dump ranch and sweet potato toast are compliant and not SWYPO. As the book states, ask yourself if you are “trying to duplicate or recreate the exact look, texture, and flavor of something unhealthy I’m craving with approved ingredients, OR am I merely looking for a healthier, more nutritious substitution for that food?” SWYPO foods fall into the former, something like dump ranch (or homemade mayo) falls into the latter. You are likely not going to come home from that day at work we described above and binge on dump ranch or mayo. You are simply looking for a healthier version of a food that is not usually emotionally problematic for people. (If you do find yourself overdoing dump ranch or homemade mayo, then take them out of your round! The goal is for you to feel in control of your food!)

  • With regards to the sweet potato toast (or the veggie noodles or cauliflower rice), those are NOT recreations of the original thing. They are just simply non-altered vegetables cut into different shapes. You will never mistake a slice of sweet potato toast for a slice of bread, or a zucchini noodle for a pasta strand. These are substitutions or replacements — and not recreations. You are not fueling an unhealthy mind-body connection with these foods. You are just eating vegetables cut in cool shapes!

  • In Whole30-speak, SWYPO is different than “Food Without Brakes (FWOB).” SWYPO foods are not allowed on Whole30. FWOB is a personal thing. It happens when you eat something in a way that makes you feel out of control or uncomfortable, even something compliant. It usually happens with foods like nut butter or fried plantains or coconut butter or raisins – foods that evoke those sweet/salty/fatty desires. SWYPO and FWOB after often confused. It’s an alphabet soup of sorts but they stand for different things.

Yes, SWYPO be nuanced at times, especially with the uptick of Whole30 convenience foods that often can make the SWYPO debate even more gray. But, the bottom line is that no food on Whole 30 should have the same grip on you that we described earlier when you were coming home from work ready to binge.

As the Hartwigs write, you may even be “surprised at the hold some of these baked goods or treats have on you – something you never would have noticed until you told your brain ‘no.’”

For more on SWYPO, check out this post from the Whole30 website. There’s also lots more on SWYPO on the official Whole 30 forum.