Around the holidays I found myself suffering from a cold. Since going gluten-free and dairy-free, it’s an anomaly for me to need an anti-histamine or decongestant. Knowing how sugar impacts the immune system, I assumed one of the culprits must be the holiday sweets I was consuming, even though it was in moderation. When I received the book the 21 Day Sugar Detox by Diane Sanfilippo as a Christmas gift, I decided that I would give the program a try starting January 1.
Last year around this same time, I completed approximately 16 weeks of a three-level allergy-detox (stopping when I had lost too much weight). The programs did not seem all that different so I didn’t think it would be that difficult to go 21 days.
One of the most important things I have learned about dietary change is that restriction can lead to binging. If we feel limited, desire increases and takes on more importance. During my allergy detox, while I constantly had to check my list of approved foods, I was able to eat as much steak and eggs or bacon burgers (no bun) as I needed to. While I realize not everyone agrees, I don’t have a problem with eating fats.
Pamela Reilly, ND, CNHP, MH, CWHP, is a Naturopathic Physician and speaker that I trust with my own health and wellness. She designed the allergy-detox program that I completed last year. She clarifies that “if an eating style is extremely restrictive it is not intended to be permanent.”
I do think part of the secret to success is making sure that you do not feel restricted and finding indulgences when you need them. Sometimes you really do just need to make it just a few more hours before the craving subsides. On the other hand, over indulging does not do your body any favors.
Even if the indulgence is something like grapefruit—too much of even a good thing is still too much. Reilly believes that “people who truly want to change react really well to restrictions”; however, she adds that she “always provides substitutes when telling people to remove something” because she believes “it’s a lot healthier to function from an abundance mindset and to focus on the benefits and not what you are eliminating.”
I asked Reilly for her opinion on the 21 Day Sugar Detox after I had tried it for a full two weeks. She stated, “I think I would be a fan of any program that guides people through diminishing their sugar intake. While I think programs like this are effective, they typically need to be customized to meet each person’s specific needs. I don’t think the cookie cutter approach works for much of anything.”
Later she added, “21 days is a really rapid detox. If someone genuinely wants to do a sugar detox, it will take much longer and they should eliminate things gradually. Doing things overnight creates really intense detox symptoms and creates feelings of being overwhelmed. People tend to either throw their hands up in the air and don’t do it or they do it and then binge. To be truly effective a longer program might be easier for people, a little more gradual with more room for customization. [Sanfilippo] has done a great job. Although this program may not be perfect for everyone, there is definitely a niche that it is perfect for and for whom it is very empowering.”
The 21 Day Sugar Detox is a book that provides science, encouragement, recipes, and an outline. A couple of the recipes I will use again. One major benefit to this program is how much online support you can find. Simply following the Facebook page can provide encouragement and ideas throughout the day. Also, this idea has been adopted by many bloggers, so 21 Day Sugar Detox compliant recipes are easy to find. I certainly had all the tools I needed to be successful.
Perhaps I was less motivated because other than a higher than normal intake of sugar during December, I maintain a pretty high standard of eating. I have found that I have no desire for things that might make me ill. I experienced some fairly heavy detox symptoms, expected but at a higher intensity, including nausea, stomach pain, acne, and fatigue. Reilly suggested that my symptoms may have been stronger because my body is detoxed pretty heavily already. I probably expected the opposite. Because I did not expect it to be so difficult, my motivation waned as I continued. You are likely to be more successful if you approach it as a 21-day challenge.
It seems that the question of whether a program will work well for you or not is your motivation.
- Do you believe that the program is good for you?
- Is it something that you can maintain the majority of the time?
- Do you feel like you are being restricted?
- Do you have an indulgence or substitute that helps prevents feelings of limitation?
Reilly adds, “Some people should not detox. No one under the age of 18 should do a serious detox, pregnant women should not, anyone with serious health issues should work with a professional, and anyone underweight should be very cautious with the type of detox they do.”
“There is no nutritional value to sugar. It lowers immunity. Multiple studies have found that it is very addictive, more addictive than cocaine or heroin. People who are sugar addicts have the same behaviors as drug addicts, it just manifests differently. Sugar wreaks havoc with blood sugar control. When blood sugar is doing a roller coaster, emotions swing wildly and ability to cope with minor stressors is greatly diminished,” according to Reilly. She suggests adding sweetness to food using:
- fruits or fruit juices
- dates or date paste
- raw honey or agave because “most sugar in the US is not organic and is made from genetically modified beets,” according to Reilly.
- Stevia, “a true stevia extract, not products such as Truvia or Stevia in the Raw which are chemical substitutes, not true extracts.”
If you find yourself on a blood sugar roller coaster or constantly craving sweets or alcohol, you probably want to greatly reduce the amount of sugar that you consume. Less sugar would likely benefit all of us. As a therapist I tend to recommend gradual changes; however, a detox may be needed with sugar due to the addictive quality and cravings created.
I was hopeful that the 21 Day Sugar Detox would be a fast re-set that would greatly reduce any urges for sweet. As Reilly stated, this will be an excellent program for some, and I believe many people have found it to help them be successful. If I find myself wanting to reset again, I may use this as a base but customize something that can be more permanent for me.
Have you tried the 21 Day Sugar Detox? What was your opinion on it? Have you ever found it difficult to maintain any kind of restriction—even one that you knew was good for you—because it felt limiting and restraining?