We Tried It: Cutting Out All Sugar, Gluten, Alcohol and Caffeine for the 28-Day Gut Makeover
See the results after PEOPLE editor Rennie Dyball followed the plan to the letter for 28 days
What It Is: The Gut Makeover is a plan to help nourish your gut, improve your health and lose weight over a 28-day period
Who Tried It: Rennie Dyball, Senior News Editor
Why We Tried It: To see how much torture I can withstand. Also: lose weight and improve my health and all that.
Level of Difficulty: 7. This is not for sissies.
As someone who’s had mild, recurring GI issues for as long as I can remember, the idea of making over my insides is appealing. And I haven’t had much luck losing the last of my baby weight.
Nutritional therapist Jeannette Hyde promises to help on both fronts — and more — in her book, The Gut Makeover, new to the U.S. as of May. In the four-week plan you cut out all gluten, sugar, dairy (certain gut-friendly dairy gets added back in the second two weeks), alcohol and caffeine to heal your gut from the damage that a typical Western diet can do.
An abundance of beige foods–rather than a ton of fruits and vegetables plus oils, nuts and healthy proteins–coupled with processed foods, artificial sweeteners, too much caffeine and too much alcohol can apparently do a number on your system. (Go figure.)
By cutting all of these things out and eating a rainbow of plants and proteins, you can restore the healthy bacteria in your gut, Hyde says, which will result in an overall healthier mind and body. Plus, most people lose 6-13 lbs. in that first month. After the 28 days, you slowly reintroduce the food groups you’d taken out, while incorporating many of the principals in the plan for the long haul. Thankfully, Hyde is not anti-gluten, as long as you don’t have a sensitivity to it. You simply take it out (along with the dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine) for the 28 days as a reset for your body.
The basic principal to remember when it comes to this plant-based plan is 5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits a day. I was lucky if I ate 5 cups of vegetables a week previously. And the more variety the better.
The Real Story:
The first few days of The Gut Makeover were rough. Really rough. Hyde suggests phasing out caffeine slowly over the course of a week before you start. So my caffeine withdrawal headaches were, thankfully, pretty minimal, but the fatigue was not. We are talking fight-to-stay-awake-past-4-p.m. tired. And the brain fog that accompanied it was intense. I’d park my car at Whole Foods, where they now know me by name, and not only forget where I’d parked but have no recollection of even driving there! Totally bizarre.
It was only a few days, however, before I started to notice a change. For someone who depended on Lean Pockets and microwave pizzas in a pinch (okay, more like multiple times a week), the idea of cooking from scratch daily was daunting. How is this possible with two small children and a full time job? It was not easy, which leads me to …
Because I’m pressed for time, I often bought the pre-cut fruits and vegetables at the grocery store to save time on prep. This was not easy on the wallet, to say the least. Neither was what came next.
Making myself three meals a day, every day, quickly became impossible for me, but I have a salad place just down the street with every vegetable you can imagine, plus proteins, for $9 a piece. Not cheap, but still key when you’re pressed for time. I also learned to love sashimi while on the plan and picked that up for dinner when I couldn’t cook.
As Hyde notes in the book, this is not a plan you can do at 80 percent and expect to see results. You have to follow it as close to the letter as possible, implementing new habits — like following a strict 12-hour fast between your last evening meal and breakfast the following morning. I followed the plan like a good little soldier in every way but one … snacking. I asked the author why her plan seems to contradict the prevalent thinking that people should eat several small meals a day.
“The latest science seems to have turned much of that on its head and it was hard for even me to accept what the new research was showing,” Hyde told PEOPLE. “Having gaps between meals gives the gut bacteria a chance to repopulate, so the 12-hour overnight gap is the most important one to implement if you want to eat heartily and lose weight.”
“A gap of 12 hours or more creates a healthier microbiome (more diverse and lots of healthy varieties growing) that then means you extract less calories from your diet overall.”
Cannot argue with that!
Hyde said that it’s more important to keep the 12-hour overnight fast than to skip snacking entirely. I didn’t always snack, and when I did I made better choices. Previously I’d go for popcorn and a yogurt or a Kind bar, but I’ve swapped those for an apple with almond butter or a big handful of mixed nuts and I feel even more satisfied. And I don’t think the healthy snacks when I needed them hurt me too much because …
I lost exactly 10 pounds in 28 days! And not to sound like an infomercial or anything, but I was truly never hungry. It was the first time, maybe in my life, that I ate real food, and an abundance of it, every single meal, every single day. My GI symptoms all but disappeared, too.
I will say I missed coffee every day (sometimes every hour of every day) on The Gut Makeover. The taste, the caffeine boost, even just the ritual of it was something I came to realize was actually an important part of my day. But after this experiment, I’ve learned to be more mindful about it. Coffee in moderation is okay, but the author says that many of us need to rein in our addiction.
On my first day off the plan, I was delighted to find that just a half-caf iced coffee did the trick and, for the first time in my adult life, I didn’t need any sugar in my morning drink. Just a little milk, which was also nice to have again. Even more shocking: I ate the same way, voluntarily, off the plan as I did on it.
I’ve learned to love eating a lot of vegetables, words I never thoughts I’d type, and picked up on great new ways to prepare them, too. The Gut Makeover includes recipes but I also found myself going to friends and websites for new recipes and tweaks.
And while my love affair with coffee never wavered, I did not miss alcohol or sugar — at all — after the first few days. I was as shocked as you are.
At the end of the day, I’d call this plan a huge success: Significant weight loss, healthy habits to carry forward, less dependency on sugar and caffeine and reduced cravings. Plus, there’s an overall feeling of well-being that I’m now fueling my body with better stuff for it. I’m a vegetable convert now, and proud of it.