Let me make one thing very clear: I do not expect a life-changing body experience in the next thirty days.
I’ve done this kind of physical challenge before. Really, I’ve done much harder ones.
I look relatively healthy — see me on the city streets, and you’d have no idea that I have a twenty-three-year history of chronic illness. That history has me obnoxiously aware of Hippocrates’ “let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
When I was twelve, Lyme disease first had me debilitatingly down for the count. I went off of sugar, dairy, soy, yeast, fruit, eggs, beef, corn, gluten, alcohol etc. for months to calm my digestive system and support my immune system — that cycle repeated every seven years or so when I had to repeat treatment. Sick in 2007, I had to shove 500 calories in a day, so had to make sure those calories counted. Overall, I eat healthy fats, whole grains (not wheat because of Celiac), and a good amount of vegetables.
I love food. I just need it to support my body, too.
Over the last few years, I’ve tried spent extra time exploring if specific foods are causing residual inflammation and pain — could salmon, kale, millet or any number of things I believe to be healthy cause adverse reactions in my specific body? When so many chronic diseases can be tracked to modified and unhealthy foods, it’s no surprised that repressed digestive and immune systems could then react from power foods too, right?
First I tried Lyn-Genet Recita’s The Plan. Her book summarizes data pulled from thousands of clients, guiding readers to clean out and neutralize their digestive system, reintroduce safe foods, and then clock reactions to new foods through signals of pain, weight gain, skin flare-ups, hormonal imbalance, sleep issues etc. There are eating plans and recipes, all laid out in an easy-to-follow, non-threatening manner.
When that didn’t prove my ace-in-the-hole I tried Barbara Allen’s Conquering Arthritis. Geared more specifically towards those with arthritis, it follows the same pattern: cleanse, rebuild, reintroduce, and learn what foods cause inflammation. Oh, and it throws twice-daily enemas in there, too.
When neither of those produced the miracle I hoped for, I turned to the ALCAT test. This blood test — not covered by insurance — claims to single out what foods cause inflammation on a cellular level. For three months I removed 58 specific foods from my diet, on top of the Celiac and dairy ingredients I already consider. Yes, the swelling in one ankle went down almost completely, and I finally lost a few of the flabby pounds that have felt suffocating around me. But, again, no miracle of pain or overall inflammation.
All of these tests and programs were worth trying. I learned new recipes, cut down on my sodium intake, and reset my habits to eat more reasonably now than before.
But I don’t think removing sugar will prove dramatic, either.
I already eat so little sugar. It doesn’t sneak into soft drinks because I don’t drink them. I don’t eat fast food, or processed snacks, or bakery treats, or… where else does sugar hide? From what I’ve read, people who cut sugar out experience massive headaches, energy crashes, and mood swings before hitting unbelievable energy and weight loss. But those people eat sugar regularly. Mine slips in where? Honey in my tea? Dark chocolate? The 1/3 Tate’s gluten-free brownie I eat at night while watching Gilmore Girls in bed (high five single ladies)?
So why am I doing this?
This Year, I’m exploring abstaining from habits that interact with three areas of life:
The affect on my health: I still wine, and now and then whiskey. Sure, not a lot. But even a small amount can’t be good. Tending your body means protecting it from stress. I admit I use alcohol to reduce stress — on a date, at a work function, when feeling angsty in social settings or emotionally drained at the end of a long day. But the night often ends then with my body feeling more stressed.
Then the very rare times I do eat a few bites of something full of sugar (sorbet, the so-sweet crumb cake I made last weekend), my joints hurt. I admit it. I can try thirty days without all sugar again. I’ve done it before.
The affect on my social life: I’ve chosen this for November for a very specific reason. With the start of the holiday season, parties are happening. I’m dating a lot right now. This Year is meant to be hard. It’s meant to reshape habits. That’s why I’m not wimping out and doing this in January, when everyone cuts back.
The affect on my sense of self: I get so frustrated when a period of discipline doesn’t offer a miracle cure for my body. But I should pat myself on the back for recognizing that this means I’ve done so much work over so many years that my food is my medicine already and, as so many docs have told me, the source of my illness is tricky and not yet well understood. These next thirty days are about setting no expectations. Rather, I’ll see what subtle but lasting lessons come. Like from the shopping stuff I just finished. Relax, kid! You don’t always have to take home the gold!
(Dog I’m so melodramatic. I’ve never taken home the gold.)
So here’s the plan:
I get that some people include grains and dairy with no sugar diets, like the Ketogenic diet. I’ve done that before, too. It’s an excellent overall plan for people further back in their explorations.
I could go all strict, but I won’t. I want one clear study for this period. And, as food is medicine for my soul, too, I’m not martyring myself for no reason here. I’ve done Ketogenic before, and was not “cured”. After years of not eating white potatoes, I ruled that they’re safe for me. I’m grossly allergic to cow dairy (aside from clarified butter), but enjoy a nominal amount of goat and sheep. My choices will come from a particularly personal place — both in terms of knowing my body, and my habits, and what I’d love to observe shift in both of them.
Here is what I will not consume until December 4th:
- Sugar: refined, coconut, or substitutes of any sort.
- Alcohol. None. Not even to cook with.
- Cooked or frozen fruit. Frozen mango is my gateway to gluttony.
- Most raw fruit: Raw apples – I’m fine with raw apples. Maybe. I’ll feel this out.
- Corn products: They’re both a higher-level inflammation triggerer, and something I nosh habitually (I live in tortilla heaven in NYC). I also eat way too much popcorn. So that habit is out.
- Chocolate. All of it. Gone.
I’m not doing an elimination diet here. I’m removing how I eat habitually — my happy brownies, my fruit + almond butter meals, and my go-to wine fuzzers at social events. By removing these things only, I’ll both challenge myself and be kind with myself.
I’ll track the social stuff. I’ll see if I lose a pound or two. I wonder if I’ll sleep better?
I’ll be fine.
But I expect no miracles.