A few weeks ago, I was briefly speaking about the beginning of my sugar detox in my Nutty chocolate & amaranth granola post. The 8 weeks program is now done and I wanted to speak more in details about it on the blog.
I’ve already attempted many times to lower sugar in the last months, without holding my goal more than 1 week – those sneaky chocolate bars decided to give me a hard time -. Because of my lack of concrete bearings, I was always trying to stop in one shot, while thinking that my sugar addiction would get packing from one day to the next, with only a bit of motivation needed. Not really surprising that all those attempts were big fails, when we hear many people saying that sugar detox is barely as much chaotic as the one from cigarette.
As many people ask me, why would I quit sugar?
Since kid I’ve almost always been used to eat whatever I wanted without taking 1 gram on the scales, then year by year, I’ve taken the habit to eat cakes whenever I « needed », or one square of chocolate here and there, even thought I wasn’t basically a sweet tooth. At some point, I ended up at a stage where I could easily eat one or 2 chocolate bars -the big ones, I mean-without being disgusted as I would had been a few years ago – which means quick sugars and refined sugars in profusion -, and that until having nausea but still continuing no matter what. The most surprising is the fact that I wasn’t doing this because of hunger but only by longing – or need – to fill myself with sugar , a bit like when you are at restaurant and you force yourself to take a dessert, even though you don’t really need to. The periods during which I was eating a lot of sugar were when I was very stressed or having big downs in my mood. I’m not thicker for all that – thanks to the sport -, but sugar became a daily component of my eating habits, being as well an ally in hard moments as an enemy day after day. This is when I started to do insomnia or tachycardia episodes after some umpteenth sweet overloading that I realized something was wrong and that I needed to pass my nerves on something else than sweet products. Without becoming aware of it, I simply developed sugar addiction.
Faded by my useless attempts to stop and my declining credibility, I gave up more or less with the idea of no sugar diet – I don’t really like this expression, as this program hasn’t for goal to loose weight but more to get detoxificated- until I lay hands on the famous Sarah Wilson’s book « I quit sugar » in a library corner. If I thought first « Bullshit » before to open it, I quickly changed my mind by reading it: Sarah Wilson talks about the topic in an optimistic and progressive way, in order to not show the program as an obstacle to overcome. The first part of the book talks about the 8 weeks sugar detox and decompose them one by one, with advises and hints to not give up depending the difficulties of each week. The second part brings numerous recipes that help to eat without sugar or with sugar substitutes.
Beyond her own experience when she started to eat without sugar, Sarah Wilson lean on numerous researches in her book, showing the negative effects of refined sugars and excess of quick sugars. She especially reports that our body is naturally predisposed to integrate 20 grams of sugar per day. The average consumption of a common adult nowadays is somewhere between 85 to 100 grams of sugar per day, which is equal to 7 times more per year compared to our forebears, 150 years ago. Here is a summary of the main basic notions and hints to not forget along the program:
• Basic rule: not consuming products that include a sugar rate superior to 6g/100g or 100mL. Stay also under the 20g of sugar per day limit (which is the equivalent of 5 teaspoons).
• Don’t hesitate to replace sugar by fat – yes yes!- as nuts or cheese, which full up stomach quite quickly. The best fats to use are the unsaturated ones indeed.
• Use spices as sugar substitutes: cinnamon, vanilla, chaï mix,…
• Brush your teeth directly after dinner to not be tempted to take a sweet treat.
• Prefer full fat dairy products (in milk, yogurt,…) than the « light » ones, which tend to contain much more sugar to balance the lack of fatty acids.
• Those aliments are your best friends: avocados; pumpkin seeds; olive, walnut and flax oils; eggs; ham; chicken; goat cheese; macadamia and almond butters; coconut water and oil.
Week 1: becoming aware
> Observing nutritive info and getting aware of sugar amounts in aliments.
> Avoiding to consume white flour and refined products.
> Decreasing sodas and fruit juices consumption, and avoiding as much as possible to sweeten beverages as tea or coffee.
The first week is relatively easy. As Sarah advises, I replace sugar by nuts or cheese when I’m tempted to take sweets. The fact to be daily exposed to temptations and to go to restaurant or to parties doesn’t bother me as I’m quite motivated. I also made a stock of sugar-free Nutty chocolate and amaranth granola, which also helps me when I’m dreaming about a tasty dessert, as well as my favorite peanut butter -without any additive or added sugar-. However, I can notice that I’m more often hungry since I started.
Week 2: eating fat
> Replacing sugar by good fats and proteins
I still don’t miss sugar so much, however I’m quite tired and am starting to have upside-down mood at the end of the week. About sport, I continue to workout everyday, but I feel like I have less energy when I’m running. The fact that I reduced my consumption of quick sugars push me to eat more slow burning carbs to balance, then I tend to consume a lot of black bread or complete bread -thanks Germany, at least I don’t have to permanently drool on Baguettes here-, as well as a ton of nuts to fill myself when I want a dessert. Even thought my love for cheese would push me toward this option, I couldn’t really imagine myself bringing everyday my Camembert at the office…
Week 3: time to stop everything
> Stopping consumption of fresh and dry fruits for the 3 next weeks (this step seemed to me impossible at the first sight).
> Stopping sugared drinks, jam, industrial sauces as ketchup or BBQ sauce.
> Ciao sugar, even from palm and coconut, agave syrup, honey,…
Spontaneous mood swings and bouts of depression are still here. It’s a bit harder than the last weeks for me when I see some chocolate turning around me or when I’m passing by some warm pastry smells on my way to work on the mornings. But I still haven’t made any lapse, even if occasions are not missing. Small surprise about training, hazard or not, I’ve been way much faster during my usual interval training session, with an average pace of 4’50 » during 13km. However, I finished my training totally high, probably because of hypoglycemia.
Week 4: don’t give up
> The stage when you’re asking yourself « Why have I started this program, actually? » is starting, that’s totally normal.
I’m still tempted when some chocolate is passing under my nose but the need usually goes away quite quickly; the most annoying feeling is most of all at restaurant, when everybody is ordering a dessert and you must continue to resist in spite of those delicious smells of warm fondant au chocolat -trust me, this is the worst-. About my mood, I’m still grumpy the main part of time and I don’t need a lot to fly off the handle very quickly. As explains Sarah, I need to justify permanently to people why I choose to impose that to myself, but it’s not a problem as long as motivation is here. I reduced a lot my consumption of slow burning carbs and most of all bread since the first week and I’m starting to lose a bit of belly; I also balance the loss in carbs by way more proteins than before. Everything is alright physically, I’m still doing daily workout as well as 1h biking to go to work. However, I’m neglecting running because the lack of time and the tiredness made by the other sports.
Week 5: detox
>The body is starting to react to the lack of sugar and it’s possible to have pains around your joints and kidneys. It’s a proof that the detox is working well.
> Don’t hesitate to eat greens, to drink smoothies, lemon juice,…
> Hydrate well your body, warm drinks as green tea or infusions are also recommended.
> Acupuncture, yoga or sauna sessions can help many people to be more relaxed facing the transition.
I think the hardest part is over for the mood and I’m starting to be less tense. Not any problem anymore concerning desserts, I can bake cakes and smell their perfume without feeling the need to taste them, which is quite impressive in my case when I think about a few weeks earlier, when I was totally unable to resist to a dessert at restaurant. The sugar detox motivates me to get more and more interested in holistic nutrition, and in natural dessert alternatives enabling to eat healthy with a moderate rate of sugar, even more while getting closer to the end of the 8 weeks program.
Week 6: time to reintroduce fruits
> Reintroducing fruits, but mainly the ones with a low rate of fructose as kiwis, grapefruits, blueberries, raspberries,…
In spite of my new resistance against sweet temptations, I was seriously starting to miss fruits and most of all berries. Then, I started straight the week with a big bowl of berry, avocado and almond yogurt smoothie, no need to tell you that I loved it. In spite of Sarah’s warnings concerning the reintroduction of fruits, I’m not tempted to rise my daily dose; I take a small portion per day since Monday and I feel great for now.
Week 7: find a balance and learn how to control yourself
> Test yourself and observe the reactions of your body facing sugar after almost 8 weeks without: eat a chocolate biscuit that you loved before for instance.
> If you allow one « rest day » to yourself, then avoid to consume fruits or exciting drinks the next day, as coffee or tea.
I didn’t really challenge myself during this week as I wanted to wait the end of the 2 months, to be sure to not get re-used to sugar too quickly – also for the symbolic context, and simply because I wasn’t feeling the need to do it -. As I’m having much more time to cook and update the blog again, I tried to develop a few sugar free recipes, which would be able to replace sweet snacks that we are used to take before or after sport, as those chocolate bars with peanut and coconut that I’ gonna publish soon on the blog. As it happens about sport, I felt the lack of quick sugars when I ran a race on Saturday (10k): after 3-4k with a sustained pace (4’30″km/h), my muscles got totally burned and the next kilometers of the race were quite tough. However, I stay careful by linking this with the lack of sugar as I was also undertrained and wanted to start the race with a quite ambitious pace at the beginning.
Week 8: take stock of your new relationship with sugar
> Try to define your new relationship with sugar: how do you feel since you stopped? What’s your target now?
> Don’t be intransigent toward sweet products and allow yourself to deviate sometimes.
The last week of the detox is fine for me and I start to get well used to those new eating habits. I take much more pleasure when I eat fruits than before, and a superior rate of sugar disgusts me quite fast. On Thursday, I went to a café where I love to work and took a piece of my favorite banana bread, to be honest I was looking forward. It wasn’t a problem for me to make this test as I’ve always found this banana bread quite low in sugar, compared to the average. I really realized the addictive effect of sugar on our body when didn’t have any pleasure anymore to eat this piece of banana bread, too sweet and cloying, for which I was used to sing the praises a few months ago. I had the same reactions when I ate a few pieces of the chocolate hen that I got for Easter: even though white chocolate was turning me crazy a few months ago, I didn’t feel pleasure when I ate it , again. On the other hand, I perfectly felt the post-effects of sugar intake by having this feeling to want more sugar, even though I didn’t have any pleasure while eating the chocolate. This was a good proof to show that it’s very easy to fall again in the vicious circle if we don’t listen the reactions of our body.
I’ve never been for strict specific diets – in my opinion lots of people start from one day to the next to not eat gluten anymore, or starting a paleo way of eating only to follow a trend -, excepting when the health and safety of people are involved. When I started this experience, it was first to get my body used to not have sugar anymore, then observe the effects of this change on my body and eating habits. The best proof of sugar effects on the body was probably during weeks 3 and 4, which had been quite chaotic for my nerves – and probably the nerves of some other people as well..-. After 8 weeks I finally realize that I can do without sugar without any problem; that was mostly for me a source of reassurance and sweetness, and not a need. By stopping almost totally my consumption of sugar, I also snack way less between meals than before and I am more attentive about my body reactions regarding what I eat – or don’t eat -. I feel also more concerned about holistic nutrition and cook much more « healthy » recipes than before, which are full of benefits.
However, I don’t intend to deprive myself of a very tempting dessert, which I really want to try its flavors and originality, and not for its power to comfort. Excepting for people who are really looking to erase sugar from their life, the most important, in my opinion, after an experience like this one is to learn how to listen my body and how to moderate my sugar intake, without falling again in the overload habits or in a way to consume without specific pleasure. Even though I was already careful about what I was eating and cooking, I’m gonna try now to take more time to prepare my recipes and to find natural alternatives to sugar in desserts.
I also don’t plan to change the style of my recipes on the blog – well, I might post healthy recipes more regularly though -, I haven’t turned neither into a sugar fierce opponent nor a staked blogger who only posts super healthy recipes, my future article that will talk about my selection of Berlin burgers is the perfect proof for that ;)