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.

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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.

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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.

Sweet Potato & Sausage Hash

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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?

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Recipe:

  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

Warm-Up with Ginger-Carrot Soup

Regardless of the season, I love carrots. As a kid stuck with enormous glasses since second grade, I happily ate them raw or roasted or puréed with the hopes that the old wives tale would come true that they would improve my eyesight. Now was an adult, my eyesight is great… thanks to Lasik, but regardless I still love carrots.

My problem is that often I get overzealous and buy too large a bag of baby carrots. Not wanting to be wasteful this past week, I was on the hunt for a solution of how to quickly utilize them. Throw into the mix that it was about 15 degrees outside, I figured a soup sounded just about perfect. After some searching around the interwebs, I found this recipe for a simple Paleo ginger-carrot soup courtesy of PaleOMG:

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Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups chopped baby carrots
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 (14-oz) can of coconut milk
  • ½ yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Place a saucepan over medium heat, add in your coconut oil, garlic and onion. Cook up onions are translucent.
  2. Then add in your carrots with broth and coconut milk along with ginger and a bit of salt and pepper.
  3. Cook until carrots are soft.
  4. Once carrots are soft, use an immersion blender to mix until soup is smooth and creamy.

When complete, the soup smells amazing and is absolutely delicious, especially if you like the flavor of ginger. It has this great vanilla mustard color, with flecks of the bright orange from the carrots sprinkled throughout. It tastes rich and filling, but is also a lighter meal option.

As for my variations to the recipe and ingredient list, I used Kirkland Signature Minced California Garlic from Costco and Christopher Ranch Organic Chopped Ginger from WholeFoods. The former I already had in my pantry and the latter was an easy solution to shorten the prep time. And I actually didn’t use any salt or pepper as they seemed unnecessary.  Further, not having an immersion blender, I used my Ninja blender instead. The soup came out mostly smooth but had a bit of texture to it, but that did not detract from it at all.

The prep time was pretty quick as outside of opening some jars or cans, you just have to chop the carrots and onions.  The cook time was a good 30-minutes, which might be due to my electric stove or that I need to chop the carrots smaller next time. Nevertheless, outside of an occasional stir, you don’t have to stay close to the stove while it cooks. It yields about 4 servings and could be coupled with some bacon or shredded chicken.

Thanksgiving Game Changer

There has been a lot of talk around town lately about Thanksgiving side dishes (#embracethegrape). All of that conversation is moot because we all know that next to the turkey the best thing is the sweet potatoes. However, for too long we have held to the tradition that our sweet potatoes must be covered with a solid layer of marshmallows. The recipe dates back to 1917 when Janet McKenzie Hill, the founder of the Boston Cooking-School Magazine, added the fluffy sugar bombs. But let’s go for something more modern this year that’s healthier and utilizes a lot more natural ingredients. Thanks to local Minnesota food company wholeme, I have the answer – Toasted Almond Coconut Sweet Potatoes.

The beauty of it is that the easy version of the recipe involves just two store bought products: Trader Joe’s Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes and wholeme’s Almond Coconut Clusters:

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Trader Joe’s Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes contain only Covington sweet potatoes; while the Almond Coconut Clusters from Wholeme contain almonds, coconut, honey, pepitas, sunflower seeds, coconut, almond extract and salt. That’s it. Those are all the ingredients in the dish. It’s grain free, gluten free, dairy free and Paleo.  Plus, the recipe (courtesy of Wholeme) is super simple and takes about 30-minutes from prep to finish:

  1. Place 2 bags of the roasted mashed sweet potatoes in microwave safe dish and thaw for 6 minutes.
  2. Place sweet potatoes in 13×9 glass dish and sprinkle 1 entire bag of Almond Coconut Clusters on top, spreading evenly.
  3. Bake in oven for 20 minutes at 380F.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool.

Fullscreen capture 11242014 95501 AMI made the dish over the weekend and had some friends join me in the taste test. All three of us agreed it was delicious and started having daydreams of just eating it straight out of the Pyrex while watching the Garfield holiday special on TV. It’s a warm and comforting dish that gets an extra kick of flavor from the coconut and some crunch from the almonds.

I anticipated the dish would be so good that I stocked up on extra bags of the sweet potatoes and almond coconut clusters. The cost of the dish is $12 in total and yields 6-8 servings.

As an alternative, you could make it a bit more homemade by using raw sweet potatoes. You would just put them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil, and cook about 15 minutes. Then remove from heat and mash until smooth. From there just follow the rest of the recipe steps listed above.

Try it this year as it’s the perfect side for a healthier, happier Thanksgiving or Sunday supper. Enjoy!

Muscle Man Pancakes

This past weekend I was flipping through the stack of magazines in my apartment to see if anything catches my eye before I tossed them into the recycling bin. In the September 2014 issue of Men’s Fitness, I found an awesome simple recipe for flourless Paleo pancakes that are packed with protein and perfect for when you have a little extra time on the weekends to cook breakfast.

There are just three ingredients: 4 whole eggs, 2 bananas and 2 tablespoons of almond butter (I substituted in sunflower seed butter). Just throw everything into a blender on low to make the batter. Then cook them normally over medium heat in a skillet as you would any regular pancake. One suggestion is to use coconut oil (I like Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil Spray) instead of butter to grease the pan. The batter yielded 6 large pancakes, all of which you should eat.

Here’s the nutritional info for my variation:

Ingredient Calories Carbs Fat Protein Sodium Sugar
Eggs (4) 280 0 20 24 280 3
Banana (2) 220 30 0 1 0 20
Sunflower Seed Butter (2 tbsp) 200 7 16 7 120 3
TOTAL 700 37 36 32 400 26

The pancakes are really good, especially if you like banana flavor. They have the same look and feel of regular Bisquick pancakes, yet are half the fat, half the carbs and three times as much protein.