My (Slightly Modified) 21-Day Sugar Detox (and Hitting a Speed Bump on Day 1?! Seriously?!)

January 2, 2013 in Categories: by

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I am doing my first ever 21-Day Sugar Detox.  What is this Sugar Detox of which I speak?  It is Diane Sanfilippo (of and Practical Paleo fame) ‘s signature program.  Three full weeks of avoiding sugars, sweeteners, dense carbohydrates (with allowances for athletes and pregnant/lactating women), and fruit.  For more information, click here.

Many people follow a Sugar Detox as a way of quickly resetting body chemistry (specifically blood sugar regulation) and sensitizing taste buds when they feel that they are riding the sugar roller coaster (intense sugar cravings that lead to sugar binges, followed by sugar highs, followed by sugar lows, followed by more cravings).  Within the paleo community, this might mean someone who has been giving into some SAD  foods, or someone who has been indulging in too much paleofied baked foods, or even someone who is just feeling like they’re fruit intake is excessive.  It is essentially a fast way to reduce sugar cravings (let’s be honest because this really only gets rid of biochemical sugar cravings and not emotional ones) and get back on the bandwagon when we feel things unraveling.

Do I feel like things are unraveling?  Actually, no.  I feel like I’ve been in completely control over my diet.  I’ve been following the autoimmune protocol very strictly, doing a great job of avoiding snacking and eating in the evenings (I’m trying to work on hunger hormone regulation here, more on this in a future post), and have indulged in very limited paleo baking over the last two weeks (mainly because I only made one kind of cookie that didn’t have eggs or nuts in them this year).

So, why am I doing the 21-Day Sugar Detox?  Sugar is inflammatory.  Fructose reduces leptin sensitivity.  Leptin helps regulate the immune system (more on this in a future post too).  I have an autoimmune disease.  I avoid starches because of SIBO, but I eat a whole lot of fruit.  I have been curious for a while whether or not that amount of fruit in my diet is helping or hurting me.

Last time I attempted to substantially reduce my fruit intake (while still not eating starchy vegetables), my body did not respond well to going so low carbohydrate (this was back in the early spring).   I had a cortisol response and found my sleep quality decreased substantially.  When I increased my carbohydrate intake, my sleep improved and I felt much better.  So, I’ve stuck with that.  But I know so much more now, and I think it’s time to try again, doing things a little differently than last time.

I figure I typically eat between 100g and 150g of carbohydrates (total, not net) per day, predominantly from fruit and non-starchy vegetables; but a little honey or maple syrup sneak in here and there.  I think this is very healthy for most people and I don’t think that most people really need to limit fruit (unless you are dealing with inflammation, autoimmune disease, metabolic syndrome, or having strong sugar cravings).  But, I am not most people and many people with autoimmune disease reporting having a very low tolerance for fruit, especially high fructose fruit.

Going too low carbohydrate can also reduce leptin sensitivity, which would totally defeat the purpose here.  So, I will be eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and those higher starch content veggies that I know I tolerate well (like carrots, winter squash and beets).  Quantities of beets and butternut squash are limited on the 21-Day Sugar Detox, and I will be adhering to that (because the allowance is already more than I can typically tolerate anyway).  I will also be continuing to avoid coffee (oh how I miss it though!) and working to keep my intake of caffeinated teas on the low side (my intake has crept up lately so I really need to get that in check anyway).  I will continue to use coconut oil and red palm oil as major fat sources in my diet to hopefully help avoid a cortisol response or reducing my leptin sensitivity.

Oh yeah, and I am doing this while also adhering to the autoimmune protocol.

The 21-Day Sugar Detox allows 1 green apple or 1 green-tipped banana per day.  I will be adding 1 small grapefruit to this list (and probably eating grapefruit every day instead, although just in case I crave a green apple in a couple of weeks, I’m keeping that option open).  Why grapefruit?  I have a 12-year history of chronic constipation before transitioning to a paleo diet.  I am battling SIBO and my digestion is still precarious.  I have found that eating grapefruit  improves my digestion (probably a combination of digestive enzymes in grapefruit and the acid).  I am also taking some digestive support supplements, but I really feel like going grapefruit-free would be counterproductive for me.  I also feel that grapefruit falls into the same category as green apples and green bananas: it doesn’t taste very sweet.    Grapefruit has the added benefit of being lower in sugar than either green apples or bananas, and having slightly less than half of its sugars as fructose (that beats apples but not bananas).  This is my slight modification.  The inclusion of grapefruit as an allowed fruit (but still limiting quantity).

What am I hoping to gain on the 21-Day Sugar Detox?  I am hoping to better understand the role that fruit is playing in my diet.  Is it contributing vitamins and antioxidants and helping control inflammation?  Is the sugar content contributing to inflammation?  Is my higher carbohydrate intake helping to regulate my cortisol?  Is my higher carbohydrate intake inhibiting normal regulation of my immue system?  I am not doing this to address sugar cravings.  I am not doing this to lose weight (although I’ll take it if I happen to).  I am not doing this because I believe that fruit is in any way bad for you (at least most of you).

What will I judge my success on?  Well, largely on the symptoms I associated with my autoimmune disease:  the look and itchiness of my lichen planus lesions, how my joints feel, the frequency of the mild headaches and tinnitus I sometimes get, how I’m sleeping, my energy level, my mood and my ability to handle stress.  The bigger part of this evaluation is going to be how I feel when I add more fruit back in at the end of these three weeks.

 So, I’m on Day 1 as I type this.  How is it going?  I have already hit my first speed bump.  My mom is visiting and she also loves grapefruit.  We have both been eating grapefruit every day, so we actually shared the last one for breakfast this morning.  Because there were so many other things that I had to do today, I sent my husband to the grocery store.  I instructed him to look for white grapefruit, since they are the least sweet, then pink if he couldn’t find white.  He came home with oroblancos.

I didn’t know what oroblancos were either.  They are a cross between an acidless pomelo and a white grapefruit.  They look alot like slightly green grapefruit, but have a super thick peel so the fruit inside is the size of an orange, if that.  According to Wikipedia, they are sweeter than white grapefruit.  I nearly cried when I read that.  I also closed some doors a little more forcefully than normal.  Now I have no grapefruit in the house (nor green enough bananas nor green apples) and I’m on Day 1 and I won’ t have time to run out to the store for a couple of days.

My mother came to the rescue.  She peeled and ate an oroblanco with her lunch.  She made such a face at how tart they are, that I agreed to try a segment.  Well, they are slightly sweeter than white grapefruit, but they are NOT sweet.  Probably about the same as or slightly tarter than the pink grapefruit I’ve been buying.  I also don’t like them as much as grapefruit.  I figure that’s actually completely in line with 21-Day Sugar Detox philosophy.

So, I’m going to include 1 small grapefruit OR 1 oroblanco.  I don’t know if oroblancos will help my digestion as much as grapefruit do, but I figure I can make do for a couple of days until I have time to go out shopping and buy actual grapefruit.  So, a speed bump, but not a calamity (even if it felt like one for about twenty minutes).

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, I am going to be the featured blogger for January on The 21-Day Sugar Detox Blog.  I also posted photos my meals today on Facebook (I know many people are interested in how do you eat AIP and 21-Day Sugar Detox?!) and will try to keep that up for the next three weeks as much as possible.  I will also be posting updates on my Facebook page and Twitter, on the 21-Day Sugar Detox Facebook page, and a post or two on the blog over the next few weeks about how I’m feeling, what effects I may or may not be noticing, and generally how this whole sugar detox thing is going for me.

If you are interested in joining me on this 21-Day Sugar Detox adventure, it’s not too late to start (or you could start February 1st if you wanted to too).  This is the biggest group ever and one of the reasons why it is so successful is because of the online community of people making you feel like you are not alone as you go through the (sometimes way not fun) transition to a lower sugar diet.  Solidarity!


My mouth watered the whole grapefruit discussion! I am ultra-low carbing, it’s the only thing that keeps my sugar cravings in tact. Good luck

Good Morning~ I just found your blog over the weekend and have been reading it non stop since. You have some great post!! I was wondering if you had some insights on cortisol~ I have been fighting bloating and water retention for awhile. I know that I have gluten sensitive and stay away. I stay with around 100 -120 carbs a day, exercise, eat real low sugar but still get this bloating. Do you think cortisol could play a roll in this? It just came to me after reading though your blog and did not know if you had any insight or could help me!

Thank you much,

Cortisol is not the first thing I think of when someone mentions bloating, although it is definitely a possible contributor (and definitely worth getting tested for). What I think of is FODMAP sensitivity and/or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and/or the need for digestive support supplements.

Thank you for your reply! I would have thought food sensitivity too:) except for I have not ate anything different or out of the ordinary. I do eat alot of the same things. I really experience major fatigue and when that happens major water retention. I thought mine was the cortisol after reading though some of your post. I exercise quite a bit and sometimes wonder if I do not consume enough calories. Do you mind me asking what some of your symptoms or signs were with the high cortisol? I have read that high cortisol can make you retain fluids but there is so much on the internet it is hard to know what to believe.

Thank you!

Today is my second day on AIP. I’m having a hard time with it so far but if I still have inflammation issues, I may try the 21 day sugar detox in the future with AIP like you’re doing.

I’ve been on the AIP for a year… although i don’t think you need to wait a year before trying something like this. I’m just trying to say be patient; it does take time to heal. :)

I also am battling SIBO. I cut out all fruit and sugar except a little maple syrup every now and then and coconut sugar occasionally. But what really helped me was the elimination of dairy. I have a little bit of half and half in my coffee but I only drink one cup a day of decaf. I can’t really tolerate cheeses. Have you read Dr. Pimental’s book.A New IBS Solution: Bacteria-The Missing Link in Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome? In it he makes the argument that lactose is the bacteria’s most favorite food and that it doesn’t get broken down until the end of the SI and that is what encourages the bacterial to migrate into the SI. I don’t fully agree with his dietary recommendations though. I prefer being as Paleo as possible
Anyway, I eat potatoes- I find that without adequate carbs, I am absolutely miserable in mind and body. But I am way more moderate with them than I was before I went paleo. I cannot tolerate fruit at ALL except the very very occasional bit of berries in an almond milk smoothie or some baked apples.
I am interested to see how the sugar detox goes. I love your site and I am going to go in search of more info on your battle with SIBO as I don’t come across many people who both have SIBO and are paleo.

Oh my gosh, how do you do it? Whenever I seem to need specific help in this whole AIP/paleo process and can’t seem to find anything out there that even begins to answer my question you come up with an entire post precisely addressing my questions. I’m on super strict AIP, got derailed over the holidays and thought I should try 21dsd. Once I read through it I realized it might not be that helpful since I can’t do eggs, night shades, etc. I really look forward to reading your future posts. I love the grapefruit idea. Is that really ok for sibo/ fodmaps sensitivity? I’ve had such a hard time getting enough carbs. Thanks again!

I remember as a child hating grape fruit. Of course I also put sugar on my strawberries then. I will be interested in trying one after this 21 days. Also I to am doing a modified version based on my past food addictions (adding in rice and doing the athlete version without being an athlete). I think it’s great that you’re showing people that it’s not a one size fits all detox and how we need to find what works for us.
Keep it up!

Thank you Sarah! I love All your posts! You always inspire me and I LOVE your search for answers. Your voice is what we don’t hear in books because they have figured out what works….for them really. We are all different and have our own auto immune struggles so what works for me may or may not work for another. So as I read your posts I am reminded of the search required in the whole process! Your honesty, hunger for knowledge and passion for answers are admired by this reader…me! Keep searching and continue writing! Thank you!!!!

(Battler of MS for 15 years)

I took out sweetners and fruit (and most carbs) about 6 weeks ago and I’ve never felt better. All food cravings are gone and I can go long periods of time without getting hungry which I’ve never been able to do. It was essential that I substitued fat calories for the carb calories. I upped my intake of animal fat (grassfed), olive oil and avocado oil

I love your blog so hard – it’s SO darn informative! Happy New Year to you … and, whilst I’m here, I am totally with you on the bones and skin in canned salmon (I’ve been listening to the podcasts). They ARE the best!!

Sarah, in terms of SIBO, I understand that one option is to treat it with specific antibiotics – and then, of course, follow with probiotics to repopulate the gut. From what I’ve read, this is not something you’ve decided to do – you prefer to try and starve the buggers out, basically – not feed them what they need to survive? If I’m right, could you talk a little about why?

Symptomatically (specifically, insane distension – of the rock hard beach ball belly kind), everything I’ve read makes me think it’s an issue for me. I’m thinking of purchasing a breath test kit (via Metsol, discussed by Chris Kresser) to confirm this – I feel to have reached an impasse trying to juggle auto-immune and digestive solutions on my own, and that some concrete data would help narrow things down for me. If my hunch is right, ideally I’d then like to treat this thing and at least resolve one issue. The celiac and FODMAP issues are never going away, whereas SIBO may be treated, if I understand this correctly. Right now it’s just a complicated, frustrating mess.

I’m struggling with taking carbs super low (I’m pretty active), it bites me hard and sleep suffers hugely. And yet right now I can’t find a way to get them to even a moderate level without struggling, gut-wise. Hence I am clinging to the hope I may be able to address the SIBO. The fact you’ve had it so long makes me nervous that I am am dreaming …

I thought I would speak to this for a minute as it affects me too. Dr. Pimental who wrote a book called “A New IBS Solution” says essentially that he doesn’t think there is really a difference between good bacteria and bad bacteria. When you have SIBO, bacteria are in the WRONG PLACE- they don’t belong in the small intestine, only in the large, so if you feed them what they like, which is lactose, they may overgrow into the small intestine since lactose isn’t digested until the last bit of the SI. Now, if you kill them all off then re-introduce bacteria to the gut and keep feeding them lactose, or whatever else they might like, they are probably going to overgrow again. I had the rock hard belly. I did the hydrogen breath test (make sure they give you lactulose solution or it isn’t even valid) and I was “off the charts.” I took Xifaxin for 10 days and gave up lactose. I also coincidentally gave up sugar and grains in general at this time, so I cannot say for sure which it was, but I am no longer bloated, no longer having IBS and I’ll never go back. My doc is going to order another hydrogen breath test for me to see if it is indeed gone. You may have FODMAPs issues in addition to SIBO making it doubly hard. I wish you lived in upstate NY so you could go to my doc.

I forgot to say I did not take probiotics after treating the SIBO this time. I did after the first time I treated it (and I also went back to eating dairy the first time) and it came back.

I have a fairly mild case and it is my preference to address it with food (I also have an autoimmune disease that is pretty sensitivity to me eating too many carbs, so that helps the decision for me). I also have a mild FODMAP sensitivity so the two play off each other sometimes. It’s fairly usual to take 6 months to 2 years to cure SIBO with diet alone, depending on how strict you are, how severe the case is, what type of bacteria or yeast you’re dealing with etc. Antibiotics are a good option for more severe cases than mine. Some functional medicine specialists might also take a botanical approach as a third option.

How you do handle fruit? You could be getting carbs from high glucose fruits like bananas and grapes. Also, are you eating enough fat when you bring your carbs low? Sleep disruption is definitely a problem. You could try taking a lysine supplement and either coconut oil or MCT oil (a la ketogenic diet approach in Perfect Health Diet by the Jaminets) and see if you still get the cortisol response.

Getting tested makes sense and will at least give you more information as you ponder your choices. I hope this helps!

Thank you both. Yes, I seem to be dealing with that special trifecta also: autoimmune, FODMAP (oh dear lord the havoc they can wreak!) and my hunch re SIBO. Winning!

Bananas seem to work, and yes, they’ve become a staple. Bananas, salmon, grass fed beef, certain veggies and coconut oil, that’s my ‘safe’ diet. At least it makes meals simple, if looking for the upside : )

I actually saw an acupuncturist/TCM guy today, first time for me – I think I’ve reached a point where I decided I need help, not sure I can get much further alone. As it turns out, he’s a Paleo supporter (and referenced Chris Kresser as we talked it all through, which was very welcome) – and, like you Sarah, he suggested botanicals as an alternative to antibiotics if it turns out this is SIBO. His suggestion – go ahead and test for SIBO, and also H. pylori, and take it from there. That, and weekly acupuncture for 4-6 weeks. This seems a viable plan, I think?

I’m going to press ahead and order the 2 breath tests, I’d welcome data at this point! In case it’s helpful to anyone else reading, will keep in touch and let you know re outcomes? You mentioned this to me before, and I know that your reader stories have certainly helped me a tonne … in no small part, just knowing we’re not alone is a relief. Again, so grateful for all you do. Following your 21 days with interest!

Oh man, I haaaatteeee grapefruit. It’s not the sour- sour I like- they have a really off putting flavour like children’s medicine or the smell and aftertaste of wasabi.

good idea with the sugar detox though. I’m not doing a full sugar detox but I’ve cut out fruit because I felt my consumption was becoming excessive and I’m only allowing berries.

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