Is life without caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten, and animal products worth getting out of bed for?

In a moment of profound wisdom or total insanity, I upped and volunteered to join a group of fabulous women to cleanse my body of the big five–caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten and all animal based products for three weeks.

Why you might ask (I certainly asked myself that every day)?   Four reasons.

1) To manage inflammation and its resulting pain and discomfort without pills or shots (or surgery).

2) To prepare differently for my annual check-up to see the results of my blood work

3) To lose weight

4) To see what it’s like, given all the increasing research and hype around modern diets and nutrition (explorer in me).

What was it like?

You know, it wasn’t bad.  Once I got through the first few days of feeling pretty sluggish, a side effect of giving up sugar, it was pretty easy.  The real upside for me wat that I could eat all the time (and I did) and still lost weight.  The hardest part was eating out–finding a restaurant that could deliver a dish I could eat (salad greens with olive oil notwithstanding)–was a major research undertaking.  The other really hard part was finding food that didn’t have sugar or gluten snuck in as a filler.  I read labels til my head spun.

What did I learn?

Of those five foods, the one I missed most was caffeine. Whether that was the caffeine itself, or just the religious experience that coffee is for me, I’ll never know. But as soon as the cleanse was over, the first thing I put back was my morning coffee. At that point, with my morning coffee and nothing else was I felt the best I’d ever felt.

Giving it all up actually made eating easy. It reduced the choices of available food choices so dramatically it took the “what do I eat” question out of my life.  In effect it replaces temptation with hard and fast rules that require no measuring or counting.  The upside to that was that I could eat all day, snacking on fruit, vegetables, rice cakes and nuts.  I don’t think I could have pulled this off without nuts as a major part of my diet, which would limit this for some.  The downside to that is that most social life is not structured around these rules so you have to work hard to stick to them–read labels to the extreme, bring your own food to parties, always have snacks with you, do a lot of restaurant research so you have a reliable list of places where you can get something beyond salad greens with olive oil for a meal.

The relationship between hunger and satiation/satisfaction changed. Eating this way, I got full more easily with much less food but I was hungry much more often.  I know there’s a lot of information out there that things like sugar (and many of its variants like corn syrup) additives and possible gluten disrupt your satiation mechanisms and have you wanting without hunger.  For me, I believe it now and I have one miserable child as I make some changes in our diet as a result.

Finally, food is not just fuel, it is a major part of the social, sensual and religious fabric of our lives.  Being part of that matters, a lot.  For me, it is important to take a sip of wine and eat a bite of bread (assuming bodies can handle them) during a ceremony.  I do want to take a bite of a cookie or anything else my child makes at school, at friend’s house, or undertakes on her own in mine.  Whipped cream stays in the fridge (I’ll let you figure out why) although I may change it soy cream.

Did I achieve my goals?

I lost five pounds. Yeah!

My annual result blood work was better than it has been in several years.  However, it still could have been better. I was happy that my doctor was happy, but I had hoped for more stellar results.

The pain associated with inflammation was no better but no worse than with the drugs. That leaves me with the question–Did both or neither work?

I had the experience and I’m making changes as a result.

End Results

Will I give all these things up? No.

Will I change my diet as a result of this? Yes. I already have.  I’m buying differently, cooking more and will keep all these foods reduced in my diet. All in all, I find it easier to live without labels (e.g. vegan) but I have taken to heart what I’ve learned. I also found a lot of products without many of these things are just good .

What about you? Have you given up any or all of these?  What was your experience?


  1. The benefit was to get it all out of your system and then introduce them back one by one to see how they impacted your body. I think if the goal is to overall improve eating, then there is no particular benefit to doing it this way. I got some interesting insights into how people with significant allergies live. Its the social element more so than the eating itself that’s the hardest part. Great question. Glad you stopped by.

  2. I gave up caffiene about 18 months ago, as I was badly addicted on only three cups of tea a day! Ten days of terrible headaches and living in a fog, and I can’t say that I’m keen to go back. I actually do feel much better – I don’t need a cup of tea to start my heart in the morning.
    Congratulations – that’s a huge lifestyle change to make all in one go, which must have required considerable self discipline.

    1. In some ways, having a limited diet made it easier, not harder. It’s almost like an orthodox religion in a way, you know what to do and what not to do–the rules are really clear and you don’t sway. Self discipline is much more difficult if I were just dieting and I would have to figure out the best ways to count calories but I could still choose from the wider set of foods. The fact that the cleanse was three weeks, made it all the easier, because there was a clear end point.

    1. Thanks Misty. I must be honest and tell you to ask me how I’m doing in six months. We’ll see what I am able to maintain once life takes over (as it tends to do). For now, I’m gung ho but coffee is back, no question. Just could not give that up.

  3. I have gone through cutting gluten, sugar and caffeine. I have begun to eat sugar again, but the others are only every once in a while.

    I definitely have learned it is better not to eat carbs in the morning. I also do agree that I eat a lot of nuts– almond, almond butter, and pecans. I also love everything chickpea–in curries or sautes, or the flour baked into muffins or flatbread.

    Its not easy, but it’s helped me reduce inflammation. I find also that the benefits have occurred more and more the longer I have reduced these things. I also found a few other items that I don’t tolerate well by paying strict attention to what I eat

    1. Thanks Wren. I rely a lot on chick peas as a staple. It really helps that my daughter loves them too. Now that I cut sugar out for a month, I find I have much less tolerance for it. Right now, its really not hard to keep things limited because I naturally balk at too much. The real test is one of time. Because as little bits enter my life more and more, that too much limit I am sure will equally start too stretch. It does require a steady vigilance. Like writing. Every bite, every word.

  4. My husband has cut out the majority of carbs, all fried foods, and all processed foods since March, when he took a continuing ed class to keep up his acupuncture certification. He’s now lost 80 pounds by doing that, making sure he’s getting the right kinds of fats and the other nutrition, and making sure he’s walking our dogs daily. It’s a remarkable transformation, and has taken away all his low back pain and increased his energy exponentially. The thing the class talked about was how most people in our country are carbohydrate addicts, and the way we digest those mess with a whole cascade of hormones, so when you have it really bad, the mechanism to tell when you’re full is circumvented, which then messes with a bunch of other endocrine hormones. It’s worth looking in to.

    1. That’s fabulous results. How long did it take him to start to see and feel really measurable changes? I had a similar experience. By cutting out gluten and processed foods, my whole experience of hunger changed. Once I allowed myself to put bread back in, I sat down and ate 5 pieces, I couldn’t stop. As a result, although I’ve added everything back in, I’ve made some significant changes overall, replacing dairy, gluten, sugar where I can to lead to overall reductions.

      1. He stopped eating dessert at the new year, and had lost about 10 pounds before he went to the CE class. But it was really the realization about the carb addiction that turned up the weight loss; pretty much since March he’s lost an average of 2 pounds a week. He still eats a lot of dairy/cheese (since it’s high protein) and doesn’t count calories at all. Without the carbs to confuse the issue, he’s able to tell when he’s full, so it’s an easy, virtuous cycle. 🙂

        1. That’s so wonderful. I am glad to see he’s really kept it up. Not counting calories I think is key. Having done so in the past, it is maddening and difficult and I never felt satisfied. With this cleanse, it was easy because I ate only healthy stuff, I just didn’t have to worry about amounts or portions. Those just took care of themselves. I have made a lot of changes but I do fear as daily life sinks in again, I may struggle to keep it up.

  5. I spent six months as a vegetarian. It was an interesting and educational experience and has changed my outlook on food. Great post. Thanks for stopping by The Brass Rag. Come back and visit us again soon.

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