23 Nov

My 21-Day Sugar Detox Experience

Since mid-September, my life has been jam packed with activity: weddings, a week-long visit from my parents coinciding with my nephew’s 6th birthday, Halloween parties and social events. Plus, throw in some work happy hours for good measure. This all translates to an above normal consumption of beer, wine, cookies, cakes and more. It was fun but also exhausting and I wasn’t sleeping as well and not feeling mentally and physically healthy.


I wanted to hit the reset button. I decided to do a 21-day sugar detox, which I started on November 2nd. My goals were to reestablish good eating habits and cut out the junk. Too often I am stressed at work, haven’t packed a lunch, and go grab a quick sandwich at some chain fast-food restaurant. Inevitably at the register I add a giant chocolate chip cookie to my order because I feel that I “deserve” it since I had worked so hard that morning. I don’t deserve a cookie, I am doing my job. I am justifying an unhealthy choice. I had been making excuses since the Granite Games for poor eating, skipping workouts and not trying harder.

I read up on the 21-Day Sugar Detox by Diane Sanfillipo, owner and founder of Balanced Bites and a Certified Nutrition Consultant. She put together the program and has a book, app and online resources (i.e. shopping lists, recipes, etc.) to utilize.  She writes:

“The problem isn’t just sugar itself. It’s the refined, nutrient-poor carbohydrates that carry tons of calories, but no real nutrition. In our world, these are the easiest foods to grab on the go, but they leave us fat, sick, tired, and downright unhappy. The effect that sugar, “hidden” carbs, and refined, processed foods have on our bodies goes far beyond our waistlines. We can’t focus, we can’t sleep, we have irrational mid-afternoon cravings, and we can’t even make it through the day without wanting–or needing–to prop up our energy levels with caffeine or even more sugar!”

I didn’t purchase the book, but through reading through the website and other articles had a high-level understanding of the rules for the program:

  1. No sugar. This includes natural sugars such as maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar. It also includes artificial sweeteners such as stevia.
  2. No alcohol. Alcohol is a sugar so it’s out for 21 days.
  3. Limit fruit consumption to a single serving per day of one of the following fresh fruits: grapefruit, green apple, or green tipped (un-ripe) banana. Fruit is also sugar so it’s easy to replace your nightly chocolate binge with a bag of dried cherries. Your blood sugar can’t tell the difference so it’s also out for the 21 days.
  4. No refined grains. The refining process breaks down grains into quick energy (read: sugar) to be used by the body. In the 21DSD whole grains are allowed in limited quantities per day and only in their whole, unrefined state (ex: cooked rice, millet, quinoa, etc).

I created a Facebook event for the program and invited friends and family to join me on the cleanse. The hope was that we could all hold each other accountable and encourage one another to keep going and fight the cravings!

Week 1 – Good Planning

I wanted to be prepared as I could for the cleanse so I made my Costco run, broke out the Tupperware and started meal prepping. I roasted sweet potatoes with bell peppers and onions to have for breakfast – ready to pull out of the fridge and top with some scrambled eggs. I got cooked turkey breasts that are easy to slice up and have at lunch. I also got a bag of white rice to make sure I was still getting in some carbohydrates as I knew this clean eating was going to cause my daily caloric intake to drop.

In the spirit of forming new habits, I decided to switch to morning workouts. I typically go to the 7pm class at my CrossFit gym but then end up eating a late dinner and despite laying down in bed on time feeling too awake to go to sleep. While that early alarm can be tough sometimes, it ensures I get a workout in and can just relax after work rather than scrambling to get over to the gym and pull together dinner.

On the fifth day of the cleanse I was feeling a bit headachy. It might have been due to a lack of sleep the night before caused by staying up late to babysit for my sister, but headaches are also cited as a common “symptom” of the program. Outside of that Friday morning, the week went well. I hit my morning workouts, brought lunch to work everyday and was falling asleep more easily.  Having a clear defined schedule and planning ahead made all the difference.

Week 2 – Good Choices

In the second full week of the sugar cleanse life happened. An old friend from college was in town for a work conference. We had dinner out on Monday night at Quang’s, a local Vietnamese restaurant. I thought it would be easy since it has such a large menu, but I had to rule out most of the platters due to the sauces that they cook the meat and vegetables in. Plus, I definitely had to skip the fried egg rolls and all the noodle bowls. I got the pork chops with white rice and broccoli. On Thursday night we went to Black Sheep Pizza. My friend enjoyed some red wine and an individual pizza. I had the water and ordered roasted vegetables and meatballs. The food was really good and I didn’t mind missing out on pizza but a red wine would have been nice. In between all that, I attended a cocktail party on the Tuesday night with open bar and politely declined all the passed hors d’oeuvres. Thankfully the buffet had fresh shrimp and crudité. Lastly, my gym had a chili cook-off and without listed ingredients I chose to stick with the Paleo bacon chili. There was a tray of cookies calling my name, but I stayed strong.

Now on any one of those occasions it would have been fine to indulge a little, but it’s a completely different story and effect if I indulged at all 4 events over the course of 6 days. Pizza is not evil, but things can easily turn into a flood of bad choices.

It sounds like a laundry list of “would of, could of” but I am actually very proud of myself for all the good choices that I made. I didn’t pretend that I couldn’t find something on the menu to adhere to the rules of the cleanse just to give myself an excuse. I socialized without needing to have a glass of wine or beer in my hand. And I had a great week of feeling well rested, energetic and healthy.  Making good choices is not easy yet it is necessary for a long-term healthy lifestyle. I am learning on this cleanse that one week of the right choices is not enough. You have to make these active good choices week in and week out if you want to see the desired results.

Week 3 – Good Discipline

The final week of the cleanse was all about maintaining good habits. It was about having the self-discipline to skip the buttery popcorn at the movie theater, bring lunches to work, and avoid the vanilla frosted chocolate bundt cake in the office break room. It was keeping up with my workouts and yoga class. It might sound boring and repetitive, but again it is the difference of having a long-term focus than simply satiating short-term cravings. Yeah, I would have loved a cookie after a 10-hour work day but it’s not necessary if you feed yourself great delicious real foods.

I also learned more about the ill-effects that sugar, especially fructose, can have on the human body. I watched a documentary titled That Sugar Film that showed how the hidden sugars in low fat foods are being carelessly consumed in our Western culture by all of us who were falsely convinced that low fat, low calorie diets are the key to our well-being. I highly recommend checking it out.


Overall, I feel more clear-headed, more well-rested and healthier than before I started. While weight loss was not a goal, you can see in the before and after photo that I leaned out a bit – I went from 171.2 lbs down to 165.0 lbs over the course of the 21 days. This was with eating plenty of rice and sweet potatoes everyday, along with the meat and vegetables.

We all inherently know that real food – not the overly processed, manufactured frozen aisle off-the-shelf stuff – is better for us. And there is a huge difference between the natural sugars we find in foods compared to the ones purposefully injected to convince us that the low-fat meals taste good. I step away from this thinking more carefully about where my daily grams of sugar come from.

The other big takeaway for me in terms of my thinking about next steps and goals as we enter into 2016 is that I need the long-range vision. Too often I jump from one idea to the next. I like to learn and am generally inquisitive about different programs and methods that I see in health magazines and online. I try this and that hoping that something will stick, rather than just sticking to it. CrossFit talks about the concept of constantly varied but the idea of consistency sometimes get lost. I need to come up with a Plan A and stick to it. Knowing what effect sugar – or the lack thereof – has on me will definitely influence how what I eat will support the plan and my goals.

19 Nov

Review: “That Sugar Film”

I am currently in the middle of a 21-day sugar detox – no sugar, no alcohol, no processed foods. This week while searching for something to watch, I came upon That Sugar Film – a 2014 documentary by Australian actor and director Damon Gameau. It seemed only appropriate as I am trying to understand what role sugar plays in my life that I check it out.

In the film, Damon is awaiting the birth of his first child and having led a mostly sugar-free lifestyle for the past three years decides he wants to understand the effect of sugar on the human body as it has become so prevalent in our diets worldwide.

With the help of a team of doctors and nutritionists, he decides to consume the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar per day – the average daily amount consumed by Australians – for 60 days. He self imposes a rule that all the sugar must be hidden in low fat foods. No soda, no confectionary and no ice cream. Basically 40 teaspoons without eating sweets or junk food. He will also maintain his weekly amount of moderate exercise.

Damon’s focus on these low fat foods is that in the 1970’s the sugary industry institutionalized the low fat movement. Sugar was exonerated. The problem is that low fat doesn’t mean low sugar. (My friend Craig does an excellent job explaining in this blog post how we came to that thinking.)

As you might imagine, Damon gains weight over the 60 days. The increase in his daily consumption of sugar leads to him accumulating visceral fat – body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. When you accumulate a lot of fat in that area it increases your risk of metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Damon gained almost 19 pounds, added 7% body fat and increased his waist size by almost 4 inches. That’s insane! Further, his triglyceride levels almost doubled. Tryglycerides area a type of fat (lipid) in your blood that at a high level can increase your risk of heart disease.

Towards the end of the 60 days, Damon had become moody, lethargic and generally felt unwell. He never felt full as the more you eat high sugary foods the more you want to eat sugary foods. Your insulin levels spike and then crash and the body’s only way to try and stabilize you is by craving more sugar. He had put his body through the ringer over a short period of time and the culprit was clear. 

The amazing fact was that his daily caloric intake had not changed. The sugar industry has pushed this idea that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. But that is just not true. Further, our Western culture tells us that if you are overweight that you need to either exercise more or eat less. But you can’t just cut calories because the source of the calories matters.

The film moves at a good pace. We don’t have to suffer through everyday of his sugar diet. There are some visual flourishes and celebrity cameos that help explain all the history and science behind sugar. He takes a trip to visit an Aboriginal tribe that felt the effects when sugar – in the form of soda and other treats – was introduced to their diet. Damon also goes to America to learn more about the how and why. He even makes a devastating pit stop in Kentucky to see first-hand “Mountain Dew Mouth” – a scene that will quickly make you run around the school yard slapping soda cans out of the hand of every kid.

The documentary is eye-opening and it is making me really question how, if at all, I want to allow sugar back in my life post-cleanse.

“That Sugar Film” is now available on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Google Play.

09 Nov

Sweet Potato & Sausage Hash


Last weekend my friend Anna baked a sweet potato hash in a skillet with eggs that was out of this world. I immediately requested the recipe and spent the whole week thinking about it. I ran to the grocery store on Tuesday night to get the ingredients and then patiently waited until I had enough time to prep and cook.

Thankfully this past Saturday was the lucky day! Now lacking a large skillet and being on the ready to serve it with eggs right away, I made some slight variations and so my recipe and techniques are a mash-up of a few different source. The main ingredient mix and idea from the kitchn. Caramelized onions using coconut oil courtesy of My Clean Kitchen. And the cook time, temperature and use of foil from Allrecipes.

This hash requires a lot of cutting and chopping and prep time but is so worth it. I will pat myself on the shoulder and brag that mine turned out absolutely delicious. Each forkful brings a little different taste and texture. In each you get a hint of rosemary or a bite of garlic or the crunch of some piece of sweet Italian sausage that was in the corner of the pan. I cooked two eggs over easy on Sunday morning to serve on top of the hash, letting that thick yolk run all over and mix in with all the components of the dish.

This sweet potato and sausage hash is a great way to cook in bulk and prep easy grab and go meals. You could easily hard boil some eggs to have on hand to throw in with it or make a few servings of scrambled eggs and dish them out into individual containers. I find that scrambled eggs hold up well for a few days in the refrigerator and can be easily reheated for 60 seconds in the microwave without losing their taste. Overall, this is going to be a new staple around my house. In fact, this could be the new “stuffing” for Thanksgiving! Who needs bread crumbs when you can have sweet potatoes and sausage instead?


Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes


  • 1 tbsp. Coconut Oil
  • 2 large Yellow Onions
  • 4 Italian Sausage links
  • 4 large Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 Garlic Bulbs
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tsps. Rosemary


  1. Peel the onions and cut them in half lengthwise, then cut them into thin half-moons. Cut the half-moons in half.  Place 1 tbps. of coconut oil in a medium to large pot or frying pan over medium heat. Once its melted, add the onion. Stir to coat the onions. Let the onions cook down on medium low heat. Stirring occasionally and toss in some salt about half way through. Cook onions for 45 minute to an hour, until they are a deep brown and caramelized.
  2. Remove the sausage links from their casing and place in another skillet and brown over medium-high heat, chopping it up into crumbles with a spatula. Drain away any excess fat.
  3. While the onions and sausage are cooking, cut the unpeeled sweet potatoes into cubes (about the size of small Lego brick). Peel and finely mince the garlic and rosemary leaves. Toss the sweet potatoes, garlic and rosemary leaves into a large bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the onions and sausage in with the sweet potatoes. Pour and spread it all into two 13″ x 9″ baking pans.
  5. Roast the hash for 30 minutes covered with foil. After 30-minutes, remove the foil and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

If not serving immediately, cool the hash and refrigerate.

Yields 6-8 servings

02 Nov

Winning Halloween

On a day full of goblins, ghouls and ghosts, I decided to get my thrills by competing in the Twin City Throwdown at Timberwolf CrossFit. If you recall, I had done one of the throwdowns back in July and just came 1 point short of reaching the podium in the individual Men’s Scaled division.  This time it was a partner competition and I recruited my friend Tom from TwinTown Fitness to join me.


This was Tom’s first competition and he was admittedly nervous. We had met twice this past month to train together. We weren’t sure what the workouts were going to be so I just came up with some programming that would require us to work on our endurance and that tested our communication skills.

We finally found out the events the day before the competition. There was a a total of four events and teams had to go from one event right into the next. Each event between the work and the rest was 10-minutes long. We were going to be in the first heat with the only other team in the Men’s Scaled Division – Troy & Jason.

Regardless of the small field, we had to treat this competition like any other. Tom and I got to Timberwolf early so that we could warm-up and not feel rushed. We were able to test out all the movements and get the lay of the land.

At high noon, it was time to start and we were ready to go!

IMG_3850IMG_3847EVENT 1  
9 min AMRAP of 10-20-30-40-etc. Wall Balls (14#) + Box Jumps (20″)

This was nothing but work – a ton of work. The 14# on the wall ball and the shorter box jump height made it comfortable. It was just all about sweat and energy and maintaining a good pace. We decided that I would do the first 10 wall balls and then Tom would do the first 10 box jumps. Then in the second round, we would start alternating 10 and 10. We were able for the most part to keep our numbers of reps high and were a few short at the buzzer of completing 50-50.

Score = 292 reps
Place = 1st

Each member finds 7 rep max front squat from rack

With only a minute of rest after Event 1, it was time to quickly catch our breath and throw some weight on the bar and get lifting. Tom, feeling the previous workout, smartly decided to start at 115# so that he could get a score on the board. Based on how our warm-up had gone, I felt comfortable starting at 135#. We both had successful lifts and had a score on the board and so the only place to go was up.

Tom went for a second lift at 135# and looked strong hitting all 7 reps. However, after he racked the bar, he knew that was as far as he was going to be able to go that afternoon. We then threw on more weight and I made my second lift at 155#.

We still had a few minutes left and so I decided to make one more lift. I wanted to do 160#, but my poor math skills led to me loading the bar up to 165#.  I decided to leave it and just go for it knowing that the extra pounds could help. It might not have been a conservative move, but I figured, “Why the hell not? Go big or go home.” That bravado and competitive mindset is the attitude I’ve been slowly and surely building up over the last two years. Thankfully I wasn’t all talk and I successfully made the lift.

Score = 135# + 165# = 300#
Place = 1st

For time6 x 200 meter Run

Outside in parking lot with people’s kids running around in their costumes and cars passing by on their way to the Goodwill store and a light breezy rain, we lined up for the running relay. We each had to complete three 200-meter sprints, alternating turns. Plain and simple, Troy from the other team was just fast as [expletive]. Tom and I ran like the wind but he was a hurricane. He gave their team a great lead and we were never able to close the gap. They finished 27 seconds ahead. Thankfully our effort did at least leave us with 6 minutes of rest before the final event.

Score = 03:46
Place = 2nd

For time – 4 Rounds of 15 Deadlifts (135#) + 15 burpees to plate with extension

In the last Event, Tom and I had to alternate and each complete two full rounds. Tom was tired and thought he might have to break up the deadlifts. But we were able to both quickly knock out all the deadlifts in unbroken sets. The burpees were… fine. Burpees are never great and having to hop onto a low plate was just awkward; but, we made it.

Score = 04:59
Place = 2nd

With Tom’s last burpee complete, we were done for the day. We felt great. Both of us agreed that we felt we had gone as fast as we could through all the workouts and had lifted what we were capable of in the front rack. There was nothing to question in terms of performance. We had kept moving. We had kept pushing. It was an awesome effort and one to celebrate in terms of a job well done. Now the only question was how the other team had done.

We knew that they beat us on the run in the Event 3 and that they finished Event 4 before us. However, we had no clue how many reps they got in Event 1 and what weight was on their bar in Event 3. In fact, the other team wasn’t sure what we were up to either.

At one point while we were watching and cheering on the other competitors, Jason from the other Men’s Scaled team asked me, “So did you win?”

“What?” I laughed. “No, you won.”

“I’m not sure. We didn’t have very heavy lifts.”

We didn’t compare notes as I don’t think either of us wanted to pry or even knew how many reps we got in Event 1. It got me thinking that maybe we had in fact tied.

All was soon revealed as they set up the podium made of boxes. They announced the Men’s Scaled results first and it was in fact a tie for 1st place. It turned out in Event 1 that Jason & Troy had only 262 reps and in Event 2 their total weight was 265#. Sharing the 1st place position on the podium had all four of us and the crowd in smiles. It was a great end to what had been a truly fun day of competing.IMG_3814


23 Oct

Review: “Froning – Fittest Man in History”

Last night I watched  Froning: Fittest Man in History, a new documentary film that was just released on iTunes and Amazon.  If you don’t follow CrossFit, the film is about Rich Fronting, who won the CrossFit Games four years in a row from 2011 to 2014. To provide you some broader context in the online qualifier for the Games he came in first place out of 110,145 athletes worldwide.

I am a bit fascinated by Rich. In addition to this movie I have also read his 2013 memoir titled First: What it Takes to Win. I am struck by how very different we are. He was athletic, active and fearless as a kid playing tons of sports and competitive in everything, even chores. He was outside all the time, surrounded by tons of cousins who were like brothers growing up.  In comparison, I was funny but quiet and focused on academic success with just an older sister often doing her own thing. My sports were more individual – swimming, golf, tennis – and I lived in a neighborhood where there were few kids and you had to drive from house to house to go trick-or-treating.  Extracurricular activities included piano lessons and cotillion.  Yet similarly both of us were raised by very loving parents who instilled a strong work ethic. Our time and energy have led us to very different pursuits and outcomes in life yet we are somehow both passionate about CrossFit.

Today, it is of no revelation that the guy is an absolute beast. The film share his stats:

  • Height – 5’9″
  • Weight – 195 lb.
  • Chest – 43.7″
  • Waist – 33″
  • Hips – 39″
  • Upper Arm – 16.5″
  • Thighs – 25.5″

And I’m not really surprised to find out that he is a “dude” into “dude stuff”. He likes to shoot guns and lift weights. There is a short montage of him on dirt bikes, ATVs, playing sports and goofing around. His friends explain that “He’s a very simple guy” and like “a 12-year old boy with a lot of money.” If his life were on the big screen Rich says he’d want it to be a Michael Bay or Marvel movie. But it is not fair to only characterize him as some good ol’ country boy as to his credit he is also accurately portrayed as a devoted husband and father.

Rich’s success over the years has been attributed to the fact that his competitors haven’t figured out how to beat him because they haven’t discovered how to out train him.

His cousin Darren explains how when they first started CrossFit back in 2010 that he and Rich would do one workout per day taken directly off the main website. Over time that then evolved into two-a-days and then eventually three and four workouts per day.

As many comment in the film, Rich loves programming and he knows what he’s doing. One of the highlights of the film is that they then show a regular day of training for Rich:

  • 10:00AM – 10 Rounds of Row 250 meters (Rest 2:1 work ratio)
  • 11:30AM – 5 Rounds of 10 Deadlifts (225#) + 20 Wall Balls
  • 1:05PM – For Time 21 Weighted Pistols (65#) + 15 Clean & Jerks (185#) + 9 Muscle-ups
  • 1:25PM – For Time 21 Paralette Handstand Push-ups + 15 Snatches + 9 Muscle-ups
  • 3:00PM – 6 x 3 Snatch work
  • 7:30PM – Frantasy Land WOD = 21-15-9 reps of Thrusters (95#) & Pull-ups; 15-12-9 reps of Thrusters (115#) & Chest-to-bar pull-ups; 12-9-6 reps Thrusters (135#) & Bar muscle-ups

He believes his training is the epitome of CrossFit as it is based around high intensity, functional movements and constantly varied. He is one of the best lifters in the sport and he dominates in the competitive arena. One talking head in the film says of Rich and his competitors, “He permits them to workout with him.”

Rich Froning, Central East

The story of his rise is not epic as much as it is a reflection of his focus and commitment. At his first appearance at the Games in 2010 he famously failed on the rope climbs and it cost him the championship. But rest be assured he fixed that problem and crushed the rope climbs in 2011 and took his first title. Similarly in 2013 he was thrown into the pool during one of the workouts and he took 30th due to his weakness as a swimmer. Even after winning that year he remembered where he had fallen short in his performance and worked on his swimming. In 2014 he took 8th place in the beach event that included an open water swim. The man is human. He has flaws but he strives to get better everyday. Rich does not rest on his laurels.

The film is not Oscar-worthy. It lacks some thrill as you already know the outcome from the beginning nor does the director do much to build up the suspense. Perhaps because Rich already published a memoir they don’t rehash his life story too much. Much of the focus is on the 2014 Games.

Nevertheless, he is inspiring. Rich loves working out and challenging himself to see what the human body is capable of. Watching all his energy and effort makes me want to try harder at the gym and put in more time. His high school baseball coach notes at one point in the film that with Rich he was the “first to get there, last to leave.”. He also seems to be having fun. He can’t not workout out or do something athletic.

At the end of the film he explains that despite winning the CrossFit Games four years in a row and being crowned by many the fittest man in history that he is not satisfied. He simply states, “There is still more to do.” Like many, I’ll be watching to see what’s next.