If you’re like me, you may have had a few too many sugary treats over the holidays. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that and in fact, I embrace the opportunity to enjoy some of my old favorite holiday goodies. The problem at least for me is that refined sugar is addictive, and once I start down that path, I develop cravings for more and more. I find myself standing in front of my refrigerator which is filled with yummy fruits and vegetables and wondering what to eat. Those fruits and vegetables are not going to hit the spot. I know I need to get back on track quickly or my unhealthy eating will spiral out of control. I’ve had some practice eliminating refined sugar from my diet, so I’ve learned a few tricks to help in the process of sugar detox.
1. Remember Why Limiting Sugar Is A Good Idea
Refined sugar has been linked to many adverse health consequences including heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, poor oral health, acne, and depression. Healthline.com Additionally consuming excess refined sugar leads to cravings. There’s a reason for this.
Sugar releases brain chemicals that make us feel good temporarily. Then comes the CRASH leading us to consume more sugar to try to regain those good feelings again. It’s hard to break the cycle.
To make matters worse, food companies hire food scientists to create processed foods with tastes and textures that are hard to resist. It’s their job to find that perfect ‘pleasure point’.
2. Make A Plan
I believe it’s always a good idea to make a plan for just about any goal you hope to achieve in life and limiting refined sugar is no exception. When making your plan, consider your starting point, where you want to go, how long you want it to take, and your tolerance for diet changes. For example, if you eat a minimal amount of processed sugar most of the time, and you enjoyed a few treats over the holidays, it may be as simple as setting a goal of consuming no refined sugar for three days and you’ll be back on track. If on the other hand, you consume lots more processed sugar daily than is recommended for a healthy lifestyle, your goal may be to end your sugar addiction in 30 days. You may choose to go cold turkey if that’s your style or you may know that you need to eliminate offending items over time in order to be successful. For example you can give up sugar sweetened beverages to start.
3. Clean Out Your Pantry
After the holidays, we often want to purge our pantries of all of the yummy treats that we have enjoyed. Maybe it’s peppermint candy, chocolate fudge or gingerbread cookies. It’s time to give them all a heave ho. If you can’t bring yourself to throw food away, take the items to your office for everyone to enjoy or drop off a New Year’s gift to a friend or neighbor. And don’t forget to eliminate all of the processed food items containing sugar that may be lurking in your cabinets, freezer and refrigerator all year long. Here’s where it’s important to become a food label detective. Yogurts, fruit juices, breakfast bars and cereals which may on the surface look healthy are often loaded with added sugars.
If your husband, wife, partner, children, roommate, etc. can’t part with their favorites while you’re reducing your sugar intake, ask them to limit their chosen items to one spot where they will be least likely to be seen by you and influence your decision making.
4. Become A Food Label Detective
While it’s best to stick with whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible, it’s difficult to avoid all processed food in our world today. According to SugarScience.ucsf.edu, ‘There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. These include common names, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup, among others.’ Read labels carefully and remember that the front of the package is no more than an advertisement and does not truly reflect the contents.
A free app called Fooducate can help you in this process. Scan the barcode on the food package with your smart phone, and it will give it a grade between an A and a D as well as the reason for the grade which will help with your decision making.
5. Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping meals can lead to blood sugar fluctuations which can result in cravings. It’s best to consume regular balanced meals which include protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. This will help to limit cravings as well as provide the building blocks for an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Protein and high fiber foods will help keep you satiated and healthy fats help limit sugar cravings.
6. Drink Lots of Water
Dehydration can lead to sugar cravings. Medical professionals recommend that men should have 3.7 liters(about 15 cups) of daily fluid intake and women should have 2.7 liters(about 11 cups). In addition to helping with sugar cravings, you’ll be contributing to your overall general health by consuming adequate fluids. Water is crucial to the proper functioning of your blood, digestive system, joints, kidneys, skin and teeth. There is also research that it may improve athletic performance, help with weight loss and lessen allergy and asthma symptoms. ClevelandClinic.org Instead of sugary beverages, try to switch to plain water, sparkling water or herbal tea. Spice it up with a squeeze of lemon or lime or try these infused water recipes from CulinaryHill.com.
7. Avoid Stress
Just like getting adequate fluids into our diet, avoiding stress is important for a healthy lifestyle in general and it’s key to helping with sugar cravings. There’s a double whammy in here because stress leads to cravings for sugary foods, and eating sugary foods increases our dopamine levels which may give us a temporary feeling of calm. Try identifying your stressors first and then work to lessen or eliminate them. Call a friend, practice deep breathing and/or meditation, exercise or try soothing techniques that you have identified work for you from past experience.
8. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
According to Healthline.com, “Sleep deprivation alters appetite-regulating hormones and may enhance cravings for highly palatable foods, such as those high in added sugars.” Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Are you getting the sleep that you need? Have a little chat with yourself. Are you feeling tired during the day, needing coffee to stay in the game, feeling irritable, having difficulty focusing, always hungry? You just may not be getting enough sleep. If you don’t alter your patterns to help you avoid sugar, do it for the many other health benefits that it offers including reducing your risk for heart attack and stroke and lowering your risk for other chronic health conditions. Check out these tips for getting more sleep.
9. Stay Active
Exercising can help reduce stress and increase energy levels and therefore limit sugar cravings due to stress and fatigue. Even a short 15 minute walk can help. If you’re starting a new exercise regime, be sure to check with your doctor especially if you have pre-existing conditions.
10. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Although the use of artificial sweeteners might seem like a no brainer to help you remove processed sugar from your diet, research suggests that some artificial sweeteners may alter metabolic function. “… they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.” Health.Harvard.Edu Try fresh fruits such as bananas and dates to satisfy your sweet tooth. As you reduce your sugar and artificial sweetener intake, fruits that you may not have enjoyed before will come alive with flavor and sweetness. Even vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squashes will surprise you with their sweet taste.
A Final Thought…
Detoxing from sugar is not easy, and it’s important to be kind to yourself and recognize symptoms as they occur. According to Healthline.com you may experience a range of physical and mental side effects such as depression and anxiety, difficulty concentrating, headaches, fatigue and nausea. These tips will help. If you need additional help, talk to your doctor or other health professional. There are lots of paid and unpaid sugar detox programs that you can find online which may also help you if you need social support. Celebrate your success!
Do you have some tips for cutting back on sugar? Please leave a comment below. I love to hear from you.