A Sugar detox for beginners: How to 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

The Sugar Detox Meal Plan to Help You Break Free of Sugar

Can a sugar detox meal plan really help you quit sugar for good?

Well, that depends. As a nutritionist, I help people get off sugar for a ton of different reasons. Some of these include a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes, having inflammatory conditions, or simply needing sustainable energy all day that doesn’t require hits of food just to make it through the day.

The connecting factor in all of these is that the ultimate goal is to get started on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.

The problem is that the first step is to cut out sugar. And for many people, this can be extremely difficult.

But most people search online and see many different versions of sugar detoxes.

So first of all, these can be effective. However…

There is a sort of spectrum of people that start a sugar detox meal plan in an attempt to quit sugar:

  1. Those who can quit it and forget it,
  2. those who crave it and can’t resist it or quit it once they’ve started (bingeing),
  3. and then a range of in-betweens.

You usually know where you’re at on that spectrum by the time you get to a point of wanting to do a sugar detox in the first place.

This is really important, because if you’re a ‘Quit It and Forget It’ type, a 1-2 week sugar detox meal plan is perfect for getting off sugar to transition into the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.

If you’re in the middle of the spectrum or on the more ‘addicted’ end, this type of sugar detox won’t work, because there are many factors at play.

The first is genetics, the second is the amount of sugar and flour products you’ve been eating daily, and the third is how long you’ve been eating this way.

If you don’t know, take the free QUIZ: What’s Your Sugar Detox Body Type?

So as a nutritionist, it’s extremely helpful to put meal plans out there that are specifically designed for coming off sugar in a particular way.

Most people that do a sugar detox complain about 2 main things:

1- The side effects, and

2- The cravings not going away.

Which is why it’s such a big time-saver to KNOW where you stand on that sugar-intake spectrum.

The people that see the MOST SUCCESS with a sugar detox are the ones who:

  • Are honest about their level of dependence on sugar
  • Make the commitment to start with a reliable sugar detox (and the CORRECT type!)
  • Do the work (which isn’t just about food, it’s also about mental and emotional connections as well.)

The best time to quit sugar is NOW, and the best way to do it is with a nutritionist-designed sugar detox meal plan and guide to help you understand the hold sugar may have on you, and how to beat it for good.

So you have 2 choices: Go ahead and try a 1-week Sugar Detox Meal Plan, or take the QUIZ to see what your perfect Sugar Detox Body Type is so you can quit wasting time and get the CORRECT type of sugar detox specifically for your body type! 👇

Sugar Detox Side Effects and How to Manage Them

sugar detox side effects

Every day the average US consumer added sugar intake will fall between 20 to 30 teaspoons of table sugar daily. The recommended maximum is 6-9 teaspoons, unless you have a condition that warrants eliminating it completely (which I wholeheartedly recommend as a nutrition specialist!)

Reduced sugar consumption could help fight cancers, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, PCOS, endocrine dysfunctions, and loads of inflammatory conditions. But for many this task seems much too difficult, and can even feel hopeless.

When it comes to eliminating sugar intake, whether for weight loss or to manage or prevent a condition, a sugar detox can be a great way to kickstart it… but with some caveats.

Committing to quit sugar out of love and appreciation for your body and health comes with its own challenges–usually referred to as “detox side effects”.

Surely you’ve read the myriad of unpleasant side effects that can happen once you decide to detox from sugar. (Here’s why you should quit sugar.) Your coworker, friend, or sister have had this thing or that happen when they detoxed. Which makes it plausible to have questions.

And here’s the truth of the matter:

Sugar is a giant asshole. It makes you crave it, it makes you gain weight, it ages you incessantly, and it creates a cycle of binging-guilt-cravings. And also–it’s gonna give you hell if you decide to quit it.

Diving in and really committing to a sugar detox can give you an indication if you’re actually addicted to sugar or not.

This is extremely important, because if you aren’t addicted to sugar, you should be able to do a sugar detox and feel great within a few weeks.

If you are addicted to sugar, sugar detoxes don’t work, and end up wasting time and creating misery, frustration, and self-loathing that could’ve been avoided. (I’ll talk about that more in just a sec, so keep reading!)

So let’s start with what a sugar detox is in the first place, how it creates symptoms, how to manage the symptoms, and what to do instead if you’re truly addicted to sugar so you can stop wasting time and emotions.

What is a sugar detox?

A sugar detox is basically where you eliminate sugar from your diet in an attempt to ‘flush’ sugar out.

People normally do this in an attempt to kickstart weight loss, manage a condition, or just up-level their health and energy levels all day with balanced blood sugar.

Sugar detoxes usually come with nasty side effects that (for the majority of those who do it–especially cold turkey) cause enough discomfort to give up.

So I say it’s better to go into one with your eyes wide open, but also with practical tools and the knowledge that you MAY fail–and if you do, there’s a reason why as well as a better strategy to get through it.

What is sugar withdrawal?

Sugar withdrawal is how our body reacts with unpleasant symptoms when we take sugar and higher glycemic carbs out of our diet.

Most sugar detoxes will do a ‘cold turkey’ approach, which can be really problematic for many people (especially if you’re truly addicted to sugar.)

This is where carbs fit in.

There’s a really big difference in types of carbs, and unfortunately, the food supply includes added sugars in approximately 90% of them, further contributing to the sugar dependence problem.

Sugar (all types) and refined flours (even whole grains ) will create a blood sugar spike that triggers an exaggerated response in the reward system in the brain. And as you can imagine, there are thousands of ‘foods’ that fall into this category (most are processed.)

Basically foods that spike your blood sugar are addictive. 

So, first things first– when we consume sugar our bodies release dopamine into the bloodstream. Dopamine is widely known as a ‘happy’ neurotransmitter that is present when our thoughts are most euphoric. 

Humans get a dopamine release when we eat anything, not just sugar or carbs. If we didn’t, we’d never want to eat. 

But the dopamine release in response to sugar and high glycemic carbs is a problem, because it’s exaggerated, and creates the hallmark symptoms of drug addiction: tolerance (you need more to feel the effect), and withdrawal (icky side effects when you quit it.)

More addictive than cocaine

Sugar has been shown in studies to light up the same areas of the brain that drugs like cocaine and heroin do but is way easier to get than drugs. And what’s worse is that it is considered legal and is in 90% of everything in an average grocery store.

Sugar Intake, Dopamine, and Sugar Addiction

If you consume enough sugar daily your brain is more likely to make an extra effort to achieve that euphoric threshold. Those receptors grow the higher the dosage. Again–this is called tolerance.

These continuous cycles of sugar consumption, hormone releases, and euphoria play major roles in how our brain responds.

Bottom line is that it creates a vicious cycle that involves some sort of trigger, a craving starts, you take an action (eating sugar or bread products), many end up bingeing, and then feel incessant guilt. Until the cycle starts over.

This cycle has many implications of behavioral patterns that are signs of addiction, especially when someone knows they have a condition that must be managed by eliminating sugar and high glycemic carbs, but can’t stop eating them even knowing the detriment to their own health.

Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

Although we’re all very different, there are many physical and mental symptoms of sugar withdrawal that have been reported and accumulated.

This is helpful because it can prepare you for what withdrawal symptoms could be ahead as well as how to handle it to help you stay steadfast on your sugar-free journey.

The most common sugar withdrawal symptoms and questions

Why do I get headaches when I don’t have sugar?

Headaches are one of the worst sugar detox symptoms and can be a two-fold thing when it comes to sugar detox side effects. On one hand, your body is trying to adjust to a new energy source for your brain and body.

Secondly, a little-known secret is that carbohydrates hold water in the body like salt can. So reducing it can make you dehydrated. This means that you really need to pay attention to how much water you’re drinking to help alleviate sugar detox symptoms.

Can sugar detox feel like the flu?

Yes! Body aches and muscle aches aren’t uncommon. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘keto flu’, it’s the same situation: that person is moving from a high sugar and/or high-carb diet to an extremely low-carb diet, which will produce many of the same symptoms.

In fact, for years every time I tried another sugar detox, I would get these symptoms and think I was getting sick. I didn’t want to further stress my body, so I would quit every time. (Big mistake!)

Muscle aches and pains beyond flu-like symptoms

It is possible for a person’s body to experience general muscle ache and pain in response to a noticeable reduction in sugar intake. For many people this may be severe enough that you may have to consult a pain management provider first.

If you have long dull and annoying abdominal pains then you should examine their frequency to determine their severity. Sugar withdrawal can produce aches reminiscent of fibromyalgia and other similar conditions.

If the symptom lasts more than 3-4 days or longer than 6 weeks it’s advised to see your doctor to rule out any other underlying conditions.

Extreme sugar cravings

One of the nasty things sugar can do is make you feel like your going into a sugar withdrawal situation physically. And when this happens, your body and brain are working together to find some homeostasis.

Again– your body is adjusting to a new energy source, but there are also some reward-system responses from your brain at play here as well. I call these ‘rebound cravings’, and they can keep you coming back over and over again as if sugar is controlling your life.

Sugar cravings vary in severity but typically look like extreme cravings for sweet foods each day. This can include anything from sodas, pastries, chocolate, and other processed foods with added sugars.

Most sugar cravings subside the longer you have reduced sugar intake. Going into a new dietary style with non-sugar ingredients should help to eliminate this problem and help prevent other issues in your healthy lifestyle.

Poor sleep quality

Sugar withdrawal can cause sleep problems as it can lower your REM sleep rate at night. As you reduce sugar foods, this slowly changes your brain’s functioning and can cause your sleep quality to decline as well.

This is a really big factor in getting through severe cravings as getting enough and quality sleep regulates two hormones that make you feel hungry or full. When you don’t get enough and quality sleep you will have a really hard time abstaining from sugary foods because you’ll feel like you’re constantly hungry.

This is usually enough to end the detox period by giving in to the cravings.

Chronic stress can also contribute to poor sleep as well, and–again–this is definitely the time to keep stress managed as sugar detoxing can be stressful enough on its own.

This means that monitoring your sleep and putting effort into making it really solid during this period is extremely important.

Confusion

Confusion is a lesser-known of the sugar withdrawal symptoms, but in sugar withdrawal it may be linked to a sudden decrease in sugar in the body. The brain needs fast energy throughout the day because its primary source of energy is glucose.

When the body is deprived of enough of sugar your mind could temporarily experience some feelings of dehydration. This is closely associated with type 2 diabetes and it can be a confusing condition especially when you’re changing your diet for the better.

Fatigue and weakness

Fatigue can often be caused by a couple of physiological conditions. It ‘d be likely your cells haven’t experienced the usual nourishment it used to. Fatigue is a symptom of low blood sugar levels.

When you have a combination of the body and mind switching energy sources from the easiest to process sugars to healthy carbs as lower levels, in addition to overall consumption of nutrients increasing, it can result in a feeling of fatigue and weakness.

This is temporary, as anyone who has shifted to a low-carb or keto lifestyle can tell you that once your body has had that metabolic shift, your energy levels lift to much higher and more steady than they ever were on high-sugar foods.

Lightheadedness

Having lightheadedness can mean that your blood sugar is low, which should definitely be monitored. This is especially important if you have diabetes, prediabetes, or hypoglycemia. Again, the brain is changing energy sources as well, so it only makes sense that you may have some shifts in that area.

Also, this is where hydration enters the equation again. Staying hydrated can help stave off feelings of lightheadedness as well.

Behavior Changes, Including Mood Swings

As anyone shifting into a new dietary style can tell you, the crazy mood swings will repel your loved ones (and coworkers) like nobody’s business. But this is especially true when you are in sugar withdrawal.

Mental symptoms can include mood changes, sadness, lack of motivation, irritability, and even severe mood swings.

Mood changes involve the decrease in dopamine and GABA levels in your blood. Your body stops releasing dopamine because of low sugar consumption if sugar withdrawal occurs.

This is (again) from your body trying to readjust to a new energy source. This causes blood sugar swings, which can make you feel moody and emotional, unfortunately.

Make sure to have a balanced snack and eat every 2-3 hours during this detox period. But also take some breathing time every day to decompress.

Remind yourself what a fabulous thing you’re doing for your body and mind, thank yourself, and breathe deeply until you’re ready to take on the rest of your day with some semblance of having your -ish together. 🙂

Other Questions about Detoxing From Sugar

How severe your symptoms are depends on how much sugar you ate before you started.

The first thing to understand is that everyone is so completely different, there’s no way to tell how severe symptoms will be until you just do it.

But eating a new sugar-free diet will kick off a plethora of really cool things happening in your body, including your palate changing. Everything you used to eat now feels sweeter and less inviting–unless you have a true addiction to sugar.

And it’s really important to determine this up front so you don’t waste time on sugar detox after sugar detox that always fail.

How long does a sugar detox take?

This really depends on a few things.

  • First, if you’ve had really high sugar consumption for a while, it could take longer than others.
  • Second, if you have certain genetic factors, you could take a while to detox.
  • And third, if you have a combination of all these, it could feel impossible to do it.

In this case, you could have a sugar addiction and need help beyond a sugar detox. It’s what I call sugar deprogramming, but you first need to know your probability of sugar addiction.

How long will sugar withdrawal symptoms last?

The length of sugar withdrawal totally depends on how long you’ve been consuming lots of sugar and refined carbs, as well as how much you’ve consumed regularly.

Some find that the worst are over in a week, but the incessant cravings just won’t quit.

Again– if the cravings are so severe that you keep going back over and over again, do yourself a favor and take the quiz to see your sugar addiction probability score. This will guide you in whether you actually need sugar deprogramming instead of a more basic sugar detox.

What Can you Eat When you have withdrawal symptoms?

It is always very important to stay off sugar when you’re having withdrawal symptoms, but the most helpful foods include eating more protein, including as much fiber as possible from foods like beans and legumes, and healthy fat.

It’s extremely helpful that you don’t reduce your caloric intake when making this shift, because your body will interpret that as a diet, which usually ends with the cravings going into overdrive, as well as exacerbating the headaches and low energy or fatigue.

It is also extremely important to stay really hydrated. Divide your weight (in lbs) by 2, and that will be the minimum number of ounces of water you need every day.

What Can I Eat When Withdrawing from Sugar?

The most important thing is to avoid refined sugar, added sugar, and flours. Some are also sensitive to dairy and other grains like oats, rice, and corn (just to name a few.) Here are a few more specifics:

Know the Names of Sugars

The first thing to know is that food companies are very tricky when it comes to disguising added sugar. The things to look for are the word ‘sugar’ in any form, ‘syrup’, ‘malt’, any word ending in ‘-ose’, and fruit juice or fruit juice concentrates.

It’s a big misconception that naturally occurring sugars are ok and aren’t considered added sugar.

Non Nutritive Sweeteners

Your best bet is to educate yourself on what sugar substitutes can be used to help ‘wean’ you from added sugar intake down to no added sugars. These will also help you to not feel so deprived in the process.

Artificial Sweeteners: Avoid

Artificial sweeteners to avoid are mainly what you would find in the pink, yellow, and blue packets found on tables in restaurants. These are saccharine, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame-K).

Natural Sweeteners: Use sparingly

The natural sweeteners safe to use during this period are stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit. I recommend using these sparingly because you’re goal is to retrain your palate, brain, and body to not want excessive sweetness in the first place.

More Protein

Eating protein from a quality source and in higher amounts is really important during this time. Too little protein means you aren’t getting the necessary amino acids that need to be replenished to get back to normalized neurotransmitter and hormone operation in the body and brain.

Eating protein also doesn’t have to mean meat. You can get more protein through cheese, unsweetened greek yogurt, organic soy products, and even some nuts and seeds.

You should be cautious, however, that dairy can be very triggering for some. If you try dairy and find that it triggers you to start craving sugar, this is a warning signal.

More Healthy Fat

Adding a lot more healthy fat may seem counterintuitive because of the higher calorie content. But it’s actually the opposite. Not only does the brain need healthy fat to operate, your body having an increase in calories via nutritious foods will help ward off several of the sugar withdrawal symptoms.

Healthy fats include mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats like olive and avocado oils. But also healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and grass-fed organic butter.

You can also get a combination of healthy fat and fiber in nuts and seeds. Walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds are great options for snacks or add-ons to salads.

More Fiber

Fiber is such a crucial component during this period, because it blunts the effect of carbs on your blood sugar levels and helps you feel full for longer.

If you aren’t going low-carb or keto when cutting sugar, I recommend keeping carbs in the way of beans, legumes, and lentils, as well as tons of vegetables.

It may also be ok to consume fresh fruit in small amounts like fresh berries. Although fresh fruit may ‘seem’ ok, for many it can be one of their sugar triggers because of the amount of fructose it contains.

What Can I Eat After a Sugar Detox to Stay off Sugar?

After you’ve completed a sugar detox, it’s really important to keep up your healthy habits to get to or mianintain a healthy body mass index as well as reduce sugar cravings from now on.

It’s extremely easy to get hooked on sugar again, so staying away from the sweet stuff is priority one.

If you’ve made the changes above to avoid unpleasant symptoms by supporting your body through a healthy sugar-free diet, you should definitely keep on keepin’ on!

Some people, however, find it much easier to abide by a dietary style next because they enjoy the structure.

If you’re able to come off sugar and get past the cravings, a dietary style can be a great framework to help you move on to losing weight or managing conditions you have.

Examples of sugar-free dietary styles

Examples of a low-sugar diet or dietary style include low-carb, keto, Mediterranean diet, and Paleo. Although there are many others, I wholeheartedly recommend an Anti-Inflammatory Dietary style. 

This is the next step in my CHEAT Codes to Wellness framework, which you can read more about HERE!

Planning and prepping meals and snacks will also be a crucial tool for helping you stay the course of good nutrition that will minimize cravings and assist you to adopt healthy habits.

What’s My Next Step in Getting off Sugar?

Take this free quiz to determine if a sugar detox is likely to help you or just create more frustration (it all depends on your sugar addiction probability):

👉 Know you’re not addicted to sugar? Head on over to learn how to do a sugar detox HERE.

Is Sugar Addiction Real?

One of my lowest moments was being about 25 pounds overweight, constantly ‘saying’ I wanted lose weight, but hiding out in the pantry, terrified of being caught, while I shoved cupcake after cupcake in my face because I literally could not control myself.

So if you ask me, personally… Hell yes, sugar addiction is real.

If you ask my husband, who’s always been able to just have a bite or two and walk away… well, he doesn’t really know. But he can tell you that he feels that way about potato chips.

As a nutrition specialist, I now know that there is mounting research supporting ‘food’ being addictive, including sugar.

For some, sugar alone is what will get them. For others it could be the salt, or even the combination of the flavors like fat + sugar, or fat + salt. Food companies have spent billions of dollars figuring this out. And make no mistake: their interests lie in making sure you keep coming back for more.

As a nutrition specialist and recovered sugar addict (and mom), I get asked this question over and over: Is sugar addiction real? Like really real?

And although the answer has taken many forms over the past several years, my answer to the question is a resounding YES, sugar addiction is really real. And I’ll explain why.

My relationship with sugar started as a kid from the south whose family knew no bounds of cooking with sugar and white flour. This meant dessert after many a meal, and the biggest, sugary-est birthday cakes you’ve ever seen. I loved the sugar and butter combination (or sugar and shortening), and by the time I was a teenager would always request the piece of cake with the absolute most icing flowers on it.

I never knew the damage all the sugar was doing to my gut bacteria, nor that it could have an effect on my moods, hormones, and definitely not my neurotransmitters or immune system.

I developed asthma around 12 and had terrible hayfever that I never really shook. By my teen years, I had terrible acne, was constantly irritable, and forever anxious.

It wasn’t until adulthood when I started studying nutrition that I really took a step back and thought through my constant depressive symptoms as a teen and young adult, and put a few pieces together for the ups and downs of my moods, skin, and hormones.

But it wasn’t until after having gestational diabetes for 2 out of 3 pregnancies (type 2 seems to run in my family) that I noticed that I felt a thousand percent better when I nixed the sugar.

But quitting sugar wasn’t as easy as just saying ‘no thank you’.

Every birthday was a struggle (and it sometimes still is). I’ve been in the throes of postpartum depression 3x where I would hide in the pantry to stuff as many cupcakes in secret as I could into my face before anyone could see. I’ve binged for hours, alternating sugary and salty snacks, in secret when my husband was out of town for work.

I know that I can’t eat more than a bite or two of anything like that without falling back down that slippery slope.

So I can attest first-hand what it feels like to be addicted to sugar. No matter what kind of logic your brain tells you about how crappy you’ll feel the next day (physically and emotionally), that crazy part of your brain takes over and mutes the logic.

The Science Behind Sugar Addiction

While in my master’s program we had to do many projects on various topics that all require peer-reviewed studies to back our answers. Part of the studies I sought out revolved around sugar addiction. At the time one professor pointed out that the only study thus far involved rats that preferred sugar over cocaine.

Also at the time, the book of diagnostic codes contained mental health diagnostics for food addiction, but not specifically sugar. The reasoning was that they, at the time, couldn’t definitively prove that sugar itself was physically addicting, further confusing the ‘Is sugar addiction real?’ question altogether.

I personally have a problem with this, because many people (including myself) have felt the withdrawal symptoms of coming off sugar. These side effects are definitely not imagined, and some have described them as feeling like having a mild case of the flu.

The clincher of sugar is that when consumed, it occupies the same receptors in the brain as drugs like cocaine and heroin. It gives a dopamine hit, which makes you feel good. So it activates those reward systems in the brain and essentially ‘programs’ the brain to want more and make you think you need it.

And once you keep eating it, cravings will start for it.

From that point, it can be very difficult to satisfy the craving and keep yourself from seeking anything to replace it until you completely get off it.

Another thing that happens is that you build tolerance. This is when the brain receptors get a lot of the dopamine hits but eventually adapt and need more to get that reward response.

This tends to be one of the hallmarks of a definition of ‘addiction’, but again– the issue is whether it specifically is sugar, or is another component of the food you’re eating, or even a combination of components. These possibilities need more research before the medical system will consider giving a specific diagnostic code for sugar, specifically.

Do sugar detoxes work?

The last few years have seen a rise in people doing sugar detoxes to get off sugar in hopes of kickstarting weight loss, beginning a diet to manage conditions like diabetes, or simply wanting to eat more healthy in general to feel better and manage their daily energy. Many have questioned if these actually work to help control the cravings.

In my experience, the answer is yes. But there are a few things to know:

  1. You have to be vigilant about staying off sugar. If you’re one of the people (like me) that truly feel an addiction to it, it can be really hard to take ‘just one bite’ of anything and quit. You need a plan, and probably an accountability partner for things like birthdays.
  2. You have to know what qualifies as sugar. You’d be shocked at what the food industry has done to get around the term ‘sugar’. They’ve done their best to trick us into not knowing what we’re eating. But they need sugar for taste and that addiction factor so you’ll keep buying. So educate yourself on all the hidden terms.
  3. Know that grains (especially refined ones) can react the same way in your body that sugar does, kicking off that dopamine hit and reward response. For this reason, many experts recommend quitting anything with grains in it. This includes breads, pastas, pastries, etc. This part can be tough, but when you see the benefits of how you feel, you’ll figure out how to make it happen consistently.

Bottom line is that, although studies are slowly catching up, it’s a very real thing.

There is also evidence of a genetic component to some people feeling addicted to sugar. The gene that controls the dopamine receptors in our brains can have mutations that impair the reward system in the brain, thereby triggering some people to show addictive behavior toward sugar.

Given the current research, it’s just a matter of time before the studies come out to give more definition to the specific addictive properties of sugar, as well as the food combinations that food companies already have the data to back up.

DID YOU KNOW… The TYPE of sugar detox that’s best for your body depends on your sugar addiction probability? Take the QUIZ to find out yours! 👇

is sugar addiction real, sugar detox

3 Strategies to Stop Letting Sugar Fuel Your Day

Sitting in the line at CVS bawling my eyes out over everything in my life was definitely NOT how I imagined my life at 37 years old. I was totally fine (for the moment) as I pulled into the drive-thru.

The things on my mind were:

  • pick up the antibiotic for my middle kid,
  • get dinner going in the next 2 hours even though I had no clue what we were eating,
  • feed the baby in the back seat with the little milk I had left,
  • oh yeah—and get the five blog posts edited and scheduled that were sitting in my queue.

I had it mostly together that day. Sometimes I even felt proud that I could do everything I was doing trying to raise our 3 kids nearly as a single parent due to extensive travel my husband’s job required, all while desperately trying to build a business (my one thing, it felt, for myself.)

I patted my leg, giving myself a pep talk as I circled CVS and then stopped in my place in line.

And that’s when I felt it: bumps. Lots of bumps.

I looked down and saw that my legs were covered in welts. And then the panic hit, because that’s what I did—I had anxiety attacks.

I did a mental check to make sure my throat wasn’t closing up even though I’d never had an anaphylactic reaction before. Then I tried to remember if I had any Benadryl with me. It wouldn’t matter anyway, I reasoned, because I was driving and it makes me sleepy.

So I did some deep breathing as the urge to flip the hell out bubbled into my eyes and down my cheeks.

And I sat there crying until it was my turn in line.

Times like this had proven to me that my ability to properly lose my shit and say and do unreasonable things were valid enough to find more healthy outlets for the stress.

Like walking (when I had the time), or journaling (when I had the time).

But now was not the time—forget that I never actually ‘had the time’. Because I was in the process of re-lactating because the baby started developing a rash on her entire body from formula. And ignorance and lack of an ounce of empathy from the doctor’s office had sent me on a journey of my own. A really hard one, on top of everything else life was throwing at me.

When I got home, I covered my legs in cortisone cream and sat down to realize I was pushing having a full-on nervous breakdown. I had zero support, too much on my own, and a severe lack of self besides being a mother.

I grabbed a bag of chocolate drizzled popcorn and downed the whole thing to make me feel better.

How did other women do it? How were they successful with kids this little? How the hell was I even doing what I was doing all day? I certainly didn’t eat right. But I knew… Because this little voice in the back of my head that’d always been there was nagging at me again.

It was the voice of the snacks and the cakes and chips and pasta and every other little thing I’d ever turned to my whole life to make me feel better.

Basically: sugar.

The thing was, with my family’s history of type 2 diabetes, I knew I shouldn’t eat this way. And it was only after completing my master’s in nutrition that I got the full-on gravity of eating that way my whole childhood and early adulthood. It was only by luck that I’d always had a fast metabolism.

But my thirties were quickly catching up with me, and the sugar was sending me on a rollercoaster of emotions and energy all day long that not only made me believe I was being productive, but it also damaged relationships I had because of the Jeckyl and Hyde emotions that plagued me all day. (Not to mention the terrible allergies—hello hives!—and horrible skin that I’d developed through the years.)

But here was the problem: I’d always had sugar, and I’d always craved it. So when I decided to cut it out, it didn’t go nearly as smoothly as I expected. I had severe crashes if I didn’t have any carbs, and my easy answer was to grab something sugary to help ‘balance’ it. My frustration with quitting sugar was growing as I grappled to manage the rest of my life seemingly alone.

My dad getting diagnosed with prediabetes gave me a really powerful insight though. He said that once he got out of the cravings period of eating low-carb for a few weeks, those crashes went away. He could feel the difference of balanced blood sugar just by cutting out the sugar and being consistent.

So I finally sat down with myself and created a real action plan to fight the cravings so I could free myself.

This wasn’t easy, mind you—I’d spent years hiding in the pantry to eat as many cupcakes as I could after every kid’s birthday party before somebody caught me. But this time I was determined.

That willpower helped make sugar feel ONLY like a last resort some days, but for the most part I knew it was always sitting on my shoulder trying to tell me it had a hold on me that I’d never be able to shake, like a crack dealer just waiting for things to blow up so I’d come around for another hit.

At first my focus and productivity were about as dialed-in as walking around blindly inside a cloud. I felt angry, irritated, hopeless, and sad all within a matter of minutes some days. And my energy levels were nonexistent. The only reason I made myself get out of bed is because the kids needed me. But my Dad’s insight reminded me it was a process. And besides, I’d made a plan, and I was sticking to it.

My grand plan involved things like meal planning to make sure there were never any last-minute questions or eating out unexpectedly. I had learned to read food labels in my formal education and understand which wording clued me in that sugar was added to anything packaged. And I fully embraced swapping out vegetables to fill me up instead of rice or pasta.

The more I came off sugar and simple carbs, the better I felt.

I started to (finally) notice I was immensely more productive. I started preening my to-do list to only include things that mattered or made movement in my small blog.

Another really cool thing was that I was able to take a step back and breathe through the impulse I’d usually let take over to snap at the kids or my husband about things. This was huge because I’d basically turned into momzilla (and most days thought nobody wanted to be around me.) My husband and I started communicating. Like, really communicating.

And another great part? I started losing the baby weight I couldn’t shake before. (I even got confident enough to get back into a bikini!)

The thing is that most people don’t realize some things about sugar:

  • It’s addictive—like, legit addictive.
  • It makes your body hold onto fat.
  • It makes you believe you have energy, only to give you a crazy straight downhill crash.
  • It makes your emotions go completely berserk.
  • It actually ages you faster. And it shows up on your skin resembling the plague for some.
  • And then it does its thing and makes you come back for more, because either you don’t know any better, or because you crave it so bad you can’t help yourself.

I’ve been on the addiction side of it. I actually call myself a ‘recovered sugar addict’ because I’ve been through the severe cravings, complete lack of control around it, tolerance of it, and physical withdrawals.

But I made the conscious decision to live as intentionally as possible by getting off of it. It controlled nearly all aspects of my life and made me think I had to have it to function.

The truth I found was that it was wrecking nearly everything.

Thankfully I had some moments of complete clarity to be able to, firstly, recognize I had a problem, and secondly, create a plan of action to get off it for good.

There were 3 major things that helped me to truly cut the sugar out of my life:

  1. Being prepared by meal planning, having backups and lists of healthy stuff I could eat,
  2. Understanding the crazy huge emotional connection, and
  3. Breathing through the cravings so I could make healthy choices

Even now I struggle when my emotions are especially turbulent. A funny(ish) thing my husband and I do is yell, “Intervention!” to each other if either of us feels we’re spiraling into a binge. I also do daily mental and emotional check-ins to manage stress and responsibilities. This helps me keep ahead of any potential feelings to bury my emotions in sugary foods again.

These days my life is lived with an intention of goodness and love, productivity and ambition. And I know the way to keep at that is to keep my diet clean, because it’s my fuel for this beautiful ride that I don’t want to miss.

Exactly What is a Sugar Detox?

You may be wondering exactly what is a sugar detox? When most think of ‘detox’ they definitely don’t think of a food product. But in light of recent research as well as anecdotal reports of feeling addicted to sugar, it’s no surprise we now see the term ‘sugar detox’ as a form of improving our health.

Many begin searching for a sugar detox in hopes of getting off sugar to kick-start weight loss or help go sugar-free to manage a condition. But there are several nuances to getting off sugar and defining a legit answer to, ‘what is a sugar detox?’

Sugar Addiction

Well, starting out with recent research, we’ve seen that sugar can be especially addicting. There are definitely controversial indicators at play as to what different professions consider ‘addictive’. The mental health community considers it a mental health issue, as sugar triggers area of the brain that respond like drugs. But from a nutritionist stand-point, it’s very unhelpful to categorize this as strictly a mental issue when sugar can trigger cravings and binge-eating for life.

Research has also shown that there is a tolerance that builds so that things sweetened may taste less sweet over time of consistently eating sugar-filled foods and beverages, which is a hallmark sign of addiction.

So while there will be controversy on the technical definition of ‘sugar addiction’ (as well as controversy over how it can be diagnosed), there is no argument that some people cannot resist it.

Taking sugar out of the diet

As is the case with any detox, removing it from the body through diet allows the body to rid itself of the substances that are creating metabolic chains of events that affect our health negatively. Sometimes this is the constant reinforcement of the addictive loop, and sometimes it’s the spike in insulin and consequent hormones. Therefore a sugar detox is the act of ridding your body of sugars to sort of ‘reset’ it.

Different levels

While some people are fine just eliminating added sugars and eating sugar-free from there on out in a clean, healthy way, others have more of a challenge. Some feel that the total sugars even included in fruits should be temporarily eliminated. Another food category that contributes to the continuation of cravings and binges is the ‘grain’ category, which is no surprise since these carbohydrates also raise blood sugar and notoriously make people feel more hungry shortly after.

That being said, it really depends on the total amount of sugars someone has been consuming regularly. But a step further would be the level of health issues trying to be managed in conjunction with the level of ‘addiction’ that person feels is happening any time they consume sugar or grains.

What’s the point of a sugar detox?

The point of the whole process is to get rid of sugars and foods your body metabolizes like sugar so that your brain, taste buds, and insulin response can ‘reset’ itself to behave more closely to normal.

Food companies have figured out how to hijack our brains into ‘needing’ whatever it is they’re selling, and they’ve spent billions of dollars doing this.

Many people pose the question, “Isn’t this level of stripping food freedom away unhealthy?”

Actually, it’s the other way around. The food companies have done a very good job of getting you hooked on those foods. If you initially knew a food was SUPER unhealthy before you even knew what it was, would you automatically say, ‘Yeah, I want that NOW!’ ?

Nope.

But if you knew it was a food you’ve experienced that dopamine rush for, you would.

Most people with that addiction feeling end up choosing the taste and dopamine (sugar-filled) over a healthier food option. That’s not food freedom. It’s not being able to control yourself and make healthy choices.

When you pull yourself out of that addictive state, you’re able to make smarter choices, which is what gives you REAL freedom.

Find out which type of sugar detox is best for YOUR body with the QUIZ! 👇