My love affair with sweets goes back to my childhood.
I looked forward to Saturday morning donuts all week and holidays and birthdays were punctuated with the mouth-watering celebratory desserts we all know and love.
But, then, as an adult, I have had to confront these eating patterns and the negative effects of sugar on my health when I started having issues like stubborn weight gain, breakouts, headaches, digestion issues and more.
I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of eating healthy for me is cutting out those delicious sweet treats that are tied to such positive memories and feelings. So, I really struggle to stick with it long-term.
You feel me?
Is Eating Less Sugar the Magic Weight Loss Solution?
I’ll never forget when I was working as a bridal sales consultant in college (a great gig, btw), we would measure brides when they purchased the dress and then we wouldn’t see them again for a few months.
When the dress arrived, we double-checked size to ensure it matched the order and then called the bride in to try it on.
One time, the bride came back and I didn’t even recognize her.
We put on the dress, and she was drowning in it.
I couldn’t even fathom how they could possibly fix the dress because she had lost so much weight.
I said to her, “I have to ask – how in the world did you change your weight so drastically in just a few months?”
She said, “I cut sugar. That’s it.”
I couldn’t believe it. I asked a few more questions trying to sort out more details, but she insisted – the only change she made was cutting sugar entirely from her diet.
Then, she went on to tell me all of the other benefits cutting sugar had on her life. She had more energy, didn’t feel sick, slept better, had clearer thoughts and better ideas at work. The list went on and on.
Many years later, my weight has gone up and gone down and back up. I’ve been pregnant. Had kids. Been diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. All the things.
Every time I think about how I’m going to lose weight, I think about what that bride said to me that day about the drastic effect simply cutting sugar had on her weight.
Why We Should All Do a Sugar Detox:
We have more information on the negative effects of sugar on our brains and health than any generation before us.
But, we also are living in an age where there are over 50 names for sugar and it is added to absolutely everything – even food items that aren’t considered sweet – such as salsa and pasta sauce.
Here’s a great example I just saw on Max Lugavere’s Instagram.
I love how simply this breaks down the sneaky amount of sugar in foods we would never consider as part of a sugar detox.
If you like easy info like this, go follow @MaxLugavere. He has such an inspiring feed and regularly shares easy diet and lifestyle swaps you can make for better health.
But, what this image also shows is how hard it is to remove sugar from our diet and how important it is to always check labels.
This kind of sneaky sugar also explains why women are typically eating 3 or more times the recommended amount of sugar each day (source).
And, that sugar can have very negative side effects on our health, including:
- Brain fog
- Weight gain
- May increase risk of heart disease
- May increase risk of type-2 diabetes
- May increase risk of cancer
- May increase risk of depression
- May accelerate signs of aging, such as wrinkles
- May accelerate liver or kidney damage
- May contribute to risk of an autoimmune disease
To learn more about any of these risk factors, check out the full article here.
In addition to how prevalent sugar is in almost everything we eat, there is also the fact that sugar is an addictive substance and cutting out sugar leads to withdrawal symptoms.
Sugar Withdrawals are Real, Yo:
Its important to be realistic about what your body is going to go through when you decide to do a sugar detox.
Otherwise, those withdrawal symptoms will click in and you’ll be reaching for the chocolate ice cream in no time.
There are two types of withdrawal symptoms:
This is where sweets have been worked into your daily or weekly habits. For example, every time you sit down to watch a show, you have a sweet treat.
Over time, you’ll crave that treat, even if you’re not hungry or don’t even really want one. It’ll just be part of your habits and therefore not having it will signal to you brain that something is missing.
Sugar is highly addictive and “we can’t stop ourselves from eating it. Recent research with rats suggests that sugar is addictive and stimulates the brain’s reward centers even more robustly than cocaine” (source).
This means that when your body doesn’t need it, your brain will tell you that you do. Breaking a sugar addiction will have similar results to any other type of chemical withdrawal – headaches, fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety and more.
Want to read more about sugar withdrawals? Check out this detailed blog post.
The Easy Way to Do a Sugar Detox:
So, now we know all the reasons why we should be eating less sugar and the risks to our health if we don’t reduce our sugar intake.
And, we know all the scary withdrawal symptoms we could experience if we go cold turkey.
That’s why, my friends, we are going to do a sugar detox – the easy way.
Step 1: Start Small
Sit down and make a list of the foods you eat that are the highest in sugar.
These will range from the obvious desserts to the lesser known offenders, such as: sweetened coffee, sweetened tea, soda, and pre-packaged foods.
You may even want to go into your cupboard or pantry and look at the labels on foods you eat regularly. Look for added sugar. If it’s there – add them to your list.
Once you have your list, look at the foods you can cut easily and circle them.
Over the next week, focus on removing those foods from your diet. Leave the ones that will be the hardest for you to cut.
By starting with the easier foods you’ll miss less, you’ll feel successful and therefore more confident when you take on the big dogs.
Step 2: Drink More Water
Most beverages have added sugar.
Rather than try to remove all sugary beverages, pick one that you can’t live without and swap out the rest for water.
The extra water will help your body flush out toxins and improve digestion, while having that one drink you can’t live without will help you feel motivated.
For me, this is my coffee.
Coffee by itself is naturally sugar-free. But, if you can’t drink it black – you’re likely adding sugar to your coffee every day.
I could easily cut soda, tea, and any other beverage if I could just keep my coffee with a little bit of creamer.
Here’s a post I wrote on the easiest, homemade cold brew coffee. It’s sugar-free without additions.
Now, that doesn’t mean I can have 12 coffees with creamer a day.
This means I can have 1 reasonably sized drink of my favorite. One coffee or one glass of sweet tea or one glass of wine.
Step 3: Plan Ahead
If you wait to shop or eat until you’re starving, you’re less likely to make good choices.
Instead, plan ahead.
Meal prep some of your meals.
Pre-package your smoothies, so they’re ready to go when a craving strikes.
Here’s a post I wrote on Meal Prep Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks & Smoothies.
Look at your week and the types of meals you’ll need. Ask yourself what time of day you feel weakest when it comes to sweets.
Know thyself and plan ahead.
Step 4: Stock Fruit
Some sugar detox plans ask you to limit fruit, but fruit is a natural source of sugar, plus there are other health benefits to many fruits.
Instead, stock up on your favorite fruits and enjoy them whenever you are craving sugar.
Bonus points for pre-washing and prepping your fruit for the week, so you have grab ‘n go bags of fruit ready when you are tempted to grab a candy bar.
I love these little storage containers that keep fruit fresher by separating out the juices (affiliate link).
Another option is to drink a daily smoothie that uses fruit to sweeten.
And, here’s another post on Superfood Smoothie Recipes.
That afternoon slump is real. Have a plan, so you don’t fall off the sugar detox train.
Step 5: Slowly Reduce Sugar Intake
Pay attention to how much sugar you are adding to recipes and to things like your coffee or tea.
Slowly cut back a little at a time. Your palette will adjust to the change in sugar over time.
We started doing this with our homemade sweet tea. We cut back 1/4 cup each time we made a big batch.
We are down to way less sugar added than we have ever had in our sweet tea and much less than what is in the store bought sweet tea.
When I have the brand we used to buy, it tastes so sweet now I can barely drink it.
I’m doing the same thing with my coffee. Adding a little less each time until there’s just a small splash of my favorite almond milk creamer.
Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to eventually drink it black.
Start small; limit withdrawal symptoms; feel successful.
Step 6: Focus On Sugar Only
Don’t try to reduce sugar, and eat less fat, and watch calories, AND AND AND – all at once!
That will be so stressful on your brain and body and make it unlikely that you’ll continue.
Sure, some people are queens at the Cold Turkey lifestyle change, but the vast majority of people are not going to stick to so many changes at once.
Tackle one at a time.
If you’re going after the goal of a sugar detox, focus entirely on that and don’t stress about the other things you need to do.
Once you have comfortably reduced sugar in your diet, then you can go after the next big offender on the list.
Step 7: Keep Reducing
Every day, eat a little less. Add a little less to your food. Put a little less creamer in your coffee.
Over time, you’ll need it less and less. Your dependency on sugar will fade away.
Plus, you’ll start seeing the benefits of removing sugar and this will give you the strength to do more.
Then, when you have a big slice of cake for a family birthday, you’ll find yourself unable to finish it.
Or, like my cousin and I the other day – we got sugary coffees at a coffee shop and both of us felt sick.
You’ll start to see how sugar really impacts your body and your health and that you don’t really need it anymore.
Sugar and Autoimmune Diseases:
Just as a side note to my autoimmune disease sisters and brothers and chronic illness warriors: sugar can have a devastating on our health.
Sugar is one of the worst offenders when it comes to creating inflammation in the body and if you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you already have too much inflammation.
Cutting sugar can have immeasurable health benefits and drastic effects on your daily chronic pain.
I really encourage you to try these easy steps to reducing sugar intake and keep a diary of how your autoimmune disease symptoms change each day.
Monitor these changes for a few weeks or months and see if it benefits you the way it has for me.
I notice a distinct relationship between my inflammation and pain levels when I am freely eating sugar and dairy vs. when I am not.
I wrote a great post on the 10 Health Supplements I Take Daily for my Autoimmune Disease, as well as a post on How To Lose Weight When You Have an Autoimmune Disease.
And, here’s an article on how to eat if you have an autoimmune disease by Dr. Amy Myers. Her work has had the greatest impact on my health of anything I have read and implemented.
I hope they help you.
There you have it! Why you should do a sugar detox, what to expect, and the easy ways you can start to remove sugar from your diet without sacrificing what you love or backsliding.
Remember that every time you limit sugar or choose water over soda, you are choosing your health and your future. Celebrate each change and accomplishment.
Of course you won’t be perfect 100% of the time (or maybe you will!), but each time you choose your health, you should be proud of yourself.
After all, we only get one body. Take care of it!
Have you tried a sugar detox? Have any tips to share?
Tell us in the comments below!
Have a fabulous day,
Disclaimer: Please know that I am not a doctor and this should not be mistaken for medical advice. See your doctor before making any sudden changes to your diet or health care plan, particularly if you are already struggling with health issues. I am not responsible for any adverse effects this may have on your health – although I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor who thinks sugar is good for you.