My Slim-Down, Get-Glowing Detox

I knew I needed a change when I hopped on the scale a week after Thanksgiving and the number flashed higher than it had ever been. Granted, it was a few days after I had two Thanksgiving dinners in less than 24 hours, but the persistent tightness of my clothing and my general sluggishness suggested that the extra pounds were more than just a few big dinners. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror after a shower one night, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t possibly be pregnant … right?’ Nope. My food baby had just become a permanent fixture.

Enter The Detox Diet. My eyes light up any time someone even mentions the word “detox.” The idea of cleaning out my body and ridding it of all those nasty toxins (pesticides, pollution, junk food) is just too appealing for me to turn down, so I have some experience when it comes to extreme (and, all right, sometimes wacky) dieting measures.

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My Starting Point

gutbliss-01_01 Like I said, I’m currently at the heaviest I’ve ever been. While my BMI is well within a “normal” range, I just don’t feel … right, regardless of if a number says I’m normal or not. Since I believe my health is highly in tune with my intuition, I know I need to do something about that “not right” feeling. Here are my starting stats:

Height: 5’6″

Weight: 135

Energy Level: Extremely low in the early morning, with highs between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., a low between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and a certain crash (i.e., I’m drooling on myself) by 11:30 p.m.

Skin: Relatively clear, but with consistent hormonal (at least, that’s what I’m chalking it up to) breakouts on my chin for the past couple of months.

After a phone call with Dr. Chutkan, who is like my animated, slightly sassy, super intelligent new BFF who talked me through all of my concerns (“What will I do without cheese?”), gave me a few pieces of sage wisdom (“Nothing good happens at Starbucks”), explained why Greek yogurt is the devil (!) and told me how a sense of girl power inspired this book (more on that later). I feel motivated to give this diet a real shot.

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My Challenge The Problem

Contributing to my recent weight gain is perhaps the fact that my kitchen is currently under construction. After starting demolition about a month ago, complications (read: termite damage) arose and the renovation has been put on hold for at least another two months. What’s a girl who can’t eat in to do? Eat out. Here’s what a typical day looks like:

Breakfast: Coffee. That’s it. I’m usually not hungry in the morning.

Lunch: I zap a frozen meal in the microwave. My go-to is Amy’s Kitchen, known for being the healthiest of the frozen food options — which is probably like being the smartest idiot, but it’s quick and sort of tasty, and the “dairy and gluten-free” claims make me feel smart about my choices.

Afternoon Snack: Around 3 p.m., I start rooting around the office kitchen for a pick-me-up. I usually decide on a red Tootsie Pop to satisfy my sugar craving. And sometimes a handful of these delicious peanut-butter-filled pretzels they keep in there. (Yes, they’re as amazing as they sound.) And occasionally a handful of trail mix. You know, for the fiber. (And the M&Ms. Mainly the M&Ms).

Dinner: After getting home and looking into the cold, dark cavern that is currently my kitchen, I usually walk down the street to the local pizza joint, where I order an overpriced vegetable pizza, or to the vegan Thai restaurant, where I order grilled dumplings and yellow vegetable curry with tofu. Since no dinner is complete without sweets, occasionally I get a fro-yo.

So … Why Am I

gutbliss-03Going on a Gut Diet? Wondering what a girl with zero intestinal symptoms and troublesome acne doing on a diet plan for people with digestive problems? Though “Gutbliss” is touted as a diet plan for those who are experiencing gastrointestinal problems like bloating, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, those aren’t its only benefits. Chutkan says there’s a strong connection between our skin and our gut. What’s going on in our intestines, she says, gets reflected in our complexion — and vice versa.

“Everything you eat shows up on your skin,” says Chutkan. “In addition to causing bloating, food allergies and food intolerances can lead to dark circles under your eyes, blemishes, rashes, and a puffy, swollen appearance. Likewise, your intestines can be thought of as the innermost layer of your skin, since much of what you put on your skin eventually gets absorbed.”

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The Rules

While Chutkan provides a specific 10-day plan (with recipes!) in her book, she is the first to say that short diet plans are not what attaining “Gutbliss” is about.

“I don’t endorse any particular way to eat, other than increasing things that are good for you and decreasing things that aren’t, cooking most of your food yourself, as well as trying to be an ethical consumer,” she explains.

Since I’ve never been the structured type, this is good news. Here, the rules of Gutbliss:

Don’t Count Calories: … or other nutrition facts. “Forget how many grams of protein something has and think about whether the food you’re eating is helping you or harming you, whether it’s just filler that’s not making a difference either way, or whether it’s even food at all.”

So … I can have as much food as I want? For a girl who has done her share of food-restricting diets and food-banning juice cleanses, this sounds like a 10-day walk in the park — during which I’m shoving tons of food in my face.

Eat Real Food: “Food is something that’s picked off a tree; plucked from a bush; dug up from the earth; caught in a river, lake, or ocean; or slaughtered so we can eat,” writes Chutkan in her book. While we’re surrounded by plenty of things to eat, none of it is actually food — rather, she says, they’re “edible, food-like substances with expiration dates that stretch on for years and ingredients you’ve never heard of.” After checking out the ingredient list on my “all-natural” fruit pieces, which includes the chemicals citric acid and sodium citrate, I’m left wondering how much of what I’m consuming is actual food.

My Plan

gutbliss-05Since I’m out a kitchen and I’m a vegetarian, I talked to Dr. Chutkan beforehand about how to alter the plan for my needs. Her recommendation: that I eat lots of raw fruits and vegetables, and mainly lots and lots of greens.

I plan on sticking to a pretty simple, no-cook diet. I stock up on vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, arugula, beets (pre-cooked), and fruits like grapes, bananas, apple, and pears. I also buy some lentils to give some substance to my meal.

My New Normal

gutbliss-06Gone are the microwavable meals, cheese plates, and blissful dairy desserts of last week. While I’m on this plan, here’s a typical day:

Breakfast: Herbal tea and a banana with a tablespoon of almond butter

Snack: Carrots and hummus

Lunch: A big arugula salad, topped with warm beets and pine nuts

Snack: Bell peppers and hummus

Dinner: I order the “I am Humble” from the vegan-friendly celeb hotspot called Café Gratitude. The description: Indian curried lentils over local brown rice or quinoa with oven-roasted Garnet yams and sautéed spinach drizzled with a spicy mint chutney and sweet tamarind sauce. Finished with chopped scallion. It’s delicious, filling and so appetizing (and smugly healthy) that I just have to Instagram it. So much for that “humble” affirmation.

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Observations The Good:

Half way through and I’ve lost three pounds. I’ve also noticed that my skin is clearer than it’s been in months. It’s a stark difference from what I usually experience around this time of the month, and my whole face feels less puffy and inflamed. This alone might be enough to make me stay away from SAD GAS forever, but there are a few other benefits as well. Since I’m officially off sugar, I’m not experiencing mood and energy swings. When 3 p.m. rolls around, I am missing my uppers, but then I also don’t have to deal with the sometimes anxiety-inducing effect of coming off of a sugar high.

The Bad:

I really, really miss cheese. Gnawing on carrots is making my teeth hurt. I miss the bubbles in my water (Dr. Chutkan advises giving up all carbonation, since they make you bloated) and the sugar and cream in my coffee.

The Ugly:

An observation that is ugly and glorious all at once: the bowel movement benefits of this plan are something to write home about. They’re not, however, something you want to write about and have your name tied to forever on the internet, so I’ll leave it at this: The “light, tight and bright,” tagline of this plan is spot on. My body feels lighter and more “cleansed” than it has in recent memory.

Temptations Everywhere

gutbliss-08I’m lucky enough to work in an office where we’re provided with free carbonated beverages. Fruit snacks, chips, and candy are also plentiful. I’m talking entire bags of Skittles, people. The 10-year-old in me has a really hard time looking at a bag of Cheetos (which we also have here) and not eating just a few. While on the plan, here’s what kept me focused on not cheating:

1. Everyone knew I was dieting.
Everyone in the office is aware that I’m seeking “Gutbliss,” so if I were to try to sneak even a Tootsie Roll, they’d definitely call me out. While this is kind of annoying, it’s keeping me honest.

2. I don’t have any junk in my pantry. I don’t even have a pantry.
Once I get home, it’s pretty easy to stick to my diet, since I don’t have anything I can just snack on mindlessly. If you’re not going through a kitchen renovation while on this plan, I recommend removing all of those SAD GAS items from your stock — that way, you won’t be tempted to indulge when you’re hungry.

3. Keeping alternative snacks on standby.
Pine nuts are my new indulgence. I keep them, and some clementines, with me at all times to satisfy any cravings I might have.

And Then I Cheated.

gutbliss-09Confession time: I had a moment (okay, a few hours) of weakness. On day six, I suddenly felt the need to consume pizza. Before I could change my mind, I walked down to my old neighborhood joint and ordered a pizza. In my defense, it was a kale and spinach pizza — basically a salad on top of bread, right? The worst part: It wasn’t even good. Afterward, feeling bad, but unable to stop myself, I fueled my guilt by downing some coconut ice cream (which is allowed!) and a vegan pastry (which has soy, so it’s not allowed.) While wallowing in self-pity, I remembered something Chutkan said:

“Most of us are ‘toxing’ 80 percent of the time and detoxing 20 percent of the time. And we should really think about flipping that [so that we’re] detoxing 80 percent of the time.”

I chalk my caving up to my 20 percent and vow to tack another day on to the initial 10.

The Hardest Part

gutbliss-10The hardest part of this plan hasn’t been giving up my beloved sweets or nixing my daily dairy. It hasn’t even been resisting all of the holiday goodies that are coming into the office. It’s been making myself work out.

Did I forget to mention this part of the “Gutbliss” detox?

“Move. Get sweaty as often as you can, ideally at least three times a week.”

Not only does sweating help with your digestion, Chutkan says, it also increases blood flow to the skin, which is where you skin picks up nutrients (vital for a healthy glow). Exercise also boosts feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphin while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, it’s a way to feel really, really great about everything.

The first five days of the plan, I convinced myself it was way too cold to go to the gym. (For a Florida-born California girl, 50 degrees is cold.) By the sixth day, I couldn’t ignore Dr. Chutkan’s advice any longer. I get myself to the gym (it’s in the same office park as our building, so I have NO excuse) and hop on the treadmill. After battling with my inner lazy girl for the first five minutes, I actually start to enjoy it. By the end of the week, I’m taking magazines (required reading when you work at a beauty company — seriously) with me to read while I huff and puff at a decent pace on an uphill incline. I’m not running marathons yet, but since I usually read magazines while lying in bed, eating ice cream, I consider it a major improvement.

My Last Day

gutbliss-11It’s the end of my “Gutbliss” diet, and I have to say, I feel skinnier than ever. I’ve realized that I depend upon fatty, carb-y food as a reward for myself, which wasn’t doing my health any favors. Once I got over the initial cravings, I started to associate the foods I used to love with the effect they have on my body. That Greek yogurt I thought was doing my probiotic count so much good? I now look at it and think of how unnatural (and, um, gross) it would be for me to suckle a cow’s udder. When I see a Tootsie Pop, I imagine the sugar 1.) rotting my teeth out of my head, and 2.) acting as food for all of the bacteria that causes inflammation — both inside and outside my body.

The office had our holiday party the day I came off the diet, and since we had to put in our meal orders about a week in advance, I chose something that I thought would make an incredible fast break: Fettuccine Alfredo. My meal hit five of the six SAD GAS items, since I had a skinny margarita with dinner.

When I got my pasta, though, I was incredibly underwhelmed. It wasn’t that it wasn’t made right — it was — or that it didn’t have enough of that cheesy sauce — it did. It just looked so bland. Over the past week and a half, I had gotten used to incredibly vibrant-looking meals. The reds of bell peppers and tomatoes, the deep purple of beets, the varying shades of greens — it all looks so lifelike when it’s on your plate. And while the first bite was pretty good, after bite number three I felt more like I was eating sponge-like sawdust than nutritious food.

The Results

gutbliss-12In the days since ending “Gutbliss,” I’m finding myself reaching for things that qualify as “food” under Dr. Chutkan’s specifications. Instead of pancakes, I’m having fruit, and instead of fries, I’m having a side of avocado. While it’s kind of annoying to eat out with me now (I order like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”), I feel so much better after all of my meals. But since I know everyone likes a good before and after, here are my official results:

Height: 5’6″ (still)

Weight: 130. I’m down five pounds, which is a lot for 11 days. In fact, I’d be concerned if I wasn’t so … um, ecstatic.

Energy Level: I eat in the mornings now, so I’m not completely famished and near fainting by lunch. This, and exercise, has made a significant difference in how I feel on an hour-by-hour basis. I still get the doldrums around 3 p.m., but I think that’s normal. Sometimes it’s hard to drag myself that extra 500 feet to the gym, but I never regret it once I’m there.

Skin: You guys, this is the best part. I have not had any breakouts since starting the diet 11 days ago. I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror. I’ve stopped feeling like I’ve been caught with my pants down when someone sees me without makeup. In fact, I’ve stopped wearing makeup. Since it’s only been 11 days, I can’t say for sure whether this will last, but my skin looks better than it has in three months. You can’t argue with that.

I know this is ending like most write ups of detox diets — “Honestly I just feel so much better and OMG I LOST FIVE POUNDS” — but I do. Listen, I wouldn’t lie to you. If this “diet” totally sucked and did nothing for me, I would go right back to eating cheese and Snickers bars. And occasionally, I probably will. But since it wasn’t really a “diet” by most standards, and instead made me really think about the food I eat, it changed the way I approach nutrition. Plus, there’s no gimmick with this diet. No $9 juices to buy, no special supplement powders to take. All this diet required of me was to switch out my overly-processed, convenient food with stuff that actually contains vitamins and nutrients. Once I got used to it, I started to crave the real stuff, which had been missing from my diet for a long time. And I really think that simple switch has done (and will continue to do) a lot for my health and skin, which is why I feel compelled to share it.

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