This wrap-up has been a long time coming, as I completed the month-long detox nearly two weeks ago. Still, the two weeks since its conclusion have offered additional insight that also bears mention. So think of this as two posts in one, only half of which is late.
I was tempted to call this post the Five Damply Sins, a take on the seven deadly sin combined with the fact that these five foods contribute to dampness in Chinese medicine. The problem, you rightly concluded, is that I have too much dampness in my system, and the solution is to consume nearly no dampness contributors so that my body (with the help of my wonderful acupuncturist) can return to balance.
The Detox Itself
The detox itself was difficult, even as often as I cheated, and the reasons varied by banned substance. Dairy and Gluten were simply difficult to avoid, given that they’re in everything. Sugar and Caffeine are drugs, and as such, as I was massively addicted to them. Finally, alcohol was difficult because it’s such a social lubricant. Ok, I’m exaggerating on the last one. Alcohol was easy. When I wanted to hang out with friends, I just drank something other than alcohol. It’s delicious, that other stuff. But 4 of the 5 banned foods were hard to go without. I wasn’t perfect, but I did well.
The Easy Part
I am extremely fortunate to have married well. This is clear in many aspects of my life, but of particular relevance is what an amazing cook my wife is and how amazingly food-aware she is. When I needed to call upon her to help me figure out what to eat, she was ready with advice and with meals. Chipotle is one of my favorite quick-food restaurants. A burrito bowl (double brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, green and corn salsas, guacamole and lettuce) is a great vegetarian meal that totally conforms to the diet. No tortilla – those have wheat. No cheese or sour cream either. And I can always give up the guacamole and get chicken or steak. Lunches were pretty great, even when I didn’t have leftovers to take from home.
The Hard Part
I mentioned my caffeine addiction. You’re probably thinking this was the hardest part, and for the first two days, it was. That addiction doesn’t take long to overcome, though, so it was no big deal for three and four-sevenths of the detox. (That third day was a little rough, but not nearly as bad as the second.) The difficulty with sugar, however, was an entirely different story. It’s not hard to avoid when you’re already avoiding gluten. Pastries, doughnuts, and a ton of desserts are already off the table. I don’t eat much candy (except chocolate, which was HARD to give up). My body pretty much immediately started starving for sugar. The cravings were off the charts, but the mood swings and energy roller-coaster were even worse. I was a nightmare to my family, friends, and co-workers. I was either spastically high (with boundless energy keeping me up until 4am) or miserably lethargic (nearly to the point of depression) at normally lively parts of the day. It was absolutely awful.
Sugar Is a Drug
I absolutely cannot overstate the lessons this can teach us about sugar. Processed white sugar is addictive, just like a drug. It throws off your hormonal systems, just like a drug. It alters your mood and energy levels, just like a drug. You come to gain a tolerance to it, just like a drug. You come to acquire a physiological need for it, just like a drug. And it fucking hurts to get rid of, just like a drug. Tell me why sugar is in SO many of the processed and “natural” foods we can buy.
IT IS SO THAT WE WILL BUY IT
My understanding of this is limited, but I’m told that simple carbohydrates (white rice, white flower, sugar) affect our adrenal and endocrine systems. Biology and physiology are neat topics and I wouldn’t mind learning more about them. The relevant part here is that I was peaking and crashing for nearly two weeks. It was madness, friends. I don’t ever want to go through that again. Ever. There were seriously parts of the day where I could barely keep my eyes open followed by nights were I could do nothing to get to sleep. Falling asleep, you need to understand, is literally never a problem for me. I can take a nap nearly any time I want. I’m just like “Body, Mind. Shutup and let it all go,” and then I’m like zzzzz. Done. It was ridiculous to have trouble with that.
And the headaches. Oh my god, the pounding, crazy headaches. Maybe I’m thirsty, no I’ve had a ton of water already. Maybe I’m hungry, no I’m too stuffed to eat. Maybe I ate too much, no I’ve had this exact same headache for three days. Maybe I hate life, yeah, that’s it. Miserable. I desperately needed to stop eating so much sugar. I’m infinitely grateful that I finally did.
Food Affects the Body
For the longest time, I was positive that all my sinus issues were the direct result of growing up in a cloud of cigarette smoke. I’ve never put a cigarette to my own lips, but I’ve had more than my fair share of second-hand smoke. It turns out that food may be the main contributor. Since I (mostly) cut those five foods out of my life, several major things happened, each resulting in several other things improving. I feel it’s important to list most of them.
The Big Changes
- My sinuses have begun to open up (a lot!)
- My digestion has improved (both processing and output)
- My allergies have subsided (including sniffling, sneezing, and exercise-induced asthma
- My energy level is better than I ever remember (EVER)
- My mind is clearer and easier to focus (Adult ADHD? Not here!)
- My mood is vastly improved (due to each and every point above)
The Detailed Improvements
- Breathing through my nose is usually possible (it was previously almost always impossible)
- I have begun to smell a few things (where previously I literally smelled nothing at all)
- I don’t drip snot all over myself (it was incredibly disgusting and embarrassing
- Food is VASTLY more enjoyable (due to the smelling)
- My energy levels have improved (possibly due to the diet AND breathing better)
- I have completely stopped snoring (except for that day when I ate half a large pizza)
- Speaking is profoundly less embarrassing (I hated my Sicky Vicky voice)
- I spend less time on the toilet (truth is truth
- No gas bloat (which was pretty regular)
- I lost 10 lbs (before I started gaining it back in muscle)
- I lost an inch or two from my waist size (I didn’t measure, but my pants don’t lie)
- I ran a 5K in 35:22 with absolutely no training (personal record!!)
- People like me more (beginning with my family)
- I want to live (Clarification in the next paragraph!
I can’t lie. My issues had me miserable to the point that I would daydream about fixing my sinuses with a power drill and other equally unsavory things. I say this not for dramatic flair or sympathy, but in an effort to reach out to anyone else who has been THAT miserable. My daydreams always ended undesirably, and I was never tempted to follow through. Still, it is horrifying to me that I even got that far. If you are desperate for a solution to your problems, keep searching, no matter what.
Back to my happy path. After the four weeks were up, I was supposed to try one thing from the detox list, and then wait four days to see how my body responded to it. Since I had occasionally pulled from the naughty list during the detox itself, I decided to instead do a week of one thing followed by a week of another. I knew dairy and gluten would be the first two.
A Week of Gluten
Gluten, in a fair quantity, messes me up. That’s all there is to it. My sinuses are affected to a degree, though it’s not a full regression. My stomach, however, goes into pure revolt. The king is beheaded and there are a series of military coups before it is fully digested. I can get away with having a burger or a few bites of a waffle or something with minimal repercussions, but if I go to town on a bready sandwich, indulge in a couple pancakes, or even eat every bit of crust from my and my wife’s homemade whole wheat chicken pot pie, I live to regret it.
Gluten is not my friend.
A Week of Dairy
Dairy and I get along much better than that cruel mistress, Gluten. We have a raw milk share, and I love it. Chipotle has shredded cheese and I love it (though I’m still better off with a bowl). Dairy is wonderful and great.
I had some caffeine through the detox, here and there. It helped with the sugar withdrawal, which was vastly more severe than the caffeine issues. It saved me at work a few days. I stuck primarily with maté tea during the detox and have reintroduced coffee since then. I don’t drink much. Prior to the detox, I would put down 30-50 oz of coffee a day. That’s 1 – 1.5 quarts. That’s way, way, way too much. Now I will drink, at most, 16 oz. Most days, it’s none or half a cup (4 oz).
Sugar Is the Devil
If gluten is bad, and sugar is bad, their combination is even worse. I’ve gone on about the evils of sugar quite enough, but let me talk about pastries and cookies for a moment. I have had a couple doughnuts. I had a little peach cobbler just last Thursday. My wife even picked up some ginger cookies for me to share at work because I have been doing so well. I haven’t opened them yet, but am very much looking forward to it. I will have sugar in EXTREME moderation, and I still enjoy it very much, but it punishes me brutally when I do.
Beer is almost always horrible. Last weekend, I went to a scotch tasting at the Burns Pub and came out of that quite well. I drink very, very little now, but an occasional indulgence when I’m out has been working alright, so long as I steer clear of the beer & sugary cocktails.
I’ll have the Brut, please.
Today, my diet is pretty simple. For grains, I stick with rice and quinoa. I eat a ton of fish, especially raw if I can. Beef and chicken are ok, but I have actually had to be careful with them. I’m not sure why, but my stomach prefers vegetarian food most of the time. I wonder if the dairy has helped me digest meats or some weird synergistic thing like that. I’ve been crazy for fruits and vegetables, and my favorite snack has become a banana with a large portion of almond butter. Bananas are great for sugar cravings, too. Having them on hand has saved me from a number of poor choices, and the apple butter adds healthy fats and a good dose of protein to make it a more hardy snack.
The sinus and digestive benefits were surprising both in how quick and how significant they were, but they were also an expected change. The unexpected change is the immediate improvement in my fitness level. The Firefly 5K (mentioned above) was run with my son in the stroller. I’ve never run a 5K with the stroller before, and I’ve never run one that fast even without the stroller. My mind was absolutely blown. I’ve been feeling more inclined to do things to help my fitness as well. Even around the house, I’m hitting the pull-up bar a lot more often and have even done push-ups at bedtime. I play with my son more and more actively.
The biggest change is not just that I am active, but how much I enjoy it.
The detox has immeasurably improved my quality of life. I am confident that acupuncture has improved the speed of those benefits and perhaps even the extent thereof. I know that seeing my acupuncturist has improved my circulation, flexibility, immune system, and lowered my stress levels.
If you are in Denver and are at all interested in acupuncture, please consider Sylvia.