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3 Surprising Things I Learned From my 2018 Gluten and Sugar Detox (and how I’m rebooting it in 2019)

Have you ever felt like you were experiencing a hangover, and there was no alcohol involved? I, unfortunately, have, and frankly, it felt a little unfair, considering it was half a cupcake that was to blame.

It was something I had been noticing slowly get worse, but now here it was: My body couldn’t handle a vanilla with chocolate frosting (my go-to), and it was time to make some serious diet changes. So when I had the chance to visit the Golden Door spa last year for a week-long wellness experience, I decided to use the trip as an opportunity to go all in and try giving up gluten and sugar.

A year later, I am definitely off the wagon, so I’m booting up a new gluten and sugar detox to get back on track.

Though I’m lucky I don’t drink a ton of caffeine and barely imbibe, when I took a hard look at my diet, I had to conceded that I was eating more sugar and bread products (which, basically, convert to more sugar in the body) than I would care to admit to anyone. Most people who know me would think I eat really healthy (I’m all about the super-clean grain bowl and morning smoothie), but somewhere along the way, I lost my way, and lost control. I was finishing off bowls of pasta on a regular basis and having more cookies and ice cream cones than I would care to admit (my husband found a half-eaten chocolate bar in my purse more than a few times… and not the Whole Foods kind… the gas station kind).

I was out of balance, and though I was terrified to wean myself off, I knew I had to make a change.

It might not seem like a drastic idea to you… or maybe it does. I assure you it felt like the world was ending to me. 

Is detoxing even necessary?

Not everyone thinks any of this “detoxing” is necessary. Many doctors will tell you that our bodies have their own way of detoxing and that we’re omnivores and truly can eat everything. But what they don’t factor in is how overloaded our bodies are: The environmental pollutants, both in our homes and outside of them… the preservatives and chemicals in our processed food diet, and the not-your-ancestor’s methods for harvesting wheat (read: more chemicals). Plus the massive increase of sugar in our diets— it’s hiding in nearly everything— that our bodies were not designed to contend with. Yes, our bodies have a beautifully effective detoxification system— but with all of this to contend with, it can reach its breaking point. The more we can do to lighten the load, the better. 

The Prep work

In anticipation of my spa detox, I started getting rid of sugar and gluten from my diet two weeks before my arrival—  I didn’t want to be freaking out while everyone else was blissing out.

The first day was totally doable. Day 2 was a little uncomfortable, but fine. And the third day? The third day felt like a truck ran me over and then stopped, backed up, and ran me over again. I was crazy emotional and had a mind-splitting headache. I went to bed with that headache, and it took everything me not to try and stop the insanity with a Snickers. Somehow I prevailed and got myself to sleep with an ice pack on my head and visions of cupcakes dancing in it.

The next morning, I woke up and it was like the sky had cleared. I generally avoid talking about overly dramatic “breakthrough” moments, because it’s not how I ever experience change. (Usually, it’s much more boring and subtle.) But in this situation, I really did have a sort of “moment,” and after that, things were easier.

Have I been totally gluten- and sugar-free since I started? Nope (currently off the wagon, and it might be time to jump back on!). But I made it several months without, and learned a few lessons along the way. I’d say my diet today is much cleaner, though not perfect, but I’ve been replacing lots of gluten grains (wheat, pasta, flour) with gluten-free ones (rice, corn, almond flour) and not feeling at all deprived.

Plus, if I ever want to detox again, it will be less scary now that I’ve survived it.

I really did have incredible results from making these changes that were tough to ignore. It might not be for everyone, but if this sounds like something you might like to do, here’s what I got out of the dietary experiment.

I had fewer headaches and fewer breakouts

I tend to get afternoon headaches about once or twice a week, and I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that they’re food related. It’s hard to draw a straight line between cause and effect, but I didn’t have a bad headache for the entire two months I was off sugar and gluten. Not one time where I told my husband I didn’t feel like making dinner, or told my daughter I felt too crappy to jump in the pool or play scrabble. My skin, which isn’t acne-prone but does gift me a pimple or three each month, was spotless and my dark under-eye circles weren’t gone, but were noticeably brighter (I know this because I left the house with a lot less concealer on, which is a big deal for me).

I wasn’t as hungry all the time

It seems counterintuitive, since you’d think I’d be starving while focusing on not eating certain food groups. But after a little while, I lost that ravenous feeling many of us (me!) feel nearly all the time. The urge to eat as soon as I woke up and that famished feeling I used to get before lunch? They both diminished. During the detox, I went to CES and was running around working while surrounded by really unhealthy food choices. And I was barely tempted, thanks to my protein-and-fat-packed AM smoothie (I brought a Nutribullet and made it in my hotel room every morning!) and gluten-free power bars, nuts and seeds and fruit that kept me going between meals. I guess without all those spikes in my blood sugar I just didn’t crave food and crash like I used to. I thought being ravenous at all times was just how I am… but apparently, it was the sugar talking.

This year at CES, while I hadn’t begun my cleanse yet, I tried to stay away from bread and sugar in the morning, and always made sure I had nuts on hand for when I got hungry. At dinner, I stayed away from the bread basket and dessert, and while I wasn’t perfect (ate a couple forkfuls of truffle mac and cheese at a work dinner). It felt better than CES’s past, where I’m stuffed and exhausted!

I got a little better at meal planning

Meal planning just has never been my strong suit, but cutting out food groups forces you into a little more premeditation and prep. I tend to grab lunch while I’m out, and while I didn’t give that habit up, I made a list of places (Sweetgreen! Pressed Juicery!) that would have my back in terms of healthy, green-filled, gluten-free meals, and I stuck to those spots. For dinner, I was really focused on meal planning in a way that I usually am not. I made a new recipe binder and printed out go-to recipes I knew I’d actually use off of Pinterest, and I mined my collection of beautiful cookbooks and bookmarked recipes. This made me feel less overwhelmed by all of the options once dinner time rolled around. I had a plan, and it made dinner something to look forward to (instead of something to unconsciously grab… and regret).

Technology (my usual partner in crime) didn’t really help me out. As a tech expert, I wanted to find the ultimate meal planning software that would really speak to me. I wanted to get on board with recipe apps, using its smart algorithms to sort recipes into gluten- and sugar-free categories. But at the end of the day, I learned something about myself: that’s not the way I cook. I want to look at pretty, exciting recipes from my cookbooks and websites I love and curate. That was key.

And on the topic of tech…

I Felt Less Addicted to Tech

I need to look into more research, but I am convinced that sugar and tech are two addictions that feed each other. The high you get from sugar pairs nicely with the need to scroll (and scroll… and scroll…), or crush candy into the wee hours. Without sugar fueling my social media binges, my whole body felt slower and I was less inclined to jump on social media for no reason.

Think about it next time you see your kids with one hand deep in a Chips Ahoy bag and the other thwapping away at a Playstation controller.

I’m looking forward to my cleanse this year (OK well not the first few days but…), and I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Have you ever done a gluten and sugar detox? Do you think it helped you? Let me know in the comments below.

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