In our March issue, we espoused the health and weight-loss benefits of going against the golden mean when it comes to dieting and found that eliminating certain ingredients altogether may be the secret to staying slim. Here at Details, we practice what we preach, so we took it one step further and asked our staffers to nix either gluten, soy, sugar, eggs, dairy, or corn for a full month. Three people signed up to quit sugar, two people eschewed dairy, and one brave lady went gluten-free.
It was a rough month, with our intrepid dieters struggling to stick to their guns while non-participants took turns playing both cheerleader and tormentor (fresh-baked cookies were quite literally dangled in front of one poor dieter's face). We asked each eliminator to log the ups and downs of doing without his or her ingredient of choice. Here, a quick dose of how they coped, what they learned, and how far they (sometimes) fell.
Name, title: Nojan Aminosharei, entertainment editor
Elimination challenge: Sugar, including artificial sweeteners, honey, and agave. Fresh fruit (and all the natural sugar therein) allowed and encouraged!
My favorite off-limits food: Burgers—big, sloppy, everything-on-it burgers.
How I prepared: I didn't. I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.
The most challenging part: There's sugar in white rice, processed bread, granola, milk, concentrated fruit juices, and virtually every sauce, dressing, and mixer for your potent potables. The challenge wasn't avoiding the spread at a friend's candy-themed birthday party (Day 9), turning away the ribs at a Brooklyn BBQ (Day 17), or sticking to yogurt and fruit at brunch (Days 2, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23…I ate a lot of eggs Benedict)—it was staying vigilant enough to avoid sugar hidden in some less-than-obvious places.
For almost two weeks, I bet safe and subsisted only on chicken and greens, but after a gagging fit, I decided to finally read the primer our health editors gave us on safe foods for even the most rigorous of elimination diets. A sampling of my go-tos: protein with brown rice, salads with olive oil and vinegar, veggies with hummus, salsa, or guacamole, and a shake of cinnamon in my coffee.
The most surprising part: You guys, fruit is delicious! Not sure if you knew, so heads up. A cup of fresh fruit every afternoon not only satiated my sweet tooth but became an anticipated treat.
I admit it, I slipped up: I did! I slipped! I slipped and fell off the wagon, and then the wagon ran me over. I ate sugary-sweet wedding cake at a viewing party for the finale of The Bachelor on Day 11—the cake is the least humiliating part of that admission. I had two spoonfuls of chocolate mousse at a friend's birthday dinner (Day 21) because I didn't want to be that guy at the table. And I totally ate my feelings at a friend's going-away party (Day 22) and during the following hungover breakfast run (Day 23). Also, I ate six jalapeno poppers (Day 28) because NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
What I learned: To quote Seinfeld's Elaine Benes, who once boycotted her coworkers' copious cake-laden office parties, "I didn't realize how hooked I got on that four-o'clock sugar rush."
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: I'm going to keep my sugar intake as low as I can manage. Banishing sugar actually resulted in greater and more consistent energy in the long run (after a serious blood-sugar crash on Day 6), clearer skin, and a more balanced (and surprisingly satisfying) diet. Not to mention that the times I slipped up never quiet seemed worth it. An Easter binge at the end of the month resulted in breakouts, sluggishness, and an intense guilt that I thought only my mother could instill in me. Lesson learned.
Name, title: Nathalie Kirsheh, design director
Elimination challenge: Sugar (the toughest, methinks!)
My favorite off-limits food: The treats that show up in the office.
How I prepared: A few days prior, I weaned myself off the stuff and mentally prepared for the challenges I might face along the way.
The most challenging part: As a lover of tea, I missed adding sugar to the three or four cups I drink a day.
The most surprising part: I had no idea there were sugars in just about everything we consume. Rice, people? Who knew.
I admit it, I slipped up: I ate birthday cake on Day 23, but come on, we're not counting that one, right?
What I learned: I constantly need to snack (smart) in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: I've actually decided to continue with the elimination of sugar—albeit not as strictly—since I felt so good doing it and ended up dropping five pounds in those 30 days.
Name, title: Ivy Tan, online producer
Elimination challenge: Sugar
My favorite off-limits foods: Cannoli and cupcakes.
How I prepared: I had two milkshakes, a Crumbs cannoli cupcake, a McDonald's apple pie, a sweet-ricotta tart from my favorite bakery, and shrimp marinara linguine—all on the day before the diet officially began. Then, and only then, was I prepared.
The most challenging part: Lunch. When 12:30 came, I had no idea what to eat. I'm really picky about my food, and when I find something I like, I tend to eat a lot of it until I eventually get sick of it. I had to find alternatives and ended up eating a ton of cashews and kale.
The most surprising part: I got used to drinking unsweetened coffee after the first day, which surprised me, and I discovered Kellogg's Special K Cracker Chips (get 'em with sea salt) to appease my mid-afternoon cravings. I felt low on energy for the first two weeks, but I bounced back in Week 3, and by the final week my skin looked radiant.
I admit it, I slipped up: I had two slices of my own birthday cake, if that even counts as slipping.
What I learned: I don't usually read nurition labels, so it blew my mind that sugar was in so many different foods.
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: I plan to take small steps, starting with forgoing sugar in my coffee, and I want to be more open to trying new things—not just eating only what I want.
Name, title: Jon Roth, editorial assistant
Elimination challenge: Dairy
My favorite off-limits food: Papa John's Tuscan Six-Cheese Pizza
How I prepared: Much like quitting smoking, I had psyched myself out so much in advance that I didn't even crave dairy during my last supper. I immediately emptied my fridge of whole milk, cream cheese, butter, Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Technically that all stayed in my fridge—it just went to the areas designated for my roommates, the lucky dogs.
The most challenging part: I may be a dairy freak, but I'm really ruled by my sweet tooth. Cutting out baked goods was pretty torturous, though I found some loopholes (see below). I also had to learn how to navigate the Condé Nast cafeteria all over again. Burgers seemed pointless sans cheese, and a lot of the sushi options include a spicy, creamy sauce that I'm sure was off-limits. I spent a lot of time crying by the salad bar and carb-bingeing.
I hate requesting substitutions (or even asking about ingredients) while eating out. Luckily, I have friends who are much more outspoken (and weirdly invested in my diet), so they were good enough to check for me a lot of times.
The most surprising part: Cutting dairy was supposed to improve my complexion and help facilitate weight loss. In reality, I actually broke out more. Some called this detox, but I think it was the result of nondairy stress. I didn't weigh myself, but speaking as someone who consumes at least four large pizzas per month, I must have lost a bit. I hope.
Also: all the label reading. The number of food products that have replaced dairy with oils and other chemicals is pretty astounding. I was able to make boxed Betty Crocker brownies with canned buttercream icing, and there was not an ounce of dairy to be had. (Really, check the ingredients.) In the moment, I was grateful, but I'm more skeptical of my groceries now. On the flip side, almond milk and olive-oil margarine were A+ supplements for whole milk and salted butter.
I admit it, I slipped up: First slip-up: Absinthe and chocolate bon-bons after a night of drinking. Like you could blame me. Second slip-up: a Big Mac (with cheese and Special Sauce) after a late night at the office. My roommate suggested the cheese was probably fake to begin with.
What I learned: There are options besides burgers, pizzas, and deli sandwiches. I ended up cooking a lot of stir-fries and relying on Asian food to get me through.
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: My long tango with Papa John's isn't quite over, (I'm one pizza away from a free extra-large!), but I'm definitely cutting back there. Since almond milk is just as tasty as whole (and contains more calcium), I may keep that on my shopping list, too.
Name, title: Gina Maniscalco, senior designer
Elimination challenge: Dairy
My favorite off-limits food: Cheese, cheese, and cheese.
How I prepared: I ate all the dairy in the house the weekend before I started. No, but seriously, I did indulge a little more than I should have, with some cheeseburgers and a big ol' cheese plate.
The most challenging part: At first is was forgetting that there's dairy in chocolate. Whoops. But really, once I got started, I didn't find it hard at all during the week. The weekends, however…
The most surprising part: My body really didn't miss dairy, and I felt a million times better—even my skin cleared up! I've had horrible acne for years and have read about giving up dairy, but my skin cleared up more than it has in months. Eliminating dairy worked better than all the topical meds I've recently been trying out.
I admit it, I slipped up: Keeping to the diet on the weekends and special occasions was much harder. When my boyfriend's parents made eggplant parmesan, I tried to skip over it and got yelled at by his mother, so I caved (she didn't really have to twist my arm that hard). But going to New Orleans for a week hurt bad.
What I learned: Eating cheese should not be a daily thing for me; it's just taken me a long time to come to terms with that.
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: No more milk in my coffee, ever! I want to opt out of cheese and dairy on a regular basis. I've been finding it much easier to turn dairy down now, and I'm more aware of how I'll feel if I do eat it. Also I am so thrilled to finally have some control over my skin. That alone would be a reason to continue.
Name, title: Dayna Clark, assistant to the editor-in-chief
Elimination challenge: Gluten
My favorite off-limits foods: Potatoes and ice cream.
How I prepared: I ate pizza the entire weekend before I started—it's probably my favorite food. I also did some serious grocery shopping that Sunday to make sure I was ready.
The most challenging part: Snacks, dessert, and eating on the run. If I didn't prep my breakfast before leaving for work in the morning, it was hard to find a good gluten-free option.
The most surprising part: With a little planning, it actually wasn't that hard. Everyone I talked to kept saying, "Gluten is in everything!" But I didn't have a problem finding things I liked to eat, even when I ate out. So many restaurants now have gluten-free options.
I admit it, I slipped up: I definitely slipped…more than once. After a few weeks, I started resenting ordering salads every time I ate out while my boyfriend had pasta and burgers. It was incredibly hard to stay true to the diet after I cheated, though. There's something motivating about having a perfect record.
What I learned: I don't eat for fuel; I eat for fun. I still have the mind-set of a 10-year-old when it comes to eating, and healthy eating is not fun. I just want to eat pizza and candy all the time.
Changes I'll make to my regular diet: I think I can commit to a gluten-free week once a month. I felt 10 pounds lighter when I went gluten-free for days at a time, and I liked not having that gross I'm-so-full feeling at the end of my meals.