I Gave Up Gluten, Alcohol, Sugar, Coffee, Meat & More For 21 Days. Here's What I Learned
Aside from the days when I was strict vegan, I’d never consciously given up anything. I have friends who are gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, etc. I wondered why that didn’t appeal to me. Was there something I was unaware of in my own body? Do I, too, have sensitivities that should be addressed?
To find out, I decided to do a serious cleanse. For 21 days in the middle of an action-packed summer, I gave up sugar, gluten, dairy, dark meats, nightshade vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants), alcohol, and (the hardest part) coffee.
Here’s what I learned.
1. How to identify real hunger versus emotional hunger.
Real hunger comes on gradually, while emotional hunger seems to strike immediately. During the cleanse, my experience of emotional hunger all but disappeared, making it really easy to differentiate after it ended.
2. Sugar is not my friend.
Even natural sugars, like dried fruit. A few days after the cleanse I had a small bag of organic, all-natural dried mango slices. Shortly after, I went on an evening bike ride. Toward the end of the ride I experienced a sugar crash so extreme I had to ride to the nearest grocery store and ask someone to help me get some food to avoid passing out.
3. Gluten gives me brain fog.
I had a rather lavish gluten-filled dinner one night after the cleanse and experienced what I can only describe as a gluten hangover the next morning. This “brain fog” has happened a few times since and does not bode well for a CEO running morning meetings daily. I notice it more when the gluten is heavily processed — like crackers or cereal.
4. Tequila is truly the best alcohol choice for my body.
I’m a fan of top-shelf sipping tequila — shaken on ice with a lime, thank you. While I would not recommend that anyone start drinking loads of tequila, I have noticed that my body feels much cleaner processing tequila than other alcohols, especially wine and beer. I completely stay away from mixed drinks with sugar now, too.
5. I need less sleep when I eat clean.
My hunch is that gluten, sugar, and coffee are the three things that mess with my sleep cycles more than anything else. Before cleansing, I needed an average of seven and a half to eight hours of sleep a night whereas during the cleanse and after I need six to seven hours. I also wake up with a new pep in my step!
6. My aches and pains have basically gone away.
Six months after a car accident that jacked up my neck and shoulders, I am still recovering. A week into the cleanse, all my pain just disappeared. My chiropractor may not be as happy, but I am over-the-moon with the results.
7. I crave smoothies like nobody’s business.
Smoothies are hands-down the best way to get all your food in one easy-to-assimilate format. You can load up on greens and vegetables, plant-based protein powders, almonds, herbs and spices, coconut water, and so much more. In fact, I’m having one as I write this.
8. Coffee makes me feel crazy.
I have an on-again-off-again love affair with coffee. I know too much isn't good for my body, but I haven’t been able to kick it. Until now. The times I have had coffee after the cleanse, I’ve felt the negative effects on my body and mind, and it’s just not worth it anymore. Hot lemon water and brewed teas are fantastic substitutes. Plus it’s much cheaper than a latte.
9. Grains are not as awesome as I once thought.
I have trouble digesting most grains — gluten-free or not. Quinoa seems to be the one exception to this rule.
10. Eating out on a Clean Program diet is not that difficult.
Sure, it took a little digging to find solutions, but most restaurants were able to accommodate me.
11. Cheat when you want — just make sure you appreciate the hell out of it.
I recently went on vacation and picked perfectly ripe Michigan blueberries; naturally, all I wanted to do was bake blueberry muffins. I looked through 20-plus recipes — some gluten-free, some sugar-free, some vegan — and decided to go classic, with organic eggs, dairy, and gluten. I used whole wheat and brown sugar, both of which brought the potential for a sugar crash down dramatically. When I want to make exceptions, it will be full-on and guilt-free.
12. You can still be social.
I had friends say, “See you in a month!” when they found out I wasn’t drinking. I was determined not to let this cleanse get me down in the middle of a killer Colorado summer. So I went camping, I went to five shows at Red Rocks totally sober, and I went to countless parties and networking events. It’s been the best summer I can remember.
13. Dating on a cleanse is the ultimate test.
As luck would have it, I met someone special in the first week of the cleanse. Getting to know each other sans alcohol was a wonderful way to gauge our potential for a meaningful relationship. Plus, he got bonus points for cooking me a Clean-approved homemade meal.
14. I feel much sexier, leaner, and have a healthy glow.
Naturally, I lost a bit of weight. What I didn’t expect was how my skin would start to glow. Also, there seemed to be an overall decrease in inflammation and a reduction in bloat and water weight. Hello, sexy.
15. CostCo is a mecca for smoothie ingredients.
Cleanse on a budget by going to CostCo for organic frozen fruit, bulk sugar-free almond milk, coconut water, power greens, nuts, and more. They even sell a heavily discounted VitaMix if you need one.
16. Pooping has never been so good.
Oh man, I could go on and on about this. Suffice it to say that “regular” has a whole new meaning to me now.
17. People will react very differently.
Some people were visibly uncomfortable with me not drinking around them, while others were genuinely curious and asked great questions.
18. I now consciously choose every single thing that goes into my body.
Knowledge is power.
19. Treat breakfast as a time for “breaking the fast.”
One guideline of the Clean Program cleanse is to fast for the 12 hours after your evening smoothie and before breakfast. This gave my body a much-needed break to completely digest and eliminate before starting the process over again. I now make an effort to do this as much as possible.
20. Including friends is fun.
During and after the cleanse, I had multiple friends jump on board. Some did their own rendition of the program while others signed up for Clean Program’s 21-day cleanse. It made group dinners so much more fun and gave me an opportunity to pay the health benefits forward.
21. After doing this, I feel like I really can do anything.
Next to building my own start-up, this is probably the biggest challenge I’ve taken on in a long time. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought. As the saying goes, “Perfect is the enemy of done.” You’ll be surprised what you can achieve once you’ve taken the first step.
For more on how to start eating clean, check out our tips for making a healthy grocery list.