If you could do just one thing for your health that would make the biggest impact, would you do it? What if it was one simple thing but it was actually the most challenging and took the most effort to actually do? You probably could have guessed what I’m talking about even without reading the title of this blog post because this topic has been heavily covered in the media over the past several years – and for good reason! On average, we’re consuming 3 times the daily recommended amount of sugar, which is leading to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, acne, aging, and the one that hits the quickest: lack of energy! But have you ever tried to completely give it up before? Giving up sugar can be one of the best things you do for your health and can improve your overall lifestyle in countless ways, but there are a few things I would recommend you keep in mind before giving it a go.
1. Quit Cold Turkey
As much as you may not want to hear this when it comes to quitting sugar the MOST effective way to be successful and to actually ditch those deep-rooted cravings is to quit cold turkey. I’m talking completely quit! Not just avoiding white sugar or processed sugars but literally avoiding anything that makes your food taste sweet including maple syrup, honey, agave, monk fruit, stevia, and everything in between. The only exception here is a fruit because for one, we have to draw the line somewhere and two, a piece of whole fruit contains fiber that helps slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream so you don’t get the same spike in insulin you would with other forms of sugars. Plus you’re getting a ton of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals you’re simply not getting when you eat processed or added sugars. With almost anything else related to nutrition or lifestyle changes my approach would be to go at slowly, be gentle with yourself, and develop new habits over time. Sugar however is different, and the reasoning for going at this one cold turkey is pretty simple.
Basically, the health of our gut bacteria accounts for so much of our overall health and the number of bacteria cells in our gut actually outnumber our human cells 10 – 1! So for every 1 human cell you have (skin cell, liver cell, hair cell etc.), you have 10 bacteria cells in your gut! Crazy right? This whole ecosystem of gut bacteria is called the microbiome and it accounts for about 80% of your immunity. It also plays a role in your mood and cognitive function, helps you digest your food, and ultimately determines the foods you crave. If you feed the sugar-loving bacteria in your gut, they will grow and thrive and keep your cravings alive and well. However, if you put in the time and effort to starve out those little guys, you will notice an unbelievable difference in your cravings. You won’t have to rely on willpower, or staying strong, or trying to tell yourself you don’t actually want the ice cream, because you literally won’t have those same urges you did before you starved out those sugar-loving bacteria!
2. Eat Plenty of Fibre, Protein, and Good Quality Fat.
Once you make the decision to give up sugar you’ll want to put some effort into understanding exactly what you’ll be eating to make the transition as easy as possible. If you’re constantly hungry because you’re not eating the right foods you’ll have a really tough time sticking it out when things get tough. Making sure you get enough of these macronutrients at each meal is so important because it’s what’s going to keep you feeling full and satisfied throughout your day. Eating plenty of fiber can be really simple if you know what you’re looking for. Stick to vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, and low sugar fruits such as dark berries. For protein, you want to look for good quality meat such as organic chicken or wild fish or plant sources of protein such as beans, legumes, or quinoa to name a few. And whatever you don’t skip the high-quality fat. I promise dietary fat is not what is making us fat it’s the SUGAR! Aim to eat fat at each meal. Things such as avocados, nuts, and seeds or cook with oils such as avocado oil or Ghee.
3. Read Your Labels
If this is your first time completely eliminating sugar you might be surprised at how many prepackaged foods contain sugar. When I did my very first sugar elimination I was shocked at the number of foods that contained the addicting white stuff. Basically, if it comes in a package, it probably has sugar added to it. There are the obvious culprits, like granola bars, cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, and other convenience foods. Then there are ones you might not be expecting like pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, ketchup, peanut butter, salad dressings, and vegetable broth! Reading your labels becomes such a key part of doing a successful sugar detox, but it’s not as easy as looking for the word “sugar” on the ingredient list. Thanks to the marketing strategies of food companies, sugar can be listed as a whole lot of other things such as evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, molasses, glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, lactose, and anything else ending in “ose”. Take a peek through your pantry and see how many of these ingredients you find. I bet you’ll be surprised!
4. Drink 3 Litres of Water Everyday
When you start adding extra fiber to your diet and other foods you may not be used to eating, you might notice constipation creep up. It’s important to keep your body hydrated to help keep things moving along as efficiently as possible. Having a water bottle with you at all times is really helpful when you’re working towards getting enough water in, and it’s especially helpful to have one with you when you’re at work, running errands, or even just making dinner. Something to keep in mind is that your body needs time to properly absorb small amounts of water throughout the day, so you should be trying to get your three liters in all throughout the day. If you get home from work and realize you forgot your water bottle and try to chug the three liters in just a few hours, your body won’t be absorbing as much as it would if you had drunk it slowly throughout the day. Plus, you’ll literally just have to pee every five minutes. If drinking water isn’t your thing, try adding something for flavour. My favourites are: sliced cucumbers, frozen berries, lemon slices or other citrus fruits.
5. Find a Few Friends to Help Hold You Accountable
If you’re going through this process for the first time you’re going to experience some ups and downs along the way. There are countless benefits to doing a sugar detox including increased energy, reduced cravings, the feeling of being in control of your eating habits and weight loss to name a few. However anything with the promise of that many good things has to take a bit of effort to get there. That’s why I recommend finding a friend, a co-worker or an online community where you can feel fully supported throughout your journey. There will be days in the beginning when you’ll struggle and feel like giving up, but knowing you have other people going through the same things as you will make the process so much more bearable. It’s also nice to have other people to share recipe ideas with or to motivate you when you’re feeling a lack of inspiration to keep going.
So what does all of this mean? Does it mean that we should go a detox starting tomorrow and never eat an ice-cream cone or piece of birthday cake ever again? Of course not! I would never recommend you do something that extreme, but sometimes I do think there’s a time and a place to cut something out of your diet for a period of time. I’ve done sugar detoxes multiple times and often times it’s when I’m starting to feel like food is controlling me, and I’m not the one controlling it. It goes back to those gut bacteria. They’re controlling those strong cravings that are making me feel like I need a sugary treat at 3:00pm to get me through the afternoon, or I need something sweet after dinner. Have you ever felt like that? When you give your body a break from sugar and cut it out (cold turkey remember), after a period of time you feel in control again and are able to get through your afternoon without the sugar. I promise it’s true! Then you’re free to make those decisions when they feel right for you. You might feel like saying no to donuts in the break room, but later that week you might say yes to ice-cream with your girlfriends. I’ve been on both sides of the sugar spectrum my friends, and I assure you it’s better to be the one in control!