This is Part 3 of the Sugar Series. Read Part 1: Are You Eating Too Much Sugar? and Part 2: The Agave Myth: Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating Agave.
Most of my life has been spent in a love-hate relationship with sugar. I think it all started when my mom used M&Ms as a bribe to potty train me and it just escalated from there. I would plow through my Halloween candy in record time and then begin stealing my brother’s loot. To this day, I don’t think he’s forgiven me. I keep trying to explain to him that it wasn’t me, it was the addict who stole his candy. He’s not buying it. You see, society doesn’t generally accept sugar as a drug, but if you’ve ever been addicted to sugar like I was, you might argue that point. It controlled me. It ran my life. I spent every moment that I wasn’t eating sugar thinking about my next sugar fix. I don’t mean to be all melodramatic, but it’s the truth. I had some pretty shameful moments.
Willpower isn’t the problem
Sugar addicts think that if they just had willpower, they could quit sugar. So every time they succumb to their cravings, they beat themselves up for not being strong enough to resist the temptation. Sound familiar? Folks, it has very little to do with willpower. It’s about biochemistry.
If you are addicted to sugar, chances are good that your intestinal flora are out of balance and you have some nutritional deficiencies going on. Both of these things can leave you with an insatiable, voracious appetite and a truckload of sugar cravings. Sugar cravings are indicative that your body is not getting what it needs.
One of the side effects of my sugar habit was that I was constantly overeating. I had to forcibly stop myself from eating more than I was hungry for. That worked for the most part, unless I veered from my normal routine. A dinner out, a holiday, a meal with friends and I would eat until I felt sick. Gross.
How to Tell If You’re addicted to sugar
So you might be wondering, “How do I know if I have a sugar addiction?”. Well, I’ve got a really easy way for you to tell. Consider the idea of cutting out all sugar completely for one week. Does that seem hard? Does it seem like you could never live a week without sugar? Are you just completely uninterested in even trying? Do you feel resistance? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re probably addicted to sugar. If it seems totally doable and you could easily start right now, then you may not need to bother.
The idea with sugar detox is to remove sugar from your regular diet long enough to re-train your taste buds and clean out your system. I can’t determine how much time you will need, but at a minimum give it 3 weeks. Depending on your particular body, how addicted you are and how long you’ve been addicted, you may need to go longer. And you may end up doing it more than once. You’ll know what’s right for your body.
Satisfaction, Not Sacrifice
The biggest misconception is that cutting out sugar is a form of deprivation. It’s not. The reason why it’s not is that your body adjusts to not having sugar and no longer craves it. Your taste buds become more sensitive and less sugar is more satisfying than before. You won’t want those grocery-store cupcakes with the sickeningly sweet icing. It will be too sweet for you. You’ll be satisfied with a piece of fruit or some dark chocolate.
How liberating would it be to not crave all those sweets and desserts? If you don’t crave it, you’re not being deprived of it. You’re not sacrificing anything. In fact, you’re gaining a whole lot of health.
How I kicked Sugar’s Butt
So how did I do it? How did I kick the sugar habit? Here are my 10 steps to a Sugar-Free You!
- Commit – the first step is to commit. You have to commit to breaking the addiction. People who say, “I could neeeeever go without _______ [insert favorite sweet treat]” are typically just not going to succeed in kicking the habit. You have to really want it, because it’s not easy. But it is possible.
- Make a plan – You’ve got to plan this out. You can’t just say, “Ok, I’m gonna quit sugar, starting….NOW!” It won’t stick. Look at a calendar and decide on a period of time, including a start date for your detox. Soon. Like within the next 2 weeks. Take into account birthdays, special occasions, vacations and holidays. Decide the minimum time you’re going to detox. I recommend no less than 3 weeks. Then, stick to the plan.
- Get rid of all the triggers - You might have to ask for support from your family on this. Better yet, get them to do it with you. During your detox, do not delude yourself into thinking you will have any willpower. You’re going to want sugar like you’ve never wanted sugar, so don’t have ANY sitting around. Get rid of it all. Nothing in the house to tempt you.
- Eat a lot of protein and good fats - Good quality protein and fats are the ultimate sugar equalizers. They will stay with you longer and keep you more satiated. Whenever you’re craving sugar, eat some protein or good fats. More information on good fats here.
- Limit bread, pasta, rice, crackers, etc – our bodies convert these starchy foods into sugar and our blood sugar levels get the same spike as eating sweets. Eat less of these. If you can, cut them out all together. When you’re having a sugar craving, don’t reach for one of these culprits.
- Same goes for alcohol – No booze. Sorry, but if you’re serious about kicking sugar’s butt (see #1), you have to follow this one, too.
- Stock up on “safe snacks” – have plenty of snacks on hand that you can go to when the sugar cravings hit. Think nuts, nut butters, cheese, slices of turkey, avocado/guacamole, hummus, fresh raw veggies.
- Limit fruit intake – Allow yourself to have some fruit, but don’t eat so much that you’re just swapping desserts for fruit. When I detoxed sugar, I found that a little bit of fruit satiated my sugar cravings without feeding them. No more than 2 servings per day. An example of 2 servings would be an apple and a few ounces of berries.
- Consider extending the detox – after you’ve completed your predetermined detox period, reassess. How do you feel? Are you jonesing for sugar? Or are you totally fine without it? If you’re dying to get off this $*#@-ing detox and celebrate with a carton of ice cream, you might want to consider a longer detox. Years and years of abusing sugar may take longer than 3 weeks to undo. Be patient. You want to get to the point where you don’t have sugar cravings or you will fall right off that wagon.
- Create a maintenance plan – Once your sugar cravings are gone, it’s time to reintroduce sugar. That means you can resume eating fruit, breads and starchy foods and alcohol, in moderation. It means that you can enjoy the occasional sweet treat. A good maintenance plan may include 2-3 healthy, minimally processed desserts per week, not one at every meal.
#10 is really important. You’ll want to carefully monitor your sugar intake and cravings after the detox. It will be very easy to slip back into old patterns and it will happen before you’ve even realized it. If you can’t go a night (or a meal) without a dessert, you may need to go back to step #1.
The best part is, YOU CAN DO IT!!! If I did it, so can you. And I promise, you are going to feel so much better, so much healthier and have so much more energy after you do.
It’s important to feel supported. If you can, do it with a buddy. Even just reading about someone else’s experience can make you feel less alone. So leave a comment below the article and share with us your experience detoxing sugar!
This post is a part of Fat Tuesday on Food Forager.