Refined Sugar Detox in 5 Steps

My dad has always had a sweet tooth so ever since I was very young we were teaming up for desert. In fact, I would often eat dinner just to get to the sweet part. I was lucky to be a healthy and extremely active child so the halves of the chocolate bars that I often had for desert never stuck to my body. Probably this was also the reason why my parents were not so concerned about my sugar addiction.

Fast forward to my university years when I was fighting depression without knowing it. I was eating my feelings. I gained around 10kg in just a few months. Gaining weight did not help with my self-esteem and made me even more unkind to myself. Only later in life I realised that I had fallen in a vicious circle. I was depressed and seeking momentary pleasure in sugar. Sugar, on the other hand, was negatively impacting my physical and emotional health, and thus, making me more depressed.

If you are prone to anxiety and low moods, or if you are under a lot of stress, you are more likely to get addicted to sugar.

A few years ago, inspired by my sister’s example, and success, of not eating sugar for a long time, I decided to try it. At first I couldn’t go even a few days without something sweet. Headaches, moodiness and low energy would sweep me like a hurricane. Little by little, with many attempts to reduce refined sugar and swap it with healthier alternatives, I eventually made it around 6 months refined-sugar-free. Great success!

Even thought I never returned to eating sugar as much as before, I eventually went back to it. A bit more than a month ago, I decided to challenge myself and do a 1-month sugar detox. This time it went much better and easier than ever before. So I decided to share a few steps to help you if you decide to attempt such a thing.

Step 1: Feel the right time

There is a good time for everything in the universe and detoxes are not an exception. The same way you cannot commit to run 10k for 1 month every day if you are in poor physical shape, you should not commit to cut sugar for a month if you are not in a place and time in your life to support this. What do I mean?

It is important to have a somewhat good experience from your (first) detox. This is so you would have motivation to try it again in the future.

Cutting refined sugar can result in headaches, fatigue, mood swings and irritability. If you are in a stressful period of your life, or if you are already overwhelmed by other factors, consider trying this detox at a time when you would be better equipped to handle the discomfort it might cause.

Step 2: Find your why

Cutting sugar is hard, I will not lie about it. I find it very helpful to have strong motivation behind my detox. I ask myself “Why am I doing this?”, “What do I get out of it?”.

For everyone the motivation will be different. Be honest with yourself and respect your “why”.

What I have found from doing this many times is that the less I relate this effort to losing weight, the more empowering my “why” is. Find your motivation and write it down on a piece of paper. Put it somewhere visible so you can see it every day (the door of the fridge is a good place).

Step 3: Remove all temptation

Eating sugar is a habit, a very, very strong habit. (Learn more about how habits are formed in this post.)

Contrary to popular opinion, willpower and motivation are not enough to break a bad habit. They are only some of the components. The most important, and practical, key is to make it difficult to engage in the repeated action.

In our case, this means you should remove all refined sugar snacks from your home. If you feel bad about throwing them away, consider having your flatmate hiding them or giving them away to friends and family. Leave nothing, and I mean it. Imagine you are a heroin addict. You would need to remove all drugs from the house, even then a tiny little bar of heroin you hide in your drawer.

Step 4: Replace sugar with healthier alternatives

Now that we made it difficult to engage in the habit of eating sugar, we have to make it super easy to create a new habit – choosing healthier food.

You need to make sure that once the craving comes, the road to satisfying it is short. In other words, supply healthier snacks and make them easily available at all times.

Dry and fresh fruits, fresh veggies, nuts and a lot of corn and buckwheat crackers are my saviours. I had boxes and jars full of nuts and dry fruits in different places around the house. They were always in front of me. When I had the urge to eat something sweet, it was easy to grab a walnut or a piece of dried apricot. I know, I know. Dried fruits also contain sugar. It is natural sugar. I can live with that. If you can’t, then just remove them from your healthier food options.

Step 5: Count to 10

No matter how much healthy food you have, eventually the time will come when you will crave sugar like never before. For me, these occasions are often associated with heightened emotions – I am stressed at work, or I am angry.

When you feel like you cannot resist the craving, slowly count to 10. Then, remember your “why”. Finally, ask yourself: “Do I really crave sugar, or is it something else that my mind/body needs?”.

You will be surprised to find that more often than not it is not sugar that you need. It might be distraction, an outlet for your emotions, or rest. You might be hungry and in need of proper food. You might be thirsty. The catch is not to give in to the craving straight away. Imagine the craving as an entity inside of you. Give it a name and questions it. Ask it: “Steve, why are you here, man? What do you really want?” Then try to give Steve what he needs.

PS: if he says he wants sugar, he’s lying.

Bonus step: Be kind to yourself

If you consume a lot of sugar, it is bound to be difficult to break the habit. So be kind to yourself. Applaud yourself for trying. Self-love will get you much further than negative talk and self-induced stress. And remember: baby steps. At first, even three days might be enough for you. If that’s the case, make sure to celebrate yourself. 3 days is an achievement. Then keep on building up to 5 days, 1 week, 10 days and so on.

Well, that’s it. That’s all of my wisdom. I hope it is helpful and I wish you all the patience, luck and love in your sugar-free journey! ❀️

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