My nutrition challenge is over… now what?

Diane Sanfilippo Food Allergies and Intolerances, Health & Wellness 20 Comments

If you're reading this post, chances are that you are either wrapping up some kind of nutrition challenge (maybe The 21-Day Sugar Detox, a 30-day Paleo challenge or an elimination diet as recommended by a nutrition or healthcare practitioner). Often the last few days of the challenge leave you wondering how you'll ease back into your “normal” life, or what foods you want to splurge on now that the restrictions are over. Here's my take on how to approach re-introducing foods after your challenge has come to an end.

1. If you were avoiding certain foods (typically gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, nightshades, etc.) as part of an elimination-provocation plan…

Then you'll need to very carefully re-introduce them one at a time. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • The day after your program ends, choose one food to eat again – typically this will be the food you missed the most!
  • Eat that food at all three meals along with whatever other foods you had been including in the elimination – meaning you ONLY re-introduce one potentially problematic food at a time and not more than one.
  • DO NOT eat that food again for the following two days.
  • Note any changes in the following FOR A FULL 72-HOURS AFTER EATING THE FOOD: mood, energy, appetite, digestive function like bloating, gas, loose stool or diarrhea, headaches, inflammation, and brain fog or mental clarity.
  • Your notes will be some of the best guides you have as to whether or not you are sensitive to the food you just re-introduced. Food sensitivity reactions can happen immediately but can also have delayed-onset for up to around 72 hours (3 days!).
  • NOTE: I don't actually recommend EVER re-introducing gluten containing grains like wheat, barley, rye and oats into your diet, nor do I recommend making pasteurized dairy or unfermented soy products any regular part of your life. These foods are shown to contribute to a myriad of health problems and, typically, tend to crowd-out much more health promoting options like vegetables, well-raised meat & eggs and healthy, naturally occurring fats in the diet.

2. If you were on a plan to be more strict about avoiding food additives, sweeteners and other slightly processed foods (a strict Paleo challenge would fall into this category)…

Then you'll want to think about the following before jumping off the deep-end and burying yourself in a pile of grain-free baked goods or a bottle of wine:

  • How do you feel now that you've changed your food?
  • How do you think you'll feel if you eat something you estimate is less-than-healthy for you?
  • If you think you'll feel less-than-optimal, how long will that feeling last?
  • Will the ill-health effects of the foods you want to eat again last more than a couple of hours? More than a day? More than a week?
  • What will you be disrupting with the foods: blood sugar or digestive function?
  • Has the time and energy commitment that's gone into avoiding the food(s) added more stress to your life than it alleviated signs and symptoms of ill health?

Ultimately it's up to you to choose what and how often you'll add certain foods back into your regularly scheduled food programming, but considering the above questions is a good idea. You'll become a lot more MINDFUL of your choices, rather than allowing them to become defaults simply because they are habits or they represent the easy way out. I tend to think that a food that initiates an acute blood sugar spike in an otherwise even situation day in and day out is less deleterious in the long term than foods that disrupt digestive function that may perpetuate for days or weeks on end and interfere with immunity in a more intense way.

3. If you were completing The 21-Day Sugar Detox…

The 21-Day Sugar DetoxThen you'll want to think about the following before chugging a glass of fruit juice, a pile of candy, some cookies or even a piece of pizza:

  • What was your diet like before The 21-Day Sugar Detox (21DSD) and were you on Level 1, 2, or 3?
  • How do you feel now that you've reduced the amount of sugar or dense carbohydrates you've been eating?
  • How has your sleep been? What about your digestive function?
  • Do you think that eating sugary or carb-rich foods will make you feel better or worse?
  • Has the time and energy commitment that's gone into avoiding sugar and dense carbs added more stress to your life than it alleviated your cravings and how much sugar or carbs has controlled your life and food choices?

For those of you on Levels 1 and 2, The 21DSD may have been a HUGE change in dietary habits for you. If that's the case, and if you were previously eating bread, cereal and pasta, then refer to point #1 in this post. You've essentially been on an elimination diet for three weeks and need to go SLOWLY when re-introducing foods, especially the ones that are highly allergenic like wheat, dairy, and soy. 

Consider how often you used to consume sweetened or carb-rich foods, then decide whether adding some of those foods back in perhaps once a day versus at every meal will be something more livable for you on a regular basis. Fruit, for example, is a great way to enjoy a dessert or a treat, but most of it isn't included on The 21DSD. Consider whether you previously ate sweets or dense carbs as rewards, as comfort, or even just as part of a habit. Then consider whether or not eating them made you feel your best or helped you to reach your goals. A LOT of people lose weight on The21DSD, but it's not the primary goal of the program. If you did lose weight, recognize that the bite here or there of sweets that seemed innocent enough before may have been too much for you and for your goals. If your goal was not primarily weight loss but rather to break unhealthy habits and conquer cravings, think about how eating sweets again triggers the problems and causes a downward spiral, then become mindful and conscious when choosing what to eat on a daily basis.

To safely and slowly add some naturally occurring sugars (like fruit) and starches back into your diet, take care to consider portions and the timing of these foods. Fruits should not be eaten alone if blood sugar regulation and cravings have been issues for you historically. Eat small portions of berries or half of a piece of fruit if you're not a very active person, or larger portions if you are more active. Starchy foods are best added back in on days when you are more active and specifically in the meal following your activity. Keep portions of starchy foods to a minimum otherwise, and don't allow them to monopolize your plate if weight loss maintenance is your goal. If simply avoiding cravings is your goal and you feel okay/don't have them when you add back in some starchy foods, then you can enjoy some root vegetables, tubers like sweet potatoes and squash more frequently. Continue to avoid refined foods including bread, pasta, cereal and other products made from flours and purchased in packages- these are never healthy options.

The bottom line: After The 21-Day Sugar Detox, a sugar-bender is not recommended. The first time I completed The Detox myself, I ate candy the following day when I was hungry (note: this means my blood sugar was already low!). I spiked my blood sugar SO high that when it crashed about an hour or two later, I nearly passed out. Seriously. It was THAT intense. I vowed at that point that I'd never let that happen again. Hopefully you can learn from my mistake, and from the questions outlined above, when choosing how to ease back into your regularly scheduled programming of life and food.

Comments 20

  1. Diane, I believe I have been in btwn a level 2-3 for the 21 day challenge, and I will not be adding back in the 3 foods (diet coke, multigrain chips, 3 musketeers chocolate bites, splenda) back in my diet, I’m keeping them out permanently. I have not felt MORE energy, but I have not felt lethargy or sluggish after eating a meal with those things like I used to, now I feel like after I eat I have satisfied the hunger. I know I must get healthy before I will see/experience any physical changes but I was truly hoping I would’ve had some weight loss during this 21 days, and I have had none. I’m shocked actually. I’m @ 29% body fat and my goal is 17%. I do Crossfit 5xs/week. How long does it take the body to get healthy to see reduction in weight/fat? Can I give you a sample of what I’m eating daily? is there such a thing as eating too much fat/calories on this diet? I see people saying they cook their eggs in the bacon fat, so I tried it. Was that too much fat?

  2. When will I start to see consistency in bowel movements, that they should be solid and float, and I read that foul smelling gas is not normal. ?

  3. Great tips here. I had a very similar reaction to a highly sweetened alcoholic drink once, my blood sugar took an intense crash and I felt shaky and very ill. Sometimes it takes such a situation to really drive the point home.

  4. I believe this email or something similar should have come days ago to prepare us AHEAD of time for what to do next. This is almost too late.

      1. I think at least two days before the end would have been good. I know for me the detox has as much to do with my brain as my body. Too early you might set it aside to read later and then forget to go back.

        I am grateful for this information. I have known that my first splurge would be a spoonful of Jif peanutbutter. My favorite food ever, and my ultimate comfort food. I also knew when I did it I was going to use one of my tea spoons (from England, for tea!), rather than loading as much as I could on a soup spoon. I savored that “spoonful” in 3 “bites”, and enjoyed it immensely. I am thrilled with my new sense of self-control and the ability to choose to Eat Intentionally!

  5. I want to thank you SO much for the 21 day detox program and all of the support information. I completed Level 1. I have more energy (I’m almost obnoxious!!) and feel better than I can remember for a very long time. I have a painful auto-immune disease, IBS and have suffered from depression for many years. My symptoms are greatly improved. I have very little bloating, bowels are regular, and lost 8.5 lbs. My goal was not weight loss, although I am overweight and this is a wonderful side effect. My original plan was to begin eating a more Paleo diet, and when I discovered the Detox I thought it was probably a good way to start. For me it was a great way to eliminate grains and HFCS, and knowing that it was “only” 21 days made it doable. It’s been as important to learn what TO eat as what NOT to eat, which I know will be beneficial as we transition eating Paleo.

    It feels so good to feel so good. Thank you so much, Diane!!! Also, many thanks to Jessica for her video blogs, which I also found VERY helpful.

  6. If I re-introduce a food and I happen to have a reaction (like a stomach cramps and diarrhea) does that mean I truly have an intolerance to that food or it because my body got used to not eating it for 3 weeks? I certainly never had this reaction before when eating this food before the detox.

  7. The modifications for vegetarians or those following any form of AIP leave one to search for options on their own. I can not eat eggs and for ethical reasons abstain from beef and I had no real options for breakfast unless I wanted fruit…Additionally, I found myself reaching for coconut oil to stay satiated …overall no weight loss and increased fatigue.

    Love to hear your thoughts

    1. Hi Sally-

      We provide those modifications to allow for those abstaining from animal products to hear what we recommend within those parameters for the 21-Day Sugar Detox. That said, I do not recommend a diet void of animal products as a means by which to achieve optimal health. It just simply isn’t what I can promote as someone educated on optimal health and nutrition for humans. This is my take, but I certainly invite you to try other approaches that align with your beliefs. Often I see folks who hold beliefs firm while their health suffers. If this is you, perhaps making a new (hard) choice is in the cards. I can’t make that decision for you, however.

      1. Thank you for responding. I do eat fish but the idea of eating sardines, as much as I love them , for breakfast , didn’t seem very appetizing..I am pleased that I was able to remove sugar and fruit.

  8. Hi Diane, I am a 64 year old Grandma. I have been 100% Paleo for a year and a half. I am still 65+ pounds over weight but have lost 35 pounds on Paleo. Your detox was just what I needed. I have lost 8 Pounds and I’m on day 18… I was not dieting. I can’t believe how much protein and veggies I was able to eat and feel satisfied but never stuffed. I was hooked on apples, dried fruit, almond butter and nuts. Especially cashews.I have been SO HAPPY with this detox. I plan to keep the fruit (as much as I love it) to a minimum. I am learning my trigger foods. The ones that make me want to keep eating. I loved your idea to put aside an after dinner portion of my dinner. It saved me every night. I really like the e-mail support each day. A big help to me. I printed out the Stop Stress list and read it when I feel my stress level climbing. Thank You So Much! I feel in control now. And I know I can detox again if I find my consumption creeping back up to excess levels. A GREAT PROGRAM ! THank you again ….

  9. he daily emails are very helpful, most days they offered information on exactly what I was going through. The what to do after detox email would have been beneficial to me on day 16. I decided to take a day and included grains and dairy. I haven’t had any grains for over a month and very little dairy. Even eating gluten free grains and too much cheese, I got violently ill, in bed all day yesterday. Wow! Goes to show how powerful food is. I plan on eliminating cheese, and grains for good. Sugar will be minimal. Thanks for this program.

      1. I am Day 18. I have cut out dairy and grains before and don’t remember having a problem putting them back in my diet. Maybe with combo of eliminating sugar it has been a big shock to my digestive system.

  10. Day 18, Level 3, first go-round. I plan on continuing for 30 days, however I’m throwing a surprise 30th birthday party for my son next Thursday and hoping I can resist! (I’ll have some healthier options on hand so I don’t feel deprived). My biggest disappointment with this was no weight loss. That is my main goal in life. Shallow? Perhaps, but that is my biggest health improvement desire. I do not have other health complaints other than pain, which as been greatly diminished. I am 30-50 pounds overweight. I am 50 years old, not a huge fitness fanatic, but I’ve been training for a 5k so I try to go to the gym 3x a week and walk/run and do a little kettlebell routine. The detox kinda kicked my butt with a lack of energy the first 10 days which kind of messed with my routine. I haven’t been very dedicated to my work outs. I take no meds whatsoever and don’t have any other health complaints. What can I do to see some improvement in fat loss? Thanks to you and Charissa for all the help!

    1. Diane, My wife and I are on Day 20 of the detox….woohoo! We are doing it with another couple and they have both lost weight (15 lbs!) but we haven’t. Granted, they have much more to lose than we do but we are wondering why we haven’t with cutting out sugar and refined/simple carbs. Thanks in advance for your help!

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