Giving up sugar is one of the greatest things you can do to improve your health. It’s also one of the most difficult. Sugar is addictive and most of us have been hooked on it since childhood. Making the decision to join the movement to give up sugar is the first step on a long, hard road.
Today, our diets are totally consumed with sugar. There’s nothing sweet about what that white stuff does to your health: Over-consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates has been linked to just about everything from diabetes, obesity, and heart disease to dementia and even cancer.
Excess sugar wreaks havoc on your body in a few different ways. For starters, research suggests it may contribute to inflammation in the body. In turn, chronic inflammation is linked with heart disease, terrible dental health, numerous types of cancer, arthritis, and other serious health problems. Sugar has made its way into our entire day, and somehow, we’ve been taught to think that it’s okay.
When people talk to me about sugar and I tell them that they need to get it out of their lives, they usually have at least one of these things keeping them from doing it:
If you have a hard time saying no to sweet treats, it’s not entirely your fault. Back in stone age times, carbohydrates (aka sugar) were hard to come by, but vital for survival. So humans developed an extremely strong drive to find and consume them.
Research shows consuming sugar-laden foods triggers the release of feel-good opioids in the brain, similar to the effect of drugs like heroin. Sugar stimulates the reward center in your brain – called thenucleus accumbens – to release dopamine, which makes you feel “really good”. Over time, changes to gene expression and other functions also dull the response to those opioids, meaning that the more often you eat excess sugar, the more you’ll feel the need to keep experiencing the same feeling and the brain becomes addicted to that spike. How crazy is that!
That’s why it can be difficult for some people to eat just one piece of candy. Given all that, it’s no wonder many experts say sugar addiction is very real.
The good news is, you can break free from the habit and get through a 7-10 day detox. Here’s how:
1. PLAN AHEAD & BE MINDFUL
If you’re truly hooked on sugar, quitting abruptly can make you feel like you have a hangover, combined with fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and irritability. Carefully choose when you start your sugar detox but don’t make excuses for life events either (holidays, parties, dates etc.) Sugar withdrawal symptoms typically only last about three days, just make sure you’re not doing it during the three days you know you will be stressed out.
Pick days when you can practice more self-care and better plan meals, snacks, and distractions. Know that there’s an end to it, envision your goal, and you will be okay! Food will also start tasting better when you avoid sugar and your taste buds will begin to readjust and you’ll be able to taste sugar again in its natural form. You’ll notice that foods like almonds and onions actually have some natural sweetness.
2. FILL UP ON HEALTHY FATS
Fat tastes good and is satisfying, both mentally and physically. It also helps stabilize blood sugar which is key, since dips in blood sugar have been shown to activate areas in the brain that produce a greater desire for high-calorie foods. Make sure every meal contains some healthy fat from foods such as avocados, nuts, olives, fish, or cheese.
3. STAY HYDRATED
Sugar in liquid form is even worse for you than sugar in a Twinkie… because it goes almost immediately into your bloodstream. What makes it worse is that a sugary beverage like soda doesn’t fill you up and the energy only lasts a short time, so you drink another very shortly after. Even if you don’t drink soda, your beverages may be loaded with sugar.
Adequate hydration keeps up energy levels and helps stabilize hunger. On the flip side, being thirsty could mess with your ability to make healthy decisions and resist sweets. It turns out that even mild dehydration (1 to 2 percent less water than your body needs to function optimally) seems to impair cognitive performance, which includes attentiveness and critical thinking skills.
4. WRITE DOWN A MEAL PLAN
Every morning or perhaps before you even start, think about your meals and snacks for the week and jot them down. It puts you in a positive mindset and helps hold you accountable for what you’re going to do without cheating and stick to your guns.If you feel like you’re about to give in to cravings, call or text a friend for support. Quitting sugar with a pal, or at least talking to someone about your plans and asking them to help keep you on track can be a lifeline. A few words of encouragement from someone else are sometimes all you need to stay the course. But at the end of the day it’s up to you to resist it, having a plan will help.
5. EAT A HIGH PROTEIN MEAL FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
You’ve been fasting all night and that means that your carb levels are low and your insulin levels are high. This is one of the main reasons so many people reach for something sweet in the morning.
Combat this by getting plenty of protein instead! Not only will it fill you up without spiking your blood sugar, but it will also re-train your body to use protein as energy. You also want to make sure you get some healthy fats into your body as early as possible. Try a protein shake or have some eggs and a handful of nuts.
6. FIGHT SWEET CRAVINGS WITH BITTERS
Bitter taste receptors aren’t only on your tongue; they’re found throughout your digestive system and on other organs. They largely go unused if you eat a traditional Western diet, but stimulating those receptors with bitter foods and herbs positively affects hormones involved in controlling hunger and appetite, which could help keep cravings in check.
Bitter herbs and aromatic bitters (bitter herb extracts in an alcohol base) are also commonly used in traditional medicine to help stabilize and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The pancreas, which makes insulin, actually contains bitter taste receptors.To stimulate your bitter receptors, try adding a drop or two of aromatic bitters on the back of your tongue before meals and at your usual snack time. In terms of other herbal therapy, many herbs such as burdock root and dandelion root are naturally bitter, having been derived from bark and roots.
7. SNIFF ESSENTIAL OILS
Research has shown that several scents help tame on overactive appetite. When study subjects sniffed peppermint every two hours for five days, for example, they consumed fewer calories and less sugar than when they weren’t exposed to the aroma, reports a study by researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Try diffusing jasmine and grapefruit essential oils around your home or office, or look for the scents in natural, essential oil-based perfumes and body lotions or oils.
8. KEEP HEALTHY SNACKS WITH YOU ALWAYS
This is why we said to plan ahead with meal prepping, but sometimes things happen and you get hungry unexpectedly. You will get your worst cravings when there isn’t a farmer’s market, fruit stand or healthy restaurant within five miles. In fact, there will probably be five fast food restaurants, three vending machines and an ice cream shop within sight.
So be prepared. Keep plenty of healthy snacks in your desk, in your car, in your laptop case and anywhere else you can stash them. Rely on nuts, seeds, jerky, celery with nut butter, and other portable foods. Don’t forget it’s best to have a combination of protein, carbs and fats in every snack.
9. EXERCISE REGULARLY & LOWER YOUR STRESS LEVEL
Strength training can not only help you on your sugar detox, but also help keep your blood sugar levels steady for good. Regular exercise and being active decreases appetite and carb cravings better than anything else. Find an activity you enjoy — whether it’s hiking, strength training, biking, tennis, yoga, or another form of exercise — and make time to move your body each day.
When you use your muscles, they require more glucose, which means less glucose in the bloodstream to elevate your blood sugar and fewer cravings for sugar later on when your blood sugar begins to crash. The more lean muscle you have, the better your body is at getting blood glucose out of your bloodstream and into your muscles. Exercise also releases those feel-good endorphins so that you’re not so vulnerable to mood eating.
10. GET A TON OF SLEEP
Lack of sleep or even sleeping at erratic times also raises your cortisol level. It also interferes with your leptin and ghrelin levels, the hormones that control hunger and satiety. Get at least 7-9 hours every night and try to go to sleep at roughly (within an hour or so) at the same time every night. Research shows sleep deprivation actually increases your desire for high-calorie foods while also decreasing activity in the regions of the brain that deal with evaluating food choices.
With this 10-step plan you can quit sugar much more easily than you think! The first few days are always the hardest, but if you follow all of these steps, you’ll start feeling amazing in no time.
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