Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Toward the end of last year, my fiancé, Don, read about a detox method designed to help end sugar cravings. First, you have to understand how much Don loves sweet things, starting with ice cream and ending with the many, many little blue and/or pink packets he dumps into his coffee each morning. The diet also promised to help you kick carbs, and chief among my own weaknesses are bread, cereal and pasta. As an added bonus, dairy was also on the “no” list, and I’ve been known to polish off an 8-ounce block of cheddar in two days.
The “21-Day Sugar Detox” created by Diane Sanfilippo (who’s also written a book by that name) is based on the Paleo diet (aka “the caveman diet”). For three full weeks, you load
up on proteins, non-starchy vegetables, good fats and a couple of fruits, cutting out sweeteners of any kind, grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol and anything processed. (Levels and modifications are available.)
If we waited until after the holidays (and Don’s mom’s cookies), we figured we could do anything for 21 days. At least, we were willing to try!
We eat like kings: pasta, crab cakes, corn bread, chocolate chip cookies — the works — at my family’s house over New Year’s. When we return to Richmond on New Year’s Day, we kick off the diet by clearing out the pantry and fridge of stuff on the “no” list and stocking up on “yes” foods.
First hurdle: what to put in our coffee? I usually use soy milk and Sweet’n Low, while Don adds skim milk and a mix of artificial sweeteners. None of those things are allowed. I read online that you could substitute almond milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Not great, but it takes the bitter edge off. It’s Friday, and normally Don and I would have a drink at home and head out to dinner. Tonight, we have water with lemon, and I cook. Radical changes!
This morning, Don reports that he’s already dropped 6 pounds. It may all be water weight, but it’s fun watching the scale drop. I’m cooking more than I ever have — every meal, in fact. (The 21-Day Sugar Detox meal equation is protein + veggie + fat + flavor … OK, that’s pretty easy!) Obviously, I’m also shopping more — and healthy food isn’t cheap. I pay $11 for a bag of almond flour and $8 for a pound of uncured bacon, because most bacon is cured with sugar (I later find out a small amount of sugar used in the curing process is OK). Today I will venture to Trader Joe’s to buy some almond butter, coconut milk, coconut cream concentrate and green-tipped (not-quite-ripe) bananas for “Coco Monkey Smoothies.” Can’t wait!
So far, my go-to foods are avocados and nuts, both healthy fats and both foods I love. I add avocados to my eggs and also eat them cold with rotisserie chicken. I snack on nuts … lots more than I’m supposed to, but something has to replace my raging cheese habit.
I attend a networking event at Can Can. Apparently, I am a masochist, because I have chosen to spend two hours with a roomful of women who are drinking wine and eating yummy French food, none of which I can have. As the women, fueled by Chardonnay and Bordeaux, ramble on and on about their businesses, I sip my water and dream of the green apple and almond butter waiting for me at home.
I buy the official 21-Day Sugar Detox Cookbook because we’re growing tired of the same snacks of nuts, green apples and flax crackers. In the process, we discover we’ve been cheating with cashews. Hmmm, we may have to bend the rules a bit …
It’s Don’s nephew’s birthday. They have pizza and salad; we bring our own salmon and eat it atop the salad (with our dressing of lemon, olive oil and garlic). As long as I avoid looking directly at the pizza, I’m satisfied with my fish. It’s a little harder to avert my eyes from the almond pound cake and blueberries. I really, really, really want some!
Everything tastes better lately, kind of like my taste buds have had a tune-up. Plus the recipes are fabulous: butternut squash pancakes, chicken tortilla-less soup, Greek chicken with olives and tomatoes, Paleo Sloppy Joes. What we give up in sugar, we make up for in spices!
When I buy a new bottle of pure vanilla extract (the third in two weeks), I make a disconcerting discovery. It has corn syrup in it! Apparently vanilla manufacturers can label their product “pure” and still add corn syrup (some do and some don’t). Note to self: Always read the labels when buying processed foods.
We need a “non-sweet treat” (detox cookbook language), so I make macaroons from ground pecans, unsweetened coconut, green-tipped bananas and spices, topped with unsweetened cocoa powder and ghee. After eating two, we each go for a third. Pretty sure these wouldn’t have even qualified as a dessert for Don before, but now we can’t get enough!
Today is Don’s late sister’s birthday. We go to hear her favorite band at Ashland Coffee and Tea and decide to break the detox with drinks in her honor. After one glass of vino, I am feeling very, very buzzed. When you have no chemicals in your body, I guess any kind of stimulant hits you hard. I’ve been feeling much sharper than normal on the detox, so intoxication is definitely not intoxicating.
At a work event, Don texts to say they just served “cheesecake with chocolate chips on top … help!” I suggest he eat a bite and toss the rest, which he does. Later in the day, they have
a mid-afternoon snack of popcorn drizzled with chocolate. Enough already!
It’s here! For 21 days we’ve been planning our first meal off the detox. Pizza, ice cream and a cocktail. Everything, including the pizza crust, tastes sweet to me. I get a headache right after finishing my ice cream and don’t sleep very well. Don has a bad sugar crash and leg cramps during the night. He sums it up: “This diet has ruined us” (for unhealthy living!).
Three weeks later
Everything we set out to accomplish on the detox diet, we achieved. Neither of us craves sugar like we used to. In fact, foods that didn’t taste particularly sweet before, like a dry Chardonnay, now do. We’re still not eating bread (not counting that piece of bread at Communion last weekend) and pasta, and I’ve only had cheese a handful of times. As a bonus, we both lost some weight (me about 5 pounds and Don about 11).
Going forward, we’ve decided to continue eating a Paleo-style diet, with a few modifications. We’re adding some carbs back, like the occasional bowl of granola or oatmeal, cheese here and there, milk in our coffee, and some alcohol in moderation.
Eight months later
We still have a healthy fear of sugar and carbs and avoid them much more than we used to. We’ve already repeated the detox once and plan to reset again before our upcoming wedding. After the first detox, it’s not nearly as hard the next time.
Victory really is sweet!
For more information about Terri and Don’s diet, visit the21daysugardetox.com.