It has been three months since I finished the Whole 30 and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how my re-introduction went, what resulted out of that experience for me and how things are going for me in a post-Whole 30 world.
There are a couple of ways you can re-introduce foods in the Whole 30. You can choose to fast track your re-introduction which has you re-introducing all the foods you eliminated over the course of a week and a half, or you can choose to gradually re-introduce foods as the situation arises. The idea of adding in all the foods I eliminated in such a short period of time frightened me. I felt like it would be opening up the floodgates and it would be difficult to determine what foods were fine for me and which ones were not. I was also worried about gaining back the weight I had lost. It felt like I had made such a positive change in my life, and I was worried that if I indulged in gluten or sugar that I wouldn’t be able to go without again. Plus, I was feeling really good eating this way; I wasn’t experiencing any of the negative feelings I had before I started.
But, I was missing some of those foods I eliminated. Not in a desperate, “I need you now” way, but the “a bowl of pasta sounds pretty damn good right now” kind of way. The idea of going the rest of my life without apple crumble at Christmas or pizza and beer with friends was sad to me. For some reasosn, when I thought about my re-introduction, it felt like it had to be all or nothing. Nevertheless, it seemed unreasonable to assume that I wouldn’t eventually eat these foods I had sworn off.
For the first five days after the program ended, I continued to eat Whole 30. Then a couple of friends and I went for dinner to a great all-vegan restaurant in downtown St. Catharines, Rise Above. It was then that I was confronted with my first re-introduction: croutons. I know, you’re probably shaking your head, saying “Croutons?! That barely counts as bread!” But to me, that was a big step. For me, it was less about the bread itself and more about taking the step in re-introducing foods. It meant that I could try it, see how I like it and how it makes me feel and then decide if I want to keep it as part of my regular diet. It was difficult to tell after just that salad how gluten reacted with my body, but it was a start.
In the weeks that followed, I re-introduced most foods sporadically, with the majority of my diet still consisting of Whole 30 compliant foods. I bought some hummus and took that in my lunch a few days with some veggies. At a formal event, I tested the waters of dairy with various types of cheeses from the antipasto bar and ice cream for dessert. I shared some wine with a friend one evening over girl talk and enjoyed my first beer in two months at a work event. Once in a while I would have bread; maybe a slice with dinner at a restaurant or a delicious sandwich made with fresh, homemade bread from The Kitchen. At a baby shower there was homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing that just couldn’t be passed up and when my mom invited us for dinner with my dad’s famous Beef and Ginger on a bed of rice, I couldn’t refuse.
All of these additions were decisions I made in the moment, and not all at once. There were times when I was confronted with non-Whole 30 food and I decided I didn’t want them and there were times when I decided I did. And you know what? I’m glad I did it this way because I figured out how my body responds to certain foods. I learned that certain types of dairy, like milk and cream, give me bad stomach pains. Wine gives me headaches and I generally don’t like the way I feel after drinking it, but beer and liquor (in moderation) are fine! The food that I was most anxious about re-introducing was sugar. It was definitely my weakness, so I was really surprised to find out that is has a serious effect on my mood. On days when I’ve had sugar I get the urge to snack more often, I find myself grouchy for no reason and my energy levels usually fade early in the evening. And of course, I am allergic to avocado which wasn’t so disappointing to me – I didn’t really like avocado anyway.
So, was my Whole 30 experiment a success? You tell me! Here is a list of all my “non-scale victories”:
- My skin is clearer and brighter.
- No more stomach pains.
- I sleep better at night and I have more energy in the evenings.
- I’ve become a pro at reading food labels. Hidden ingredients like sugars and preservatives have become public enemy number one in my life.
- I have become more focused on my goals, both food related and otherwise. This one is thanks in large part to Michelle Grocholsky for coaching me through some of the things that had been weighing on my mind lately. When I signed up for the 30 Day Reset with Health Over All, a coaching session was included, but you can set up your own appointment with Michelle here.
- I pay attention to the way I feel more often. If I’m not hungry, I won’t snack on the cookies in the break room. If the cupcakes at the party aren’t delicious, I won’t finish it. But, if there are Beachwood Doughnuts and I feel like having one, you bet I’m going to do it. I don’t let myself feel guilty for indulging in a treat every once in awhile because I know that I have made the decision myself and not out of habit.
- I learned how to successfully meal plan. I had tried it in the past, but often ended up planning super-elaborate meals that made me weeknights more complicated than easier. Now, I’ve learned how to plan meals that are budget-friendly, use in-season produce and don’t soak up hours of my time.
- Planning my weekly meals and buying my groceries accordingly has actually saved me money. I no longer throw out bags of rotten produce because it has sat unused in my fridge for a week.
For me, the biggest part of this journey has been letting go of the fear of food. Food is not the enemy and certain types of food are not inherently “bad”. What makes these foods bad is the way we use and abuse them. Sugar can be a delightful treat, but when it’s lurking in your processed and pre-packaged foods, it becomes a hidden secret that changes the way your body and mind function. Gluten may make some people sick, but for me it doesn’t seem to be a problem. So, for me, this process has been all about figuring out what kinds of foods give me energy, taste delicious and make me feel good and limiting the foods that bring me down. Notice I said “limit”. Aside from avocado, there is no food that is off the table.
And that fear that I would gain all the weight back? Totally unwarranted. In fact, the opposite has happened for me. During my 30 Days, I lost 8 pounds. In the time since I finished, I have managed to change that number to 20! And I haven’t even been trying (please don’t hate me). I eat the foods I want when I want to. I am eating wholesome, delicious food that don’t have any ingredients I can’t pronounce. I’m not eating burgers or brownies every night of the week, but if I feel like having that one night, why not? Maybe this approach won’t work for anyone, but it did for me and I’m learning that one person’s experience does not mean the same thing for another.
So, if you’re considering doing the Whole 30, here is my advice:
- Do your research. Read up about the program and decide if it is right for you. If you are a vegetarian, pregnant or have food allergies, you may need to tweak the program slightly to suit you. The Whole 30 website is full of great resources for that. It might also be a good idea to talk to your doctor anytime you plan to modify your diet to make sure it is safe to do so.
- Don’t join the program because you want to lose weight. Yes, many people who complete the program do lose weight, but it’s not about that. There are so many non-scale victories that can come out of this experience and focusing on weight loss may overshadow the other amazing things this program can do for you.
- Plan, plan, plan. Pick a start date at least a week in advance to give yourself some time to understand the rules, rid your home of non-compliant foods and stock up on the healthy staples. Plus, make sure you are planning your meals in advance. I typically sit down Saturday morning to plan my meals for the week and then go grocery shopping in the afternoon or on Sunday morning.
- Have a buddy. Thankfully Mike did this program with me. If he hadn’t I feel like it would have been more challenging. If you don’t have a buddy to share the journey with you, I think it would be a great idea to have some honest conversations with your friends and family members about why you’re doing the program and what that will look like over the next 30 days. It’s also a great chance to let them know what they can do to support you. There are also numerous forums and groups online of people doing the Whole 30 all over the world that you can join when you need a question answered or you need someone to convince you that snickers bar is not worth starting over.
- Have fun with it. You are going to find some fantastic recipes, cook delicious meals and learn how your body reacts to certain foods. It’s a great opportunity to check-in and give your body a reset, especially after the holiday season.
Doing the Whole 30 changed a lot of things for me, but it was all for the better. If you’re interested in doing the Whole 30, I’d love to hear how it goes. Good luck and enjoy!