A Successful Experiment—and an unintended outcome

So, I didn’t make it through 3 weeks of zero sugar (all of you betting folks, make sure you get your money). I was actually doing really well—I made it through 8.5 days of absolutely no sugar whatsoever. Even though I “failed” at the detox, I still learned a lot of really valuable things, so my feeling coming away from it is a very positive one.

In case anyone is wondering what “absolutely zero sugar” means, I was not allowed to eat any simple carbs (wheat = bread, bagels, oatmeal, etc), only full-fat dairy (my lattes got a little better) and almost no fruit. The list of NO was extensive. I survived mostly on eggs and almonds. My daily allowance of carbs came in the form of rice or beans (a half cup).

I actually have a really good reason for quitting. After the 8 days of detoxing, my body was completely lethargic. I had no energy at all. Even when I felt good and ready to go, my body would not respond. I went on a run after the worst was over (day 6 or 7) and was really excited… until I started running. I could not push myself faster than 9:15 minutes/mile. My legs simply wouldn’t go. Chalking it up to a change in diet and my body still detoxing, I continued. I did a few swim workouts that ended up being very slow. But, barring the days where I felt worst, I worked out every day.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when I went to Colorado to ski. I already wasn’t planning on strictly adhering to the detox, but I was going to do the best I could. I had a turkey-tomato scramble (no toast) and a green-ish banana (allowed) for breakfast, and had some babybel cheeses in my backpack for a snack. Our ski day wasn’t very strenuous: we got to the mountain late, did a few runs, stopped for a beer (I did not partake) and then went out again. I ate my cheeses and some turkey I’d brought for lunch almost immediately. The day was really chill, and I just couldn’t handle it. That same lethargy took over and I just did not see how I was going to make it through even 2 more runs.

Andy offered me a bag of pretzels he’d brought. It would totally be breaking the detox but I was exhausted and realized my body just. needed. carbs. I ate the entire bag and felt WAY better. I finished off the day strong and decided then and there that I was done with the detox. It’s just not tenable for an athlete to not be eating carbs. I understand the need to detox from sugar, and I do think that the week helped. Tremendously. I’ll get to that.

First: things I learned.

  1. EVERYTHING—and I mean everything—has sugar in it. Things that are not sweet and should probably not have sugar in them do. Sriracha’s second ingredient is sugar. Sriracha! I couldn’t find any brand of beef jerky that did not use sugar. Canned soups have sugar. Rolled oats, the healthiest thing imaginable, are processed and broken down in the same way as sugar. Even soy sauce was out. Things I thought for sure I’d be safe with were on the “no” list. It was crazy and very, very hard to stick to the detox without having the no list in front of me.
  2. Eggs are a godsend. I ate many of them every day
  3. I now know what coconut oil is. It also happens to be delicious and I am still using it voluntarily. I am now aware that they make something called coconut aminos, which are, I suppose, a stand-in for soy sauce. Coconut flower is a thing, as is almond meal.
  4. It is absolutely possible to make delicious meals with not one pinch of sugar in them. However, it is very easy to go the wrong way. “Egg muffins” are disgusting. Would not recommend.
  5. After a week without sugar, Granny Smith apples no longer taste sour.
  6. You need carbs to have any athletic energy at all. Anyone telling you different is lying to you. That little bag of pretzels got me through the rest of the ski day and made me realize just how important carbs are to an athlete. I mean, I already knew, but this put that into practice. You can still be chipper and upbeat without sugar, but try to run one mile. Forget it.
  7. No amount of cinnamon or cocoa powder (unsweetened, and allowed) help mitigate the bitterness of Greek yogurt (full-fat).

I’ve come to some conclusions. First, this was a great idea, and I’m actually very happy I did it. For one, I haven’t completely bailed on the program yet. I haven’t had any type of dessert item, nor any soda, or anything that very obviously has a lot of added sugar, since I started the detox. Things taste sweeter. It might just be me, but that 2% latte absolutely tasted much sweeter than using half & half. I no longer crave chewing gum (as was the case before) and get tired of it after one, occasional, piece. I crave fruit instead of candy or cookies, and am completely satisfied by them.

I actually like having sugar-free stuff in the morning. A second batch of these truly awesome pumpkin-carrot muffins are currently baking in the oven, and I am stoked to have them. The non-sweet smoothies are great, too. I’ve also found that I really like coconut milk, especially in coffee, and as I mentioned before, cooking with coconut oil really does add a certain nice flavor to whatever it is I’m making. I’m going to continue some of these eating habits going forward.

So I didn’t complete the 21-day detox, but I still think I achieved exactly what I set out to do. I’m not hooked on sugar anymore. I still look at sweet things and want them, but it’s very easy to say no. And, actually now that I think about it, I really only want one small piece or one bite, and not much more. I don’t think I will EVER shake my love for sugar, but I did take a good step in the right direction and I feel really good about what I did.

Last conclusion: balance is key. Do what  you need to do for a short period of time, but overall just make sure you’re eating what’s right for you. Enjoy those Girl Scout cookies, but for Pete’s sake don’t eat a whole sleeve of thin mints. Exercise some self-control and say no to some things, but hell yes! to others. And don’t skimp on fueling your body!


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