Sugar Detox: How To Stay Sane

I've always had a problem with sugar. Chocolate, ice cream, cookies, cake — for as long as I can remember, I've been powerless to its myriad charms. And, it's not getting better. As I've gotten older, my cravings have increased both in number and intensity. The situation has become so dire that I feel the need for something sweet after every meal. I can barely make it to bed without a little chocolate — and it seems I never miss out on my 3 p.m. cookie.
I've recognized the problem brewing for a few years now, but I've never been able to muster the willpower to do anything about it. When I was coerced volunteered to try a sugar detox, though, it was a very different story. This time, I had my coworkers to hold me accountable — and, I had to answer to all of you. Turns out, a little pressure was all I needed.
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The assignment was simple: Record everything I ate for a week while avoiding sugar as much as possible. Fruit was allowed, but anything with added sugar was strictly off-limits. I'll admit I was more than a little nervous, not only about whether or not I would slip up and have a chocolate bar, but also about what it would do to my body. I'd heard sugar withdrawal can cause fatigue and depression-like symptoms in addition to particularly nasty cravings.
As it turned out, it was a lot easier than I thought — and I learned a lot of tricks along the way. Click through to find out what worked, what didn't, and whether it was all worth it. (Hint: It was.)
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As far as straight sugar goes, I didn't have much work to do — I've been using artificial sweetener in my coffee since college. But, I took this as an opportunity to wean myself off that, too. After all, it felt like cheating, and I was afraid it might keep my sugar cravings from dissipating naturally? Besides, who needs all those chemicals?

Turns out, even cutting out the sweetener wasn't so hard. I'd miss it on the first sip or two, but honestly, I felt like I got more of a jolt without it — and I wouldn't crash later on.
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Here's the thing about sugar: It's everywhere. Food producers add sugar to practically everything in the grocery store, from milk to salad dressing to salsa. Jessica Katz, R.D. C.D.N., notes that "even products labeled '100% fruit,' like juices, can contain tons of sugar."

For me, at least, cutting out every single product that contains even a whiff of added sugar is a little unrealistic. So, I made an effort to educate myself on just how much sugar I'm getting from these unlikely sources — and then picking and choosing just a few to treat myself to on occasion. For example, I began ordering my salads sans dressing, just in case, and straight tequila rather than margaritas (hey, it was New Years' Eve!).

But, alas, I'm a ketchup fiend, and, on a recent trip home to California, I allowed myself a bit of the sugary red stuff with my fries at In-N-Out Burger. As it turned out, though, I used much less than I usually did — with my sugar intake down to almost nothing, I was shocked at how sweet the ketchup tasted on my tongue.

Moral of this story: No need to be a sugar nazi. "Don’t be overly restrictive or drastic," says Katz. "It will just increase your cravings." And, in the case of a slip-up, she says, "Don’t feel guilty, or beat yourself up! That will just lead to a downhill spiral."
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This was probably my biggest source of sugar before the detox. A fun-size Butterfinger here, a peanut-butter cookie there, a piece of birthday cake because WHY NOT? My sugar intake would often skyrocket without me even knowing.

I knew I would need a substitute snack to ease the transition. I quickly became obsessed with nuts of all shapes and sizes. Instead of reaching for the M&Ms, I started shoveling almonds, walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. I bought a large bag full of raw, unsalted nuts in bulk, which I keep at my desk for when those 3 p.m. cravings hit. Okay, yes, they're high in fat, but nuts are stuffed with fiber and nutrients (and besides, it's the good kind of fat, anyway). Delicious, nutritious, and super-filling — a perfect alternative to my sweet snacking addiction.

Indeed, Katz recommends, "Eat small, frequent, regular meals and snacks, incorporating lean protein and fiber (and some healthy fat) to control appetite and decrease cravings. Don’t let blood sugar drop — and don’t let yourself get too hungry."
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One thing that helped me to stay positive about my chocolate-less existence was the idea that those calories I would have spent on a Reese's could be put to better use elsewhere. Avocado, in particular, was my secret weapon: A delicious, luxurious source of healthy fat that felt like a treat while filling me up. I devoted my attention to finding more creative ways to incorporate it into my diet — homemade avocado hummus and vegan mayonnaise were particularly delicious — which helped distract my taste buds from the absence of sugary stimulation.
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An unexpected side effect of the detox experience: Once you focus on improving one aspect of your diet, it's easy to use that momentum to bring in more positive change. I physically felt healthier without sugar, but I also felt good about my progress, which made me want to go even further toward a truly healthy lifestyle. I found myself ordering more salads, which, incidentally, kept me satisfied and free of cravings.
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Increasing my lean protein intake also helped curb my cravings. In addition to the nuts, I made an effort to eat more plant-based protein sources, like beans and whole grains. The protein and fiber went a long way toward keeping me from crashing and needing a blood-sugar boost between meals.
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One thing I noticed was that most of the time, when I got a sugar craving, it wasn't so much that I needed (or even wanted!) something sweet — I found that sugar had become a sort of ritual, an experience that had become a key part of my routine. Fortunately, I discovered that this need could be satisfied with a cup of coffee or tea, or even just a bit of hot water with lemon. Just like with the nuts, subbing in a warm drink instead of a cookie or a doughnut filled the need for an afternoon or after-dinner ritual.

Also, Katz also suggests drinking a lot of fluids, whether it's water or tea. "Staying hydrated prevents dehydration from causing cravings and hunger. Keep a water bottle on your desk as a visual reminder, and set a numerical goal for yourself for water intake."
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