(Taco salad – complete with cheese and greek yogurt in place of sour cream)
At the completion of the Whole30, I believed the hardest days were behind me. I was wrong. Despite an intellectual awareness that these dietary changes (and the newfound feelings of health that came with them) were the first steps in a lifestyle overhaul, the cheese-loving glutton in me was waiting on the sidelines to shrug off the entire experiment. My inner critic had been silenced in those 30 days by a clear set of unbendable rules. Starting on Day 31, when moderation and self-experimentation came into play, I faced an entirely different set of demons – those of guilt and indulgence – which were much more threatening to my dedication to health than the sugar demon I had put behind me on Day 5.
Re-introduction as a concept seems simple enough. The Whole30 continues for 12 more days, with only a few additions and substitutions made in the now regular meal plan to test for reactivity to the previously banned food groups. In reality, it has been a blur. There was The Bat’s birthday dinner on Day 32, and several meals with family and friends who had been patiently waiting patiently in the wings until we could indulge together. Ideally, I did not expect this to pose any more of a challenge that the previous 30 days – I had figured that out without much complication, right? Turns out I am my biggest enemy (not that surprising, I know).
(Ugly, but delicious. Braised shredded beef with tomatoes and red wine)
I have a very ‘all or nothing’ personality. It works out great when I need to put my nose to the grindstone to push through a list of tasks (particularly experiments); or when I need to follow a very strict set of rules. I dive in, I have my reasons and I get it done. The flip side to that is that when that driven focus is turned off, I am really off; when I ‘let things go’, they are all over the place. So, when we went to Korean BBQ for The Bat’s birthday celebration and I planned ahead to eat only the meat (which I expected to have sugar and soy – my two first introduction groups), it took about 15 minutes for me to drop all pretense. Instead I joined a party where nothing was off limits. Come the next morning however, I paid for the booze, the bites of cheesecake and the relishes and garnishes I consumed with vacuum-like intensity the evening before.
After such a glorious belly-flop off of the ‘eat clean’ wagon, I did some intense navel gazing. What I returned to again and again was guilt. I realized that I have a horrible habit – once that first misstep is taken, I assume all is lost and, now that I’ve screwed up, I might as well try one of everything. The idea of taking just one bite, or stopping after indulging just a bit seems completely foreign. The frustration of letting myself down from a previously set goal sets in, and now the eating has the dual function of feeding my ‘all-or-nothing’ compulsion and cushioning the guilt.
(Pork sausage, tomato, scallion scramble with Kartoffelpuffer – German potato pancake – and applesauce)
The Whole30 had all but destroyed this destructive emotional eating cycle – no weigh-ins to beat myself up about, no one-to-many-glasses-of-wine nights out with friends or late night nacho binges. I followed the rules to the letter, I lost 11 lbs. (yay!) and, by the end, it no longer felt like work. I was completely unprepared for the resurgence of those bad habits once I allowed ‘bad foods’ back into my life. I fought back – even returning to safety of the Whole30 rules for several days – to remind myself how satisfying it is to eat clean AND be in charge of my emotions (in hindsight, the reintroduction of soy and sugar maybe was not the best place to start for impulse control).
(How to test gluten without chemicals? The infamous No Knead Bread)
After a few days to regain some semblance of control, I returned to a proper re-introduction cycle. Here’s how it went:
Sugar/Sweetners – Sugar is horrible. This I knew before, but living without it for 30 days underscored the point. Once reintroduced, it caused headaches and bellyaches, general malaise and mood swings. No one needs that. I plan to go forward limiting this as much as possible, using honey if needed.
Soy – No obvious adverse effects upon reintro, and I am delighted to dip my sashimi and have The Bat’s secret stir-fry sauce again. That being said, I have a new appreciation to the extent to which many prepared foods are supplemented with soy products, something I would like to limit from here on out. So, I’m excited to eat tofu, but not in my tuna – and I will shop accordingly.
Alcohol – After a dedicated reintroduction, I was thrilled to learn that a glass of wine is still a viable option. It appears that sake and the occasional liquor are also ok (with the limits of no sweetened mixers, of course). Beer remains an outstanding question – although a few sips taken from The Bat’s pint last weekend suggest that this may be a sore spot. In honor of this week’s holiday our lab is visiting the Green Flash tasting room for happy hour tomorrow – no time like the present to find out, right?
Dairy and Gluten – These two are getting lumped together because my response to them was basically the same – ick. I have not found my missing link – it is a low-level malaise that sets in when I eat cheese or crackers. Both give me a sense of fullness, but in a bubbly, not-so-good-way. So, not horribly bad (which is a relief), but not how I want to feel constantly. Something I will knowingly indulge in occasionally, when I feel willing to take on the consequences.
Legumes (other than soy), non-gluten grains – Next on my list, although not horribly missed so I will take them as they come.
With the exception of beer as a possible ‘silver bullet’, the self-experimentation about which I had been so interested was rather boring. My most interesting observation came post-dairy/post-gluten, when I realized that the sudden low-level ‘ick’ I was feeling was how I had been used to feeling day in, day out before the Whole30. Understanding that I now know how to feel really good on a daily basis provided me with a palpable sense of relief. After several weeks going without and realizing the true impact on my belly, the concept of treating bread and cheese as treats to be savored, rather than their own daily food groups, is much easier to swallow.
Although I haven’t quite identified my IBS trigger, I am pretty much convinced that the compounding of each ‘low-level icks’ could have been enough – especially with the additional excess of chemicals in prepared foods I was not previously aware of that I am now avoiding by learning how to make my own staples (a topic for its own post sometime soon). Looking forward, I feel cautiously excited; rather than feeling deprived of tasty foods, I am (mostly) giving up things that are keeping me from being/feeling the best I can on a daily basis. In the end, it is fighting my inner emotional relationship with food, my compulsive ‘all-or-nothing’-ness that will be the real challenge. The Whole30 allowed me to hide behind my beloved rules for a bit, building up knowledge, motivation and pride that I will use to (eventually) silence the inner critic once and for all. For this, I would be really intersted to hear from you – how you recover from slipping up and motivate to get back on the wagon (whatever it may be – diet, exercise, work), and how you might suggest achieving balance as I move forward into the uncharted territory where I make my own rules?
Despite the challenges and chaos that comes from confronting my own weaknesses, I remain thrilled with the entire Whole30 process. To learn that after several decades dealing with a range of ‘belly issues’ that I could feel great on a daily basis and go weeks without even thinking about my health is a revelation on its own. Not to mention the pride and motivation that comes from achieving this in a way that is sustainable and tastes good. These are all goals that I would gladly give up bread (gasp!) and cheese (shudder!) – even beer (sigh!) – to achieve.
As always, feel free to contact me on Instagram @researchingsandiego!