Somewhere 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 insulin 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!)
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.
- # 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.