The 21 Day Sugar Detox—My Review

On August 4th, I started a 21 day sugar detox, otherwise known as the 21dsd.  This 21dsd program is the creation of Diane Sanfilippo, the NY Times Bestselling author of Practical Paleo.  It is an online program with lots of resources as well as a book and companion cookbook.  I highly recommend the program, but keep reading because I had to modify it mid-way to work well for me.

I felt like I needed a reset after a summer of “treats”–even though they were Paleo treats.  I follow a Paleo diet.   I also started an elimination diet last January to find out what other foods were holding me back from completely healing my gut and reversing all my autoimmune disorders.  So, pre-detox and post elimination diet, here is what I did not already eat:

  • Grains and Pseudo Grains–yep, all of them.  wheat, corn, rice, oats, quinoa, etc.
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • White potatoes
  • Processed Foods
  • Conventionally Raised Meat
  • Eggs
  • Nightshades—Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. etc.
  • I also mostly avoid coffee and eat low sugar.

So, you might say I am already pretty hard core.  My diet consists of pastured and grass-fed meats, wild seafood, and lots of fruits and veggies–many of them grown by me.  What else is there to give up on a sugar detox?  Here’s how it affected my diet:

  • One piece of fruit per day (green apple, green-tipped banana, or grapefruit)
  • No sugar–in any form, in any amount—no honey, maple syrup, date sugar, no sweeteners at all–not even a small amount in salad dressing
  • No sweet potato, plantain, or yucca (all regular players in our diet)
  • Limited amounts of beets and butternut squash

Here’s a little Q & A about my experience:

  • Was it hard?  Yes, but not too hard.  When you are already not eating processed foods, you are used to making it all from scratch and it’s not so hard to cut the sugar out.  Make no mistake, sugar is in EVERYTHING.  It all adds up and we are addicted.  It adds nothing to our health and subtracts a lot.
  • Did I have withdrawal symptoms?  I’m not sure, but I think so.  I had several days where I thought I might be coming down with a cold.  My daughter had one at the time.  I had a sore throat and was achy and fatigued.  Who knows?
  • What did I miss the most?  Starchy vegetables like plantain, sweet potato, and yucca.  Also the ability to eat beets with abandon.  They are my favorite vegetable.
  • Did I feel great?  Yes.  For the most part.  In the middle, when I was supposed to be feeling great, I got grumpy and blue.  I will explain below.
  • Did it help control my hunger?  Paleo has already done a lot of that, but yes, I noticed a big difference.  I just felt fueled and energized longer.  My blood sugar was better regulated and I wasn’t on the carbohydrate roller coaster of hunger and craving.
  • Was I daydreaming about all the sweet treats I would eat after I was done?  Nope.
  • Were there any other effects?  Yes, my skin got really smooth. Really smooth. Like it had been polished.  That’s my body saying happy from the inside out.   Also, I fell asleep easy and felt more rested overall.
  • Did I cheat?  Yes, but nothing I’m not willing to own up to.  I went out with some friends, and instead of having a cocktail and an entree like they did, I had prosciutto and melon with iced tea.  I also had watermelon on another occasion.  That time, I was spending my weekend building a greenhouse for my daughter’s school and was working out in the heat all day.  I burned that sugar right off!  (and I grew the watermelon –that counts for something)

So, I give the 21dsd a thumbs up.  However, I am a big believer that every individual is different. The 21dsd does have some modifications.  One of those is for energy.  On days with a hard workout you should bump up your carb intake. I added those in on workout days or days that I did a lot of farm work.

I knew going in that the 21dsd might have that grumpy and blue effect on me.   I had done the program halfway through about 1.5 years ago and stopped because it was making me very grumpy and blue–downright despondent actually.  Since then, I have learned a lot about nutrition and about my own diet needs and I was prepared to modify the program if needed this time.  I knew the glitch for me had to do with my thyroid.  Through nutrition and lifestyle changes over the past 7 years, I have turned around a long list of autoimmune disorders, including out-of-control asthma (haven’t taken an asthma med in 4 years), depression, fibromyalgia, seasonal allergies, and constant illness.  The only autoimmune disorder I have left to slay is Hashimoto’s Thyroidistis. This means my body is attacking my own thyroid gland and destroying it bit by bit. I’m still working on halting the attack.  Follow the link above for Hashimoto’s  to find out all the really crappy things low thyroid hormone comes with.  It isn’t pretty.

So, what does the 21dsd have to do with thyroid?  My hunch was the 21dsd was too low carb for me and my thyroid.  I had read and heard about the potential problems with thyroid and low carb eating. Low thyroid hormone causes depression–among a long list of other things.  I tested my theory that the 21dsd was too low carb for me, by adding in some more carbs this time when I started to slump in my mood and energy level.  I did not start eating cookies!  I just added more already approved (but limited) starches—including a bit of sweet potatoes every now and then and an extra piece of fruit occasionally (like my melon). Then I felt great!!  I had just tipped the low sugar balance a little too far for my body.  Interestingly, when I attempted the 21dsd the first time, it made me VERY depressed.  This time, my body felt much more prepared for it and the depression was grumpiness not despondency. I think this is also proof that I am getting healthier and my thyroid situation is on an upswing.

Right as I was mid detox, I heard about and then watched a presentation from the 2014 Ancestral Health Symposium.  I knew that the thyroid, adrenal, and the ovaries are interwoven glands that affect each other.  Weakness in one means weakness in all.  How carbohydrates are related to this triumvirate was the subject of this presentation by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne and Stacy Toth.   Both of these ladies are bloggers, authors, and podcasters that have turned their entire lives around with the power of nutrition and are very inspiring to me.  Dr. Ballantyne has literally written the book on how to reverse autoimmune disease with nutrition in her NY Times Bestselling The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body.  Stacy Toth, along with her husband Matt McCarry, have authored 3 amazing books.  Both women have lost over 100 pounds, reversed autoimmune disease, and much more.  Stacy, in particular, is a great inspiration to me.  You can check out Stacy’s story and Sarah’s if you are interested in the presenters of this great talk.

Here is the official description of the presentation:

Ancestral Health for Women in the Modern World: the HPA Axis Meets the HPT and the HPG Axes

The evolutionary biology perspective has proven to be an invaluable tool in creating dietary guidelines for the optimal human diet. However, we are learning that there may be stark differences between optimal nutrition for women versus men. In particular, the female body responds differently to changes in macronutrient ratio as well as meal timing due to links between the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and both the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axes, in part due to the combined roles of leptin and cortisol. Women may experience adverse health effects, including hypothyroidism and hypothalamic amenorrhea, in response to low carbohydrate diets and intermittent fasting.


Watch the presentation and see why I think the 21dsd did not work perfectly for me.  As I said, I like the 21dsd a lot.  I’m glad I did it and it helped me reset.  It also helped me tweak my diet to the right level of carbs for me to function best.  Many thanks to Diane Sanfilippo, Stacy Toth, and Sarah Ballantyne for the knowledge bombs.