In Defense of SWYPOs

Paleo toffee bars. Totally SWYPO, totally Penny approved.

I've been part of Paleo facebook groups for a long time, been reading a lot of Paleo recipes, simply because even if you aren't on a strict Paleo diet, Paleo diet recipes are made from scratch recipes, using healthy ingredients. So I just was in the group to read, absorb, and get recipe ideas.

Often when someone would post a cool Paleo approved recipe into these forums, others would invariably comment "I prefer real food, that is SWYPO". Real food? I mean, if it is Paleo approved, it is "real food" using only whole, unprocessed ingredients.
So I asked- what exactly is SWYPO?
Well, I learned that SWYPO is a concept invented/popularized by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, founders of the Whole 30 diet, and it stands for "Sex With Your Pants On".
Essentially, what it means is- something good, close to the original, but not quite, which leaves you wanting more of what is forbidden for you.
In other words, if you're coming from an unhealthy diet, full of all sorts of junk, and instead you replace your junk with Paleo versions of the junk, you won't be satisfied and it will just lead to you to wanting some of the forbidden junk. The Whole 30 diet is, in part, intended to break people from bad eating habits, and they believe that giving in to your unhealthy food habits with healthy versions of the same stuff is not a good idea, and rather, you should just learn better food habits.

I hear the point of that, somewhat, but disagree in many ways. But the more I heard about it, the more I actually got upset about this concept.

You see, I did something very similar to the Whole 30 diet plan- the 30 day Paleo Reset diet, according to the instructions in Chris Kresser's book, The Paleo Cure.
These diets are almost the same, other than that on Chris Kresser's diet, cocoa products aren't allowed for the 30 days, neither are white potatoes or fruit juices. And nuts and seeds are supposed to be more limited. And seed oils like soybean, canola, sunflower seed oils are strictly prohibited on Chris Kresser's diet. On Whole 30, cocoa is allowed as a seasoning (for things like chili), white potatoes are allowed, fruit juices are allowed as flavorings in recipes, nuts and seeds are encouraged actually- to even have some at every meal as one of the possible fat allowances. (Chris focuses a lot on the Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios, which is why he says to limit your nuts and seeds to a handful a day, but the Whole 30 diet requires you to have fats with every meal and includes nuts as one of those fats that you should add to your meal.) And Whole 30 allows you to eat canola oil when out, in restaurants, etc...

But you see, essentially, these diets are the same.

But the biggest difference seems to be about SWYPOs. No such concept in the Paleo Reset, but in Whole 30, it is such a strong concept, that if you eat even one bite of something they call SWYPO, you need to start over your 30 days entirely.

Now what exactly falls under the category of SWYPO?
Good question.

All bread, pancakes, tortillas, biscuits, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pizza crust, waffles, cereal, potato chips, French fries, this thing called "monkey salad", Paleo coffee creamer, apples cooked with cinnamon, reminiscent of apple pie, and lots, lots more.

It doesn't matter what they're made out of, if you eat any of the above things, that's it- you have to start over. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

And it doesn't matter if its all made out of food that is perfectly ok to eat on the diet, that is healthy and nutritious. If the rules say you can't eat it, you can't, and that's final.
But the rules of what is SWYPO and what is not is completely and totally arbitrary and makes no logical sense to me (and, to be honest, many many many many many others).
You can eat bananas and you can eat eggs. You cannot eat eggs mixed with bananas, and fried into a pancake. You can eat pumpkin and you can eat eggs, but if you combine them into a pancake, it is forbidden.
You can eat apples, you can eat eggs, you cannot eat an "apple pie omelet".
You can eat eggs, you can thicken with potato starch. You cannot make a wrap/crepe out of eggs and potato starch.
You can eat sweet potatoes, you can eat eggs. You can not eat gnocchi made from sweet potatoes and eggs.
You can eat tahini, you can eat eggs, but you cannot eat a paleo bun made out of tahini and egg.
You can eat fruit, but you cant eat pure frozen fruit blended into ice cream.
You can eat bananas, cashew's, and coconut separately, but if you combine them into "monkey salad", you "lost" and need to start over, because that's been determined SWYPO.
You can eat fruit and you can eat nuts and you can eat coconut milk, but if you combine it in a bowl and call it "cereal" then that's breaking the rules, and you must start over.
You're allowed to have things sweetened with dates (like various sauces, etc...), you're allowed to have coconut cream, and you're allowed to have coffee, but you're absolutely not allowed to combine dates and coconut cream with coffee so that your coffee is more palatable- that concoction is specifically forbidden in the Whole 30 rules.

No chips whatsoever are allowed, not sweet potatoes or potato chips, despite both potatoes and sweet potatoes being allowed, even if a good oil is used to make these chips... unless of course those chips are kale chips or mushroom chips or prosciutto chips. Then they're all of a sudden not just allowed, but some even encourage it.
Desserts of all sorts are forbidden, but you're allowed to have strawberries with whipped coconut cream. Or apples with nut butter.
And though the rules forbid all sorts of noodle substitutes like shirataki noodles or gnocchi or egg crepe noodles, zucchini noodles are allowed, as are sweet potato noodles.
And although the rules explicitly forbid all sorts of bread substitutes- to the extent that they first allowed and then disallowed pure coconut wraps- they say you can wrap your wraps in lettuce or nori sheets or make spiralized sweet potato buns.

If I didn't elaborate enough, I think you probably can understand why I am having an issue with this whole concept of SWYPO. It is completely and totally arbitrary and makes absolutely no logical sense. I mean, why exactly are nori and lettuce wraps permitted but coconut not? It's not about nutritional content, because they are all nutritious in their own ways.
If you'll ask on Whole 30 forums, groups, boards, etc... the answer is simply "Because those are the rules". "Because the makers of this program (the Hartwigs) said so."

You see, I was thinking about this for a while already.

I have been an unschooler now for a decent while, and have been part of these radical unschooling groups, and while I certainly don't consider myself a radical unschooler, some of the concepts discussed in these radical unschooling groups make sense to me. One of those things that I tried implementing with my kids is not to make arbitrary rules. That doesn't mean not to make any rules for your kids, but your rules should have a reason.
I know how much I always hated being told "Because I said so" and when I heard that, it made me not want to listen at all. If someone gave me an arbitrary rule, simply saying that such and such is the rule, but without giving any reason for it other than "Because" or "Because I said so", I didn't exactly listen. (Case in point- my parents told me I could get my ears pierced at 16- as a compromise. My dad said never, so mom said 16. Nothing specifically about 16, just that's what they decided. The second I went away for the summer when I was 15, I got my ears pierced on my own.)
Telling someone that they have to follow a rule blindly, without giving them a reason, without there even being a real and true reason other than "Those are the rules" doesn't exactly make them want to follow the rules- motivating someone to want to do something is key to getting them to listen to what you want them to do, especially long term or when you're not there to watch them and make sure they're following. This is especially so when the rules don't make sense, why one thing is allowed and another disallowed, when one thing is allowed one day and then there's a proclamation that now it isn't allowed, or wasn't allowed but now all of a sudden it is allowed. Smart/intelligent as the makers of the program are- they are not God, they are not infallible, and just because they say something doesn't mean they're right.
And simply saying "Because those are the rules/that's what we decided/that's the program" doesn't exactly motivate someone. Especially when those rules are rigid and inflexible and don't take into account people's personal situations.

See, again, back to the homeschooling. That's part of why I homeschool my kids. Because I am very into there not being a one size fits all, whether it comes to education, nutrition, or anything. I don't think there is one rule for everyone, no ifs ands or buts, no exceptions. Rules need to be flexible to truly benefit people, and not hurt them.

So about SWYPO's- I understand why the rule was made. Because if someone is craving junk, and trying to break the junk food habit, if you keep eating desserts and sweets and treats, just made with healthier ingredients, you won't break the junk food habit, and may even go back to the junk junk because, yes, healthy "junk" doesn't taste identical to "junk junk". And I understand that a lot of foods are trigger foods for people, so if their mind sees pancakes, doesn't matter what they're made from, they'll just overeat, etc...

But everyone is different. No one's body is the same and no one has the same reactions to the same foods.
I can tell you for a fact that I and my kids are not addicted to pancakes, pasta, breads, cakes, etc... If we have paleo versions of these, it doesn't cause a trigger in our minds making us crave more and more and more. We were never big eaters of these things even before we did our 30 day paleo reset. So for us, if there's a set in stone rule of "absolutely no pancakes, no matter what, no ifs ands or buts" then that rule literally does not make sense for us to follow, and all it does is make it harder for myself (pancakes are easy travel food, are easy to prepare in advance, etc...) and takes away the variety we could have, without serving any benefit whatsoever.

Same with bread substitutes, cereal substitutes, pasta substitutes, or whatever other SWYPO stuff there are. So following the rules about what is forbidden and what is not would make no difference in my life, and in fact, would just anger me at the ridiculousness of it making my life harder.

However, I think you really do need to know yourself. If you are addicted to any of these, staying away from them until you break the addiction probably is a good idea. But you have to know what you are addicted to and what you are not.

I, personally, was addicted to starches. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. I grew up with the whole mentality that a meal isn't a meal without a starch, that starch is what makes you full, and of course you had to have at least rice or noodles or bread or potatoes or sweet potatoes or something else starchy in order to actually be full from a meal. So I did my 30 day paleo reset and made sure to have my starches every single dingle meal- just Paleo approved starches- bananas, sweet potatoes, etc...  On my first week, though, I had a period of 36 hours in which I would not be able to cook or shop and had no starches to eat or feed my family (I had carbs, just not potatoes/sweet potatoes), and literally had a panic attack, started freaking out that I'd starve, that I'd be starving my family, etc... I realized at that point just how addicted I was to the concept of "needing a starch" and that starches specifically are my trigger foods, my addictive foods, and that now, knowing the concept of SWYPOs, that was what I should avoid.
So from then on I really did try to break that habit, and made sure that I did not eat starchy or super carby meals 3 meals a day- just broke that idea in my head that I needed my sweet potato/butternut squash/rice/potatoes to feel full. Now that I have gotten over that, yes, I eat sweet potatoes some meals, and definitely eat carb heavy meals sometimes, but that specifically was the habit that I needed to break, but the other official rules of what is SWYPO and what is not literally do not apply to me or my family.

In fact, as the title of this post goes, I am not only against banning SWYPO foods, I actually think they have a very important part in a healthy diet.

People like tasty foods. Human beings have a natural tendency to enjoy and want sweet foods- even breastmilk is sweet! Many foods in nature that are super healthy are sweet. In fact, I think I read somewhere that something tasting sweet is actually a sign to our bodies that the food is good for us and isn't poisonous. I don't think there is a problem with someone wanting to enjoy something tasty and sweet. I am not opposed to desserts or treats in the slightest bit.
Moreover, I believe that if you completely try to avoid desserts or treats or sweet things in the name of "eating a healthy diet", it will backfire, and make the diet not sustainable.

I've discussed this before regarding frugality, that as much as frugality is important, if you worship the alter of frugality even when it makes no sense, if you are frugal simply for the sake of being frugal and deprive yourself of things that are important to you, it'll backfire and you won't be able to continue staying very frugal. A few years ago I shared the story about when we were in a really bad way financially, when we were so broke that we had absolutely nothing nice to eat in our house, that our "fancy" anniversary dinner was homemade baked beans and bread because that was all we could afford. Then I went into a grocery store, needing one thing, but feeling so deprived, I just broke, and splurged and spent $50 on absolute nonsense, junk that I would never regularly buy, but because I was feeling so deprived, I went overboard the other way.
Since then, I've realized the importance of regularly pampering myself with little  things, not only making the absolutely cheapest meals, never getting myself anything nice, but taking care of myself, making me feel like I am not deprived, but actually can have nice things. Just not all the time. Within limits. But I get them.
And I do the same with my kids- making sure that despite our very frugal life, they have some nice things and not feel like the poor kids on the block, etc...

So after having given all this thought about the importance of pampering yourself a little bit, to make a frugal lifestyle sustainable and not something you'd throw out after a very short time, I really and truly feel the same way about so called "SWYPOs", aka healthy treats, whether you're talking about paleo treats, or even just healthier homemade versions of store bought junk. People have asked me for years how it is that I am able to stick to a gluten free diet, don't I miss bread, cake, cookies, etc? I tell them that I have bread, cake, cookies, etc... sometimes. Just gluten free versions. So I don't feel deprived.
And now that I'm eating paleo, I feel the same way. I let myself have treats, I make treats for my kids. That way they know that eating healthily doesn't mean that you can never have tasty things, never have treats. It just means that when you have treats, you have them made from healthier ingredients.

My kids eat pretty healthily. Yes, they eat the rare junk. But rarely is it actually true junk. (Confession time- today they each had 2 gummy candies while we were out- one big one and one small one, and they also had slushies.)
People ask me how I get my kids to actually eat and enjoy healthy foods, why they're willing to go along. I am pretty sure that a big part of it is that my kids know that once or twice a week, mommy makes a treat. A healthier treat, but a treat nonetheless. And no, I don't tend to make treats more than that- at most its two homemade baked goods/treats/desserts a week, and some weeks its none. But its on a regular basis, but not all the time, and not rare.
I'd say I think it's a decent balance between no treats and needing treats every day.

And so, I am fully in support of SWYPOs, and think that if you're considering doing a Whole 30 type diet, but the concept of SWYPOs is turning you off- ditch it. Stick to something like the 30 day Paleo reset, focus on healthy eating, eating nutrient dense foods, avoiding overeating, and not eating foods that are likely to cause bad physical reactions (the foods forbidden on the diet) and forget the concept of SWYPO.

And if you aren't doing these diets, but are just wondering on whether or not to include healthy treats in your or your family's healthy diets? Do it. It'll make your healthy diet more sustainable in the long run.

What are your thoughts on SWYPOs, on the concept of real food versions of junk foods? Do you think they should be avoided or do you think they are important to include in a healthy diet? 
What would you say are your trigger foods, that you are absolutely addicted to?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. well, speaking as one doing the Whole30 diet right now, I think the point is that it's just for 30 days and that when one is overweight, some discipline needs to be developed (lack of which is what got one in the overweight state in the first place, of course). For 30 days, it's a lot easier just to say I can't have something than to try and figure out an acceptable substitute. And whereas you are not motivated by rules forbidding something, I find it a relief not to have to think about how to circumvent them. When the 30 days are over, I'll be happy to have a beer or a glass of wine occasionally (though I'm sure I'll consider it carefully before I do) and I'll break out my paleo chocolate cake recipe, and maybe I'll have a fruit salad with coconut and cashews but it feels to me now that the discipline of saying "no" will help me be more mindful in the future. After all, I am choosing to follow the diet and say no to myself. It is not at all like a child being told "no" and not feeling there is a good reason. Just my two cents worth.

  2. It takes more than 30 days to kill old eating habits. Just another fad diet. Something for people to follow & discuss on social media.
    Read a lot, look around and do what is sustainable. I would say inculcate healthy eating habits in your kids- its not that its too late for adults to change just that as in Indian I am used to eating BOTH chapatis AND rice for lunch & dinner and trust me breakfasts are also oily & starchy.
    I know that would make the rest of the world or at least the 30 dayers sit up and exclaim in horror but that's what 99% of Indian eat.
    And oh yeah we were brought up on white sugar!
    Which is probably why the nation is reeling under an extreme health crisis. Hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases- you name it.
    While our diets are horrific, following a Whole30 program is no way going to ensure we be rid of unhealthy eating habits for life. Its just like any other diet which deprives and when your off the leash be sure you'll be gorging on biriyanis & butter chicken because guess what? The diet doesn't really get rid of the stress and/or the underlying reason to stuff ourselves.
    The change has to be really gradual, for ex after I moved to Singapore I realised that the Chinese don't really eat that much rice as the rest of the world assumes. They serves themselves a small bowl of rice and many a times leave it untouched. The eat fish, meat & vegetables in greater proportion. After years of living, eating and interacting with them I can happily say I would be ok eating boiled tofu at a local stall and ignore the calorie intense paneer & nan from the Indian stall in the same premises.
    So its something that has been gradual, a change that has taken years to become a part of my lifestyle.
    And yes once again would re-iterate how important it is that we bring our children up to eat right.
    Diets keep changing but healthy & mindful eating never goes out of style. And of course its important to throw in a treat every now & then. I would like to be the parent who says " I don't always say no if my daughters ask for a junk food meal (say Mc D) but if I do say no they will be ok with it and not throw a tantrum!"

  3. I think you need to know yourself. A swypo can be in important crutch to get through a healing time, but you need to understand when to put the crutch away and when to move on. Resets like Whole30 are meant to be more stringent without such crutches, become aware of when you want to use them and so on. Once healthier habits are in place I think these sorts of whole food ingredients that make up other things can be a great addition to the menu. The sweets naturally will happen less often because less face it, dates tend to to be pricey (even legal honey).
    I really like your attitude toward toward the whole thing. I have a similar ojtlook toward rules that appear arbitrary. Over my lifetime I've been learning to take what I want from an "expert" and discard what doesn't fit based on my own research, needs and God-given wisdom. You are wise, smart and capable of knowing what works for you and your family. I'd love to sit and chat over a cup of coffee or tea with you.

  4. I try to limit my SWYPO consumption to as often as I feel like I ought to eat dessert (arbitrary, I know). I don't want to live on almond flour cookies, but if I am really craving goodies, or want to make something yummy for the kids, it's a much better option than chips ahoy ;-)
    If I find that I am craving the goodies all the time, I know it's time to examine what's going on in my life and make sure it's not stress eating etc. then I deal with the underlying issues which have very little to do with food.

  5. I needed to read this. Thank you. I was getting so frustrated being told a meal I made was SWYPO when it isn’t a trigger for me-it’s survival. I’m ridiculously busy with work and my daughter’s senior year and her sports schedule. I jumped into to whole 30 now because the alternative was to eat crap for the next 2 months and then start. I’m eating most meals at my desk at work or on the road. I found a sweet potato bowl with eggs inside that tastes ok although the texture is weird. It keeps me full for 3 hours and travels easily and I can make it ahead of time. I was admonished that this is SWYPO because it’s porridge. I would never eat anything of this consistently-I don’t even like mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole. As I’ve eaten it I’ve thought...this is food...take another bite so you won’t be hungry for a few hours. Does that sound like SWYPO?
    Being told this is bad, not on plan, SWYPO totally gets my hackles up-I’m not a one size fits all. I feel like if whole30 is going to be legalistic just like the Bob Jones troubadours that pulled out a ruler to separate the boys from the girls at Baptist high school this isn’t the diet for me. But for once I’m not fixated on food, I’m not eating anything bad, no sugar, chips, candy bars no crap. I’m filling my body with healthy Whole Foods and frankly, I can think of a lot of things closer to SWYPO than that-at least for me.

    P.S. I teach at a private school but if I ever get to homeschool I’m totally in the unschooling camp.

  6. Thank you for this. I’m doing paleo. I think the difference is in doing something for 30 days vs doing it on an ongoing basis. I am 2 weeks in and beginning to incorporate SWYPO. Yesterday I made muffins. I ate one and put the rest in the freezer. So it’s not an everyday thing.

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