I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my body, and anyone who knows me can attest that I’m (for the most part) a clean-eating, active individual. Since I was a young girl, however, I’ve always had a nagging sweet tooth — craving America’s (and the world’s) most popular recreational drug: sugar.
For the last few months I’ve armed myself with research about how sugar really affects our bodies and minds and recently documented my 30-day sugar detox plan, in an effort to help others break their cycle of reliance on sweets. I began envisioning what success would look like and how to achieve it, and I came up with these 10 guidelines that I believe can help lead to your success:
1. Know that a food addiction is real.
The concept of a “food addiction” is relatively new. Sugar alters our biochemical pathways and is ultimately eight times more addictive than cocaine. Whether we realize it or not, many of us use food — and in particular, sugar — to alter our brain chemistry.
2. Learn how biochemical pathways are altered after consuming sugar.
It’s difficult to summarize the complex processes surrounding the release of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine when we eat sugar. A more thorough explanation is here, but to summarize, we use it to boost our serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel comfortable. Endorphins, which help relieve discomfort, are also released when we eat sweets, starches and fats; and our dopamine levels — or reward centers — are turned on when we eat. The problem? Over time, we need to eat more and more sugar to obtain that same level of dopamine release.
3. Determine whether you have an addiction and the extent to which you have one.
The Yale Food Addiction Scale is a series of 25 questions designed to identify whether someone has a substance dependency with the consumption of high fat/high sugar foods. After taking the quiz, you can check how you scored here. This is helpful to identify because it gives you a goal to work toward improving or resolving.
4. Know where your sugar comes from.
Where we obtain our sugar naturally varies from person to person. It makes sense to keep a journal of where and how much sugar you consume on a daily basis. For those who don’t have the time, simply become aware of how many people unknowingly consume sugar. A great deal of us get sugar from soft drinks and prepared foods (e.g., ketchup, salsa) without even realizing it.
5. Research what you can and can’t eat.
When you go on a proper sugar detox, it means taking out all sugars and starches for the time you're doing the detox. Keep in mind this is not a diet. It is a nutritional reset so that you may be able to break the cycle of sugar reliance and addiction. That means you need to overcompensate for a while in order to achieve those goals.
6. Clean out your kitchen.
Some of us are more prone to getting cravings after seeing or smelling food — despite whether we're hungry or not. If that’s you, then it’s best to clean out anything in your kitchen that could serve as a weakness. Remove as much of the temptation as possible.
7. To break your sugar cravings, you need to abstain — not moderate.
It’s far easier to follow a program when restrictions are very black and white. One little bit of sugar can actually set cravings off on a downward spiral, so it’s best to remove sugar completely from your diet ... at least for some time. Reflect how you feel and look after the cleanse. You may find out that you like the results enough to continue forward.
8. Plan your recipes in advance.
It’s far easier to follow a program when you have a list of ingredients and recipes that you can work from. Over the past few weeks I’ve been taking a look at the ingredients that I can have and coming up with interesting recipe ideas that would personally work for me, in addition to asking friends to suggest their own.
9. Remove risks by finding support.
When I decided I would do this detox, it was natural for me to tell all my friends. I knew I’d be cooking nearly every day for the next 30 days, so it made sense to invite friends over. What I didn’t expect was that so many people would be inspired and interested in doing a detox with me. It’s this type of support within your network that is indispensable to achieve success.
10. Help yourself by helping others.
If you look into or have partaken in any recovery programs, the last step is always helping others through the same issue. Hopefully, by sharing your journey, your own actions will inspire others, which is a powerful positive feedback loop that will naturally keep you satisfied — without the sugar!
Good luck on your journey!