Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Junk Free January - Recap and Where to Now?

Today is the last official day of Junk Free January, an international project in which 318 hardy souls gave up gluten, sugar and industrial oils for the month of January.

There were also another 772 slightly less hardy souls that did some version of Junk Free January, for example, giving up gluten and oil but not sugar.

In this post, I'll discuss exactly what was involved, how it went, what I had to change, what I could have done better, my results and what's next.

What did it involve?

Junk Free January was an invention of Matt Lentzner. I don't know much about him, except that writes some interesting articles for RobbWolf.com (like this one: The Porn You Eat) and that Dr. Stephan Guyenet of  The Whole Health Source blog thinks he's ok.  Stephan tends to have a highly tuned BS-ometer, therefore when he suggested Junk Free Jan as a good start to the year, I agreed and signed my life away.

In the 'triple threat' group, we avoided three ubiquitous modern food components:

Gluten: This is a protein, also called gliadin, found primarily in wheat but also some other grains. A post of gluten is forthcoming, but one of the reasons it was included is that last years project 'Gluten Free Jan' showed that most people have more energy when they avoid it, even if they are not officially allergic.

Sugar:  The idea was to avoid fructose. As fructose is half of sucrose, this automatically excluded table sugar. Keeping fructose levels low involved restricting fruit and avoiding dried fruit and fruit juice, which are concentrated sources of it. I handled this by immediately starting a My Daily Banana ritual, which (to me) had an element of fun to it. I discussed fructose a bit in This Post.

Industrial Oils:  The 'vegetable' (usually canola or soy) and seed oils that are in common use today are high in Omega 6. There is some evidence (which I really need to delve into soon), that an excess of Omega 6 in the diet is detrimental to human health, particularly as regards inflammation. The term 'inflammation' is, to many people, hard to grasp the meaning of. Usually it is used to describe a hormonal event involving inflammatory prostaglandins that contributes to all sorts of inflammation - for example, atherosclerotic changes (hardening arteries), arthritis, psoriasis, acne, allergies, water retention and a bunch of other bodily problems.

How it went

I am proud (and somewhat surprised) to report almost complete compliance. There were maybe three meals where I was at someone else's house for dinner and decided to deviate. At one meal I had bread and icecream and at the others there 'may' have been vegetable oil used in the cooking. I'm not going to fret about three meals out of ~124.

What I had to change

Sugar was the major change - the other two 'threats' were already more or less under control. It was a challenge finding a replacement for my habitual mid-afternoon snack of fruit or dried fruit and chocolate. In This Post, I discovered that my usual emergency snack - a Lara Bar - wasn't going to cut it. I also avoided eating out as much as possible and gave up my traditional Foodie Friday indulgences.  In the first few days, I was a bit confused as to what to eat and probably under ate. I started to get low-blood sugar symptoms - low energy and dizziness. At that point I started including foods that are usually peripheral to my diet, such as dairy, grains and nuts. I thought I'd balloon like a ..erm.. balloon when I started eating Buckwheat Pancakes on an almost daily basis, but it didn't happen.


Industrial oils really are everywhere, even in places where I know they weren't before. My favourite hommus and pesto used to be made with olive oil, and I'm sure of this because I scoured the city for them last year. In double checking for Junk Free January compliance, I found that these two products are now made with sunflower oil instead.  'Vegetable oil' is an ingredient in nearly all rice breads and crackers too.  I was so happy to find this fella:

Dovedale Bread

You have to stay on it with pre-made food. I've even noticed a trend toward adding safflower oil to almond butter.  Grrrr. I think they are really trying to enrage me with that one.

Sugar hides in funny places also: stock cubes, rice crackers, bread, dressings..

What I could have done better

Alcohol and caffeine. Although I made a half-hearted attempt at moderation in the first two weeks, really, consumption of these was more than I would have liked and probably affected my results. Neither were specifically forbidden on Junk Free January and.. well, I indulged. I'd say 4-5 espresso's a day and about 7 glasses of wine a week. More about that in a minute.


Weight. First some context. For the last two years my weight has been between 58 and 59.5kg, usually in the mid 58's and hardly ever dipping into the 57's for more than a day or two. Within 10 days of starting Junk Free Jan I was 57kg and this morning I was 57.9. The few times I got on the scales showed numbers in the mid 57's, except for that crazy Scale Scare. So that's a moderate scale loss (say 1kg or a couple of lb's), but personally significant as I was not trying to restrict calories.

Apart from that I've noticed four significant effects:

Energy. Last week I suddenly felt more energetic and like my workouts could step it up a notch.  I think this effect would have been more noticeable if I wasn't so dependent on coffee....

Sleep. I've struggled with insomnia all my life, but this regime saw me getting some great sleeps and appropriate pre-bed tiredness (rather than nighttime hyper-energy, which is what usually happens). This effect was less noticeable on days I drank alcohol.

Appetite. Greatly reduced and not a single overeating episode. I don't really binge anymore, but it would be usual for me to overeat once or twice a month. A few days after starting Junk Free Jan my urge to eat dropped off dramatically and it is still like that. You might say I feel completely in control of whether I eat or not and have several times just forgotten to eat until my stomach was yelling for attention. This is VERY weird, but I like it. 

PMT. Absolutely none. No grumps, no water retention, nothing. Usually I get 'the rage' but, this month, nah.

Where to now?

I imagined that at the end of Junk Free Jan, I'd be ready to crack out the door and murder a Death by Chocolate, but no.  I am enjoying this new lack of urgency toward food and am keen to continue this way of eating, but in a more relaxed fashion (Foodie Fridays, welcome back!). I am also interested to see how good I could feel with this eating plan plus less caffeine dependence and an even more moderate alcohol intake, so I'll be working on that over the next few months. Cold turkey?  uh, noooo... I have a business to run here and want to keep my friends :D

How was your January? Are you making progress on your health and fitness goals? What do you need to do better?


  1. Gosh Sara, I've been so busy I forgot it was the end of January, but I like the concept. No Fructose February maybe???

    1. I hear ya on 'where the hell did January go??'. I think Feb is just going to be 'keep my sanity, Feb'. I've got the fam arriving from overseas, my man's 40th, grandma's 80th, another friends 40th, moving my mum's house AND The Beer Festival. :-/ Oh, and uni starts for the year.

    2. And one of my nephews 1st birthday. It really is all go.

  2. Hi Sara, I'm in the tripple threat set too and noticed the better sleep. No idea why that is. Unlike you, I am in for beer and pizza tonight. I think it's gonna be 'Free Reign Feb'


I love to hear from you! Tell me what's in your brain, your heart or your dinner plate :D.