I Stopped Eating Gluten, Dairy & Sugar for 21 Days - Here's What Happened

Tess Patrick TESS PATRICK

I like to think I lead a relatively healthy, balanced lifestyle. I drink my superfood greens in the morning and eat organic vegetables throughout the day. I’m gluten-free (cheers celiac) and I’m just coming out of 7 years of veganism. But like most, the 3 pm sugar cravings kick in and I reach for a coffee as a burst of energy. Breakfast is often on the road or at my desk, if at all, and when I’m not prepared I end up getting takeaways for lunch, much to the dismay of my credit card. So while I enjoy a salad every now and then, when I took a step back to re-examine my diet recently, I was quite shocked at what I was eating. I knew it needed a drastic overhaul, but amid fad-diets, endless recipes, and little time to spend in the kitchen, I had no clue where to begin.

I thought about visiting a dietitian, but that wasn’t attainable for me. I actually have a degree in nutrition, so then thought about creating my own meal plan. It would be fully gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, and use local, seasonal ingredients, but that was going to be too time-consuming. Later that week, it was announced that Food Matters would be launching a Clean Eating Program. It was almost like I had manifested this opportunity. And after spending weeks watching the girls whip up all of the amazing dishes in the office and wiping literal drool from my keyboard, I knew I had to be one of the first to jump on board.

I have often read that it only takes three weeks to form a habit, and after finishing the program on Sunday, I can wholeheartedly agree. I’ve got a whole new, refreshed outlook on food again, and I’m feeling the best I have all year. The program was 21-days of shopping lists, user-friendly meal plans, and incredible lessons in nutrition along the way. There are almost no words to describe the shifts I witnessed, but here’s what happened in three short weeks!

I Learnt To Love Meal Prep (& Spent Less Time Cooking)

If you’re anything like me, you will have avoided meal prep for as long as possible. I know it works great for some, but hours in the kitchen isn’t my idea of a Sunday well spent. And the idea of reheating everything in a microwave is far from appetizing. But I learned within the first few days that I couldn’t have been more wrong. My meal prep never took longer than an hour on a Sunday evening, but saved hours of my time throughout the week! It meant breakfasts were ready for when I was in a hurry, quinoa for salads didn’t need cooking, and meals never took longer than half an hour to make. As much as I love cooking, sometimes you just don’t want to get home from work and spend the rest of the evening in the kitchen. Plus, because all of the meals served two, I had lunch ready for the next day.

No More Stressing About Dinnertime

When friends and family are arguing in favor of meal delivery services or food boxes, it’s often because it takes the daily stress and worry out of dinnertime. I’ve never tried any of the big players on the market, but I think I know the feeling they’re talking about. Over the 21-days I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as the evenings came and I would remember I didn’t have to do any planning for dinner or make a quick trip to the shops on the way home. Everything was mapped out for me (thanks to a team of nutritionists) and I had already bought the right amount of ingredients at the markets earlier in the week. I could spend more time doing what I loved in the evenings, and that’s important to me.

I Actually Saved Money

Other meal plans and nutrition programs have always encouraged me to overload on expensive ingredients that I only use once or twice, which has stopped me from coming back. Yet while following the Clean Eating Program I found I actually ended up saving money! The weekly shops cost no more than my usual trip to the markets, but the $80 I normally spend each week on lunches, takeaways, and last-minute grocery needs went straight into my savings account. At this rate, having lifetime access to the program will see me saving over $4000 a year.

I Stopped Counting Calories, Am Less Bloated & Lost 2kg

Unnecessary calorie counting has always been one of my biggest downfalls. It’s hard not to get obsessed with calories in vs. calories out while disregarding the other important stuff - like the kinds of calories I’m consuming. But by trusting the program, eliminating the key irritants (gluten, dairy, sugar), and eating clean, nourishing foods, my body is happier than it’s been in years. Perhaps the program was the final push I needed to cut out the trace gluten in my foods (it made it so easy to follow) and the sneaky sugary snacks I crave in the afternoons. Either way, I’m much less bloated, have more energy to exercise throughout the day, and lost 2kg in the three weeks.

Brain Fog Subsided & My Energy Was Limitless

In refocussing my diet I’ve noticed a huge shift in the way I show up. I’m waking with more energy, which follows me into the day, and I’m more present. Long days in front of a computer screen aren’t as draining, as I’ve got the mental clarity to see them through. This is because of the healthy fats I had been eating throughout the program. Too often we eat fats from subpar sources, but there are a few options out there (like coconut and olive oils) that are wonderful for healthy brain function. As someone who has had depleted iron stores, and therefore quite low energy for extended periods of time, this shift was huge for me. It felt like I had finally taken my life back.

I Started To Love Breakfast

On the odd occasion that I have breakfast, it’s normally on the go. I know how important it is, but life often gets in the way and I never truly practice what I preach. But these 21-days were a chance to change that. All it took was 10 minutes, or sometimes a little preparation the night before I went to bed, and I noticed such a difference. I was fuller, longer throughout the day, and my energy levels remained much more consistent. Eating a nutritious breakfast meant I spent less time throughout the day reaching for unhealthy snacks or starving until lunchtime.

My Digestive Issues & Reflux Calmed

For nearly two years, I’ve been struggling with digestive issues. The reflux-like symptoms go up and down in their severity, but they’re almost always present. I’ve tried different medical practitioners, different cleansing protocols, and nothing has addressed it - until I began to clean up my diet. Limiting triggers like caffeine and alcohol definitely helped, but the plates rich in nourishing, healing foods, mean I have now gone days without a flare - something I never would have imagined a month ago.

I Tried New Foods & Regained Cooking Confidence

I have a tendency to write foods off before I’ve even tried them, or if I haven’t enjoyed a food once, I can hold a bit of a grudge. But these last three weeks pushed me out of my comfort zone when it came to ingredients. Take celery, for instance. I can’t think of any other food I’ve disliked so much. But after making the Asian Style Green Crepes, my eyes were opened to a new, celery-filled world. It’s easy to fall into a routine of the same 4-5 meals each week, but over the 21-days I never ate the same thing twice. The recipes were easy enough to follow but challenged me enough to help me rebuild some confidence in the kitchen.

I Discovered New Recipes For Busy Days Or Unexpected Guests

My kitchen shelves are stacked with recipe books, but I often stick to my tried-and-true. By following the program, each day I discovered at least one (often two) new recipes, and they all tasted insanely delicious. They came together within half an hour and used fairly basic ingredients, so I know I’m never going to be stuck on those busy days (or when a friend pops over last-minute) again.

My Nutrition Knowledge Grew Tenfold

One of my favorite parts of the program, aside from the delicious food and how incredible I now feel, was all of the amazing knowledge I picked up along the way. From the best way to cook staple foods to James’ guided audio lessons, where I learned to approach nutrition in a new way, it feels like my eyes have been opened to a whole new side of food. It was one I knew that always existed, but amid busy schedules and a global pandemic, sometimes we lose sight of our priorities.

These 21-days were truly an eye-opening experience for me. I rediscovered how powerful food can be when it comes to shifting energy levels, brain fog, digestive issues, and even excess weight. It truly only does take three weeks to set a habit for a lifetime, and I’m so excited to dive deeper into my journey of feeling my best self.

If the Clean Eating Program sounds like something you would benefit from, I urge you wholeheartedly to do it! It’s one of the best investments you could ever make for your health, and with lifetime access you can keep returning to it whenever you need the extra support. You can find out more information about everything the program offers, here.