Advice from a Nutritionist: How to Gently Detox from Sugar
Guest blogger Tricia McCauley is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and herbalist, and the author of the popular Green American article “Managing Stress with Herbal Support.” Twenty years ago, Tricia began her exploratory journey with food and cooking as she coped with severe food sensitivities. Learning to cook with brand-new staples; cutting all gluten, corn, soy, garlic, canola oil, and sugar out of her diet; and discovering the connections between digestion and stress taught Tricia a great deal about patience and self-care. She is thrilled to have recently re-introduced her formerly forbidden foods back onto her plate! She’s the resident herbalist at Common Good City Farm in Washington, DC, and through her business Nutricia Consulting, she helps clients adopt healthier relationships with food, specializing in identifying food sensitivities, undertaking dietary transitions, and managing stress. See the end of this blog entry for a special deal on her e-book and e-workbook on detoxing.
Green America asked Tricia to talk to us about how to best cope with “detoxing” from too much added sugar.
Does the title of this article make you feel anxious or a little jittery? Does the idea of taking the added sugars out of your diet seem overwhelming? Do you feel like you have a Relationship with sugar, that it functions in your life as a friend or maybe even a significant other?
These are good signs that a sugar detox is exactly what you need.
For all the reasons outlined in the “Sickeningly Sweet” issue of the Green American, taking a break from sugar is a worthwhile experiment. Maybe you’ll find that it’s not a problem in your life. Or, maybe you’ll find that you actually are an addict and that the detoxing process is a true rite of passage. I’m a big fan of having as much information as possible about the effects of food on my body. Even if you decide, after a detox, to return to eating candy corn for lunch, you’ll have a clear idea of how sugar affects you, and how much power you have over your cravings and addictions.
What can you expect when detoxing from sugar? That depends on two things: (1) how deeply you are addicted, and (2) how gently you approach your cleanse. Going cold-turkey from sugar can be a huge challenge. You might experience shakiness, sweatiness, lethargy, mood swings, or even skin breakouts as the body re-orients itself. It seems counter-intuitive, but often when we take out toxins, things get worse before they get better. Sort of like when someone quits smoking and then gets a bad (or worse) cough. The body is readjusting itself to the lack of toxic inputs, and that can feel disorienting. Or, you may feel just fine and have no side effects.
If you skip the cold turkey and instead plan a GENTLE, gradual detox, it’s very possible to have a delightful experience.
I took refined sugar completely out of my diet for about two years, over a decade ago. It was in conjunction with a lot of other dietary changes in an attempt to get my food sensitivities under control. When I couldn’t eat any gluten, corn, or soy, it was so easy to avoid sugar. Lately, though I’ve noticed that the sugar has crept back in—this past year of unrestricted eating has been a slippery slope of temptation! When I’m at a party, I can actually have a piece of cake; and when my friends Olivia and Jeff invited me to their Seder, ohmygosh yes I did sample all three decadent desserts.
I’m currently leading my annual spring cleansing group (students learn how to design a gentle detox for themselves, and then we support each other as we embark on our cleanses), and I’m very excited to get my food choices back on track . (Full disclosure: I’m more of a salt-and-fat girl than a sugar girl. So for me, an off-track diet is surviving on store-bought hummus, cheese, and nut crackers, rather than cooking up the salmon, kale, and brown rice.) And even though nutrition is my profession and I’m an experienced cleanser, I’ll still follow all my own rules to create a gentle experience for myself.
Here they are, in a nutshell:
Rule #1: Practice Kindness and Patience
Why is removing sugar such a challenge? Because as with any addiction, we’re dealing with both the physical and the psychological triggers.
Physically, the body will experience cravings when something is missing. Cravings are like a red flag: Are you dehydrated? Are you hungry? The body is trying really hard to keep you alive, and when something is awry, its first go-to craving is sugar. This is because, historically (as in, before the invention of refined sugar), sweet foods such as berries and honey are nutrient-dense and safe. Isn’t the body smart?? It’s amazing.
Psychologically, the relationship between a sweet taste and nurture is reinforced by holiday treats, birthday cakes, and even lollipops given out at the dentist’s office. We’ve been programmed to equate sugar with reward, safety, and comfort.
So there’s a lot riding on the relationship you have with sugar. For some people, the physical addiction is the biggest challenge, while for others, it can take a lot of work to root out the psychological triggers.
Whatever your particular relationship with the sweet stuff, practice compassion for yourself. Remember that you and your body are on the same team, despite all those cravings. And keep in mind that a detox is not punishment! You’ve already been punishing yourself by ingesting sugar, right? So breathe deeply and make the commitment to this journey.
Rule #2: Make A Plan
To effectively, gently detox, you’ll need a plan. You can make this plan in a journal dedicated to your sugar-free experiment, or on the computer, or on a coffeehouse napkin—whatever works for your brain. But you will need a plan to support you when the going gets rough.
Start by gathering information. Identify the ways sugar shows up in your daily routine, read labels, and observe when you seem to crave it the most.
Choose a start date that works for you, and put it on the calendar. From there, sketch out the rest of your detox. I’m not a fan of going cold turkey: it can be harsh for the body and intense for the mind. In the spirit of gentleness, I put my vote in for gradually easing the body off of an addiction. For example, Day 1, no more candy from the office candy dish. Day 2, no ice cream after dinner. Day 3, use honey in your morning coffee.
Rule #3: Add Things In
Deprivation is no fun. So once you’ve gotten through your plan to eliminate sugar, you get to the joyful part: adding things in!
Address both the physical and the psychological aspects. For the body, stay hydrated; get dense nutrition through vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins; indulge in sleep; and exercise.
For the taste buds, add in healthy sweet foods—fruits and root vegetables. It may take your taste buds some time to readjust and find the sweetness in natural sources. If your addiction is particularly intense, you can use a tablespoon of honey as a treat. One student of mine had to add honey to her fruit smoothies, because fruit didn’t taste sweet to her. That’s not the perfect long-term solution, but satisfying the craving will help get you through the early days. Honor your body and start where you are.
For the mind, add in other forms of sweetness: creative projects, massage, time in nature, a special adventure. Really nourish yourself, body and spirit.
Rule #4: Get Support
It helps to have community when doing any sort of detox. Find support by announcing your project to friends and co-workers, finding a cleanse buddy, or simply by reading about the experiences of others through this blog!
Rule #5: Remember Rule #1 🙂
SPECIAL OFFER: You don’t have to be in DC to get Tricia’s advice on detoxing your diet. Her e-book Cleansing & Detox Made Simple: Create Your Personalized Healing Diet for Any Season is available for $9.99 at NutriciaConsulting.com . Green America blog readers can get a free companion e-workbook, which includes 11 worksheets to help you plan and focus your short-term detox, plus shopping tips, recipes, and more resources to guide you along the way.
To get your free e-workbook, visit NutriciaConsulting.com, add both the Cleansing and Detox Made Simple e-book and e-workbook to your shopping cart, and use coupon code SugarDetox.
Don’t forget to let us know how your sugar detox is going in the comments below!