A Sugar detox for beginners: How to detox from sugar

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

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One of the most important discoveries in terms of health in the last decade or so is that sugar consumption is a huge factor in weight gain as well as a myriad of health conditions and diseases. These include heart disease, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic syndromes. In fact, our sugar consumption has skyrocketed to 10x what it once was just 100 years ago.

With that comes the next step: pulling oneself off of sugar and sugary foods… which may not be so easy. Many people have a sweet tooth which has led to an extremely high level of sugar intake for long enough that they have no clue where to start.

As a nutritionist, it’s really important to help people find easy ways to get from point A to B in their health journey using food, while eliminating excess sugar.

Part of that journey may include So let’s start out with the basics, and also discuss which TYPE of sugar detox would be best for your body.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Why do a sugar detox?

Through the decades added sugars have gradually made their way into more and more foods for flavor and sugar’s addictive properties. And now we essentially have a substance that affects the brain in the same way that addictive drugs (like cocaine) do, but it’s put in nearly all processed foods.

This makes it extremely easy to become a sugar addict, especially if you have the genetic tendency toward that. Add in more and more sugar daily, along with years of eating it and you’ve got the perfect storm of sugar addiction.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Many people decide they need to quit because they’ve tried and know how hard it is. Others have had their doctor give them the wake-up call of a condition that requires eliminating it to manage that condition. And yet others either want to or need to lose weight.

So let’s talk about the different reasons for embarking on a sugar detox in the first place.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Blood sugar levels

Current estimates are that 1 out of 3 adults has prediabetes. When you factor in the number of adults that currently do have type 2 diabetes, we’ve got a really huge population that obviously has issues with blood sugar levels.

The thing is, there are also many other conditions that get mega benefits from balanced blood sugar levels. These include PCOS, high blood pressure, and inflammatory conditions like arthritis and autoimmune conditions.

But truth be told, our body’s ability to maintain steady blood sugar levels daily is the marker for a healthy metabolism. That can’t happen if we’re programming it to go haywire with high sugar foods and refined flours (which react like sugar in the body).

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Kick-start weight loss

Undoubtedly you’ve heard stories from friends or family members about how much weight they lost when they started keto or low-carb.

The truth is that switching to any dietary style that eliminates sugar and promotes healthy, non-processed foods will inherently cause most people to lose weight. (We happen to be over the moon about the Anti-Inflammatory Diet around here!)

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Consumption of too much sugar in the first place

The last scenario is for those who don’t specifically have a weight loss goal in mind and haven’t had a diagnosis to prompt quitting sugar. You just know that sugar is terrible for your body and have committed to being purposeful and respectful about the food you put into your body.

To you I say, “Well done.” And here’s how to go about that practice.

How to do a sugar detox: Sugar detox for beginners

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Step 1: Pre-Experiment with sugar and flour

Knowing how you respond to sugar and refined flour (emotionally and physically) is a huge first step in detoxing from sugar. Many people go into a sugar detox thinking they can easily get off sugar for a week or so and be fine.

Doing an initial experiment with sugary foods BEFORE you start a sugar detox will help you understand how you respond to sugar, and if you may be addicted to it.

Step 2: Get in the right mind frame

Go into your sugar detox with the correct mind frame. Are you starting this to kickstart weight loss, manage a condition, or just adopt a more healthy lifestyle?

Know your high-level goals, then dig in to really get to the bottom of your big ‘why’ for your sugar detox. You WILL need this, whether coming off sugar is a challenge for you or not.

Sugar and flour can be highly addictive, and if you don’t have your ‘why’ firmly in place, it can be really easy to either quit your sugar detox, or just go right back to your old ways.

Step 3: Shop + prep for meals

Having a sugar-free meal plan that is specifically designed by a nutritionist is KEY to completing a successful sugar detox. This is because (especially if you’ve been on a really high-sugar diet for a while), it can be hard to go sugar-free cold turkey.

A meal plan truly designed for detoxing from sugar actually pulls you off higher-glycemic foods gradually, giving you the best chance possible of avoiding cravings.

Step 4: Follow the Meal Plan (and don’t cheat!)

It’s very important to follow the meal plan for your sugar detox.

Many people *think* they know what foods are sugar-free or safe to eat if they’ve failed to plan. However, this is usually how they ended up in the situation of needing a sugar detox in the first place.

Step 5: Be ready for side effects that feel like withdrawal symptoms:

Many people experience withdrawal symptoms of coming off high levels of sugar can be rough if you don’t know what to expect! Sugar detox symptoms are very likely and are a major reason people don’t complete their first week or two of a sugar detox.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Sugar cravings

This is probably the number 1 side effect people complain of. Sugar cravings become so severe because sugar programs the body and brain to expect quick doses of energy from your food. And when that doesn’t happen, it starts to revolt (in simple terms).

For some, this is so severe that they feel like sugar is controlling them.

For others, it can easily be redirected. It just depends on that perfect storm of components discussed a minute ago.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Headaches

Headaches are also a big one. Headaches usually come because (unknown to many), carbohydrates attract water in the body like salt does. When you reduce those carbohydrates, your hydration levels fall as well.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Severe Exhaustion

Many people worry that this is coming from having low blood sugar. This may be true if you have a known problem with this, and also if you’re not getting enough healthy carbohydrates (listed below).

Again, this is related to your body revolting from the difference in fuel you’re giving your body. And again- the severity will depend on that perfect storm we talked about at the start of the article.

Foods TO AVOID on a sugar detox ❌

It may sound like common sense to just say, ‘stay off sugar on a sugar detox, duh’, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. (Thanks in part to the food industry these days.)

This is for a few different reasons. First, there are MANY different names for sugar on food labels these days. Secondly, there are other foods that react like sugar in the body. And third, when you’re coming off sugar, even some natural foods need to be avoided for a bit to let your body and brain reset its programming.

So let’s get into it.

Sugary beverages

  • Sodas (regular AND diet!)
  • Fruit juice
  • Sports drinks
  • Coffee/tea with added sugar (this means basically any drink at Starbucks unless straight black coffee)
  • Milk
  • Non-dairy milks (unless they specifically say ‘Unsweetened’ on the label)
  • Bottled tea
  • Any other sugar-sweetened beverages

All forms of sugar

This will require reading a food label to identify sugar. So the easiest way to avoid these are to not eat anything processed or packaged while on your sugar detox, or else be able to understand the ingredients list and food label.

Ingredients that are sugar:

  • any type of ‘sugar’ (ie, table sugar, cane sugar, etc)
  • any type of ‘syrup’
  • molasses
  • dextrin
  • sucanat
  • caramel
  • malt
  • any word ending in ‘-ose’
  • agave
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • fructose/ corn syrup/ high fructose corn syrup
  • fruit juice
  • concentrated fruit juice
  • natural sweeteners

Many people are confused about natural sugars or sweeteners like honey, agave, and maple syrup. The bottom line on these is that–yes they can contain healthful compounds and minerals–but they are STILL sugar and counterproductive during a sugar detox.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have been shown to affect gut health, as well as induce cravings. For both of those reasons, I recommend avoiding these altogether, even when done detoxing from sugar. These are:

  • Aspartame (in nearly all diet soft drinks)
  • Neotame
  • Acesulfame K (blue packets- brand name Nutrasweet)
  • Saccharine (pink packets- brand name Sweet N Low)
  • Sucralose (yellow packets- brand name Splenda)

If you’re really hard-up for a sweetened beverage, try adding one of these zero-calorie alternatives:

Most fruits

Although fruits can be part of a healthy diet, eliminating them during this short phase will be a huge help in your metabolism getting reset.

Definitely avoid dried fruits (unless they specifically say no sugar added).

If you feel you must eat fruit, limit it to berries, as fresh fruits or frozen, as long as no sugar is added.

Dairy

Dairy is a really controversial food, I get it. But in this phase, the consensus is that milk should be avoided (because of the amount of lactose–a sugar) in it.

Yogurt should also be avoided as most types are loaded with sugars. Even plain yogurt could be an issue, so it’s best to avoid it during your sugar detox.

Grains and flour

Refined grains and flours are absolutely out of the question. They spike blood sugar levels the same way regular sugar does.

However, even whole grains can cause a huge spike in the same way. For that reason, I recommend avoiding grains and flour altogether until you’re out of your sugar detox diet.

These include:

  • oats
  • wheat
  • rye
  • barley
  • farrow
  • quinoa
  • corn

Alcohol

Alcohol should be avoided for a few different reasons. First, it can also have an addictive nature. Your goal here is to reprogram your brain and body, and keeping alcohol in the mix is extremely counterproductive.

Second, when we get buzzed, our reason flies out the window. Many people find themselves overeating or even eating things when they’re not even hungry when they’re sippin’ on gin and juice. (Myself included).

Do yourself a favor and get rid of it before starting your sugar detox.

Foods ALLOWED on a sugar detox ✔

You may be thinking that the food you CAN eat on a sugar detox isn’t as important as what you’re eliminating. But that’s really not true.

The reason is that when you load up with sugar and refined flours, you’re displacing nutrient-dense foods that you could have been eating instead. So this detox period is actually giving you a chance to ‘power up’ with healthier food choices while you’re letting your body and brain deprogram from sugar.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

High-quality protein

One of the best things you can do when cutting out sugar is to increase your protein intake. This is because protein (as well as good fats, which we’ll get to in a minute) help blunt blood sugar spikes that may still happen from the carbohydrates that ARE allowed on a sugar detox.

In ensuring it’s quality protein, make sure it’s pasture-raised meat (or organic).

This can be from poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), pork, lean cuts of beef, and definitely fatty fish and seafood!

If you’re ok with soy, organic tofu is also a great option.

And lastly, hard-boiled eggs are also an easy way to get in extra protein.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Healthy fats

Good, healthy fats are also a game-changer when doing a sugar detox. Again, this helps blunt the blood sugar spikes but it also helps you feel full longer. This can be a really big help when you’re having those crazy sugar cravings.

Types of healthy fat include:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • avocado oil
  • organic butter
  • virgin, unrefined coconut oil

A few other sources of healthy fats include avocado and nuts (just make sure you have a small handful or less as these can get out of hand quickly!)

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

Low glycemic plants + starchy vegetables

I wanted to section out the foods you CAN eat into macros because since carbohydrates primarily come from plants in our diets, it can be tricky to weed through.

During a sugar detox, your focus in the carbohydrate department will be HIGHLY on high fiber foods, with a low glycemic index (sometimes called complex carbs). These will include low glycemic starchy vegetables, leafy greens, beans, and legumes, and they help you keep blood sugar levels stable by avoiding the spike and then sugar crash.

Many people ask about potatoes and sweet potatoes. As a nutrition specialist, I see a ton of people get emotionally wrapped up in these delicious tubers because they’re everywhere.

Here’s the deal: They both have a lot of nutritional value. They both have a fairly high amount of carbs. But one has more sugars (sweet potatoes) while the other has a higher amount of starches (potatoes).

But here’s the kicker when doing a sugar detox:

BOTH can set off those sugar cravings that lead to binges because of the way they can spike your blood sugar. So my advice is to avoid them while coming off sugar.

How long does it take to detox from sugar?

When people ask this question, it normally means: How long until my sugar cravings go away and I can control myself to not crave and binge again?

This is a good question as several different sources online will tell you anywhere from one week, 21 days, 30 days and I’ve even seen 40 days. None of these are truly accurate for any one individual.

I wish I had an easy answer but here’s the reality. Remember that perfect storm from the start of this article (genetics + amount of sugar/flours eaten daily + length of time on it)? All of those will factor into how long it takes.

My easy way to tell goes like this: Try to eliminate sugar from your diet cold turkey for a week or two.

  • If you do this easily, or fairly easily, you should be able to transition into a healthy eating style that supports your health and goals from there pretty easily.
  • If you, instead, feel like this is the worst and hardest thing you’ve ever had to do and couldn’t get through a week, let alone 2, you probably have a sugar addiction problem. In this case, I recommend ‘sugar deprogramming’, which is a much more in-depth approach to getting off sugar for good.

-> Wanna save some time and take the quiz to see what your Best Sugar Detox Type Is? 👇👇👇

Precautions:

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, make sure you speak with your doctor before starting a sugar detox so you have some guidance from the person who oversees your health. Please be smart, and be responsible.

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

A few last sugar detox tips

Here are some really great tips for having a successful sugar detox:

  1. Meal plan. Meal planning ensures you’re never in the dark about what you can eat and have available to eat. Especially when you’ve relied on packaged and convenience food for a while.
  2. Meal prep. Scheduling in time to meal prep ensures that your hard work planning those meals wasn’t in vain. It also sets up that ‘guilt factor’ to give you a boost of motivation in the event that your strength is waning as the days go on while you’re trying to kick that sugar habit.
  3. Stay hydrated. Drink water or unsweetened tea often. This helps with hydration and training your stomach in feeling full to help prevent overeating.
  4. Don’t worry about counting ANYTHING during this time period. Don’t even get on the scale. Remember that your sole focus is to let your body and brain deprogram from sugar and start learning to get energy from complex carbohydrates.
  5. Don’t start your endeavor 3 days before a birthday party (or holiday, for that matter).
  6. Plan for traveling. Many people are back working in offices, and some professions travel. Make sure you’ve thought ahead for what you can take with you. For example, what are you able to carry in your car or on a plane?
  7. Get enough sleep. When you have quality and enough sleep, it helps balance the stress hormone cortisol as well as hormones that can determine if you feel hungry or full during the day.
  8. Practice mindful eating during this period. This helps your body begin to recognize hunger and fullness signals that have probably been over-ridden for a while.
  9. Extra credit: Find freezer meals and have all your dinners pre-prepped and ready to throw in a slow cooker or sheet pan!
  10. Avoid talking to family or friends unless you trust them and know they care about you and your health. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had clients truly upset about the lack of support (and sometimes even ridicule) because they don’t understand or believe in the need to quit sugar. Bottom line is 2-fold: 1-It’s none of their business, and 2-If they cared about you they’d be supportive of your decisions for your health.
sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar

What next?

After sugar detoxing (or attempting it), one of three things will happen:

(1) You’ll stay off sugar successfully and transition into a clean eating dietary style that supports your health. I recommend an anti-inflammatory dietary style because it’s been shown to be beneficial for nearly everyone on the planet and prevents chronic diseases. {Great job, by the way!!}

(2) You’ll feel better and keep at it for a bit, but then slowly progress back to your old way of eating. If this is where you find yourself, you probably have some issues with sticking to habits.

If you truly want to stay off sugar, I recommend revisiting your ‘WHY’ and learning about habits and how to create them in a way that you’ll stick to with little thought.

(3) You didn’t even make it through the first week or two because this felt like the hardest, worst thing you’ve ever tried. (Or possibly a slightly less harrowing version of that, but either way, you couldn’t stick to it because of the cravings.)

When you’re in this category of outcomes, it most likely means you fall into that perfect storm where your body and brain have been programmed for being hooked on sugar.

In this case, I highly recommend what’s called ‘Sugar Deprogramming’.

Wanna take a quick quiz to see which type of Sugar Detox is Best for Your Body? Click below to get started! 👇

sugar detox for beginners detox from sugar
Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Author: Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Laura is a Nutrition Specialist and Certified Health Coach with a Master of Science in Nutrition. Her goal is to help working moms reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and regain natural energy with her CHEAT Codes to Wellness framework.

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