Dear Melissa,

I did a Whole30 program during the pandemic, and since then, have had a lot of opportunities to hone in on my Food Freedom at home, since I wasn’t dining out or socializing. Now I’m getting ready for my first post-pandemic vacation/party/ business trip and need help knowing how to maintain these habits outside of my own house, in the face of social pressure, so many choices, and… alcohol. Help! –Love, everyone

Hi y’all!

I can hear the anxiety creeping into this question, so the first thing I want us to do is take a collective deep breath in through the nose, then sigh it out through the mouth. Yes, returning to a pre-pandemic “normal” can be overwhelming in so many ways—it certainly is for me! But I don’t want the FOOD part to be taking up more real estate in your head than it deserves.

Here’s a Food Freedom primer—and maybe a reframe for some of you.

  • Food Freedom is a life-long practice of determining which foods and drinks are worth it for you in that moment, in your current context.
  • It’s called a “practice” for a reason—you can’t get it “right” or “wrong.” Every choice you make in your Food Freedom is simply a learning opportunity for Future You.
  • Just like with the Whole30, there is no morality associated with your Food Freedom choices. Saying no to the cookie doesn’t make you “good” and eating the cookie doesn’t make you “bad.” There is no morality assigned to food, or to you when you eat food.
  • I like to think of Food Freedom as, “How much can I get away with eating/drinking, while still feeling as good as I want to feel?” This makes it feel like a fun experiment, rather than a test.

Does that make you feel better? I thought it might.

That having been said, you’ve been faced with far fewer challenging situations in your Food Freedom of late, because social gatherings, dining out, and travel haven’t been on the menu. Now that you’re heading off into the wild, here are some tips to help you continue to navigate your Food Freedom with grace.

Six Tips to Support Your Post-Pandemic Food Freedom

REMIND yourself of what you have decided is NEVER worth it, so when you see that food/drink/ingredient in the wild, you’ll have a solid “why” for automatically passing. There may not be a lot of foods like this, but if you know for a fact gluten, goat cheese, or red wine have historically never been worth it for you, then gluten/goat cheese/red wine in Mexico WON’T BE ANY DIFFERENT.

CONTINUE to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” understanding that THIS moment with THESE people in your CURRENT context and your CURRENT goals may be different than they were at home. Maybe white wine by yourself in your living room on a Tuesday isn’t worth it, but a glass with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant totally is. Context matters.

ON THAT NOTE … You don’t have to have the wine/pizza/dessert to enjoy this time with friends or family. That’s usually not what makes the occasion special anyway! Let’s not turn this into a “Vacation, YOLO!” event where you bypass all critical thinking and enjoy whatever is put in front of you because you’re finally out of the house. That’s the teenage rebellion version of Food Freedom, not the mature adult version that we’re pursuing.

“BUT I want to have fuuuuuun, Melissa!” Yes, I know you want to enjoy that vacation/dinner/party you’re attending. This is why you need to think critically about whether it’s worth it, or if you even want it. Do you want to spend the rest of your beach day feeling bloated, headache-y, tired, or stuck in your sugar cravings because you YOLO’d your way through breakfast? Remember, if you’re the one deciding it’s not worth it, you’re not deprived of anything. You’re just making the choice that serves your highest interest—in this case, enjoying the rest of your beach day. Repeat after me: I am an adult with a credit card and car keys. I can buy orange juice and champagne any time I want.

HERE’S another mind-blowing reframe: If you think something will be worth it and it turns out it’s not … OH WELL, NBD. This is just part of the learning experience, and you won’t always make the right call for you in that moment. Deal with the consequences and file this away for Future You. No guilt, shame, or beating yourself up—how else are you supposed to learn? Remind yourself this is a necessary part of the PRACTICE.

FINALLY,  if you feel secure in making the right choices for you until peer pressure comes into play, employ one of my techniques from Food Freedom Forever…. the pause. Deliberately pause before saying yes or giving into pressure by saying, “I don’t want any right now, let me just sit and enjoy the conversation for a bit.” Buy yourself some space and time to decide for yourself if it’s worth it and if you want it. If you do, graciously accept later in the evening. If it’s not, you may not have to say a thing, because chances are the other person forgot to re-offer it to you. If they do, you can just say, “No, I’ve thought about it and I really don’t want any tonight, thanks,” and change the subject. Practice makes perfect,  and holding that boundary is going to taste so much better than whatever not-worth-it food or drink they were pushing on you.

So there you go—my best Food Freedom tips to get back out there and make the most of your re-entry into society. (Sorry I can’t help with the “the wait for dinner is two hours” or “there are so many people on this trail this morning.”)

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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.