January Whole30 friends you are creeping up on the final week of your Whole30!! It may feel like this last month has lasted at eternity or perhaps it has flown by, in any case, the end is now in sight and you are almost there! With day 30 just over a week away, it is a great time to begin thinking about the reintroduction process which is the gateway between your life now on Whole30 and finding your Food Freedom.
The reintroduction process is key and while it is quite tempting to hit day 31 and eat whatever you want, Whole30 compliant or not, I highly encourage you to follow the rules. You have worked really hard these last 30 days so do yourself the honor of continuing the journey for a few more days and reintroduce the foods you've removed over the last month slowly back into your diet. If you decide to celebrate the end of your Whole30 with pizza and wine, and then have a terrible nights sleep, wake up with a headache, feel bloated, foggy and/or all of the above, without reintroduction you will never know if it was the dairy from the cheese, grains from the crust or the alcohol that caused any one of those post-indulgence symptoms.
The book Food Freedom Forever is an excellent read as you enter the reintroduction phase of your Whole30. You'll also find great resources available on the Whole30 website regarding 'What is Food Freedom', reintroduction and how to do it, extending your Whole30 past the orignal 30 days and more. There are essentially two ways to do your reintroduction according to Whole30, a quick, ten-day process and a longer, more slow and drawn out route. My first two rounds I did the quick ten-day version and with my third (and now fourth) I am a little more free spirited about it and don't follow a particular method although it would look a lot more like the drawn out version. I have a good handle on the foods that I've removed, how they fit into my food-freedom when I'm not on a round and how they will affect me when added back in to my diet. Once you've been through the program once or twice that may be the route you take as well but if it's your first time through, I definitely suggest you pick one of the two suggested reintroduction methods.
The quicker reintroduction process is about ten days though you could make it as long as you need to really evaluate the foods you're adding in. Essentially, you will add back in the foods you've removed one group at a time from least problematic to most. It's quicker but you will still be easing it in. For example, on day 31, you'll add in legumes keeping the remainder of your diet Whole30. That might look like having some peanut butter with a banana at lunch and adding black beans to your dinner. After that day, the next two days are back to Whole30 style eating so you can evaluate the addition of legumes. You'll use the next couple of days to consider, how did you feel with legumes/etc back in the diet? Do you have feel any changes to your mental or physical health? Consider how you feel and evaluate when, how often or if you want to add them back into your diet. You'll keep them out for now until you've successfully added back in all the other food groups. For example, then on day 34, you'll add in non-gluten grains, keeping the rest of the diet Whole30 (no legumes), and then back to Whole30 to evaluate for a couple of days before going down the line of all the other foods you've removed.
The longer, more conservative reintroduction process doesn't have as strict and direct of a timelime. If you hit day 31 and you are feeling so great with your Whole30 that you aren't ready to add the removed foods back in, you don't have to, at least yet. Keep going as you are and when you have that instinct to add in the legumes, for example, go for it. Add them in over the course of whatever day/meal you decide but do continue to keep the rest of your diet Whole30 so you can evaluate legumes alone. If the legumes don't disagree with you, keep them in with the remainder of the foods Whole30 until you feel that hankering to add in the non-gluten grains. Wash, rinse and repeat. This is a great approach for those of you that are just starting to reap the benefits of your Whole30 and aren't quite ready to dive back into adding everything else back in. You could take this longer, drawn out process as long as you feel necessary. Give yourself ample time to evaluate each of the foods you add back in and decide when, what, how, if you want to add that food back into your diet.
The process of figuring out your Food Freedom takes some trial and effort and might not be super clear with just one round. Definitely pay attention to how food makes you feel mentally, emotionally and not just physically. On my first round I was so curious about what, if any foods, were going to cause a not-so-great physical reaction sending me to the little girls room that I didn't really think or focus my attention on how they were contributing to my mental state. Turns out not really any removed foods would upset my stomach but they would interfere with the clear headed emotional and mental clarity that I'd been having. On my second round I paid much more attention to how the foods I added back in contributed to my anxiety, stress and mental health. My advice to you is try to consider all facets of yourself (mind/body/spirit) when adding foods back in, not just one component.
It's for sure a process but one that is totally worth it and really is why you are taking this journey in the first place. Whole30 is not called Whole365 for a reason. You may not be ready at day 30 to be done, especially if you aren't quite feeling the success in terms of non-scale victories just yet. And, depending on how you ate pre-Whole30 it might take longer than 30 days. That's all ok. Keep in mind however, that this isn't a 'diet' in the traditional sense of the word. It's a food behavior and general lifestyle shift. Through the reintroduction process and finding your Food Freedom, you will gain a better, healthier relationship with food. So while you might eat a Whole30-esque/Paleo diet long after your 30 days are done (that's me!), you can enjoy a donut or have a beer when you want and don't feel any regret/shame/internal criticism for doing so.
Now for me, it isn't as much about what foods do and do not jive well with my body. After my second and third rounds, I have gotten a pretty good handle on what foods trigger my anxiety, cause me to feel a little less clear-headed, cause bloat, etc. Now I use the time after my Whole30 to continue to determine the limits and volume at which I can handle each of those foods, how often and when I choose to eat them. Today I do cook a lot of meals at home to be Whole30-compliant or Paleo but through my rounds of Whole30 that is what I prefer. That being said, if a buy a meat at the store that has added sugar, I don't sweat it. If I am asked out for dinner, I don't freak at the thought of what to order and what added oils/sugars/etc the food ordered may be cooked in. I have learned a ton through these rounds of Whole30 but there is always more to be figured out.
Pre-my first round of Whole30 I ate yogurt at 10am every day, literally every day. The clock would strike ten and I'd go to the kitchen to grab my yogurt regardless if I was really 'hungry' or not. I haven't had yogurt since 2017. I learned through Whole30 to eat when I'm hungry and through adding back in dairy, I realized yogurt in particular just wasn't one of those 'worth it' foods for me. I was eating it back in the day because it was filling some sort of need but hunger was not it. Since removing this daily 10am yogurt treat, I have not missed it one bit. These are the kinds of things you'll figure out as you move into your Food Freedom. You'll be able to identify what's 'worth it' and what isn't. For me, eating a donut with my kids on a Saturday morning even if it may make my belly bloat is 'worth it'. That being said, this is one area I'm still constantly figuring out. How many/how much 'worth it' foods can I handle before I derail? I can do a single donut but where I have to be careful is how that donut might affect other foods I consume that might not be 'worth it' which then sends me into overconsuming. This was especially true over the holidays which is one reason I choose to participate in Whole30 this month. I needed to rediscover my why, to hone in on those non-scale victories recalling how good I feel when I am in control of my food intake, and re-establish my healthy relationship with food.
Hopefully this hasn't intimidated you as you close out your Whole30 and move towards your Food Freedom. It can be comforting at this stage of your Whole30 to just keep on keeping on not wanting to reintroduce anything out of fear, uncertainty, etc. If this is you, the slower, more drawn out reintroduction process might be for you. On the other hand, if you are counting down the days until you are done with this science experiment, you're probably going to want to try out the quicker ten day reintro. Whatever camp you most likely fall into, definitely choose one. Work your way through the reintroduction process to find out how the foods you've removed these last 30 days affect you for better or worse. After all, life isn't about restriction 24/7/365. Once you know what foods jive well with you, which you can handle in small doses and which you are totally comfortable never eating again (in my case, yogurt), you will be on your way to such a healthier relationship with yourself and with food. Food Freedom is a powerful, liberating thing and I'm excited for you to take that next step!