The September Whole30 is coming to a close, and you may be turning your sights to food freedom. Steph and Chelsea, the Whole Mamas team, are true Whole30 veterans. With each Whole30 they’ve completed, they’ve learned valuable lessons throughout the shifting seasons of motherhood. Today they’re sharing their food freedom journeys, in their own words.

From Chelsea:

I’ve always had a fairly uncomplicated relationship with food. I have thin privilege and a fast metabolism. I also grew up playing sports, so I didn’t worry too much about food or keeping in shape. During college and the years after, I started noticing some food sensitivities and was eventually diagnosed with IBS and GERDs. I found that I did well managing symptoms by avoiding gluten almost entirely and limiting dairy.

Pregnancy and postpartum were the first times that I struggled with body image issues. It was the first time I felt so out of my control with my body. At 6 months postpartum, I completed my first Whole30. Of course, I went into it hoping to lose some weight. Little did I know that it would start me on a journey that would change my entire life!

Four and a half years and six Whole30 resets later, I have learned so much about how my body reacts to different foods. I’m now to the point where I don’t anticipate doing a full Whole30 ever again! People seem shocked when I say that, but isn’t that really the point? I’ve found the foods that work for me. I have a great baseline of foods that I never eat because they don’t feel good to my body (eg, gluten, soy), foods I sometimes eat because the side effects are occasionally worth it (eg, dairy, corn, legumes), and foods that I eat on a regular basis to keep me feeling good, even though they’re not Whole30 compliant (eg, white rice, plantain chips).

This doesn’t mean that I’ll have this exact same diet for the rest of my life. Now I notice when I’m feeling less than my best and I have the tools to experiment until I get back to feeling amazing. It’s common for people coming off the Whole30 to still feel like they have to be limited by Whole30 rules. Don’t forget: you’re designing your ideal diet. A while back I realized that I was restricting snacking after dinner simply because it’s a Whole30 rule. I really enjoy having a snack at night while unwinding after my kids are asleep. Now I have one if I want one! Remember, you’re looking for food freedom. You can’t sustain restriction for the long run, and the Whole30 lasts 30 days, not forever! This takes lots of time and self awareness, so keep going on your journey. We’re here to support you!

From Steph:

I’ve had a long, complicated journey understanding my relationship with food and finding my food freedom. As a little girl, I would use my allowance to buy sugary treats at the grocery store with my mom. In middle school, I developed an eating disorder which dropped my weight to a very unhealthy size. A lightbulb turned on in my head when I learned about the Paleo diet (and subsequently Whole30). I started incorporating more fats and whole foods into my diet and experienced incredible health benefits. I quickly became obsessed with healthy eating and headed towards orthorexia, another pattern of disordered eating. 

When your job revolves around food and learning about nutrition, it’s hard not to get caught up in details and the latest “superfood.” Reading Melissa Urban’s book Food Freedom Forever helped me understand that my best, long-term plan will work for my mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being. I believe that in order to do this, it’s helpful to do an elimination diet. playing with different approaches helps you get a solid understanding of what works best for your body. This often changes during different seasons of your life.

I’ve found that when I’m pregnant, nursing, and working out regularly my body feels best on a higher-carb diet than in other seasons when I’m more sedentary. I listen to my body versus following the latest health/fitness trend. I’ve learned how to identify when details start to weigh me down. I respond by allowing myself to enjoy food for its nutritional benefits and the social/emotional component.

Sometimes ice cream and wine with friends is absolutely “worth it.” Other times, I know it will be “worth it” to pass on cake or wine because I’ll feel better, less bloated, and more energized the next day. I now include things like dairy, gluten-free bread and muffins, hummus, lentils, and sugary treats in my life when I want to and when I feel like it’s “worth it.” I find that by not limiting these foods or telling myself I “can’t have them” I actually crave them less.  I’ve finally calmed the inner toddler in my head that wants to rebel and binge on things they can’t have.

I have started consuming and sharing products that I once deemed “not good enough” because they didn’t fit an unreasonably high, arbitrary diet standard I had set. By sharing, I hope to inspire others to loosen their tight grips with food if they’re holding on to “clean eating” too tightly. I’m allowing myself to learn and enjoy the process of finding my food freedom versus thinking about it as a final destination. Just like Chelsea, I don’t think I’ll need to do another Whole30 since I’ve learned so much during my long, mindful journey to food freedom.