Reflections on the Daniel Plan 10-Day Detox

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Over Christmas, my lovely wife spent some time talking with her sister and found that said sister was interested in looking into something called “The Daniel Plan“.  I had seen this book pop up in some of my research for Sunday School material, though hand’t really been excited by it.  I did like its emphasis on food and fitness for health and well-being, but kinda thought the “faith”, “friends” and “focus” bits to just be gimmicky and to appeal to a Christian audience.

After talking things over with her mother and sister, my wife was excited to try this eating plan out.  About 11 years ago, we used the South Beach Diet to lose a lot of weight (at least I lost a lot of weight) and changed our eating habits permanently.  My wife was hoping for something similar here.

What the Daniel Plan champions is a pretty straightforward and almost self-evident plan of eating: lots of vegetables, lean proteins, fruits and water.  It advises a dramatic reduction in grains, dairy, sugar and caffeine.  In other words, cookies, ice cream and soda are bad for you.  But the plan doesn’t just say that they will make you weigh more, but also claims that they make you feel bad. Everything from pimples to cancer is (apparently) caused by the bad dietetic choices Americans make.  Since my wife has read more of the book than I have, I can’t say authoritatively that these claims aren’t substantiated by peer-reviewed science because I haven’t looked in the back of the book for the citations.  Considering these statements are being made by medical doctors, they should be citing these sources.

In order to help people understand how bad they feel and to test for low-grade food allergies, the plan advocates a 10-day detox period.  During this time, you cut out everything bad.  Zero gluten, zero dairy, zero caffeine and as little added sugar as possible.  The point: To eliminate anything from your body that might be negatively affecting your health.  The claim: You will feel better.  Even people like me, who didn’t feel bad to begin with, are supposed to be surprised by how much better they feel. Their analogy is that if you’ve always had an elephant standing on your foot, how do you know it won’t feel better without that elephant?

The Food
The food is a lot of beans, fish, nuts, eggs and chicken for protein, brown rice and quinoa for grains, lots of veggies and lots of water.  This has been particularly hard for me, as I am not a big fan of fish and really hate beans.  I struggled through a lot of meals that I wouldn’t normally eat and can safely say I am not any more a fan of them now than I was before.  Some of the recipes from the book were surprisingly good, some were underwhelming (Thai-inspired tempeh stuff, I’m looking at you) and some were just terrible (garlicky white bean dip, you’re up).

The Feel
I spent pretty much all 10 days feeling terrible.  I got headaches, some which were caffeine withdrawal and some that weren’t.  I was exhausted ALL. THE. TIME.  I almost always take the stairs up to my 5th floor office, but found myself struggling by the 3rd floor.  If I didn’t get a nap in the middle of the day, I feel asleep instantly when I got in bed.  If I did manage to get in a nap, I would be awake far longer than usual.  I played hockey once and ran on the treadmill once during those 10 days and simply did not have the energy for anything else.  During the second 5 days, I did increase the number of calories I was ingesting, mainly through drinking various Naked Smoothies.  (Say what you want to about those things — they saved me during these last few days).  My wife said she had fewer headaches and that even her teeth felt less “fuzzy” at the end of the day.  My experience was the opposite: fuzzier teeth and more headaches.  Her relatives all reported feeling very cold, but I’m always cold so I can’t chime in on that.  I can tell from the way my clothes feel that I lost some weight, though I deliberately did not weigh myself prior to beginning, so I cannot precisely say how much.  In short, I got all the bad stuff they predicted (headaches, sleepiness, lack of energy) and none of the “feeling better”.

The Other Stuff
When I read some reviews of the book, they often made reference to the Biblical Daniel for whom the book is named.  It is crucial to understand several things (which most reviewers missed).  First, Scripture records that Daniel said, “Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.”  This plan is not a “vegetables and water” diet.  The offerings are far richer than that.  (In the KJV, the word rendered “vegetables” is recorded as “pulses”, which seems to have been some bean-type plant.  This is closer, but still not exactly how the Detox works.)  Reviewers often follow this up with, “and this plan made Daniel and his friends gain weight — gotcha there!”  But the Daniel Plan isn’t about weight loss so much as about healthy eating.  A healthier diet is almost certain to cause some people to lose weight, but some people might not lose a single pound.

For the other F’s, the experience has been pretty “meh”.  I think the faith thing is just tacked on and it doesn’t really affect things.  The Bible clearly says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31)  I tend to think that claiming a cookie isn’t glorifying God is taking the passage too far.  And even though they’re focusing on our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, that argument only carries so much weight.  The “friends” part is a pretty dead end here.  Our closest friends are tremendous “foodies” and would never be caught dead eating quinoa and vegetables for dinner.  The fitness thing breaks down for me too.  For someone with 10 years of cycling experience, the level 1 fitness stuff is beyond a joke.  Level 2 fitness is somewhat less ridiculous.  The book just tells you to go visit the website for Level 3 plans (which were not actually very easy to find).  There seems to be a feeling that if you’re a marathoner, maybe you don’t need to be told how to eat and how to exercise.  Recently I did come to the conclusion that God made our bodies to move and that some bodies were made to move more.  The book also points out that people move in different ways, which is a big deal too.  You have to find that kind of movement that moves you, for the lack of a better phrase.

So was the detox worth it?  For me, not even a little bit.  It was 10 days of eating food I don’t like in order to find out that I have no sensitivities to foods and any health problems I am having (which are indeed few) are not related to my diet.  Is a good reminder to eat more veggies and less ice cream good?  Yeah.  In the last few days, we’ve been transitioning from the detox plan to the Core Plan, which includes dairy and gluten (if the detox didn’t eliminate those from your diet).  I have felt so much better.

As with all health plans, you should always check with a  doctor before beginning anything like this and your mileage may vary based on your own prior health.  But frankly, I’d look some other way before trying to be “Daniel Strong”.

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