Anyone who has ever dieted and cut out processed sugars will tell you about the mood changes, irritability, headaches, and other not-so-fun side effects. The fact of the matter is when you consume excess sugar over long periods of time it’s going to uncomfortable when you cut it out.
Not only are you dealing with drug like withdrawal symptoms due to sugar affecting the opioid receptors in the brain, but you’re also dealing with the side effects of detoxification. In short, there are a host of physiological changes going on throughout your body when you start removing this very, very addictive substance.
While there’s no way to avoid all discomfort with beating a sugar addiction, you can most definitely reduce the symptoms with a well thought out strategy and become victorious. In today’s post I’ll provide you with some tips and help you to improve your chances of sticking with it until you see success.
Over the past twenty plus years I’ve been consulting individuals on weight loss and wellness, it has been my observation that there are two primary mistakes people tend to make when they don’t have a pre-planned strategy for quitting sugar.
The two primary mistakes made when attempting to get off the sugar wheel….
Let’s address the first mistake.
Attempting to switch “bad carbs” for “healthy carbs” – aka “bad sugar” for “good sugar.”
You can’t simply ditch the cake, candy, crackers, and other processed carbs and replace them with so called “healthy carbs” and expect to reduce sugar cravings.
Doing things like switching from milk chocolate to grapes, white bread to whole grain bread and fast foods to Lean Cuisines is only going to prolong the suffering.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this pitfall with clients. I think there’s a huge misconception that has been propagated by the processed food industry for years which has distorted the truth about what “healthy” really means when it comes to our food.
This is a huge part of the problem in my humble opinion.
How else do we explain that even today, scores of people still mistakenly believe that margarine or canola oil spreads are “healthier” than butter? You know that substance we were told in the 80’s jacks up cholesterol, clogs arteries, and causes heart attacks. Oh, ok, forget about the inconvenient facts that heart disease and cardiovascular health ailments are higher today than ever.
I know I’m getting sideways, but I’m looking to make a point.
It’s simply that we now tend to think about foods being “healthier” if they’re lower in carbs, lower in fat, lower in calories, are gluten free, sugar free, or whatever.
Billions are spent by the processed food industry propagating this B.S.
It’s all garbage. There I said it. Processed foods are garbage.
You know what isn’t.
Foods created by God, not by man, made in some manufacturing plant designed to last for months on a shelf without going bad.
Here’s an example of a so called “healthier” substitution of carbs that won’t work.
Let’s say you were someone who ate a Danish every morning and a Starbucks Frappuccino and you switched to a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. You may likely think you’re eating “healthier” and therefore should start losing weight, feeling better, etc.
Hate to break it to you but probably not going to happen.
Are you better off with the cereal and juice?
Well yeah kind of. But we’re not fixing the problem. To say you would now be eating “healthy” would be an exaggeration to say the least. There are much better choices that could be made. Your just switching sugar for sugar.
And here’s the kicker, you’re not doing ANYTHING to reduce sugar cravings, get your body to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, begin switching to using non-sugar substrates for energy production (fats, ketones, etc).
It’s easier to replace the sugars with other sugars, especially when it’s under the guise of the replacements being “healthier.” We’re going to feel better subconsciously about ourselves for making “better” choices, but it won’t move the needle.
What’s going to be healthy is getting your body conditioned to fueling off of something other than sugars all the time. And this is simply going to require you to significantly reduce sugar (from all sources) for a period of time.
But wait a minute, you say, this is going to make the cravings worse, give me headaches, etc.
Well, not necessarily.
And regardless, what would you rather have, a hangnail for a few days or a recurring paper cut day after day, week after week?
The idea is this...
Yes, you’ll have some withdrawal symptoms, but you can do things to offset them. Plus, it’s better to deal with some discomfort for a week or two and then find FREEDOM, compared to a continuation of suffering and ultimately destruction.
So what are we going to fuel our bodies with if we remove most of the sugars, even from starches and whole food carb sources?
Fats and proteins. More on that in a minute.
For now, let’s look at mistake #2.
Not consuming enough live whole foods to assist the detoxification process and promote cellular rejuvenation.
When you experience strong sugar cravings during diet attempts your body is trying to tell you something. These strong signals are sometimes referred to as something called “toxic hunger.”
It is in essence a response in your body to the removal of metabolic waste and toxins. Part of what’s behind the cravings and withdrawal symptoms is your body desperately crying out for micronutrients from live foods.
And why micronutrients from live foods?
Because your body is magnificently designed to provide cravings for minerals and micronutrients that it needs at any given point in time for metabolic processes. Have you ever found yourself craving a particular food and you couldn’t figure out why?
Say for example, out of the blue you really wanted pineapple, or something salty, etc. This could be your body creating a craving for a particular mineral or nutrient that was needed. It’s good to listen to these cues.
Here's something that may sound like a stretch, but I’m convinced it’s true.
With all the fixation on calories in a world full of processed and refined foods, I believe we are literally STARVING ourselves from micronutrients at the cellular level, although we get MORE than enough calories.
Sounds crazy at first but think about it for a minute. What we’re doing obviously isn’t working.
And the simple reason is as a society we’re no longer eating primarily natural, whole foods.
Just know when you start pulling sugars out of your body, you’ll be going through a detoxication and cellular rejuvenation process as well. Consuming more live foods will give your body the essential mineral and micronutrients it needs to get these jobs done.
Piling on a bunch of “low sugar” or “low carb” processed food choices isn’t going to get that job done. In fact, it’s going to make it more difficult.
You need to heal from the inside out if you really want to beat a sugar addiction.
The longer you’ve been addicted to sugar and processed foods the more time it will take to detoxify and rejuvenate the cells. Be patient with yourself and just know the body has an amazing ability to heal itself when you put in the right foods.
It just needs to be an “all in” approach to eating whole foods and not just a half-hearted approach with removing the processed sugars and junk foods. Within 30 days you can dramatically change your energy, health, and reduce your waistline if you focus on eating whole foods.
More on the withdrawal symptoms with cutting sugar
Know going in that the sugar withdrawal symptoms will be the strongest during the first 10-14 days. This is where you need to tow the line and resist the temptation to cave in and go back to old ways of eating.
Preparation is critically essential here. You simply cannot wing it as you’ll undoubtedly fail. If you don’t have a replacement for the processed sugars, you won’t make it through with sheer willpower and discipline alone.
Prepare out meals and snacks ahead of time and have things ready to roll. Just make sure you’re eating enough, or it will be extremely difficult resisting the true hunger signals calling for energy and nutrients.
This is where a lot of people mess up. They think they have to eat less, hence do caloric restrictive dieting. In reality, they should look to eat more from whole foods choices that will provide sufficient fuel and nutrients to feed the cells.
If you can get to other side of this first week or two it gets much, much, easier. In fact, most of your cravings will be gone. How in the world does that happen? It’s when you’ve weaned your body off the overload of sugars, detoxified, and started using other substrates (fats and ketones) for energy production that you lose the built-in triggers for cravings.
In simple terms, when you’re adapted to using fats and ketones for energy production the mad cravings for sugar subside. You can see this is just as much physiological as it is psychological.
This is why you should ideally look to have a two-pronged approach. First, look to identify when you crave processed sugars and then plan on what you’ll consume instead.
For example, if you have strong sugar cravings in the mid to late afternoon, look to prepare and plan on having a protein shake, yogurt, celery and almond butter, or some other snack instead of your previous choices.
Do NOT and I repeat do not, try to just plow through it and use will-power. You’d be fighting both the biology of your body and your brain. We exchange bad habits instead of looking to necessarily remove them.
My top recommendations for overcoming sugar cravings and breaking your addiction once and for all!
Breaking a sugar addiction is not something that will ever be resolved long-term with a pill, shot, or other singular approach. The reasons for the addiction are far too numerous and complex to be addressed this way.
The best way to approach breaking a sugar addiction is to look at ALL the reasons why you got here in the first place then take a strategic and systematic approach to healing.
Breaking a sugar addiction is a matter of healing. Not fixing, healing.
This will likely need to be more than just addressing physical health as emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being all are connected to your body.
Making a change can be difficult. Especially when attempting to make a change all on our own. We aren’t built to do very well all alone. Getting guidance, support, and accountability from a friend, coach, mentor, etc., can go a long way towards increasing your likelihood for success.
If I can ever be of assistance in any way please don’t hesitate to let me know. Until next time, be blessed. – S
Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He has over 24 years' experience with fitness coaching and consulting and specializes in training programs for middle age and mature adults. If you live in the Charleston, SC area you can schedule a no-obligations consultation.
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