I recently listened to a podcast that asked the question, “are you accidentally dieting?”.
Specifically, they were referring to when people take on 21-day or 30-day type programs involving real food. The emphasis is on eating real, whole foods and getting away from processed foods and sugar, etc, so ultimately, the food options are higher quality and good for you. But if the mindset is trapped in old patterns, it can be just as restrictive and damaging as other diets.
I found the question particularly impactful because I do believe many people, and even me to some extent, can misuse these programs or fall into dangerous traps.
These programs are supposed to be tools. They should teach participants:
- To prepare their own food
- To choose real food instead of highly processed foods
- To learn what foods may be problematic
- To learn new habits and break old ones
- To change your mindset about your food choices
Essentially, doing a program of this kind should be an experiment where you are both the subject and the observer.
But, there are people who use these programs as quick fixes. For example, when I tell people that I lost 15 lbs at the end of the Whole30, it often peaks their interest as a possible strategy to shed some extra weight. Am I happy with that result? Of course, but that’s not the point of the program.
When I listened to this podcast, I asked myself if I was accidentally dieting and just treating this like any other short-term “diet”. I think the answer is a little bit of yes and no.
On the yes side, I do find since my first Whole30 last year, I can be a little like a pendulum and swing from being on it to being off it. I would occasionally get a little giddy that I could have non-compliant foods because I wasn’t following the program. Also, having a specific time period of 30 days does feel like a temporary diet.
On the no side, I look back and realize that I did use the program as a tool. I learned some valuable lessons, including how often my body actually needs food (it’s not every 2 hours) and that when I eat well, I don’t need naps to get me through a long day. And, although I didn’t complete the reintroduction exactly as intended, I did figure out some problematic foods and now avoid legumes 95% of the time. In fact, aside from soy, chickpeas, and peanut butter, I can’t recall a time this past year that I ate any other kinds of legumes. And, I rarely eat soy, chickpeas or peanut butter anymore. I just feel better without them.
Even my grocery list/cart looks completely different. I very rarely go down any of the middle isles. I’ve even starting making my own bone broth and almond milk (and no, neither is difficult to do).
Essentially, I found the concept of accidentally dieting very timely and relevant. It reminds me that this is an elimination diet and a reset to be used as a tool, not a short-term fix. It’s also a good reminder that the reintroduction period is as, if not more, important than the 45 days without these foods groups.