The 21 Day Sugar Detox: Exactly As Horrible As It Sounds

For someone who claims to have quit dieting, I seem to be doing a lot of it lately.  I can see why I swore it off, because after my paleo disaster, I spiraled down an ugly wormhole of eating all the carbs and processed food I’d eschewed during that experience.  A month later, I’m feeling bloaty and generally gross, which is not how one wishes to feel with summer upon them and a birthday approaching.  Enter the 21 Day Sugar Detox.  This is allegedly going to fix my blood sugar and stop me from craving sweets so I’ll stop doing things like downing half a batch of cookies in one sitting. 21 days seems like a long time, so I’m willing to try it for a week and reevaluate.  I was supposed to do a sugar detox a few months ago with a friend (she chickened out).  I did pretty well for a week, and lost a respectable amount of weight despite the fact that I was attacking a peanut butter jar with a spoon every night.  Apparently sugar is actually the worst thing you can eat, ever.  I have high hopes for this, particularly because I usually eat okay but have an extreme weakness for baked goods.

The night before

I look at the list of foods I’m actually allowed.  It is short.  The sugar detox I did a few months ago was just about cutting out added sugars (fruit was okay).  This is about no sugar at all.  I look sadly at the bananas and blueberries I just bought at the grocery store.  Apparently I will be freezing them, since I am not allowed to eat them this week.  I am also not allowed oatmeal, which means breakfast is going to be a challenge.  I can eat vegetables and protein.  I’m going to be super fun to hang out with this week.  I make an emergency grocery store trip to stock up on veggies and meat (fruit and carbs are kind of my staples).  I attempt to find a green juice that is actually just vegetables, but it turns out this doesn’t really exist.  Why is it even called green juice?  I go home and actually make breakfasts and lunches for the week, knowing that my ability to find acceptable food in the cafeteria is going to be limited.

Day 1

I kick off the day with some lemon water, because lemons and limes are the only fruits you’re allowed on this stupid detox.  I predict myself to be eating lemons like oranges before the week is out.  Breakfast is an egg muffin with broccoli, sausage and sundried tomato.  It’s not the worst, but is weirdly unfilling and I find myself dipping into my stash of cashews that I’d meant to save for later.

Lunch is quinoa and vegetables.  It’s fine.  I am impressively satiated for hours afterward.  As an afternoon snack, I have carrots (which I am only allowed half a cup of, apparently) and my beloved Trader Joe’s spicy hummus.  Yum.

I have a running date with a friend tonight, about which I am slightly concerned because I can’t have a banana beforehand.  I always have a banana.

I survive the run, fueling with a spoonful of peanut butter beforehand.  My running buddy happens to be a nutrition nerd, and she’s horrified by what I’m doing.  “You’re not eating any fruit?”  Then again, she’s doing a raw food thing and is eating four bananas a day.  Diets are weird, guys.

Dinner is kale with garlic and olive oil, because apparently I am not allowed vinegar.

Day 2

I wake up hungry, which is a refreshing change; I usually wake up still full from whatever I had the night before.  In my infinite creativity, I once again start with lemon water and have egg muffin for breakfast (the recipe made a giant batch; I’ll be eating them all week).

Lunch is quinoa, black beans and veggies.  It’s strangely satisfying.  Snack is hummus and carrots.

After work, I head to the gym, which seems incredibly difficult.  I wonder if this has anything to do with the detox, or just the ridiculously hard pilates class I took Monday.  The next stop is kickball, where I take my one turn to kick and then spend the rest of the game sitting out.  “Are you okay?” my friends ask.  I explain about the detox, and immediately get, “Well, no wonder you’re so exhausted, you’re not eating anything!”

I get home and am ravenous but all my food requires cooking, so I have… a refreshing glass of V8.  I then actually make a meal, despite it being 11 o’clock at night.  This is weird because I don’t cook; dinner is always one of two things:  something on toast or a poached egg on veggies.  Tonight I actually make salmon and sweet potato and a salad and put it on a plate like a grownup.  It’s amazing.

Day 3

I wake up and have coffee and breakfast (egg muffins) at home because it’s “donut Thursday” at work and I don’t want to be tempted.  I am able to resist the sugar, but I do notice I’m incredibly grumpy.  I blame the detox.  Also, I still feel completely exhausted from workouts that happened days ago.  I’m eating all the protein in the world, so what gives?

By 10am, I’m starving and planning on going to a noon yoga class, so this is a problem.  I snack on cashews but they’re insufficient.  I find myself daydreaming about the jar of peanut butter I shouldn’t have left at home.

Fortunately, yoga ends up being cancelled, so lunch (salad/quinoa/beans again) is sooner than expected.  Even after this I’m still ravenous, so I hit the cafeteria for a V8 and eat some almonds.  I feel slightly better, but not a lot.  “Just eat something real – you’ll feel better,” advises the coworker I’ve been complaining to.  I mumble something about journalistic integrity and refuse.

I have hummus and carrots before attempting yoga again, this time successfully.  I try the gym cafe for a snack afterward, but they don’t have anything I can eat, so I head home for another salmon/sweet potato/kale dinner.  It’s delicious, but not as filling as I want it to be. Fortunately, I’m saved by the only worthwhile food consumed while on a sugar detox:  homemade chocolate nut butter.  Take a cup of nuts of your choice, throw it in your food processor, add some cocoa powder, and mix until it resembles a grittier nutella.  It’s amazing.  Or I’m losing my mind.

Day 4

I wake up starving; have egg things and a green juice which may or may not have trace amounts of fruit in it.  I sort of don’t care.

At work, I start losing my damn mind.  I’m eating enough cashews that I’m full, but I can actively feel my blood sugar being low.  Strangely, going to the gym at lunch improves this.  Post-gym, I hit the grocery stores where I spend an absurd amount on “goji berries” because they are one of the few “fruits” allowed on this “diet.”  They are probably disgusting, but at this point taste amazing to me.  Quinoa salad again for lunch.  Whatever.  I receive an invitation to a “sangria party” the next day and all I can think about now is sangria.  And how I can’t drink it.  I spend some time Googling “Is a sugar detox safe?” and sadly can’t find anything telling me that I might die from lack of sugar.

I have kale and a sweet potato for dinner in a sad attempt to ‘carb load’ for my six mile run the next morning.  I then head out to a friend’s birthday party, where I cite the run as my reason for not drinking, too lazy to explain about the detox to a bunch of strangers.

Day 5

I have almonds and some more green juice before my run.  I want a banana so badly.

The run goes iffily at best, though I can’t be sure if this is the lack of sugar, the humidity, my lack of sleep or a combination of the three.  I have a lengthy discussion about ridiculous diets with one of my running buddies, and she agrees the one I’m doing, as well as paleo, are insane.  At our water stop, I have Gatorade and some pretzels so that I don’t die.  “You can just lie and pretend these never happened,” they tell me, but apparently I’m not doing that.  When we finish the run, our snack table includes bagels and a jar of Nutella that seem to have been placed there just to taunt me.

A friend made reservations weeks ago for lunch at a fancy restaurant, so I’m going to try and make this work.  Fortunately the menu is heavy on meats and vegetables, so I’m able to order things that actually seem to follow the detox – broccoli rabe and octopus.  I’m proud of myself until the bread basket my friends ordered shows up. There are six kinds of spreads, guys.  Bacon marmalade.  Old Bay Butter.  I am not ashamed to say that the bread basket broke me.  I do not regret any of the old bay butter, or some ridiculously good spread made with cream cheese and goat cheese and pistachios.  The bread itself is not that exciting.

After this, I unwisely head to the sangria party.  Weirdly, it’s not the wine I miss, but all the fruit my friends are chopping up to go in it.  I resist when my friend offers me some blueberries.  And then I volunteer to help and end up chopping up a mango.  It looks so good.  It is at this point I declare the detox to be dumb, and tear into the mango.  And some strawberries.  And now that I’m off the wagon, I figure I might as well have some sangria, too. Due to laziness and my inability to go home and cook before I’m supposed to meet friends later in the evening, I also consume some of the pizza that is ordered for dinner.  I’m basically a terrible person.

Day 6

I wake up feeling not cranky and not exhausted, and momentarily wonder why.  And then I remember that my body once again has carbs to fuel itself.  Despite my many slip-ups yesterday, I decide to attempt to finish out the week.  I at least still haven’t knowingly consumed any actual sugar, so that’s something? Maybe?

I make eggs with sausage and avocado for breakfast, and drink V8 and a black coffee.  I am weirdly full after only eating half of my breakfast, and I’m pretty sure it’s the residual pizza in my system.

My day carries on uneventfully.  I snack on almonds and goji berries after my yoga class, and finish my eggs for dinner.  For dessert, I have a square of unsweetened chocolate, which prior to now would have tasted unacceptably bitter, but at this moment tastes okay.  I might be crazy.

Day 7

This is the end!  Finally!  I have V8, coffee, and some almonds before heading to a barre class, which feels like the hardest thing in the world, but I think that’s my out of shape-ness talking, not the diet.

I kill that batch of egg muffins for breakfast.  Kind of okay to never eat that again.

Have forgotten there is a work lunch out to celebrate people’s new babies.  Fortunately, a cobb salad with no cheese and no dressing actually works for this diet.  It comes with a muffin, which I pass off to someone else.  After lunch, I do not join everyone in the conference room for cake.

Dinner.  Last meal of this dumb thing!  I have a giant salad.  And then I start ransacking the internet for dessert recipes to make the next day.


This was hell, and also probably stupid.  I didn’t even last a week, so I have no idea how someone is supposed to stick to this plan for 21 days.  While I need to get my eating habits on the healthier side, I needed an “Andrea, put down the wine and stop eating so many damn cookies” diet, not a “sugar detox.”  I am happy to say that wine and cookies were not the things I missed; it was definitely the fruit.  I bought a watermelon the last night of the diet so that I would have it to eat the next day, and slicing into it  was like the most magical thing in the world.  I’m all for cutting back on added sugars and white carbs and processed food, but any diet that says you can’t have delicious, nutritious fruit is just plain wrong.  And let’s be honest, I’m pretty excited about having cookies back in my life, too.

Image via