Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
So, you’ve done a Whole 30® (or other dietary reset involving the removal of potentially allergenic or sensitizing foods to establish homeostasis). It’s over. It went well. You feel good. You’re ready to take on the world. Now what?
Officially, you’re supposed to reintroduce the allergenic foods you removed, one at a time, to see how they affect your digestive, psychological, metabolic, and overall health. After all, the main point of the Whole 30 is to uncover the allergenic foods that actually bother you and the ones that don’t. A broad, diverse diet is awesome if you tolerate it, and having more foods available to eat makes living easier and more enjoyable. There’s no reason not to eat legumes (or dairy, or a glass of wine) if you like them and they don’t negatively affect your health. The reintroduction phase of the Whole 30 simply helps you learn which of those foods work and which don’t. That said, it’s intimidating for a lot of folks….
Indeed, the reintroduction phase is crucial. It’s important to do it right, but it also doesn’t have to be a miserable or fraught experience. The Whole30 folks have a quick schedule for reintroducing banned foods—so go read that. Then, come back here and read my tips for making your reintroduction easier and less stressful:
In other words, go with the flow. This is a huge departure from the measured, regimented 10-day reintroduction phase the official plan recommends. There’s nothing wrong with that prescription, but it doesn’t always intuitively “fit,” and I don’t think anyone needs to feel rushed through this phase. Going with the flow appeals to a lot of people. That’s how I am, too.
So, if it feels right, just stay Whole30 compliant and see what happens.
Maybe it’s day 82, and you’re out for a work dinner. Your manager is pouring a great bottle of Malbec. He offers you a pour. You drink it. Goes great with the ribeye you’re tucking into. There. That’s a reintroduction.
Maybe it’s day 70, and the server accidentally included beans and rice in your bean-less and rice-less burrito bowl. Oh well. You go for it. Scoop some of the beans out, but eat the rest. There. That’s a reintroduction.
Maybe it’s day 99, and you’re at Costco. They’re sampling plain kefir (yeah, right). You figure, “What the hell,” and throw back the shot of fermented dairy. It’s good. There. That’s a reintroduction.
You’re likely never going back to the ways that got you in the predicament that made the Whole 30 feel necessary. The simple fact that you’re reading this blog, knew enough to try a Whole30, and actually read labels at the supermarket indicates your dedication to health. Know that, and realize that a teaspoon is way different from a cup.
Let’s use added sugar as an example. I do a teaspoon of pure unadulterated sugar in my coffee each morning, and it has no negative effect that I can discern. That’s 5 grams of sucrose, or 2.5 grams of glucose and 2.5 grams of fructose. It isn’t a problem. It actually helps me drink more coffee—a life-giving, health-sustaining elixir. A teaspoon of sugar, eaten on occasion, is so far removed from the 19 teaspoons of sugar the average American eats every single day that they’re effectively different substances.
Just because you’re reincorporating what could be classified as unhealthy foods, it doesn’t mean you have to eat unhealthy amounts of them or feel guilty. A teaspoon of added sugar in salad dressing that you put on your grass-fed burger patty salad isn’t anything to worry about. Heck, if it enables you to eat more healthy grass-fed meat and vegetation, it’s a net benefit.
Although, for what it’s worth, sugar-free salad dressings and condiments do exist, and they’re spectacular.
Like, a teaspoon.
That said, if you’re introducing gluten, I wouldn’t recommend a straight up heaping teaspoon of pure wheat gluten (which, yes, you can buy in bulk bins). Be reasonable about it.
A tablespoon of black beans is a great way to initially introduce them into your diet, but it’s not a realistic portion size for the real world. When you’re out at a Mexican restaurant or making black bean chili at home, you’re not eating a tablespoon. You’re throwing down on a half cup, a cup of beans. So unless you intend on eating no more than 30 individual beans in a sitting—go right ahead, I just haven’t witnessed it myself—you’ll want to eventually test your reaction to larger amounts.
By the same token, a cup of white sugar is an obviously unrealistic portion size that most people have no business trying to “tolerate.” Be conscious and intentional about how you define “normal.”
I don’t see the point of introducing soybean oil. Okay, maybe you do. Maybe you get a hankering for the occasional swig of expeller-pressed soybean oil. If that’s the case, go for it.
I’m real leery of introducing gluten grains, just because so many people have sensitivities toward them and the symptoms can be subtle and sneaky. Although, because they’re so ingrained (see what I did there?) across every aspect of modern food culture, I see the utility in testing your response. I’ve known many who never thought they had much of a sensitivity to them until after finishing a Whole30 or other reset. Still, testing doesn’t necessitate an ongoing consumption. Which leads me to suggest the next point….
If nothing works, or you just don’t feel quite as good as you did on the strict Whole30, by all means return to the protocol.
Rest assured that you’re not missing out on much. Besides maybe dairy, which I think can be very helpful and even crucial for some folks, none of the banned foods are essential to life and wellness. No one’s getting sick from a gluten deficiency (despite what the “experts” say).
The human immune system is tricky and tempestuous. It’s fickle. Just because you couldn’t handle dairy during your reintroduction period this week doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to. There’s no final word in biology. Things are always in flux. Our personal circumstances, our exercise habits, our stress, what’s going on at work, how we’re sleeping—all these factors affect our metabolic and immune responses to foods.
Come back later and try reintroduction when you’re in a different space. Things might work out very differently.
There’s no shame in hopping back on the Whole30 if things are getting out of hand. Most people handle themselves well, but there’s always the possibility that a person will reintroduce heaps of junk food. One square of dark chocolate turns into half a bar, and before long they’re back to a bar a day along with additional sweets cravings.
It might work. Heck, I bet a good Whole30 protocol would improve your ability to tolerate an allergen (if anything could) simply by healing your gut and removing all the other offending foods that can make a food sensitivity worse—although extending the duration may be helpful in many cases. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and play with your life here.
Bad night’s sleep? Just ran a marathon? Your job or relationship in serious turmoil? Now is not the time to reintroduce a potentially inflammatory or allergenic food. You want to be at baseline, or as close to baseline as possible, to discern the message your reintroduction is sending. Introducing other stressors complicates the message and introduces more variables to consider, as psychosocial stress has been shown to exacerbate allergenic responses.
Primal is a great path to take after a Whole30. If you look through our archives, you’ll find dozens of articles exploring whether dairy, legumes, sugar, yogurt, alcohol, grains, and all the other Whole30 banned foods and ingredients like honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners have a place in a healthy diet. We weigh the benefits against the drawbacks, so you can make an informed decision yourself about whether or not to reintroduce them.
And although Primal leans toward the lower carb side of things, you can be carb agnostic—eating the macronutrient ratio you desire while focusing on the quality of the food sources you consume (sweet potatoes instead of bread, etc.)—or you can go full keto. That’ the beauty of it—it’s wide open.
Those are my tips for making the post-Whole30 transition and reintroduction period go more smoothly. What are yours? Thanks for stopping by today, everybody.
Wright RJ, Berin MC. Unlocking the stress-allergy puzzle: need for a more comprehensive stress model. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014;113(1):1-2.