So you’ve completed the Whole30 challenge, but now what? How do you make this work in real life? After some trial and error and multiple Whole30 challenges, I’ve found what works for me, and I think this process will help you find what works for you too.
Step 1: Reintroduction
I really messed this part up after my first Whole30 challenge. If I remember correctly, I ended my challenge with a binge meal at Olive Garden of all places. In a single large meal I reintroduced dairy, gluten, alcohol and sugar. Trust me, this is NOT the way to celebrate! Needless to say I ended up on the toilet pretty soon after my meal, but I had no idea which one of those things caused it.
A lot of people miss this incredibly important step of the process: reintroducing the food groups that you have cut out for 30 days. You’ve successfully cleansed your body from all potentially harmful food, and now is your chance to see what kind of reaction your body will have to each of these foods, telling you whether or not you should eliminate them completely.
While still keeping your diet Whole30 compliant, reintroduce a food group, one at a time, and wait three days before reintroducing the next previously restricted food group. During those three days, be in tune with your body and keep a close watch for any changes. Watch for all kinds of reactions, ranging from sluggishness, bloating, or pimples, to diarrhea, constipation, or stomach cramps. After 3 days, while still keeping your diet Whole30 compliant, reintroduce another food group. Watch for changes in how you feel. Repeat this process until you’ve reintroduced all of the food groups that you feel like you missed out on during your Whole30 challenge. Don’t bother reintroducing foods that you did not miss and are not interested in including in your diet.
It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig goes into a more detailed description of how to do this and I highly recommend buying it. You can also find their complete reintroduction plan on their website, Whole30.
Here is a sample schedule of how you could reintroduce food. This is just the order I chose to reintroduce foods into my every day diet but you can alter it to your preferences and needs.
Day 1 (Day 31 of Whole30): Reintroduce dairy. Throughout the day, add some cheese, milk or yogurt to your regular meals. Watch for signs of intolerance. Many people get stomach cramps, pimples, a runny nose and congestion from dairy products. Decide how you feel and if it is “worth it” to add dairy back to your regular diet. For myself, dairy gives me dark circles under my eyes, a runny nose the next day, and a general feeling of tiredness. Because of this, I keep it out of my regular diet. However, because it doesn’t send me running to the toilet or give me intense stomach cramps, I have no problem indulging in some dairy as a treat once in while at a birthday party or similar situation. I know I won’t feel my best the day after, but it’s not going to make me extremely ill.
Day 4 (Day 35 of Whole30): Reintroduce grains/gluten. Have a bagel or some toast, some crackers and maybe some rice throughout the day. Just as you did with the dairy, pay attention to any reactions you may have. For myself, bread make me constipated and sluggish. I hate how I feel for 24 hours after I eat it and so I avoid it as much as possible. Some grains bother me less than others but almost all make me feel sluggish and so I keep them out of my regular diet.
Day 7 (Day 39 of Whole30): Reintroduce sugar. This was such an eye opener for me. I had no idea how sensitive I am to sugar until I did this reintroduction. Just a handful of M&M’s can give me a major sugar crash about 20 minutes after indulging. With the exception of high quality very dark chocolate, I reserve sugar for special occasions. I rarely sweeten things in my regular diet, but if I do then I use organic raw honey or organic maple syrup in small quantities. Pay special attention during this evaluation as the signs may not be as physical and obvious as they can be with gluten or dairy.
Step 2: Eating Well for Your Body
So now you know which foods irritate your body and which foods make you feel great. You’ve decided which foods are worth adding back into your regular diet either consistently (every day), moderately (2-3x per week), or rarely, for special occasions. Now you get to practice this in your life and get comfortable with your new way of eating. Learning to meal plan and meal prep takes time at first, but with practice it becomes quicker and simpler. It used to take me a few hours each week to make my meal plan, write out the corresponding grocery list, and chop/prepare my food for the week ahead, but now I spend approximately 20-30 minutes making my meal plan and shopping list and maybe another 30 minutes preparing food.
Every Sunday I receive an email from my CSA group letting me know what veggies I will be receiving on the following Tuesday. Once I’ve skimmed the email and got an idea of the contents, I sit down and make my meal plan. I thumb through my favourite cookbooks (Against All Grain, The Paleo Kitchen, Well Fed 1&2, Practical Paleo, Nom Nom Paleo, etc) and find recipes that use the produce I will be receiving. I choose 7 dinners and 3 or 4 smaller meals for breakfast and lunch. As I write down the title of the meal and page number of the cookbook it’s from, I jot down any extra ingredients that I will need to buy on a separate piece of paper, and that is my grocery list for the week. (With more and more practice and exploring, I’m aiming to make this extra ingredients list as small as possible so that I am using only what comes in my CSA box.)
When I receive my CSA box on Tuesday, I wash and chop most of my vegetables and separate them into produce bags or glass containers. If I know that I have an exceptionally busy week ahead, I will chop and partially cook any yams, potatoes or beets. You can partially steam any dense vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, or you can also pre-shred your zucchini and yams for Breakfast Hash. If I have any vegetables left by the end of the week, I throw them all together in a Breakfast Skillet.
Each week I visit my local butcher shop and get just enough meat for the week, corresponding with the meals I have planned for. I ask them to wrap it all separately for each individual meal so it defrosts quicker on the day I need it. In Well Fed 1 and 2, Melissa Joulwan lays out a detailed description of how to cook and prep your meat for the week. I have the time to cook mine fresh each day, so I don’t follow her plan, but I know others who do and find it extremely helpful.
I cook once and eat two or three times from that meal. I love leftovers and never let any food go to waste. I often eat leftover dinner for breakfast, and leftover breakfast for lunch.
Where do I even begin? Because I’ve never felt so strong as I do now, after about 1.5 years of consistently eating this way. Because I no longer have any guilt related to my food choices. Because by choosing to live this way, I can keep up with my 3 year old and 1 year old and still have energy to spare. Because I’m free from the anxiety and confusion surrounding my food choices. Because I’m showing my children that this lifestyle is a real, attainable and sustainable way to live.
Read more about why and how Whole30 Changed My Life and helped me recover from years of disordered eating.
Some of my favourite meal planning resources:
Photograph by the incredibly talented Vanessa Voth Photography.