At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the seven-week cleanse a coworker of mine had talked me into participating in with her. It basically involved removing a laundry list of inflammatory foods from my diet while simultaneously swallowing a bunch of supplements and probiotics and drinking various powdered concoctions.
There were two phases that were used to both repair and clear out my gut. However, because of my appetite for sugar and caffeine, it was decided that I would spend a couple of weeks prior to the cleanse just ridding my diet of those two things before taking out the processed food, dairy, carbohydrates, etc. and adding in all of the other stuff.
My dependence on caffeine proved out every day that first week with an out-of-control headache. The addiction to my morning coffee (and mid-morning, noon, and later afternoon after work) didn’t manifest itself only in the physical. I mentally missed the stuff. I cannot tell you. To make matters worse, about three weeks in, my family was hit with a ridiculous amount of crazy starting with my daughter’s four-day stint in the hospital.
When she didn’t get to go home the second day as expected, I was getting frustrated and found myself in the hospital cafeteria staring at the machine that would emit the warm brown liquid that had become part of my regular routine. I reached for a cup, then pulled my hand back, sighed, and wondered if hospital coffee was really the way to go if I was going to break the cleanse. I decided against it despite my bone-tiredness from two nights of attempted sleep in a hospital chair.
Two days after being released from the hospital, we woke up to a flooded apartment compliments of the Midwest’s Polar Vortex and a burst sprinkler pipe in the wall. I found myself in the drive thru line at Starbucks having a small Americano that has never tasted so good. Did I regret it. Umm no.
Did it accomplish what I had hoped?
Yes and no. There are certain issues that I’ve lived with my whole life that continue to be a problem and in which the cleanse did not help with. In fairness, I loosened some of the restraints when I had the cup of coffee and didn’t go a complete seven weeks without it. I also added in bananas because I still have taste buds, and they go a long way in sweetening a smoothie loaded with green veggies. I also lasted about two days with a headache before I broke down and took Excedrin. All NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are highly discouraged, but debilitating pain isn’t going to work for me. With that in mind, it’s possible that that is the reason for an outcome different from what I had hoped. Despite all of that, I was rewarded with some significant positives.
What I DID get
- Little to no stomach pain. There are certain foods our bodies were never created to have to process. While I’m hesitant to throw out all bad foods all of the time simply because it’s not sustainable, I’ve found that a diet that is 90% healthy makes processing the bad stuff less of an issue for my system.
- An appetite reset. It’s amazing how good healthy food tastes when you’re hungry and that’s all you can have. I was also shocked at how I stopped thinking about food all of the time, how I wasn’t hungry much of the time, and the small amount of food it took to fill me up. The more nutrient-dense our food, the longer it stays with us and the less of it we need.
- A sugar-free mindset. Despite the fact that not one day went by that I didn’t miss coffee (and think about it and stare at other people’s cups of it), my experience with sugar was completely different. Sugar became an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. Saying “no” to sugary desserts or reading labels and buying products with absolutely no sugar in them was challenging at first but not impossible. And once the habit was developed it became a natural way of life.
- Much-needed weight loss. Though not the goal, within the first two weeks I had dropped eight pounds simply by getting rid of sugar. While amazing, it’s also a sad commentary on the amount of sugar I consume in a day to the point that eight pounds could be dropped with virtually no effort from me simply by removing it.
- More energy. My 3:00 nap is now more of a time to close my eyes and decompress rather than a desperation to catch more zzzz’s. My co-workers don’t have to listen to loud yawning and “I’m so tired” all day long.
- More creativity in the kitchen. Removing dairy and carbohydrates was not too difficult. I hold no special place in my heart for bread and pasta, and the older I get, the more my body would prefer a milk-free diet as much as possible. However, garlic bread and spaghetti, a box of macaroni and cheese, and breaded chicken patties make getting dinner on the table quick. Instead, I started buying higher quality, more natural foods like steak, salmon fillets, and foods that didn’t come in a can, box, or bag. And I cooked my food in butter. Yes. Butter. The stuff we grew up believing would certainly kill us. The bigger culprit is sugar. I can assure you.
- Unlikely snacks. My go-to was almond butter from a local grocery store that grinds its almonds into butter right there with nothing added. I fell in love with stevia-sweetened chocolate from Lily’s. Oddly, because there is no sugar in it, it doesn’t produce the dopamine hit that, once worn off, insists on consuming more to get the hit again. One square dipped in all natural almond butter was enough to satisfy my desire for something sweet. And my beloved plantain chips seasoned with nothing but oil and salt. More crunch than a chip and again no more of the “you can’t have just one.”
Mercifully, coffee and I have been reunited although not to the same degree as before, and I am hoping to keep it that way if for no other reason than simply to exercise a bit of discipline by not always giving in to every craving I have.
I have had some sugar, though not much. Taming the sugar tooth requires the same discipline that getting out of debt does. As someone prone to shop with abandon, while getting out of debt I stayed out of the malls. When re-entering the shopping world, I did so slowly and with intentionality. Sugar is the same.
While I didn’t anticipate for this experiment to revolve around sugar, I shouldn’t be surprised. The truth is, Americans are addicted to the stuff, and our obesity rates prove it. Moreover, people like Dr. Lustig have written extensively on our overconsumption of the stuff in his book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. A review of the book can be found on the Samaritan Ministries website. A good friend of mine is doing his own no-sugar experiment for the entire year. Seven weeks was enough for me. You can read about it here.
I’m hesitant to demonize any food, but there are definitely some out there that I would do well to consume in smaller amounts. In the end, the best outcome for me was establishing better habits, a bit of self-discipline, and a reset of my taste buds. Those three things made it all worth it, but I’m not gonna lie. I’m so happy to have my coffee back.