My 21-Day Sugar Detox Experience

Since mid-September, my life has been jam packed with activity: weddings, a week-long visit from my parents coinciding with my nephew’s 6th birthday, Halloween parties and social events. Plus, throw in some work happy hours for good measure.

This all translates to an above normal consumption of beer, wine, cookies, cakes and more. It was fun but also exhausting and I wasn’t sleeping as well and not feeling mentally and physically healthy.

I wanted to hit the reset button. I decided to do a 21-day sugar detox, which I started on November 2nd.

My goals were to reestablish good eating habits and cut out the junk. Too often I am stressed at work, haven’t packed a lunch, and go grab a quick sandwich at some chain fast-food restaurant. Inevitably at the register I add a giant chocolate chip cookie to my order because I feel that I “deserve” it since I had worked so hard that morning.

I don’t deserve a cookie, I am doing my job. I am justifying an unhealthy choice. I had been making excuses since the Granite Games for poor eating, skipping workouts and not trying harder.

I read up on the 21-Day Sugar Detox by Diane Sanfillipo, owner and founder of Balanced Bites and a Certified Nutrition Consultant. She put together the program and has a book, app and online resources (i.e. shopping lists, recipes, etc.) to utilize. She writes:

“The problem isn’t just sugar itself. It’s the refined, nutrient-poor carbohydrates that carry tons of calories, but no real nutrition. In our world, these are the easiest foods to grab on the go, but they leave us fat, sick, tired, and downright unhappy. The effect that sugar, “hidden” carbs, and refined, processed foods have on our bodies goes far beyond our waistlines. We can’t focus, we can’t sleep, we have irrational mid-afternoon cravings, and we can’t even make it through the day without wanting–or needing–to prop up our energy levels with caffeine or even more sugar!”

I didn’t purchase the book, but through reading through the website and other articles had a high-level understanding of the rules for the program:

  • No sugar. This includes natural sugars such as maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar. It also includes artificial sweeteners such as stevia.
  • No alcohol. Alcohol is a sugar so it’s out for 21 days.
  • Limit fruit consumption to a single serving per day of one of the following fresh fruits: grapefruit, green apple, or green tipped (un-ripe) banana. Fruit is also sugar so it’s easy to replace your nightly chocolate binge with a bag of dried cherries. Your blood sugar can’t tell the difference so it’s also out for the 21 days.
  • No refined grains. The refining process breaks down grains into quick energy (read: sugar) to be used by the body. In the 21DSD whole grains are allowed in limited quantities per day and only in their whole, unrefined state (ex: cooked rice, millet, quinoa, etc).

I created a Facebook event for the program and invited friends and family to join me on the cleanse.

The hope was that we could all hold each other accountable and encourage one another to keep going and fight the cravings!

Week 1 – Good Planning

I wanted to be prepared as I could for the cleanse so I made my Costco run, broke out the Tupperware and started meal prepping. I roasted sweet potatoes with bell peppers and onions to have for breakfast – ready to pull out of the fridge and top with some scrambled eggs.

I got cooked turkey breasts that are easy to slice up and have at lunch. I also got a bag of white rice to make sure I was still getting in some carbohydrates as I knew this clean eating was going to cause my daily caloric intake to drop.

In the spirit of forming new habits, I decided to switch to morning workouts. I typically go to the 7pm class at my CrossFit gym but then end up eating a late dinner and despite laying down in bed on time feeling too awake to go to sleep.

While that early alarm can be tough sometimes, it ensures I get a workout in and can just relax after work rather than scrambling to get over to the gym and pull together dinner.

On the fifth day of the cleanse I was feeling a bit headachy. It might have been due to a lack of sleep the night before caused by staying up late to babysit for my sister, but headaches are also cited as a common “symptom” of the program.

Outside of that Friday morning, the week went well. I hit my morning workouts, brought lunch to work everyday and was falling asleep more easily. Having a clear defined schedule and planning ahead made all the difference.

Week 2 – Good Choices

In the second full week of the sugar cleanse life happened. An old friend from college was in town for a work conference. We had dinner out on Monday night at Quang’s, a local Vietnamese restaurant.

I thought it would be easy since it has such a large menu, but I had to rule out most of the platters due to the sauces that they cook the meat and vegetables in. Plus, I definitely had to skip the fried egg rolls and all the noodle bowls.

I got the pork chops with white rice and broccoli. On Thursday night we went to Black Sheep Pizza. My friend enjoyed some red wine and an individual pizza. I had the water and ordered roasted vegetables and meatballs.

The food was really good and I didn’t mind missing out on pizza but a red wine would have been nice. In between all that, I attended a cocktail party on the Tuesday night with open bar and politely declined all the passed hors d’oeuvres.

Thankfully the buffet had fresh shrimp and crudité. Lastly, my gym had a chili cook-off and without listed ingredients I chose to stick with the Paleo bacon chili. There was a tray of cookies calling my name, but I stayed strong.

Now on any one of those occasions it would have been fine to indulge a little, but it’s a completely different story and effect if I indulged at all 4 events over the course of 6 days. Pizza is not evil, but things can easily turn into a flood of bad choices.

It sounds like a laundry list of “would of, could of” but I am actually very proud of myself for all the good choices that I made.

I didn’t pretend that I couldn’t find something on the menu to adhere to the rules of the cleanse just to give myself an excuse. I socialized without needing to have a glass of wine or beer in my hand.

And I had a great week of feeling well rested, energetic and healthy. Making good choices is not easy yet it is necessary for a long-term healthy lifestyle.

I am learning on this cleanse that one week of the right choices is not enough. You have to make these active good choices week in and week out if you want to see the desired results.

Week 3 – Good Discipline

The final week of the cleanse was all about maintaining good habits. It was about having the self-discipline to skip the buttery popcorn at the movie theater, bring lunches to work, and avoid the vanilla frosted chocolate bundt cake in the office break room. It was keeping up with my workouts and yoga class.

It might sound boring and repetitive, but again it is the difference of having a long-term focus than simply satiating short-term cravings.

Yeah, I would have loved a cookie after a 10-hour work day but it’s not necessary if you feed yourself great delicious real foods.

I also learned more about the ill-effects that sugar, especially fructose, can have on the human body.

I watched a documentary titled That Sugar Film that showed how the hidden sugars in low fat foods are being carelessly consumed in our Western culture by all of us who were falsely convinced that low fat, low calorie diets are the key to our well-being. I highly recommend checking it out.

Overall, I feel more clear-headed, more well-rested and healthier than before I started. While weight loss was not a goal, you can see in the before and after photo that I leaned out a bit – I went from 171.2 lbs down to 165.0 lbs over the course of the 21 days.

This was with eating plenty of rice and sweet potatoes everyday, along with the meat and vegetables.

We all inherently know that real food – not the overly processed, manufactured frozen aisle off-the-shelf stuff – is better for us.

And there is a huge difference between the natural sugars we find in foods compared to the ones purposefully injected to convince us that the low-fat meals taste good.

I step away from this thinking more carefully about where my daily grams of sugar come from.

The other big takeaway for me in terms of my thinking about next steps and goals as we enter into 2016 is that I need the long-range vision.

Too often I jump from one idea to the next. I like to learn and am generally inquisitive about different programs and methods that I see in health magazines and online.

I try this and that hoping that something will stick, rather than just sticking to it. CrossFit talks about the concept of constantly varied but the idea of consistency sometimes get lost. I need to come up with a Plan A and stick to it.

Knowing what effect sugar – or the lack thereof – has on me will definitely influence how what I eat will support the plan and my goals.

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