Starting my 21-Day Sugar Detox (by Diane Sanfilippo): Days 1-3

Diane Sanfilippo, a certified Nutrition Consultant and New York Times bestselling author of Practical Paleo, is a very well known figure in the Paleo world. I recently started listening to her podcast called the Balanced Bites and learned that she developed a sugar detox program called "the 21-Day Sugar Detox". The program has had immense success with thousands of Diane's clients and followers.


Intrigued to see if I experienced any major differences between the Whole30 ( and the 21-Day Sugar Detox, I added Diane's book (found here) to my Amazon cart. My goal in completing this detox is to let you know the effects it had on my body, mind, and energy level; as well as, explain the pros and cons I experience throughout the detox. And I'll be honest I do love natural sweet treats like my Paleo Pumpkin Spice Cookies, my gluten-free Morning Glory Muffins, or eating a dried date or two, so doing this detox will help realign my focus too!


First, let's start with some facts about SUGAR. Sugar is basically in everything that comes from a box, bottle, or carton these days. I couldn't even find almond milk at the grocery store the other day that did not have an added sugar in the ingredient list. America has tricked our brains to think that food does not taste good unless it is sweetened or salted. Many people are addicted to sugar and do not fully realize it because producers sneak it in wherever they can. "Natural" peanut butters, "healthy" cereals and granolas, and even deli meat often contain some form of added sugar. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 13% of adults' total daily caloric intake between 2005-2010 came from added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that no more than 10% of food intake should come from added sugars. So what are "added sugars"?



An added sugar is any sugar that is added to a food or beverages during processing which does not naturally occur in the food. For example, refined white sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, and sucrose are all sugars commonly added to drinks and food products. Naturally occurring sugars are totally safe to eat and most readily occur in fruit and milk. Natural sweeteners can also come in the form of any unrefined product like honey, maple syrup, molasses, pure monk fruit or agave extract. These are considered natural because no other additives disrupt their chemistry. Be cautious though that these natural sweeteners are still a source of sugar and should be used in moderation. 

WHY ARE ADDED SUGARS BAD? - The Science of Sugar

Knowing what sugar does inside your body will help you understand the reasons a sugar detox, like the 21-Day Sugar Detox, is going to improve your health. When we consume sugar a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger that delivers signals to/from the brain) called dopamine is released. We receive a pleasure signal from dopamine when sugar is consumed; this is great if the sugar comes from a nutrient dense source like melon or berries which will decrease the desire for more sweet tasting food because the craving was satisfied. Unfortunately, refined forms of sugar also trigger the release of dopamine. These refined sugary, processed foods contain no nutrient value which leaves you with a content desire to eat more sugar. It's a revolving circle of: "that tasted really good" - "I want more" - "I am still hungry". This happens to most of us and results in a nutrient poor diet, cyclical bloating, and lethargy. In her book, Diane uses a great example to explain the importance of nutrient dense foods verses nutrient poor foods. She compares two foods that have equal calorie servings, 100 grams of a sweet potato and 100 grams of unenriched wheat bread. Both foods have around 20 grams of carbohydrate but look at the nutritional differences below:

% RDA of Sweet Potato vs. Unenriched Wheat Bread

*RDA = recommended daily allowance; data taken from the 21-Day Sugar Detox book

As Diane explains in her book, "When nutrients are added to foods in synthetic forms and without their co-factors (the complementary nutrients that are needed for proper absorption and utilization), you body simply cannot use them properly." When your bread or cereal is fortified with extra calcium this does not mean that your body is going to properly utilize the calcium because the co-factors of vitamins A, D, K2 and magnesium may not be present in the correct form to naturally help the calcium be fully absorbed and utilized properly. 

During the introduction to the detox, Diane does an excellent job of explaining why nutrient density is so important and why eating whole, natural foods to obtain the macronutrients and micronutrients our body needs is much more effective in living a healthy, vibrant life. This is why a low nutrient diet leaves you feeling tired and depleted. She further explains how insulin, glucose, and glycogen work to keep carbohydrates fueling our body based on our diet and activity level. Although, when we have an access of carbohydrates it is converted to fat. In addition, the book talks on topics of sugar and its affects on inflammation, stress, and hormones. I could go on-and-on about the processes of sugar, insulin, and glycogen, but I'll save that for another post as insulin-resistance is becoming more and more well-known in our communities. But for now, I highly recommend reading this book simply to gain a pimplier scientific understanding of sugar and the body.


I love that Diane and her team have worked to create multiple support systems other than the book. If you check out  you'll find an additional quick-start guide, audio series, daily detox emails, modification guides, and the community forum and support they offer. In addition,  you can find a local 21-Day Sugar Detox coach if you feel you want more one-on-one care and advice. Since, I am knowledgable in the area of food and nutrition, eat a well-balanced diet, and decided to do the detox in late December 2016, I went the cheap route and just bought the hard-copy book (well it was actually a birthday gift). I love hard copies so I can mark-up pages and place sticky notes and tabs in my books. The book encompasses everything you get online other than the daily emails, audio series, and community support. There are over 90 recipes provided in the book, broken down by breakfast, main dishes, soups/salads/sides, snacks, and non-sweet treats (each with allergy information, ingredient and kitchen tips). Diane includes a detailed menu for each of her 3 levels, which you can choose to follow or simply pick and choose recipes and/or foods based on the "yes/no food list" provided for each level (this is what I chose to do). I found the "yes/no food list" difficult to find at first and would have preferred this was placed before the menu for each level. Based on the quiz participants are encouraged to take, I decided to do level 3 of the detox with adding the energy modifications because I am fairly active and do CrossFit workouts 3-5 times per week. I would highly recommend anyone who is new to Paleo or preparing real, wholesome foods do level 1 first and then advance to level 2 if you choose to do another sugar detox.

To date, I have completed my third day of the detox, and thus far I have not seen any big milestones in energy level or body composition, but it is too early to tell from my perspective! I feel that I have the same amount of energy, have not experienced any headaches (often common with a detox), and have really only found myself hungry on two occurrences (usually around 3-4pm). I typically wake up at 4:50 am and sometimes find myself hungry during my fasted workout, but this has not happened yet. Because I am doing the energy modifications in order to maintain my stamina during my workouts and recovery, I plan to consume between 100-160 grams of carbohydrate a day but will try my best to obtain this from starchy vegetables. Towards the end of the book Diane lists some helpful information about how to find your carbohydrate needs and also includes a chart of starchy carbohydrate vegetables, with nutrient profiles, for those doing the energy modifications of the detox. I found this super helpful, as I did not realize I could eat sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and squashes to reach my carbohydrate goal (this was not made clear to me in the book as I missed it the first two times I read the restrictions). Once I realized this, all hesitations resided! Although, an area of interest to me is the types of fruit recommended during the 21-Day Sugar Detox. On this detox you are only allowed to eat 1 piece of fruit per day (other than lemons and limes) BUT it must be either a grapefruit, green apple, or green-tipped banana (not quite ripe). I find this interesting because 100 grams of raspberries has less carbohydrate and sugar than 100 grams of green apples or banana, and the same goes for blackberries. I am going to dig a little deeper to investigate why berries are eliminated from this detox. I am definitely going to miss them!

Admittedly, the 21-Day Detox program is making me think a lot about how many carbohydrates (and sugar) are in the vegetables and fruits I normally consume within a week. This program is opening my eyes to new recipes and cooking vegetables I am not as comfortable with (like parsnips, rutabaga, and jicama)! 


I will check in with you all again around day 16 to let you know how I feel, what I am eating (including any recipes I like), and tell you what I am learning from the detox. I hope you check back in with me and/or do a little research about the 21-Day Sugar Detox yourself. 

Thanks for reading! If you have suggestions or questions for future blog posts please send them to; I love hearing about what interests you and receiving new ideas from my followers.

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