October 3, 2023

Dear Melissa: Why does Whole30 reintroduction feel harder than elimination?

Dear Melissa—Melissa Urban wearing a light blue jean top and darker blue jeans, cooking on a wooden table top, and smiling at the camera.

Dear Melissa, 

I know how important Whole30 reintroduction is to my Food Freedom, but I still struggle with this phase. Why does 10 days of reintroduction feel even harder than 30 days of elimination? Love, Everyone

Dear Everyone,

So you rock your Whole30 elimination, but stumble when it comes to reintroduction, even though reintroduction takes less than half the time and includes the same Whole30 meals you’ve been enjoying? Here are three reasons why your Whole30 reintroduction feels so hard, and steps you can take to immediately improve your Whole30 results.

Reason 1: You don’t think of reintroduction as part of the Whole30 

When I started putting Whole30 resources together in 2009, I spent all of  my time focused on helping you through 30 days of no added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy. The 30 days of elimination are challenging, and often represents a huge change to your everyday diet. You needed shopping lists, meal templates, travel guides, pantry-stocking guides, emergency food ideas… those 30 days require a ton of guidance, support, and resources. Since I was building the program from scratch, that’s where my time was spent for the first few years. 

Still, I assumed you’d recognize how important reintroduction was to your experience, and your Whole30 results. Especially as reintroduction is the fun part, where you get to add foods back in! And because reintroduction is where you identify the foods that may have been contributing negatively to your symptoms.

However, we soon realized many of you were skipping a proper reintroduction—or any reintroduction at all. So we started emphasizing reintroduction as the second half of the Whole30, as it is with any elimination program. It’s not optional. It’s not negotiable. You’re not done with the Whole30 until you’ve finished a structured, systematic reintroduction. But some of you may still be missing the mindset shift.

I know it’s called the Whole30. I wish “the Whole40 maybe 46” rolled off the tongue better, but that is how you have to think about it. You’re not done with the Whole30 until you’ve finished reintroduction, and then (using the book Food Freedom Forever) take what you’ve learned in both phases to craft your perfect, sustainable Food Freedom plan. 

THE FIX: Start thinking about your Whole30 as elimination and reintroduction, and treat each phase with the same diligence and commitment. Build reintroduction into your calendar. Don’t plan a major celebration, vacation, or athletic event until those 10+ days are over. Cross off your reintroduction days just as you did the first 30. Your Whole30 isn’t over until reintroduction is over.

Reason 2. You don’t understand the importance of reintroduction

We’ve explained the importance of eliminating for 30 straight days, 100% by the books. You’re excited to see what happens to your body and brain in the absence of these potentially problematic foods. Will your digestion improve, will your skin clear up, will you have more energy, fewer cravings, better sleep, less pain? The elimination period is exciting, and the results can show up fast and feel highly motivating. At the end of the program, you may feel so good, you just can’t imagine going back to your old habits. If that’s how you feel, do you really need to reintroduce?

Yes, you do. Especially if this is how you feel. Without reintroduction, you’ve only completed half the experiment. Which means you’ve only learned half as much as you could from the Whole30. You know you feel better when you don’t eat any of these food groups–amazing! Wonderful news! Life is good! But you still miss some of the foods you used to eat, and really want to bring them back in a way that still keeps you feeling your best. To do that, you’ll need to know which foods, specifically, were contributing to your skin conditions, digestive issues, energy dips, cravings, sleep disturbances, and pain or fatigue? You discover that half of the equation in reintroduction.

I’ve explained this in a lot more detail in the Kickstart Your Whole30 Reintroduction webinar. Here, you’ll learn that without reintroduction, there is no Food Freedom. Trust me, to get the full picture of just how important reintroduction is to your Whole30 results and Food Freedom plan, you’ll want to watch. 

THE FIX: Recognize that reintroduction is where you learn 50% of the lessons the program can teach you, and where you can truly maximize your Whole30 results. Watch our free Kickstart Your Whole30 Reintroduction webinar on the Whole30 website. Take good notes, start planning your reintroduction food groups and meals, and achieve the Whole30 results you’ve been dreaming of!

Reason 3. You’re nervous about reintroducing

For many, the 30-day elimination period of the Whole30 feels like freedom, even if you’re missing some of your favorite foods. During elimination, decisions are pretty black-and-white: Is there sugar in the ingredients? Is there dairy in the dressing? There’s no debating with yourself, no negotiations–just a simple “yes, this fits” or “no, this isn’t compatible.” This can feel vastly reassuring, like a safe little cocoon.

In addition, elimination can make you feel so good, you’re nervous to mess with it. If you came to the program with unrelenting cravings, chronic pain or fatigue, digestive distress, or energy slumps, it makes sense why you wouldn’t want to go back to that. You may see reintroduction as a threat to your current state, or be so nervous about what reintroduction might bring that you try to cling to elimination for as long as you can hold out. 

However, the Whole30 wasn’t meant to be followed long-term; it’s a short-term elimination and reintroduction program. Avoiding reintroduction isn’t going to lead you to Food Freedom, either. (Many of you know this from experience.) So yes, you have to reintroduce, but you don’t have to be nervous about it! 

We’ve designed the reintroduction phase just as carefully as the elimination phase, to set you up for success. Even if a reintroduction group brings on negative symptoms, you’ll always return to the elimination phase for 2-3 days afterward. This allows you time to let those symptoms calm, and provides you with the structure and meals you’ll need to help you find your footing again. Even if a reintroduction day brings back cravings, energy disruptions, pain, or other issues–you’ll know exactly how to quickly get back to a healthy balance. It’s right there in the plan! Just return to the elimination phase until you feel good again. 

THE FIX: Reassure your brain that you do have a good reintroduction plan, and there is no reason to be nervous. Create a calendar of reintroduction days and which food groups you’ll bring back on which days, adding 2-3 days of Whole30 elimination between each group. You can find a sample schedule on our website, or on page 66 of Food Freedom Forever. If you get to your third day back on elimination and discover you’re still not feeling your best, just add another day or two! Take as long as you need before reintroducing the next food group. Use Real Plans to easily plan each of your reintroduction meals and in-between Whole30 meals. 

Reintroduction success!

Succeeding with the Whole30 and extending that success into your Food Freedom depends on your commitment to the full process, not just the 30-day elimination period. I hope you’ve found some mindset shifts and tips here to help you see reintroduction through in a whole new way. Stay committed, stick to your reintroduction plan, and enjoy all of the benefits the second phase of the Whole30 can bring you.

XO Melissa

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