Yeah, I eat pretty darn healthy. But I'm only human. Every once in a while there's a birthday at work, and I eat a cookie. Sometimes two if I'm stressed. Then that cookie reminds me, wow, refined sugar is delicious! And also, that I love apple fritters. Then the next morning, I might buy an apple fritter. And so on, down the rabbit hole.
Earlier this month, in particular, I was feeling a little meh about my eating habits—my fritter count was higher than usual, and I’d done this experiment where I ate like my boyfriend for a week. He doesn't always have the most stellar dietary habits, guys. So I was in need of a little nudge in the opposite direction.
But I wasn't about to go it alone. So I enlisted my BF to be my partner in a 2-week sugar detox. Now, rest assured, this wasn't a detox in the annoying sense of the term—no juice cleansing, no fasting, no weird lemon-cayenne water shit. After consulting several seemingly sane diet books, we ended up taking this approach: No grains; no packaged food products with added sweeteners; no table sugar, natural sweeteners, or artificial sweeteners; no alcohol; no beans. We could also only eat one piece of low-sugar fruit per day (e.g. a green apple), and were somewhat limited in our choice of uber starchy veggies (e.g. no white potatoes). But we could eat loads of most veggies, along with eggs, fish, meat, nuts, nut butters, seeds, plain yogurt, and cheese.
The goal was to reset our palates and be able to come out of this thing with the ability to be satisfied with healthy whole foods, and to truly only eat treats in moderation—and without jumping on the first fast train to fritter town. Here's how we fared.
1. We felt like death and missed booze.
After a surprisingly easy first day, we were both surprised how bad we felt for the next five. Coffee was still allowed, so we weren't totally dead to the world. But because I no longer could have my 3 PM hit of chocolate, or fruit-packed smoothie, or one of my go-to RxBars, which contain dates, I definitely noticed significant fatigue due to this lower-carb, low-sugar approach to eating. My body wanted a source of fuel it could burn through quickly, but I was feeding it baby carrots and almond butter. Things would recalibrate and our bodies would adjust, we were told, but there would be an adjustment period. Be warned: The adjustment period sucks.
Evan's biggest complaints: Minor headaches, fatigue, and no beer. He works hard, so normally, he'll have one or two a night for "dessert." So he started drinking plain or naturally flavored seltzer like a madman. Which wasn't the same, but hit the fizzy spot. He was, however, very excited about the prospect of losing his beer gut. (Are you relying on your nightly cocktail too much? Here are 6 sneaky signs you’re drinking too much.)
2. Silently judging others became our favorite pastime.
Oh, you want to eat a doughnut in my presence? Hope you enjoy your future sugar cravings! That (or usually something a tad more sinister) is basically what went on in my head when I saw someone eating something I couldn't have. Evan and I also frequently found ourselves muttering about how everyone was going to get diabetes, and alternated between feeling all high and mighty about our choices and wanting to cry while watching our friends eat ice cream. (These 4 seriously delicious low-sugar desserts will ease your frosting withdrawal.)
3. We became obsessed with sweet potatoes, and spiralizers, and…
Once we discovered the wonder and the glory that is the sweet potato, things started to get better. I mean, I've always loved sweet potatoes, but we hadn't been using them to their full potential. Their subtly sweet flavor and higher-carb count (compared to everything else we were eating) made them a daily must-eat. Did you know you can spiralize sweet potatoes, then toss them in oil and bake them into sweet potato fries? Did you know you can make sweet potato baked eggs?! Our love for this root veggie bordered on obsession (those you really can’t blame us—just look at these 10 ridiculously cool uses for your spiralizer!).
Other things that made life suck less: Spiralizers (we made zucchini pasta basically every other day), using lettuce as sandwich "wraps," seltzer water, almond butter, easy-to-munch-on sliced veggies, eggs, and nuts. In fact, roasted and salted cashews became another obsession.
4. I ate all the cashews. We almost broke up.
Guys, the mood swings were real. Not exaggerating when I tell you we experienced a new level of cranky. During the first few days, it was pretty much like we were withdrawing from drugs—which sort of makes sense, since sugar has been found to activate the same areas of the brain as hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. So, when I ate pretty much all of one of our favorite snacks (the delicious cashews), Evan let me know how disappointed he was. To which I replied, "I bought the damn cashews!" To which he replied, "Well, I bought the damn dog food this month!" To which I replied, "I thought you loved Milo!" It was immature and ugly, and also a little hilarious. So, a word of advice: Pre-portion the freakin' cashews, and try to remember that maintaining a healthy relationship with your significant other is more important than gorging on your favorite snack—even though I can promise you it won't feel that way in the moment.
Oh, and a good general rule to avoid biting someone's head off: Always have healthy snacks at the ready (like these 7 best weight loss snacks that aren’t fruits and veggies). When your blood sugar drops and none of your allowable foods are close by, "hanger" is inevitable….and everyone seems really annoying.
5. Eventually, we felt pretty damn great.
So, you probably think this whole experience was pretty miserable, but rest assured, we needed it. The truth is, after a full week of fatigue and mood swings, we both started to feel pretty fantastic. I was way less bloated, more alert, and found that my urge for packaged junk foods and sweets was cut in half. I also felt a whole lot less anxious and stressed. Evan felt pretty great, too, and actually ended up losing like 7 pounds (damn men and their speedy metabolisms).
My fixation on what I could and couldn't eat also started to fade. The truth is, this way of eating doesn't have to be limiting—it forces you to be far more creative with your meals (cauliflower crust pizza, anyone?), and reveals the nearly endless flavor potential of healthy whole foods. In fact, I started eating so many more veggies that I was probably eating a wider variety of foods than when we started. Evan, too—this guy hadn't even heard of a frittata before this experience, and now he's the master of them.
Of course, we're definitely excited to incorporate some things back into our routine, namely more fruit and the occasional beer and cocktail. And maybe even the occasional fritter. The difference is that, now, we can acknowledge that we like these foods, but we don't feel like we need them.