We’ve all seen the dieting fads out there: paleo, keto, gluten-free, dairy-free, raw, cleanse after cleanse.
If you’re like me, you probably never bought into any of these and found them to just be restricting and sometimes a little bit crazy.
But over the past few weeks, I had noticed a scary pattern developing in my diet. I had been drinking soda almost daily and eating candy at every chance. When I realized this, then saw several people on social media following this thing called a “sugar cleanse,” I started considering it for myself.
After doing some research into what sugar does to the body (the data is scary, people!) and how to help with cravings, I decided to go cold turkey on sugar for two weeks—no candy, no soda, and limited carbohydrates. While it was challenging at first, I found some pretty remarkable things happening, not just to my body but to my relationship with food.
I learned I do not need sugar to be happy. This was a huge realization. I, and maybe many of us, tie our food choices to what we think will make us happy. We eat cake, cookies, burgers, and other junk to feel good, to relax, and to treat ourselves. But, the crazy thing is, my happiness is not tied to food. There are so many other things in life to be happy about, and our relationship to ourselves is the most important part of that.
The bigger picture is that happiness doesn’t come from external factors—not true, long-lasting happiness. But, we’re asking food to do just that for us. Let me be clear here, there is nothing wrong with having a cupcake or soda here and there or to have a piece of cake at a party. But, understand that piece of yummy deliciousness does not create your happiness.
Treating my body well became the priority. Through the cleanse, my mindset changed from eating what made me feel good emotionally to eating what made me feel good physically. Cutting something out of my diet that was only hurting me, and adding in foods that make me feel amazing has allowed me to form a mindset of treating my body well. I’m learning to view food from this space of what it’s going to do for me physically, rather than as an emotional band-aid. Is this food going to make my body feel fueled, good, and strong? If not, why am I eating it?
The cleanse was easier than I expected. I was kind of worried before starting. I didn’t know how I would feel not having the comfort of soda and sweets. I had gotten so used to having sugar on a daily basis that it was hard to imagine a world where it wouldn’t be there.
I think many of us let the fear of how difficult we think a change will be stop us from even trying. If we can get over that hump and just start, it’s often not as bad as we envisioned, which is exactly what happened in my case. Once I decided I was going to do it and got started, it wasn’t that bad. I actually found the challenge of it fun and enjoyed trying to find new foods and new ways of eating. Sure, there were moments where I was tempted, but outside of those moments, I wasn’t consumed by thoughts of sugar.
I found myself drinking more water. During the cleanse, I started drinking more water and hit my daily goal of 64 ounces much more easily. This was a pleasant surprise and unexpected going into the cleanse. This makes me think of the old adage of making one healthy change and how that will naturally lead to others. Maybe removing sugar from my diet allowed room for me to finally consistently hit that daily water goal.
If you’re someone who is considering doing a sugar cleanse, here is how I set out to cut sugar out of my diet. Keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist or physician, so this cleanse was formed around my own research, taking advice from some helpful friends, and listening to my body.
The first few days.
Early on in the cleanse, you might notice having some digestive issues, headaches, or feeling tired. These all happened to me and are what I assume was due to the lack of sugar that my body had grown used to and was now detoxing from. My biggest suggestions for the first few days of cutting out sugar is to drink extra water, eat some additional healthy fats, and continue any workout routine you’ve been doing. All of this should help detox the body and get it used to having less sugar.
One week in.
On about the fourth day, I started to feel much better. The headaches subsided, my digestion was normalizing, and workouts started to feel good again. You might find this to also be true for you as your body begins to adjust to the change in diet.
This also was about the time where cravings started to creep in for me. As life continued and my routine was faced with special occasions, I had to either cave in or find alternatives. There will be moments where your new change will be tested. Instead of reaching for the normal cake or ice cream, try a couple squares of dark chocolate or some fruit with sugar-free whipped topping. It might seem daunting in the beginning, but finding alternatives might leave you with a sense of pride for treating your body well.
The final stretch.
After finishing the first week, I found that my body continued to stabilize and felt way better than before the cleanse. This is when your body will start to fully adjust to not having sugar and begin to think it’s the new normal. Continue drinking plenty of water, exercising, and eating healthy, fulfilling foods.
If you find your mind starting to push back on the change, telling you things like, “Oh, just a little bit won’t hurt. You can have that ice cream, because you’ve been so good,” remind yourself why you’ve made the change in the first place. If you do give in, know that these are teaching moments where you can learn some valuable lessons about your relationship to food—and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even if you have sugar once or twice, you can get right back on track with your goals and not see it as a total setback.
Life after the cleanse.
Once you complete a sugar cleanse, I would encourage you to take stock of how you feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally. How does this differ to before you started the cleanse? You now get to decide if sugar will play a part in your life moving forward—and if so, how?
If you decide to reintroduce sugar into your diet, pay attention to any changes that might happen. For me, having sugar again left me feeling tired, heavy, irritable, and the digestive issues came back. You might not have any effects, but paying attention to our body is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.
At the end of the day, be easy on yourself.
During the cleanse, I had a couple slipups. I really wanted some ice cream one night, so I allowed myself some. If you’re trying to make positive changes in your life, whether that’s a diet change, an exercise routine, better communication with your partner, you’re going to have slipups. We’re not perfect. Just because I’ve made a change doesn’t mean that I’ll never again have a piece of cake or some chocolate, and that’s okay.
Balance is the real key to a healthy and happy life.
Author: Kelly Carmichael
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Travis May
Copy & Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina