My 21-Day Sugar Detox Experiment: The Good and The Great!

January 23, 2013 in Categories: , by

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21DSD_CoverSomewhere around Day 16, it felt like an eternity.  But here I am, all of a sudden, done my 21-Day Sugar Detox experiment.  And what a valuable and educational experiment it was!

If you recall (from this post), my goal was to test whether or not the hefty amount of fruit (and much less hefty but still present amount of honey, maple syrup and coconut-based baked goods) was perpetuating inflammation in my body and slowing down the healing process.  I have an autoimmune disease which is healing slowly on the autoimmune protocol.  I have a mild case of SIBO, which means starchy vegetables and high inulin fiber content foods are out (yes, that should have meant coconut flour was out and yet I often found an excuse–and it always set me back).  Really, my eating was pretty clean going into the 21-Day Sugar Detox.  Even through the holidays, I was doing a very good job sticking to the autoimmune protocol, but I have been using fruit as a crutch, eating 5 or 6 (sometimes more) servings per day.

So, for me, the 21-Day Sugar Detox wasn’t about reigning in bad habits.  I hadn’t fallen off the paleo bandwagon.  My eating was not crazy.  I was just enjoying fruit with every meal.  And sometimes snacks.  And sometimes before bed.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I am not part of the anti-fruit paleo camp.  And even though I lost most of my weight following a low-carb diet, I’m not even part of the low-carb paleo camp (I understand much more about the relationship between what we eat and hunger hormones and inflammation and weight loss now, see this post for a bit more on leptin).  By the way, I’m also not in the “safe starch” paleo camp.  I’m more in the “find what works for you” paleo camp.  There are so many ways our different bodies react differently to fruit and starchy vegetables and there is a huge amount of individuality in terms of both tolerance of and need for these foods–I believe it would be foolish of me to recommend one prescription for everyone.  Without a doubt, eating 6 pieces of fruit a day is not bad for everyone.  Many others could eat that much fruit and be optimally healthy.  Of course, many others could eat a sun-dried tomato and bell pepper omelet with a cup of coffee dressed with grass-fed heavy cream for breakfast too.   Sadly, not me.  Sigh.

So, how did I feel following the 21-Day Sugar Detox Check out my updates for week 1 and week 2.  Looking back on all three weeks, the first week, I really didn’t notice much difference other than the fact that my skin was doing some weird things.  I realize now, that that was a bit of a detox reaction because my skin cleared up dramatically in the second week.  Then, I had some fresh coconut on days 15 and 16 and had a very dramatic reaction to it in the sense that I had the worst acne breakout I’ve had in months.  And I didn’t even eat that much!  So, I have finally accepted that whole coconut is not good for me, dangit.  The bright side?  Getting my diet so clean during the detox allowed me to finally identify coconut as a trigger without any room for doubt.  That knowledge is very valuable for me–even though the actual fact of being sensitive to whole coconut (on top of everything else) can be described by a variety of inappropriate consonant-heavy words.  At least the acne seems to be healing quickly.

Aside from acne, I noticed some extremely dramatic improvements in my mental clarity, which started in week 2 and just keeps getting better.  This is important for me (especially given the BIG announcement tomorrow).  I would never have described myself as suffering from brain fog before, but now that I see just how much more productive and efficient I am and just how much quicker I seem to be able to think, it’s obvious that sugar was impeding my mental processes.   I also feel like I’m sleeping better and waking up feeling more rested, which again, I would never have described my sleep quality as lacking beforehand.  I also feel like my energy levels are better (and following the healthy pattern of waking up with energy and then gradually running out of energy throughout the day until bedtime).

I also lost 4 lbs during my 21-Day Sugar Detox, 2 lbs in week 2 and 2 lbs in week 3.  Weight loss was not one of my goals, but this makes me happy anyway!  I actually think that the majority of this weight was bacterial overgrowth (although my body fat percentage did drop too, so maybe it’s a bit of both).  I say this because I also have noticed a pretty dramatic reduction in bloating in my abdomen.  There I was thinking that my abdomen was hard because I was getting so muscular.  Nope, that was SIBO.   But, it totally rocks to see that bloating resolve and see the scale move in my favorite direction.  I wish I could show you before and after photos (like Stacy of  Paleo Parents did! Wow!), but I didn’t take before photos.  Suffice it to say, that my I’m fitting into my smallest pants comfortably again and several people who know me well have commented that I look like I’ve lost weight (actually, they started commenting before I technically did lose any weight too!).

I also want to point out here that many people have commented that my meals are huge.  They are!  And I’ve lost weight!  I’ve heard that many people have a tendency to under-eat when they tackle the 21-Day Sugar Detox, or the autoimmune protocol, or if they just want to lose weight.  It’s extremely hard for your body to heal and/or lose weight healthily if you are not providing it with enough nutrition.  Reducing food intake too much increases cortisol and makes it impossible to lose weight; it also messes with leptin.  Eating enough is really important and I hope my meals have helped provide some guidance, both in terms of portion size and in terms of just how many vegetables I eat.  That’s another thing that happens when people tackle the autoimmune protocol–they get so scared of starchy vegetables and FODMAPs that they eat very little vegetable matter.  Vegetables are important for healing and even if variety is limited (even if some people have a hard time with raw veggies and can only digest them well when cooked), it’s important to remember to eat enough of them!  (I will refer you once again to Dr. Terry Wahl’s TedX talk here)

I never experienced a carb flu (although I have caught my daughter’s cold, but I hardly think that counts) or headaches or severe energy crashes–probably because the difference in total carbohydrate intake for me wasn’t as dramatic as many people who tackle the 21-Day Sugar Detox.  I had a few days where I felt resentful and begrudged not being able to partake in treats around me, but I got through it.  I had a couple of evenings where I felt snacky and normally would have indulged in a bowl of frozen fruit, but avoided the temptation by just going to bed (that’s usually the eating to stay awake bad habit that I still battle from my long years of obesity and metabolic derangement).  Let me just add here that yes, I do still sometimes get sick and no, that is not a statement of my diet and lifestyle (unless I am seriously that sensitive to skipping bone broth for few days!).  I get sick way way way less often than I used to, don’t get anywhere near as sick as used to be typical for me, and get better much more quickly.  But, I do have a dysfunctional immune system due to my autoimmune disease and I expect to always be a person who does catch at least some of the colds and flus going around, especially while living in the petri dish that life with young kids is.

Okay, so the real reason for doing the 21-Day Sugar Detox was to see if it would make a difference to my autoimmune disease.  And WOW! Did it ever!  Below are before and after photos.  Now, the before photo was actually taken two months ago, right before I realized that chocolate was a problem for me.  I did see improvement in my lesions after cutting out chocolate and then things stabilized again over the holidays (probably because I was eating coconut and so much fruit).  So, not all of the difference between before and after can be attributed to the sugar detox, but more than half of it can! (The detox amateur that I am, it never occurred to me to take before and after photos of how I look or my lesions right before starting, so you’ll just have to take my word for it…. I’ll do better next time, I promise!)

LP Before and After (w dates)

Pretty dramatic, right?  Every one of those red, raised, scaly lichen planus lesions were very itchy and painful in November.  What is still healing and visible now, is flat and not itchy or painful in the slightest!  I have not used any steroids or anything other than the autoimmune protocol and the 21-Day Sugar Detox to achieve these results.

Why do I think that eating fruit is such a problem for me?  There is a strong link between elevated blood sugar  and autoimmune disease.  Only a few years ago, I was obese and had pre-diabetes among my laundry list of health conditions.  I think it’s fairly obvious that before the detox, I was eating enough fruit  to cause enough of a spike in my blood sugar (and enough of a release of insulin) to perpetuate some inflammation and continue to stimulate the immune system.  I was healing, so clearly I wasn’t causing such a spike in blood sugar to completely derail all of my other efforts–but regulating my blood sugar more tightly has obviously created an environment within my body more conducive to healing.  And that is the whole point.  Not everyone with autoimmune disease is going to need to go to these lengths to regulate their blood sugars.  This is what I need to do likely because of the long lasting damage being obese did to my metabolism.

So, what did I eat in week 3?  I didn’t actually post all of my photos on Facebook this week (in part because I was busy and in part because those meals were very similar to several I had already posted).  But, I did take photos, and here is the round-up.

21DSD Week3

  • # of cups of bone broth: 1
  • # of meals with bone broth as an ingredient: 3
  • # of meals that included organ meat: 10 (heart and liver this week)
  • # of meals that included fish: 5
  • # of meals that included bacon: 6 (pastured, sugar-free, nitrate/nitrite-free from )
  • # of meals that included vegetables: 21
  • # of meals that included meat on the bone: 1
  • # of meals that included fermented food: 8
  • # of meals that included seaweed: 0
  • # of snacks: 0
  • # of days with a spoon of coconut oil between meals: 0
  • # of meals shaped like a smiley face: 2

So, where do I go from here?  Not backwards, that’s for sure!  This is working just too darned well for me!  I have adjusted to 1 or 2 servings of fruit per day and my plan is to keep it that way (especially since my sleep and energy levels seem so good!).  It is important to me to allow more flexibility in my life.  The autoimmune protocol is restrictive enough and I have to be cautious that I don’t create such a sense of deprivation in myself that I rebel and make really, really bad choices.  So, what being off the 21-Day Sugar Detox means for me now is simply that those servings of fruit can be any fruit.  In fact,  my breakfast this morning (which was my first post-detox meal) looked an awful lot like my breakfasts throughout the 21-Day Sugar Detox, except I ate a bowl of blackberries instead of half a grapefruit.  And were those blackberries ever the sweetest most wonderful tasting things ever!


Would I do it again?  Yes!  In a heartbeat!  But, WILL I do it again?  I hope I don’t need to.  I hope that what I’ve learned stays with me and that this is just the way I eat now.  If I can accomplish that, then there will be no need to repeat this experiment.  Do I recommend the 21-Day Sugar Detox?  Just like everything, I don’t think it’s for everyone.  If you know you’re a person for whom firm rules creates disordered eating, then this is not for you.  If you know that plowing through an adjustment period to get to the rainbow at the other side works for you, then this is a great way to go.  I for one, am greatly enjoying the pot of gold (er, blackberries) at the other side.


This post really hit home..I agree 100% on so many things you have said..I am on day 10 of the detox except i do have one scoop of unsweetened plant based protein in the morning which i hope to get off of and….i fell of the wagon and had some white wine this past weekend however i stuck to the diet. I guess i should say im back to day one? i have had no starchy carbs except maybe a bit of jicama , none of the treats and…no fruit. This is the longest time i have ever gone without fruit. and realize it made me bloated and grapes made skin itch. Thank you so much for your blog!

You have definitely inspired me to try this for myself. I too, barely eat any sugar at all- all of it in the maple/coconut variety. I seem to be having a resurgence of SIBO the last week or two. It has to be the sugar.

great post! I don’t think your meals are huge, but then again, mine are probably similar in volume!

I too think I have a coconut issue, but I think mine is mostly from the flour and not necessarily dried or fresh.

Thanks for sharing. I have more than a couple family members with issues with coconut too-bummer. I notice a difference in my teenagers skin if they overconsume fruit too. I look forward to your big announcement tomorrow!

When you started the detox you mentioned you have had issues with constipation in the past. I have also had this issue and it makes me worry about giving up fruit. Did you find having less fruit affected this or we’re you fine as you eat so many vegetables and ferments?

I am probably missing something, I have the detox from Diane, but just wondering about the bone broth. Were you just not drinking “cuz”? It is allowed on the program, correct? I just make mine with bones, vinegar, salt and garlic. But I do love a mug full in the morning! Especially now that it is winter.

Thanks for sharing with us your 21 day sugar detox experience! It looks like you really pinpointed some useful information! I’m not sure if I should try it — I’m an athlete and do quite a bit of physical activity, so I find that if I don’t have enough carbs in the form of squashes, sweet potatoes, fruits, etc., my energy level and performance drop. I’m curious what you would recommend……(BTW I do heavy weight-lifting 3 x a week and running 4 x a week).

I am so glad that the 21DSD worked for you! I started on December 27, 2012 and I am still continuing it to this day, but I have not seen my acne clearing up as I hoped it would. I have Hashimoto’s, Celiac, and PCOS. I recently stopped taking birth control (around November). I am 22 years old. Do you think that maybe the changing from birth control to none is having an affect in my skin? I am becoming frustrated that I haven’t seen changes for the better yet.

It can take up to a year for hormones to adjust aft going off the pill, so that could be it. The acne could also be from food sensitivities or indicative of a leaky gut. Are you still consuming some dairy? Are you following the autoimmune protocol?

Bummer. I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix, but I was hoping for some improvement. Yes, I am following the autoimmune protocol and I do not consume dairy or nuts because I have IBS also. You are a role model to me and I am so blessed to have come across your website! It is so nice to know someone else has to follow AIP so strictly as well. I have been following AIP for only a month now, but I am planning on continuing it for a long while.

I have Hashi’s and PCOS, and I’m being tested for Celiac’s soon! Your not alone! Check out the group on facebook Pregnitude and PCOS. I learned years ago I could not handle birth control, so good for you for stopping it, you will be better off without it.

Thank you so much Lyndzie! I will definitely check it out. It’s so great to know I’m not alone! It really makes all the difference.

I also have celiac and pcos. . . my skin cleared up a ton after being full paleo for a few months. I had to take a pack of BCPs as part of my infertility treatments and my skin went BONKERS. Those things are NASTY. I highly recommend reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. Cheese will make my skin worse, but sometimes I just have to have it! Also, any sweets- honey, maple, fruit, etc. . . affected me until I really got my insulin levels regulated well. Some other things I noticed- drinking lots of water helps my skin (also combats dryness) and I apply coconut oil at night (it’s anti-microbial!). I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the Xeno hot spot treatment for any cystic stuff that pops up. Good luck and hang in there, these changes take time!

Wow! How great to experience successes on the dietary front! It’s so hard to have x, y, and z symptoms, realize they’re likely caused by food, but still not have the tools to figure out which foods are the problems! I am so happy for you!

I am on day 3 and my daughter’s chin eczema seems a bit better today (she is still nursing). I am having the worst insomnia and when I wake up, my glucose levels are way low–47-55 mg/dL low. I am trying to boost up the PM carbs–though I can’t seem to think of a good bedtime snack, or a way to make dinner last longer.

hmmmm, thanks for being my guinea pig. I’m still debating. I’ll start with not making my late night cookie or brownies. I justified it with being paleo, but really, it doesn’t matter it’s still a dessert. I did it last night. But instead ate an apple. Next step, just dinner and stop eating. I have just gone to bed too if the cravings were too bad.

Thanks for sharing your experience! I am on day 18 of the detox and wouldlike to share my experiance. It seems we have same problem with whole coconut :). I had some fresh coconut on days 16,17 and today morninig and had a very dramatic reaction to it, too. I take photos everyday so it’s easy to compare . Sad I can’t post them here – worst spots became warm, itchy and started flake off :( I took just 30-50 grams of raw coconut a day ,but so fast and dramatic reaction. From other side it allowed me to identify coconut as a big trigger without any doubt as well.
I’m going to continue sugar detox without coconut and even without coconut oil. Lets see how it works :)

I’d like to know where I can hear more about your detox, Raimondas. I’m at least in a fourth week. I’ve been doing the SCD Diet, which is like GAPS, for almost 4 years for Crohn’s. Recently have psoriasis, what I could call moderate to severe. Paleo Mom inspired me to drop fruit, nuts, eggs, seeds, nightshades, and all forms of coconut. It’s been a tough four weeks. I try to limit fruit to one serving a day…but seems that no matter what fruit I try, I’m experiencing a psoriasis flare shortly thereafter. I wish I had taken photos…because there has been significant progress…but still…a long way to go. Needing a buddy…and continued inspiration. Being a non-smoker…I feel this is the first I’ve ever understood how hard it is to change habits…I miss fruit, nuts, and eggs so much. Oh, and cayenne! Friend me on facebook?

I am thrilled for you that the experiment worked so well! I really enjoy your blog and have learned so much, thanks for sharing all that you do! :-)

What are you eating shredded up at breakfast? Sweet potato? Cabbage? It looks almost like hashbrowns, which sound really good to me right about now. We completed the detox, I had to switch to pregnancy modifications as we found at at the beginning that we are finally expecting after two years of infertility treatments! Hubs did amazingly well considering his pre-detox sugar addictions (coke and candy!). I’ve been Paleo for almost a year now. . . with some dairy and occasionally some rice or a gf treat, so the detox is easier for me! I didn’t realize grapefruit was allowed. . . or is that your own addition?

I would like to suggest that you halve and spread out your fruits servings. Make 3 small snacks like a celery stalk and half an apple. Think of it like trying to get to 6 meals per day. More balanced meals means more balanced insulin. I think the celery will help slow down the apsorbtion of the sugars of the fruit, wanted to tell you if you were wondering why this guy is saying to eat celery when were talking about fruit here. I would also suggest to buy celery root, the local store here sells it with celery stalks still attached, way better than that almost yellow stuff we buy in a bag. Then eat that celery direct from a big root and then put the root in a soup, good stuff…

Hi! I just wanted to tell you how inspiring you are. My boyfriend has SEVERE psoriasis all over his body about 90% covered and no medicines help. We are starting all-paleo on the AIP tomorrow to see if it helps. He has been in so much pain and we are ready for it to be over.

I noticed here that you are eating eggs even though they are not AIP. What is the reason for that?

I’d love to hear more about the link between autoimmune disease & elevated blood sugar. Even with no fruit, added sweeteners, and now no sweet potatoes/dense carbs on the 21 sugar detox, I’m still not sure if what I am eating is causing elevated glucose or if its something more systematic (PCOS, Hashimotos, etc). If you have any research I’d be interested – thanks!


My husband and I are at the end of the 21 day sugar detox. I have been off of sugar and grains for over a year on the GAPS Diet (moving towards the autoimmune protocol due to Hashimoto’s) so I haven’t noticed too much in change but my husband has never been off of either grains or sugar for this long so this is BIG for him. He hasn’t noticed serious changes yet but I have noticed that when he eats his apple “treat” either in straight form or in the coconut apple macaroon recipe I found for the detox, the whites of his eyes turn pretty red quite soon afterward. I always have thought it was sugar (or high concentration of fruit) so I was surprised he is still having this reaction from smaller portions. I always know when he’s had sugar or fruit by this “sign” – so he can’t hide it from me :) My question is, what do you think this is a sign of? If it’s fructose intolerance, what can be done to clear it up? He doesn’t want to think about it but I am concerned, left unchecked, he is headed towards problems down the road. He is 49. He has a cross-reaction to gluten on EVERYTHING on the Cyrex Array 4 test but he doesn’t want to really take it seriously because his only real symptoms are tiredness and the other stuff are things he is not bothered by like the red eyes and foot fungus as well as back pain from already deteriorating discs on the bottom of his spine and probably doesn’t want to believe there is a connection to the food. No one knows what the red eyes mean (doctors I have asked) but it is like clockwork after fruit and sugar. I am hoping to give him some solid reasons to take it seriously. He has had this red eye issue since his early 20’s at least. Thank you for any thoughts on the matter! Take care! Maureen

I am mid 70’s. My husband is same. I would guess that the red eyes are a definite sign that your husband has rapid inflammation (allergy) from the sugar and fruit. Think about how a person’s eyes ,who has had too much alcohol or wine ,looks. Chronic diseases, diabetes, and for me, RA, developed for both of us in our 50’s . Yes, he needs to get a grip on it now, because I have seen this. BTW I love this site. I had to figure out that food made a lot of difference in my RA. Now, I’m trying to help the youngers. My doctor told me that it looked like I was in remission! But, this site is fabulous!

I’d appreciate if you could email me… my dad has something VERY similar looking going on with his legs. If you wouldn’t mind sharing more info about your spots, I’d love love love to hear it! Thanks 😀

I have 2 questions, 1. Do you take probiotics? 2. Could you list the dinners you had? It is hard to tell what they are just from the pictures.
This is a wonderful post by the way.

I can’t believe how better I feel for giving up all sugar (which means really restricting all carbs and fruit). I have finally gained control of my appetite after decades of dieting. And the most wonderful unexpected ‘side effect’ is just how happy I feel. My nutrient profile has gone through the roof, and still loosing about half a kilo every 2 week

Hi Paleo Mom,

I have been on the AIP for 3 months now (I love both your books by the way!), but haven’t seen any major improvements yet in my symptoms. I think the fruit and occasional honey or maple syrup in my diet may need to be cut out to improve my blood sugar issues and IBS. I suspect I may have SIBO or fructose malabsorption but am not sure. Still consistently bloated, constipated, and tired. My question is about starchy veggies — which ones and how much to eat? Or do I need to cut them out? I have Hashimoto’s and am exclusively breastfeeding my 7-month-old too.

I loved this post! I just finished a 21DSD during which my stiff back “magically” loosened up and became really limber. I never thought about inflammation as a problem, but I guess it was. Three weeks later, I can feel my back stiffening up again and I am sure, especially after reading this, that it is the reintroduction of more fruit. I am going to cut back and see if it gets me back to that nice limber feeling again!

LindaD, PaleoMom, do you have a source for bone broth? I went to three butchers and was told that they did not receive their meat with the big marrow bones. So what was available 20 years ago in our food supply is starting to not be available. What’s your solution?

I am a year late in responding to this but what and inspiration you are. I was supposed to start today. Not too late I suppose.

Very inspiring, I really think I need to do this. I’m growing certain that my little fruit binges are not doing me any favors!

Questions: Is there a particular reason you didn’t include sea vegetables the whole time? What’s the milky substance you drink with dinner?

Thank you for sharing! I honestly enjoy you personal posts because it shows you are human and face struggles that everyone else does. I have struggled with an autoimmune disease for 10 years, and my symptoms have gotten worse the last two years. I also suffer from acne (it used to be cystic but giving up dairy helped). I have been following the AIP closely and plan to tighten up on it soon. I have had good results and I hope to try this sugar detox as well! Thank you again!

Wow! How great to experience successes on the dietary front! It’s so hard to have x, y, and z symptoms, realize they’re likely caused by food, but still not have the tools to figure out which foods are the problems! I am so happy for you!

I am on day 3 and my daughter’s chin eczema seems a bit better today (she is still nursing). I am having the worst insomnia and when I wake up, my glucose levels are way low–47-55 mg/dL low. I am trying to boost up the PM carbs–though I can’t seem to think of a good bedtime snack, or a way to make dinner last longer.

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