Sugar is everywhere. It’s in our food, our drinks, and even in the air we breathe. And while sugar can be a delicious treat, too much sugar can lead to serious health problems, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. We all know that too much sugar can lead to weight gain and other health problems but battling a sweet tooth is difficult.
But what do you do when you can’t seem to shake your sugar cravings?
This post includes tips to help detox from sugar and break your addiction.
Westerners overeat sugar, period. We know it, and we hate it. But we also feel powerless to stop it. After all, sugar used to give our ancestors the added energy they needed to survive.
It was a delicacy and, to a hunter-gatherer, a blessing.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles don’t force us to run all over the landscape desperately trying not to starve. Moreover, it’s no longer a rare treat; sugar is all around us, in nearly everything we eat and drink, and in amounts, our ancestors would’ve been jealous of!
Sugar Cravings: How to Detox
We eat so much sugar that our species is dogged by the shadow of illnesses caused, at least in part, by our excessive consumption of this sweet treat.
Obesity, mental illness, diabetes, dementia, inflammation — all of these are the natural result of a diet saturated in sugary helpings. One study showed that drinking sugary drinks increases inflammation in as little as three weeks.
If you’ve said “Enough!” and tried to quit, you probably realized how difficult that is. Besides the fact that sugar is so plentiful in all our food, especially in the U.S., giving up sugar can feel similar to giving up other vices, such as smoking or drinking.
Sugar detoxes are challenging to overcome.
Symptoms of Sugar Withdrawal
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking often
- Difficulty concentrating
- Craving carbs
- Muscle aches
Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Many people will experience only some of them, but even a few of these symptoms can cause havoc in your daily life.
Like many addictions, the brain becomes accustomed to the amount of sugar that floods its nucleus accumbens with dopamine, releasing a sort of native opium throughout it. This can happen because of the brain’s natural plasticity, causing it to need more and more to get the same effects.
But how do you make it easier? How do you cut back or kick the habit when you’re used to eating processed foods like donuts, ice cream, sugar-laced cereals (maybe even with marshmallows), donuts, candy, or soda?
Before diving in, remember that even small changes to your sugar intake can impact your health more positively. Whatever changes you decide to implement, do so slowly. Quitting anything cold turkey usually exacerbates the problem and leaves your brain whining and begging you to give it its sugary fix again.
#1 – Make Small Changes
If you’re looking to detox from sugar, making small changes in your diet and lifestyle can go a long way. Don’t go cold turkey. Making small changes will be easier on your system and be more sustainable long term. How can I make small changes to detox from sugar?
Try cutting out sugary drinks like soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks by replacing with water or a carbonated water. Same for hidden sources of sugar like flavored yogurts, granola bars, and breakfast cereals.
Try replacing sugary snacks with healthier alternatives like fruits, vegetables, or nuts. And when you do indulge in something sweet, make sure to balance it out with other healthy meals and snacks.
By making small changes like these, you can break the cycle of sugar addiction and start living a healthier lifestyle.
#2 – Drink Water
Make sure you’re getting enough water. Drinking plenty of water will help to flush sugar out of your system, keep your body hydrated, and help crowd out sugary drinks and food currently in your daily routine.
Make Protein Your New Friend
A lot of sugar cravings come from an imbalance in your blood sugar. You don’t have to be a diabetic, or even suffering from pre-diabetes, to have an imbalance that triggers a sugar craving.
When you ingest sugar, it causes your blood sugar to spike. In turn, your body releases insulin to lower it. Often, your blood sugar can dip too low, so you start craving foods that will raise it, and the destructive cycle repeats.
An excellent way to regulate this and help beat sugar cravings is to eat foods that keep too much insulin from being released. This means that protein and healthy fats will be your new friend.
Also, plan your meals into a series of small portions throughout the day, some say every three to five hours, to keep your blood sugar from dipping and your brain from freaking out.
#3 – Make Fiber a Part of Your Breakfast
For many, cereal is nostalgic, having grown up with the commercials involving mascots for various kinds of cereal and having to quest for their sugary breakfast. Others grab a doughnut to work or school and make it an everyday habit.
There’s nothing wrong with eating these things, but they shouldn’t be your regular breakfast. A lovely Saturday morning of eating cereal or a doughnut once or twice a week isn’t bad, but it shouldn’t be your only food.
Better than those things are fibrous foods, such as omelets. Meal replacement shakes are also fantastic breakfasts, and many of them have a chocolate flavor option, so you can get a little bit of that sugar without compromising on nutrition.
If you don’t like meal replacement shakes, that doesn’t mean you can’t do without sugar. Adding some fruit to the side of your meal will provide your brain with natural sugar, which is healthier in its makeup and quantity.
#4 – Cut Back on Sweetened Drinks
When you’re thirsty, instead of grabbing a soda, energy drink, or cup of fruit juice, you should rather go for something not so sugary. Plain water is much healthier, but herbal and green teas are the way to go if you like flavors.
Not only do these help wean you off of sugar and help stop the cycle of craving, but they can also help you lose some weight. You can also drink coffee if you need the stimulant. However, it’s worth noting that there’s an addictive quality to caffeine, so take that into account.
#5 – Try Meditation to Manage Your Stress
Cravings aren’t just related to addictions; they can also stem from stress. This is because stress causes the hormone cortisol to circulate freely and in abundance throughout your body, causing the liver to release glucose.
This raises your blood sugar, which you now know causes cravings. Some people find meditation to be a way to manage their stress. While some focus on mindfulness, others try to clear their minds entirely, scan their bodies, or even meditate on scriptures.
If you have other ways to manage the stress that you find helpful, employ them to help fight cravings. Emotional eating is also a cycle that can be broken after all.
#6 – Turn Your Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones
Many coaches encourage managers and leaders to eliminate negative language from their vocabulary. This might mean that instead of saying something like, “Being late makes you a poor worker,” replace it with, “Coming in on time makes a good impression.”
You can also use this way of thinking to help beat sugar cravings. Whether you’re following a diet like the paleo, keto, Mediterranean, Okinawan, or any other diet, or even trying to eat healthier, you should focus on the nutrient density of what you’re eating.
In other words, think about the healthy foods you’re getting instead of thinking about how you’re losing sugar. People find making changes easier when they associate the change with something positive or a net gain instead of focusing on negative things and feeling like they’re giving something up.
#7 – Swap Out Some Unhealthy Snacks for Healthy Ones
Most people crave snacks during the day, especially if they get bored or have a habit of eating. The unfortunate side of this is that many snacks are packed with sugar. Yes, even some so-called ‘healthy’ snacks, like granola bars.
An excellent way to avoid harmful sugars during these times is to pick snacks with healthy fats and proteins, which are your new friends, remember? Grab some seeds, a little fruit (a more natural sugar source), veggies, nuts, or hard-boiled eggs.
These are both a good way to facilitate the feeling of being satisfied and an excellent way to boost your energy. Also, eventually, you will crowd out the bad snacks and replace them with healthier ones.
#8 – Reserve Your Desserts for Weekends and Holidays
Dessert is comfort food. Most of us aren’t hungry after a fulfilling supper, so it’s best to break the habit of a daily dessert. Save it for the weekend instead of making it part of your evening routine. If you’re struggling to break the habit, grab a healthy snack after a meal or before bed.
Eventually, saving your desserts or bedtime snacks for weekends and holidays will feel natural. The goal isn’t to cut these things off completely but to learn to eat them in moderation.
#9 – Try to Eat Naturally Sweet Foods
Artificial sweeteners are some of the most addicting forms of sugar. However, you can trick your cravings sometimes by consuming naturally sweet foods such as fresh fruit. Natural sugars have been Mother Nature’s way of boosting energy and providing the brain with the sugars it needs to function. Just as there are healthy and unhealthy fats and calories, some forms of sugar are healthier than others.
Sweet potatoes, vegetables, bananas, berries, coconut, squash, beets, vanilla, and cinnamon are all excellent choices when choosing the Mother Nature brand of sugar over the corporate brand. Cinnamon can also help control insulin levels, making it a great way to help balance your blood sugar, and berries release sugar more slowly than other foods.
#10 – Read Labels
When you go shopping, check the labels of products to get a good idea of how much sugar is in your diet. You’d be shocked to find out how much sugar is in things like salad dressing, marinara, and BBQ sauce.
And if you live in the U.S., it can be even harder to escape sugar-saturated foods. Visitors from overseas frequently observe that almost everything in America tastes like sugar. You must decide how much sugar will be acceptable, as you can’t eliminate it entirely.
Not only is some sugar healthy and necessary for your body, but it isn’t practical to cut sugar out entirely depending on where you live.
#11 – Get More Exercise
Got a craving? Get up, walk, ride a bike, or head to the gym. Moving around can distract you from craving sugary sweets, calm you down if you’re feeling stressed, and help balance your blood sugar.
If you start craving sugar when feeling bored, exercise can help in that regard, too. Giving your body something to do also stimulates the mind, effectively distracting it from craving sugar out of boredom.
#12 – Combine Foods
Remember, sugar isn’t entirely unhealthy, and your brain can’t function without some sugar. The point isn’t to remove sugar entirely from your diet, it’s to develop a healthy relationship with it. If you like yogurt, for example, feel free to add some chocolate chips.
Dip your bananas in chocolate and add some sugar to your strawberries. This gives you a little sugar while also allowing you to ingest some foods that will help fill you up.
#13 – Don’t Cut Out Your Favorite Things Completely
If you like chocolate bars, give yourself one once in a while. If you feel like you’re having cravings, maybe get a fun-sized candy bar instead of a king-size, saving those for a once-in-a-while treat.
Eat slowly and enjoy them instead of scarfing them down and feeling too small. Savoring a small treat isn’t giving in to sugar. It’s maintaining a healthy relationship with it. Again, make small changes and use the crowding out approach to make cutting out sugar more bearable.
#14 – Give Yourself Rewards
It’s okay to reward yourself for managing your sugar cravings, which can motivate you to continue. Forming new, healthy habits takes time, and if you don’t see any rewards for it, it’s all too easy to fall back into that old habit of snacking on sugary foods. The rewards you give yourself can be as big or as small as you want.
#15 – Cut Back on Salt
You wouldn’t believe how much salt is found in foods we regularly consume, like sugar. You’re flooding your body with salt if you eat out or buy a lot of highly processed, prepackaged food. Also, many people enjoy adding salt to their meals, especially meats like steak or salmon.
What does this have to do with sugar? Salt can increase sugar cravings. The saltier the foods you’ve eaten, the greater the sugar craving you’ll feel afterward. However, sometimes just being aware that salt can create a sugar craving can reduce the sugar cravings you feel afterward.
Otherwise, the best thing to do is just to cut back on the amount of salt you eat. Again, you can’t cut it out completely, and a diet too low in sodium is quite unhealthy for you. Just don’t dump a heap of salt on your food when you eat; you may find that you aren’t craving dessert like you usually do.
#16 – Take Vitamins
The vitamins you want to take are iron, zinc, B12, and magnesium. Too little of these can leave you feeling low on energy, which will cause you to start craving sugar, especially if you’re low on iron.
Magnesium is a regulator of blood sugar, so it can help you balance it out as you work on adding more protein and healthy fats to your diet. B12 deficiencies can cause mood swings, and if you’re an emotional eater, that means craving more sugar.
Many people are deficient in specific vitamins without knowing it. Your body will often use sugar to compensate for any low feelings caused by a deficiency elsewhere, so try taking a good multivitamin and see if it helps cut back on sugar cravings.
#17 – Mix Your Tactics Up
Don’t try all of these suggestions at once. Remember to take things slowly and go little by little. You find that you don’t have to follow every single one of these suggestions. Do what works for you, and if something doesn’t seem as effective as it once did, try a new approach.
For example, if you find that trying to snack on a fun-sized Snickers bar makes you crave a large one, try something else. If it works for a while, but you find yourself craving more and more later, time to switch tactics then, too. Instead, try eating a cup of fruit or a banana dipped in chocolate.
A person may be craving sugar for many reasons—boredom, emotional eating, imbalanced blood sugar, or just out of habit. However, there are more ways to fight off a sugar craving than there are causes for it. Sugar doesn’t have to dominate your life; you can develop and manage a healthy relationship.
Learning to manage your sugar intake and stop the cravings will improve health, especially as far as inflammation goes. Inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses and pains, and most people feel far, far better once it goes down.
Remember, you don’t have to utilize every last one of these tactics. You choose tactics to try depending on what’s working for you and what’s causing your cravings. The cause of a craving may change from one day to the next, too, so stay on your guard and don’t get discouraged. Believe it or not, sugar cravings diminish over time as your body adjusts to having less sugar.
Sugar is an addiction. Addictions can be beaten.