I have 3 days left of my 30 days of the Whole 30 Program. That's it. I am so close that I can already taste the gluten hitting my 'buds (because my first meal WILL BE pizza. Real, gluten packed, doughy pizza.)
But, not so fast. As I have so commonly done the past two times I attempted to take on the Whole30 program, I went buck wild with eating all the carbs, drinking all the wine (holy headache), and eating JUGS of hummus. This time, I'm listening to what the founder of the program, Melissa Hartwig, says. To help with understanding this, and to give a general overview and explanation of why hundreds of thousands of people across the US are taking on this 30 day challenge, I called up my friend Maggie Hauser who preaches Whole 30 and even helps coach friends through the program. Here's what she has to say.
This past winter, I drove from Ann Arbor to Toledo for Whole30 creator Melissa Hartwig’s book tour event. I was just about halfway through the January Whole30 - like many people in attendance - and was looking for a little extra inspiration for myself and the group I was coaching for the month. I loved Melissa’s energy; she kept it very real while telling stories, sharing tips, and enthusiastically answering a ton of questions. One of the most important things I left with (in addition to a hug and signed books of course) was the reminder that the Whole30 isn’t just about the 30 days; it’s about what comes AFTER. It’s about the skills and lessons you learn, the habits you build, the non-scale victories you achieve, and ideally, a healthier relationship with food moving forward.
So how can Whole30ers expect to learn all of that in the midst of strategizing, grocery shopping and meal prepping? Let me back up a bit. Food is meant to fuel our bodies and minds, but most of us often use food as reward or punishment; to comfort, or to celebrate. Then we jump into a diet, cleanse, or reset to get us back on track (and if we’re being honest, to drop a few pounds). I’m not saying that all diets are bad - and there certainly are folks who need to follow a specific way of eating for medical reasons - but research shows that the diet industry and culture can actually create very unhealthy behaviors. Fad diets don’t teach you what and how to eat to optimize your body; taking into account your genetics, your digestion, your hormones, etc. An elimination and reintroduction protocol like the Whole30 (if done properly) is one tool that can.
The not-so-secret secret? By removing the most common food intolerances for a period of time, you can help your body balance it’s blood sugar levels, regulate (and repair) digestion, and identify sensitivities. On Day 31, the Whole30 is over, but the intentional reintroduction phase begins. A mistake I made after my first Whole30 was feeling SO good and pumped to have successfully completed the program that I dove face first into chips, queso and drinks to celebrate. No joke. Sure, those margaritas were good, but the awful sugar hangover and the reminder of my emotional tie to food didn’t feel so good. A reintroduction done more intentionally the next time confirmed my suspicion of a dairy sensitivity, identified sugar craving patterns, and inspired me to do more research on the effects of soy. Now I know what will happen when I eat cheese or cow milk products (hello, adult acne!) or have several meals with added sugar in a row (energy roller-freaking-coaster). It’s not about always saying no and resisting my trigger foods, though. It’s okay to indulge, and I do, but now I know to ask myself: “Is it worth it today?”
When Molly hits Day 31, her focus is going to shift into reintroduction for what Whole30ers call food freedom. It will be up to her to determine how and when she wants to incorporate foods back into her diet, empowering her to make informed and (hopefully) easy choices moving forward. Food freedom, according to Melissa Hartwig, is intuitively listening to your body instead of a set of rules. We are all biologically different. I believe that the future of health is a return to a more ancient approach: 1) figure out what food (plus movement and supplements) works best to fuel and optimize your unique body, then 2) let that knowledge support intuitive eating and dietary choices. Powerful yet simple stuff! Luckily, we’ve seen an increase in nutrition professionals, registered dieticians, and health coaches (soon to be me!) who support clients in creating and implementing individualized plans that can be life-changing.
To recap: the Whole30 is not actually a diet and it is not meant to be followed forever (praise be). The program isn’t saying that all of the restricted/off-limits foods are evil and that they should never be eaten again. This 30-day self experiment helps people begin to figure out how certain foods impact the body and mind; affecting energy levels, sleep patterns, inflammation, digestion, skin, weight, and even emotional responses. Some people even find that they want to explore further food testing with their doctor after Whole30. It’s all a learning experience. Is it worth the commitment? In my opinion, absolutely. Is it going to take work to get there? You bet… just ask Mol! It’s easy to identify what you’re “missing out on” during the program (happy hour wine, late night Skyline, Karen’s 47th birthday cake at the office), but that’s all temporary. It’s up to you to commit for the full 30 days and teach yourself how best to operate within your own personal food freedom.
Even better is that you don’t have to do it alone. The Whole30 community is massive and growing, and the CSOB community is one of the most supportive spaces around. I’m cheering Molly and all the September Whole30ers on each and every day!
A few resources for Navigating Your Whole30 Reintroduction & Food Freedom:
Mark Sisson of Primal Kitchen, a Whole30 affiliate partner, writes on simplifying reintroduction here
Whole30 blog posts about food freedom here
Maggie Hauser is a current student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). She has led several Whole30 accountability groups and informally coached individuals through the program. Interested in obtaining resources, working with Maggie in the future, or finding out more about IIN? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and @maggie_p_h on Instagram. Maggie is temporarily living in Mannheim, Germany with her husband Andrew where she is studying, traveling ALL over Europe, and beginning to build her health coaching business!