Post-Whole 30 Reintroduction: Wheat and Other Stuff (Anna)

Here is a quick review of the 10-day reintroduction schedule suggested by the Hartwigs in It Starts With Food: Continuing to eat according to the Whole30 guidelines, on days 1-3 reintroduce dairy by eating a variety of it throughout the day (“have yogurt in the morning, some cheese in the afternoon, and ice cream after dinner”); on days 4-6, remove dairy and reintroduce gluten-containing grains; reintroduce non-gluten grains on days 7-9 and legumes on day 10. This intensive reintroduction allows you to see how your body responds to each item.

As I discussed in my dairy reintroduction post, we were pretty conservative in our reintroduction of dairy.  We ended up having some cheese in an omelet one day, then cream in our coffee the next.  And so on.  Honestly, this was mostly because all of my shiny new recipes were dairy-free.  It seemed like so much work to put together a whole new set of meals.  This means we probably didn’t challenge our systems as well as we could have.  Our slap-dash approach carried over to our reintroduction to gluten-based grains.


On the Saturday after finishing Whole30, we ended up in a serious time crunch. I was trying to get to the pool daily as part of my physical therapy regimen, and on Saturdays I had to get to the pool by 9am.  I’d slacked on the meal planning and grocery shopping, so it was going to take some ingenuity and focus to come up with a meal, but my toddler was having a rough morning and I wasn’t able to find the time, energy, or surplus hands required to pull it off.  I woke up my husband and asked if we could all head to the pool together (there’s a nice playground area just outside where they could wait for me), with a quick stop at a breakfast place along the way.  Well, it turns out there wasn’t much nearby.  We decided that we could eat at IHOP by sticking to eggs, meats, and veggies. We ended up ordering a veggie omelet with a side of bacon to split between us.

Within minutes of my first bite, I began to get a headache which persisted for a couple of hours.  Within about 20 minutes, I felt … “icky” is the only word I can come up with.  I felt a bit sluggish, a bit achey, and a LOT whiny.  I had this odd sense of ennui, and just wanted to curl up with a book and shut out the world.  All of these sensations were significantly different from what had become my new normal, and all of them would have been undetectable with my old dietary intake.

I lamented to my husband that I was confused about what could make me feel so terrible when I’d only eaten eggs, veggies, and meat.  His response?  “Well, they put pancake batter in the eggs, so perhaps that’s making you feel bad?”  Say what to the what now?  I…did not know this.  In my husband’s defense, there was apparently a statement to this effect on the menu.  In my defense, I was stressed about ordering as quickly as possible, so I only skimmed the wording to make sure we were getting what we needed.  (I’ve subsequently been told that IHOP mentions this in its ads, but I haven’t really watched ads since being introduced to TIVO almost a decade ago.)

The effects faded by mid-afternoon, and I was left wondering whether all wheat products would leave me feeling so crappy.  I also wondered whether the effects did come from the pancake batter.  After all, that headache reminded me a lot of past MSG-induced headaches.  And canned tuna has been making me feel icky for a while now, and it turns out that this is probably because of the MSG (present in hydrolyzed proteins), though possibly because of its soy-based vegetable broth.

The husband and I talked, and agreed that it was time to introduce wheat into our diet.  We also wanted a better eating-out experience, since brunches were one of the luxuries we’d given up during our Whole30 challenge.  Thus, on Sunday we headed to one of our favorite places and ordered french toast and an eggs benedict-type dish (it comes on potatoes instead of bread).  This obviously wasn’t ideal reintroduction, what with the potatoes and the dairy, but it’s what we did.

And how did I feel afterward?  Well, I didn’t have a headache, and I didn’t feel the overwhelming sense that something was *wrong*.  But I didn’t feel peachy keen, either.  The two symptoms I noticed after consuming my french toast were: 1) the mopey ennui, which I experienced as 1 part physical and 2 parts emotional; and 2)  egaggerated pain and inflammation from a very minor muscle strain.  Since these have both been constant companions for, oh, most of my life, this link to wheat is eye-opening and thought-provoking.


What about the headache and icky feeling?   I have eaten wheat on a few different occasions now, and it has never provoked this sort of reaction.  To follow up on this, then, I have to jump forward to last week, when I took an overnight trip which required a hotel stay.  When I started the Whole30, I knew I would be traveling in mid-October (I even scheduled the Whole30 with an eye to being past the reintroduction phase). Before travelling I did a bunch of online research to find an eatery which would meet my Paleo needs without costing an arm & a leg, and was pleased to come up with a Mediterranean fast-food place with kebabs and grilled veggies.  (My mom came to visit me, and she brought an avocado so I would have the necessary fat.  What a thoughtful mom!) The food was decent, and I congratulated myself on a trip well-planned.  Until the headache started.  Yup, it was the headache & icky feeling, once again.  My guess is that it was either in their cooking oil or their seasonings.  It’s hard to imagine that a Mediterranean place would use MSG or even soy, but I don’t know enough about the industry to say for sure, or to make guesses at other possible culprits.

Just as a small footnote: In the morning I ate a hotel breakfast, which included a made-to-order omelet.  I made sure the chef didn’t add the “butter” spray (made up of soy and other fun things), but I didn’t have any luck finding out what oily substance in squeeze bottles he was using to keep the eggs from sticking to the pan.  I ended up with a small headache, but as my mom pointed out, it is at least possible that the headache might have come from the booming music or the flowers or someone’s perfume.  (My money’s still on the oil, though.)

At some point I do hope to discover what makes me feel so awful, but in the meantime it’s a good reminder to try my hardest to stick with home-cooked food and, failing that, small mom & pop places in whose food quality I know I can place my confidence.

Finishing the reintroduction protocol

Grains & Legumes.  A month has passed since finishing the Whole30, and I have yet to systematically reintroduce other grains or legumes.  We did have both rice & legumes on Friday, when we threw our guidelines out the window and ate at a favorite Mediterranean place.  My guts felt awful the next day, but this might very well have been due to the excessive amounts of garlic (yum!), which I know my body doesn’t handle well.

We plan to do another Whole30 challenge in November, and I will probably try to reintroduce these after that challenge.

Sweeteners & sweet stuff.  I initially included my discussion of these in this post, but I have decided that this is a topic that deserves a deeper examination that I was able to give it as I rushed out the door to get to an appointment.  The bottom line is this:  While the jury is out on sweeteners in moderation, sweets like chocolate have led to some pretty disordered eating.


In general, we have continued to eat within Paleo guidelines.  Dairy makes its way into my diet in limited ways (half & half in my coffee unless I remember to bring heavy cream with me to the coffeeshop; occasional cheese in a scramble; occasional Russian yogurt in a recipe), and wheat is either an occasional indulgence (weekend brunch with family) or a sign of increasing stress (croissant at the coffeeshop –I think this is a post of its own, one I’ll save for another day). The past few days I have been caught in a downward spiral, and I think the lack of a meal plan and a lack-of-will regarding actually cooking have put me in a position to make poor choices based almost entirely on “I feel crappy & want a boost.”  I know, intellectually, that the best boost will come from eating well, but I also know it’s going to take some effort and energy to make that food, and the boost will not be instantaneous. Let’s call it a work in progress for now.


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