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I’m fresh off the heels of a 21-day sugar detox. Well, kind of. But you’ll understand it all later in this post. Why would I do this to myself – a 3-week sugar detox – during pumpkin spice season, you ask? I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently.
But in reality, I have struggled hardcore with a sugar addiction for what feels like a lifetime. I crave sugar and sweets and baked goods, sometimes so strongly that if there are none in the house, I’ll eat spoonfuls of brown sugar right out of the bag. I can’t believe I just admitted that on the internet.
Sugar feeds cancer cells. In fact, cancer thrives on sugar. Sugar leads to diabetes, excessive weight gain, belly fat, messes with your cholesterol, suppresses your immune system, promotes inflammation (inflammation is the root of many diseases), and contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among many other things. In short, sugar is pretty awful, and a habit that’s incredibly hard to kick.
Sugar addiction is real. Many people roll their eyes when I tell them I’ve been struggling with it (and I WILL beat it!), but it’s actually a scientifically proven fact. Sugar has been proven to be more addicting than cocaine. Yes. Cocaine. It lights up the same parts of the brain as cocaine, but stronger. The more research I’ve done on the downsides of sugar and how addicting it is, along with the presence of sugar in so many foods (unnecessarily, too), the more I want to kick the habit.
I Barely Made It Past A Week And Had To Restart After 14 Days
When I decided to do a 21-day sugar detox, I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t think it would be incredibly hard. Joke’s on me because I had sugar on my very first day of the challenge. In my defense, my children had made a new gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe with my mother-in-law, and they really wanted me to try one. Pull my leg, why don’t you.
That first week, I had sugar in a few different foods but remained in control. My goal had been 100% abstinence from all processed sugar, but with honey and maple syrup in moderation. I had processed sugar multiple times, but it was still at a much lower level than I had before the detox.
I lost three pounds without even trying, and my face thinned out after a few days. My face is my truth serum. You can always tell how I’ve been eating by my face. If I’m eating gluten, dairy, or sugar, it puffs up almost instantly.
By week two, I started to unravel. I have foods with sugar in the ingredients in the house for the kids (though we’re slowly trying to taper off sugar for them as well). I housed a box of gluten-free snickerdoodles one night, and a box of dark chocolate peanut butter cups jumped into my cart at Trader Joe’s. All bets were off at this point.
Sugar Is In More Foods Than I Thought, Including Foods That Aren’t Sweet
I was floored when I started reading labels and determining what foods I could eat on the detox vs. which ones I should avoid. My kids came down with hand-foot and mouth a few days into the detox (some really bad luck there!), so I made them homemade chicken soup. I used the organic chicken broth base that I’ve used for years. And when I turned it around and read the label, there it was: cane sugar.
The deli meat I bought – both organic and nitrite-free – has cane sugar in it. The bacon we buy? Sugar. Those veggie straws I get instead of potato chips? Sugar. Why is it necessary to put sugar in meat? Why is it necessary to put sugar in salty snacks or soup? Hint: it’s not. Companies are sneaking sugar into more and more foods, to get us addicted and keep buying.
It’s Key To Keep Sugar Out Of The House
When sugar is in my house, I’m likely to eat it. Self-control has been a big struggle for me. I bought food for my kids that had sugar in it – gluten-free snickerdoodles (my oldest, Ben, gets one in his lunchbox every day), chocolate chips for muffins (we make no-sugar chocolate muffins and I add 3 chips to each one), and snack bars. I swore up and down that these foods were for the children and that I wouldn’t eat them. During week 1, I held strong. I didn’t even consider eating them.
By week 2, however, it was a different story. I would have cut off my right foot for a bite of chocolate or a whiff of a donut. That’s when I totally dove into all the kids’ food that I had sworn I wouldn’t touch. It was gone within a matter of 24 hours. All of it. Then I felt guilty and bought more for them. And then I ate that, too.
For Me, The First Week Was The Easiest
Many people told me that the first week of the detox would be the hardest. I’d have headaches and flu-like symptoms, and intense, unshakeable cravings. But I didn’t. I felt mildly unwell, but that could very well be my body’s response to being exposed to hand-foot-mouth disease. I wasn’t grumpy, and I felt strong in my decision to do this.
It was week two that seemed impossible. At that point, I’d had enough of “fruit for dessert.” I wanted real dessert. I was finding more foods with sugar hidden in them, than those without (or so it felt). I started noticing more of the things I couldn’t have, instead of the things I could have. That was vastly different from week 1, where I gleefully looked at all of the surprising foods that I could have during this detox.
Round 2 Was… Interesting
After I fell apart during week 2, I decided to restart. I made it three days. Then I decided to restart again. One day. And then I decided to start one last time. One more day.
This was harder than I had expected.
Every time I had an amazing sugar-free day, I unraveled the next day. One of my biggest cases of self-sabotage yet. It was only 21 days. Why couldn’t I get there?
The Grand Finale
After a week of on-again, off-again patterns, I quit. For some reason, when my brain hears, “you cannot have that, ever,” all I can focus on is that forbidden fruit. And things start to fall apart.
In the meantime, I’ve learned to be so much more conscious of added sugar in our diets. I am pretty much disgusted with how many things have sugar in them, and I’m just not buying it anymore. I’m working hard to replace all sugar in our house with honey and maple syrup. And when I do use them, I’m using them incredibly sparingly.
And guess what? It’s cold and flu season. Do you know what impacts your immune system tremendously? Sugar. When you eat sugar, your immune system is compromised by 40% and can take up to 5 hours to recover (or longer, depending on how much you eat). Colds and the flu? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So, my 21-day sugar detox was kind of a big fat fail, but, I learned a boatload of valuable lessons while I attempted it. It taught me to truly inspect the ingredient lists of everything, even foods that you wouldn’t think would have added sugar. It taught me that “all or nothing,” isn’t really the best approach for me, and working towards moderation, for the time being, is what will really bring me big, successful, healthy gains in the long run.
For more of my personal column, Heather Gets Healthy, click here.