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The 5 steps of sugar rehab

Did you know the average American consumes up to 31 pounds of sugar a year? Ironically, I found this stat after eating 10 cupcakes. (Seriously, 10. I didn’t know whether to throw up or cry.)

But the USDA has made it official that we need to cut back on sugar. Even though we’ve known (but also happily ignored) the adverse effects of sugar for some time now, the federal government’s dietary guidelines are finally suggesting we limit it for the first time ever.

Now may be as good a time as any to get a grip on our sugar addiction, ladies — otherwise, we’re going to find ourselves slaughtering bags of cookies a la Cookie Monster (only not in a cute way). Below, the five-step sugar detox you didn’t know you needed but really, really do. You’re welcome.

No one said it’s going to be easy. Not a day goes by where I don’t foam at the mouth for a chocolate bar, cake, or those glorious two-bite brownies. I tried the whole low-calorie snack thing in an attempt to cut back, but yeah, it didn’t work. I ended up eating the entire box in one sitting, and trust me: The proud feeling afterward only lasts a few seconds. That’s because sugar is practically crack: The more you have, the more you want.

More: How to break your sugar addiction with coconut oil

“The biggest problem with sugar is that it’s contributing to obesity and increasing the risk of health problems like type II diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer,” says Dr. Patricia Farris and Brooke Alpert, co-authors of The Sugar Detox.

More and more women are choosing to cut sugar out of their diets entirely. While it’s not an easy goal — especially with how much sugar is hidden in our foods — it’s 100 percent doable. Just ask Gabrielle Bernstein, life coach and author of Miracles Now, who’s working hard to lead a sugar-free lifestyle.

“My decision to get off sugar was not about vanity but vitality,” says Bernstein. “I had been feeling tired and foggy. I was also getting sick a lot and felt my immune system was weak, so I decided to clean up my diet and kick the sugar.”

Are you ready to follow in Gabrielle’s footsteps? Here’s a handy guide to help you kick your sugar addiction:

Step 1: Emotionally prepare

Only make the change to your diet when you’re 100 percent ready — otherwise, you’ll constantly flip-flop between detoxing and bingeing. “There’s nothing wrong with not being ready,” says Bernstein. “If you force yourself to change, the change will never stick.”

Step 2: Plan your strategy

This comes from the 1,324 times I tried to quit smoking before successfully quitting: Know your stress triggers and plan a strategy for when a trigger strikes. Write down every time you’ve craved a smackerel of something sweet and what triggered the craving. Next, decide what you’ll do instead of turning to sugar. It’s important to establish new ways to blow off steam, replacing your old habits with new (and much healthier) ones. You know, so you don’t lose your s***.

Step 3: Go cold turkey

In the diet provided by Farris and Alpert, they take their clients off all sugar for three days, including natural forms of sugar like fruits, dairy, all grains, alcohol and added sugars. “We also eliminate artificial sweeteners because we feel that by cleansing the palate of the sweet taste, we can get you off sugar more easily,” say Farris and Alpert.

More: How to spot hidden sugars in your everyday foods

Looking at the list of eliminated items, many of you are probably thinking, “Say wha? What does that leave? Air?” It leaves more than you’d think: The three-day detox includes eggs for breakfast (like scrambled) and salads for lunch (like tuna nicoise), while dinners focus on protein (like grilled fish, chicken or tofu) and vegetables. Drinks include water with lime, green/herbal tea and one black coffee with no added sugar per day.

While the transition is difficult (Bernstein went through severe withdrawal but managed to stick it out like a boss), the good news is once you’re off sugar, the cravings fade faster than you’d expect.

Step 4: Master the art of sugar-free

The initial sugar detox is one thing, but maintaining your new lifestyle is completely another. One of the biggest things that helped Bernstein stay on track was turning her kitchen into a place of Zen and learning as many sugar-free recipes as possible. More important than that, she enjoys the process.

“It’s easy to create change when you truly want it,” she says. “Because I was so eager to feel better it made it easy for me to quit sugar. At first I experienced detox symptoms and struggled a bit, but once I was feeling better I got really psyched about cooking healthy foods and supporting my health.”

Step 5: Focus on one decision at a time

The biggest thing that’s helping me go for a healthier lifestyle is not focusing on the big picture, but the smaller decisions that will lead me to it. Make your big-picture health plan, but only focus on the step you’re currently on and only move forward when you’ve mastered it. Otherwise, the process becomes overwhelming, and that will lead to an hour-long order at a drive-through window near you (trust me).

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