Detox Deconstructed

The other day, my sister ran across this article on Buzzfeed and sent it to me with an order disguised as a question: “We do this?”

It looked good, so I thought we could give it a shot. I mean, look at this picture. Does that not look great (spoiler alert: It is)?

Spaghetti squash boat with chicken sausage, mushrooms, and spinach. Photo courtesy of Arielle Calderon. Original here.

Of course, like anything I do in the kitchen or, really, in life, the over-planning began instantly. Arielle’s article was great as a menu, but I needed justification, recipes, variants, substitutes, details. I hate diets, too, so instead of looking at this as just a “sugar detox,” I thought of it as a series of quick meals for the upcoming hot-as-hell, die-in-the-kitchen-heat, when-can-I-please-move-away-from-here? summer that’s just around the corner in addition to a jump start for a lifestyle shift back to cleaner eating. I also saw it as a source of inspiration for the future creation of more elaborate meals, and of course, I thought some of the pieces might be nice to send on to Dawn and Carol for variety with their Lee Street Project. With all the chaos of the last couple months, I feel like I’ve been neglecting them. I thought perhaps I could find some recipes to share with them to get the giving part of “Eat Well. Give Better.” back on track.

Luckily, to help with the entire experience, Arielle wrote a couple more articles about her 30-day sugar detox. One described her experience with the experiment while another detailed some of her favorite recipes. This helped quite a bit with the justification and recipe needs. My sister and I figured we had nothing to lose but that bloated feeling, so we are going to give it a whirl.

This is our experience.

The chronicle is going to be a day by day thing. Today’s post is rather long, but I promise the rest will not be. When you revamp your entire eating schedule, there’s a lot to think about. After today’s VERY long post, I’m going to try and post each day on Instagram (follow me if you’re not already!) and every two to three days here. I also want to focus a bit on the impact of such a strict plan on the rest of our day because one of the things she and I questioned was how much time Arielle needed to devote only to food. I hate being a slave to feeding myself, and I resent when it appears so effortless for other people. Pro tip: It’s not. You just have to be willing to adapt.

That will unfold over time; we just started today. Last night, we bought all the things we would need for the first five days. Today’s post, then, focuses on planning the first several days. Sorry for the lack of photos, but who wants pictures of grocery bags and refrigerator shelves?

While my sister is hell bent on precision here, I’m working a little flexibility into our attempt. I’m not changing anything that defies the entire reason for a sugar detox (no honey in the yogurt sauce no matter how much I want it), but there are some notable changes my own cache of information tells me we should make. Some of the changes are easy. For instance, there are a few items Arielle ate that are things one or the other of us won’t touch (I’m looking at you, bananas and onions). Other issues we’ve anticipated include my sister’s upcoming trip to LA, my own trip to DC, the availability (or lack thereof) of certain items, and a house full of other people who won’t participate with us. Then there’s the question of how much to buy at once and whether or not to follow exactly her plan, including snacks and desserts we would not normally eat. I may be getting ahead of myself here.

More on our adaptations and the reasons why coming up.

Finally, for the biggest concern of the whole thing, I am not a fan of detoxes, diets, or anything related to them. I’ve had tragically bad experiences with such endeavors, and I am firmly in the camp of much of what Nia Shanks explains here.

Why in the hell would I do a detox then?

I have two simple reasons: (1) control and (2) research.

In terms of control, I’m participating in this to regain a hold on what I eat. It’s been bad the last couple months, which is part of why you haven’t seen much from me. Look at the last few posts, too. What’s the theme? If you said “dessert,” you win a bag of authentic, fresh key limes directly from Florida! Just email me your address and I’ll drop the limes in the mail.

I’m usually a voracious consumer of vegetables, and I try to avoid shortcuts. Since I got back from DC, however, carbs and quickness have been my best friends. There’s never really a good excuse for adopting garbage shoveling eating habits, but I can truly say with mom having surgery, my contract job wrapping up with a vengeance, the typical end of semester insanity, my own papers to write, and looking for my new gig in a far off place, I’ve basically stopped cooking. I’ve also stopped buying much, so I eat what appears in front of me without question. It’s not been pretty. A lot of restaurants and a lot of easy meals have dominated the spring. Now I am fat. I feel like I’ve been eating badly, and if I don’t get on top of it now, it will affect my health. So this is more of a rollback to cleaner eating than an actual “detox” for me. For my sister, it’s just about the same. “I feel lousy,” she explained. “I feel like I’m full of processed junk and I don’t want to do anything. The more I eat crap, the more crap I want to eat. I need veggies, not ice cream.”

The second reason is quite simple. I’m doing this so you don’t have to. Or maybe so you do. I want to see if my sister and I share Arielle’s success. I also want to build on her process, perhaps adding dimension to her experience so more people can relate to some aspect of what she accomplished. Instead of hypothesizing, though, I’m going to simply let this unfold, let it be an autoethnographic, narrative, immersion study.

Day 0

Not a typo. Last night was Day 0. Something Arielle didn’t really cover was the intricacy of the shopping part of this plan. She did a smart thing, though, and planned recipes that used similar ingredients for several days before switching gears to a new set of items. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind eating the same thing or close cousins of the same thing for a couple days, so this didn’t bother me. Same for the sister. If you’re not able to do that, you can certainly move the day’s menu around to give yourself variety.

However, from a practical standpoint, that’s going to cost you. If you can buy and use similar items by grouping them together a few days at a time, you can shorten your grocery list for this project because, if we’re being honest here, there are a looooooot of items to pick up over the full 30 days. We recommend trying to follow Arielle’s original meal plan for that reason alone.

Even if you do that, you still might have to drop a good hundo the first visit because if you don’t keep olive oil, citrus fruit or citrus juice, onions, garlic, quinoa, and other basics around the house, you’ll need to grab them. Remember that quality is key across the board here and remember that being sugar-conscious is both the goal of this experiment and only one of a handful of consciousness-raising projects we could undertake to be more aware of what we heave into our gullets.

Whether you take this on with us or not, please, please take a minute to read the labels on anything you buy that’s pre-packaged. For this project, focus on sugar. If you see anything from either Arielle’s list of sugars or my chart below, avoid it for the next 30 days.

After that, only choose naturally occurring sugars; that means only eat sugar if it’s in the food as a necessary component of its existence and even then, choose wisely. See, in the end, this isn’t about getting rid of all sugars forever because that’s borderline crazy. It’s about rewiring the brain to identify the quality of the types of sugar we’re eating. Check out this article from SHAPE for a bit of a crash course in the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. If you want to go a bit deeper and address the obvious question here regarding some seeming inconsistencies with Arielle’s food choices and her goal statement, take a dive into this enjoyable bit from Nerd Fitness (ignore grammar errors. I did; so can you).

So now that you’ve looked over Arielle’s meal plan and the list of sugars, it’s time to shop!

Of course, we hit Publix. My sister’s plan was just to hit the aisles and start picking off items from Arielle’s meal plan. I, however, cannot exist like that. I needed a list. I needed a plan. I needed to know what I was getting into. I didn’t want to get home and realize I’d forgotten an essential ingredient. We also decided it made no sense to buy everything we could all at once. Please don’t even consider doing that because you’ll be throwing away a lot of produce. We settled on five days out for now.

So I made a list, but it wasn’t as simple as you think. I needed an Excel spreadsheet and a couple hours just to plan out the shopping list for the first five days.

A sneak peek at my list-making process. I’m pretty proud of the color-coding and the very inefficient use of Excel.

The final grocery list just for our first five days is at the end of the post. This was really the hardest part of the planning, deciding exactly what was needed and how much. We had a few items at home already, like sea salt and cracked pepper, so they’re not included. We overestimated and underestimated on a few items. Double check each recipe to make sure you don’t forget anything. You’ll also notice there are some items missing from our list or that we opted for different versions of some things. I’ll get into specifics as each day unfolds.

We also made changes to ensure we’d succeed.

Everyone is different and everyone has different needs and goals. Arielle has lost over 100 pounds and made a 180 degree change to her eating and lifestyle habits (follow her on Instagram, too!). Some of her menu choices are a reflection of that goal as well as her attempt to wean herself from sugar. Similarly, some of our choices reflect our own principles, goals, and preferences. The key here is to eliminate added sugar so think of this not as a massive shift in everything you consume; make it easy on yourself by focusing just on the sugar content of foods you might not suspect to be culprits in nurturing your dependency on sugars. One of the easiest ways to fail at a plan like this is to marry yourself to the most minor of details, to get caught in the minutiae, and eventually tell yourself you can’t do it because it’s too hard.

That’s what’s going to get me through this. I hate bananas and chia seeds, and there’s no nutritional argument on the earth worth forcing myself to eat what I hate just because I’m trying to do something healthy for my body. There are perfectly reasonable ways to either eliminate those items or to substitute something else I do enjoy and that provides the same benefits.

Maybe you usually shy away from this type of thing because you have a dietary restriction or a strong preference, and when you see the recipes and photos, your first thought is, “That’s amazing, but I can’t do it because I don’t like salmon.” Well, we’re going to show you how you can! I hope.

What my sister and I are doing is not marching in lockstep with Arielle nor are we repudiating her approach to this. She succeeded, and we know we can, too. We also want you to succeed which is why we’re providing this follow up to her successful detox, focusing on the ways her plan can be diversified and still work just as well.

Save, screenshot, or print this. It’s my gift to you.


Join us if you’d like or wait until we finish. Either way, please feel free to share your own stories about how you regain control of food!

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