When we first got together, my husband and I were very active.
We went on daily bike rides. Our vacations consisted of taking biking tours in Europe or hiking in the mountains. One summer, we even took several weeks to through hike the Oregon Coast Trail.
Then, we became a family of three. We took on sedentary jobs, and our physical activity dwindled over time. Before we knew it, we were much heavier than we ever imagined we would be.
When the excess weight led to a “high blood pressure” diagnosis for my husband, we knew something had to change. So, we tried to cut out fat from our diet. Eggs for breakfast became granola. Burgers for lunch were replaced with healthy, deli chicken with honey mustard and spinach. Frozen yogurt stood in for ice cream, and we lowered our portion sizes.
It didn’t work.
So, I did some research. The more I read, the more I became convinced that sugar was the culprit. You’ve probably read a lot lately as well about how bad sugar is for us.
If you’ve shrugged it off as just more trendy, dietary woo-woo—that’s easy to understand. The internet is full of people peddling woo-woo, dietary and otherwise. Your skepticism is understandable.
However, the truth is there’s a lot of solid data behind the anti-sugar movement. Here are a few facts:
>> The CDC says: no more than 200 calories per day should come from added sugars.
>> Sugar consumption has increased by more than 30 percent over the last three decades.
>> Kids who had their sugar intake reduced significantly had amazing results.
Following the steps below helped us change the way we eat and stick with our sugar-free lifestyle:
Know what sugar is.
Before you start, a little bit of education is in order. I know that what my family thought of as “sugar” was only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, anything made with any form of sugar (granulated sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, and so forth) counts—but that’s not all.
Maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar are all processed by your body as sugar. Then, there are simple carbohydrates, such as white flour. Your body processes simple carbohydrates very quickly by converting them into sugar.
Then, there’s hidden sugar. There are so many foods that contain hidden sugar. Potato chips, salad dressings, cereals (not just the sugary kid stuff), and condiments are major culprits. So, we’ve learned to read labels. Also, the ingredients may not say “sugar.” Look out for sucrose, dextrose, and fructose as well.
Hit the pantry with a garbage bag and a mission.
For us, this was the easy part. When we learned the damage sugar can do and realized how addictive it was, that was motivation enough to start pitching things and start over.
We ditched bags of candybars, canisters of sugar and white flour, chips, cookies, almost all processed foods in our freezer and pantry, juice…you name it. It was quite surprising how empty our kitchen became. Clearly, this sugar thing ran deeply in our household.
Be prepared for a rough patch.
Like I said, dumping sugar was easy. The impact of our decision didn’t make itself known until about 24 hours later. This was when we began to realize what going without sugar truly feels like—and it wasn’t pretty.
There were headaches. I had problems falling asleep. To say that we were irritable would have been putting it lightly.
Still, we stuck with it. We gave one another wide berth to avoid bickering. Eventually, the symptoms stopped, and we began to feel better. Really. We felt noticeably better.
And, I believe we were able to persevere because of some of the strategies I’ll explain in the next step…
Create an emergency stash.
This is key. Keeping your mouth, hands, and mind busy the first few days of the detox is so important. We kept plenty of snacks around that were low in sugar, high in fiber, and high in protein.
We bought one of those veggie platters you put out for parties and made a protein dip from plain Greek yogurt. We bought sugar-free peanut butter. We stocked up on nuts. We had crisp apples on hand to go with the natural peanut butter. We kept hard-boiled eggs at the ready.
That took care of the snacking part—but we also realized that we needed to find things to do to stay occupied. So, we rented a lot of movies. We planned a family walk each evening.
I decided to revisit crocheting, a hobby I had neglected for quite a while. My partner and our son spent many hours in the evenings indulging in a new video game—and they decided to balance that sedentary activity by purchasing a second-hand weight set.
Plan your meals.
I truly believe that meal planning is super important. It simply leaves less room to slip if you’ve got a menu planned, than if you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
Here are some things that worked for us, especially in the beginning:
>> Emphasize protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbs—like vegetables and low-glycemic index fruit (“Granny Smith” apples, grapes, berries).
>> Make breakfast and lunch simple and redundant. We did lots of omelettes and scrambles for breakfast. For lunches, we’d make a big batch of soup and we picked up salad ingredients. We also used traditional sandwich ingredients as toppings for those salads.
>> Keep some items in the freezer for nights when cooking dinner isn’t possible.
>> Have ingredients ready at any time for at least three different dinner options.
Of course, you’ll have to adjust this for your own schedule and preferences.
Shop mostly the outer edges of the store.
You’ll need to exert as much control over your diet as possible. That means buying ingredients and cooking your own food. Think about the difference between buying a can of vegetable soup and buying the ingredients to make vegetable soup. Most of the stuff with sugar is going to be in the aisles in the middle of the store.
Just remember that this isn’t a completely hard, fast rule. We do hit the middle aisles for dried and canned beans, canned tomatoes, and a few other odds and ends. However, for the most part, the produce section, meat department, bulk bins, and dairy section have all that we need.
Although, I must praise the frozen section for offering organic berries and vegetables. Those do an amazing job of helping us get our nutrients in. Be wary of anything that comes already seasoned or sauced. There’s lots of potential for hidden sugar there.
Avoid artificial sweeteners at first.
Now that we’ve been off of sugar for quite awhile, we do use artificial sweeteners to a limited extent. I use a stevia-based sweetener in my coffee. My partner carries around those little “water enhancement” drops. We also keep some sugar-free desserts available.
You may find yourself doing the same thing eventually, but I strongly recommend waiting awhile. When you first start your detox, you aren’t just fighting sugar itself; you’re also fighting the cravings, as well as your perception that you “need something sweet.”
Even though they aren’t technically sugar, artificial sweeteners can increase those ongoing sugar cravings.
Be on the lookout for new recipes.
Without sweets as a constant go-to snack, you may get bored with your current rotation. That’s okay! There are plenty of new recipes to try. All you have to do is get online and do a bit of research.
So many people are going on low-sugar and low-carb diets. However, even if you don’t plan to follow any particular diet plan, check out online support groups and websites related to the following:
>> “Diabetes friendly” meal planning
>> Paleo diets
>> Low-carb diets
>> Weight loss and bodybuilding
Remember that you can also experiment on your own. Soups, scrambles, and stir fries are all very forgiving. They can also help you to use up leftover ingredients you have lying around.
This is a great time to get physical. Your body will already be responding well to the changes in your diet. Once you get over the initial hump, try to work in some exercise.
Walk regularly. Lift light weights. Sign up for a yoga class. Don’t try to do too much at once. Nobody goes from sitting on the couch to a bonafide gym rat in a month or two.
Plan your cheats.
Here’s the best news of all. You don’t have to give up sugar completely for all time. You just have to make sure it isn’t a part of your daily life.
As a family, we do indulge in sweet treats occasionally. We simply set strict rules around them. We don’t keep sugar-based treats in the house. When we go out to eat something sweet, we do so with the intent of making it an occasion. That means we don’t keep ice cream in the house, but once a month, we might ride our bikes to this really cool ice cream parlor in the next town.
We don’t have a stash of fun-sized Snickers on hand. But, when it was my birthday last month, we each enjoyed a delicious handmade chocolate from a gourmet shop inside the local art museum.
In closing, if you’re considering a sugar detox, I sincerely recommend it. It has been so beneficial for my family. We’ve managed to improve our health in so many ways. Hopefully, if you follow this guide, you will enjoy similar results as well.