SUGAR DETOX: Overcoming Sugar Addiction, Hidden Sugars, & Healthier Alternatives
Hi my babes!
We had an awesome question in the Soul on Fire Podcast Tribe on Facebook yesterday about how to stay strong when cutting out sugar.
Her question received so many awesome responses from our group members, which I will touch on below, and it inspired me to write this post and share my perspective on the subject. I have a long and tricky history with sugar (and with food in general, let’s be real), so this subject is something I am very passionate about.
A few years ago after a particularly crippling addiction to sugar, I realized I had to cut it out of my life entirely in order to move forward. I will tell the story below, but first I want to mention that as someone who once suffered from an eating disorder, I never want to promote cutting foods or food groups out entirely unless you feel mentally and physically comfortable and strong to do so.
If you feel okay having sugar in moderation or if you’re working to have more food freedom and LET GO of the rules, then BY ALL MEANS do so! Cutting out sugar (or anything for that matter) is not for everyone. I have learned a lot about how different we all are in our decision making processes (thanks a lot to HUMAN DESIGN among other things), so I recognize that going cold turkey on anything is only for a percentage of us — not for everyone.
So many studies have proven that sugar is the root cause of chronic illness from diabetes to migraines to cystic acne to obesity, and it has even been proven that sugar can feed cancer cells.
Beyond that (as if that wasn’t enough), sugar is highly addictive and when we eat it it happens to send more serotonin to the brain than COCAINE. So many of us get addicted to that sweet, sugary taste on our tongues and when we have a little, it just leaves us wanting more. As a true blue sugar addict myself… I KNOW the feeling. Taking just one bite is extremely hard, and only gets harder the more that I have.
So I am going to tell you a little story… something I have not shared in much depth on the blog before because my journey with it has been so deeply personal, but I feel it’s time for me to share more in hopes that it will resonate with some of you and inspire you to make positive, healthy changes in your life.
My Sugar Journey & Addiction //
When I first started recovering from orthorexia, sugar was a big crutch. It was something I leaned on when everything else in my life felt like it was spiraling out of control. It was still so hard for me to get used to eating meat, poultry, eggs, etc. but sugar? Sugar felt safe to me in a way (even though I knew the dangers of refined sugar and so many other types of hidden sugars… I didn’t care, at the time), and it soothed my soul on days where I felt so lost.
When I first let up on all of my food rules, sugar was extremely exciting to me. In particular, frozen yogurt. When I was orthorexic / diehard raw vegan I didn’t eat real sugar for YEARS… nor did I ever have anything that even tasted remotely sugary. But in my recovery, going out for a little (or big) fro-yo with all of the yummy toppings felt like the ultimate “non eating disorder” thing to do. At first it was fine and harmless, and I was proud of myself for shedding the rules and labels, but then it became a bit of an addiction.
Okay, actually… a huge addiction.
One super late night, after I was absolutely STUFFED from a decadent and delicious dinner with some friends at Fig & Olive in West Hollywood, I decided I wanted to cap the night off with dessert… frozen yogurt to be exact. At the time I wasn’t that familiar with the WeHo area so I mapped myself to a “nearby” shop and ended up driving deep into Hollywood for the one late-night fro-yo place that was still open. It had to be past midnight at that point.
The unhealthy thing for me (beyond all of the candy that I felt compelled to top it with — I mean COMPELLED, like it wasn’t even a rational choice at that point, it was just happening) was the ADDICTION. I was full, my body was showing me in so many ways that it was full, but I needed more. And clearly the “more” that I needed was a deep emotional hunger, a starvation for something I knew I needed but didn’t have.
That night I remember topping my large fro-yo with M&M’s, chocolate sauce, brownie bites, anything chocolatey that I could get my hands on. I ate it all in the car on the way home, and I swear to you it still wasn’t enough. I wanted more, and I considered pulling into a gas station to buy even more candy. It was a really scary and out of control feeling.
I did end up going to a gas station and buying more candy (M&M’s…) but after eating a few I made myself stop. I knew that I was going to make myself sick enough to be completely debilitated the next day, and I already felt like I was at that point. I also knew so much what it was like to be out of control with food because I had been the other way for so long, and I was so freaked out by my loss of control.
I threw the rest of the bag away before I could be tempted, and that night served as a HUGE marker for me for where I was going and what I needed to do. It was time to cut the sugar out. It still took me years to get to a healthier place with sugar, so I want to share what I have learned in terms of cutting it out, cutting back, making healthier choices / etc.
Cutting Out Sugar //
I recognized pretty quickly that the root cause of my sugar addiction was a feeling of EMPTINESS, and I was looking for sugar to fill me up and make me feel emotionally full in ways that it just didn’t have the power to do.
I know this is common for many of us who have suffered from eating disorders. I spent years starving myself and creating a gaping, open, empty hole that I felt I needed to fill with overeating, sugar binges, and all of the “unhealthy” foods so I could prove to myself that I wasn’t sick anymore.
But of course, I made myself sick in a different way. And the feeling of complete loss of control over what you’re putting into your mouth has got to be one of the worst feelings in the world.
From reintroducing so many new foods into my diet so quickly, I developed a range of stomach problems from SIBO to candida to a stomach ulcer. I also developed cystic acne, gained weight, and overall felt like complete crap. Now, almost three years later… I have even developed autoimmune issues and a major skin disorder — not just because of the sugar, but largely because what my hormones went through during those up and down years of this nasty food cycle.
After that infamous night of fro-yo, M&M’s and being stuffed to the brim all the while feeling ZERO control in my body… I knew it was time to cut sugar out because I just couldn’t handle myself around it. I was full-blown addicted.
But for a long time I still wasn’t sure how to cut it out. Should I go cold turkey and cut it out completely? No, that might trigger my eating disorder and make me binge on even more of it because it’s off limits! Should I replace all refined sugars with healthier alternatives (molasses, honey, coconut palm sugar) so I can still get my sweets fix but without the health problems and the same feeling of addiction? Should I have fro-yo once a week as a Sunday treat so I always have that to look forward to and don’t have to worry about not having it at all?
The questions in my mind went on and on. And trust me, I tried all of it. I would have months of being sugar-free and feeling great, and just one vegan ice cream with friends (in a totally relaxed setting, emotionally filled up, etc.) could set me back tenfold. It was the most frustrating thing in the world.
A Huge Discovery! //
THEN I discovered the amazing Gretchen Rubin on Luke Storey’s podcast… and she mentioned something that I will never forget.
She was talking about her FOUR TENDENCIES, a book she wrote based off of scientific research on the four major different personality types. It is a book about human nature and how we respond to expectations — inevitably, the different types respond differently when placed under expectations / labels / told not to do something / cutting things out / etc.
Gretchen was talking about her own experience with sugar addiction as an “abstainer” personality type, and it hit me… OMG. THAT IS WHAT I HAVE TO DO.
She said that it was FUN for her to cut sugar out completely because it became easy for her to abstain and then she didn’t have to worry about the loss of control she felt around sugar. She then talked about her sister, her husband and other people in her life being more of Upholders, Obligers, or Moderators (three of her other types) which were people who could more easily handle “having a little, then walking away.”
IT ALL STARTED TO MAKE SO MUCH SENSE.
So many of my methods, like having sugar just on Sundays, or making healthy desserts to replace the unhealthy ones… weren’t cutting it for me, because I was still exposed to my addiction and could not for the life of me cut it out and regain my control.
That was about a year ago, and while I haven’t been 100% sugar-free I go through periods where I am and it feels amazing.
Lately, I have been back on the coconut sugar chocolate train (think Eating Evolved… it’s so good). Honestly, chocolate in general is a trigger for me. Even when it’s sugar-free, like Eating Evolved’s keto cups. I begin to obsess about them and feel like I “NEED” to have one after dinner.
So once the question in our Facebook group was asked, it prompted me to realize… I want to take the control back again. And I want you guys to do it with me!! (If you want to.)
Let’s Do It TOGETHER
So! For the next month, starting today, I will be hosting a sugar-free challenge in the Soul on Fire Facebook group. Request to join if you’re not already a part of it, and I would love to have you on board!
I will also be sharing about the challenge here on the blog and on Instagram, so if you’re not a Facebook person don’t worry. You can still do it with us!
First, let’s get the guidelines out of the way. Here is what I am considering SUGAR, including the HIDDEN SUGARS on labels that many of us do not know about…
HIDDEN SUGARS //
+ Corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
+ Dextrose or crystal dextrose
+ Evaporated cane juice or fruit juice
+ Carob syrup
+ Brown sugar
+ Raw sugar (yes… even SuCaNat which is another name for it that has 100% tricked me even recently)
+ Dextrin and maltodextin (SAD because this is in some of the sugar-free chocolates that I love, like Lily’s!)
+ Rice syrup
+ Evaporated corn sweetener
+ Confectioner’s powdered sugar
+ Agave nectar (really spikes blood sugar even though it’s natural)
+ Other fruit nectars (for example, pear nectar)
THE IN BETWEEN SUGARS (NOT BAD, NOT GREAT FOR ME PERSONALLY):
+ Coconut sugar — TOTALLY up to you whether you want to incorporate coconut sugar into your life during this challenge or on the reg, but for me it does trigger my sugar addiction and that’s mainly because I eat a lot of chocolate bars / coconut cups etc. that I feel a bit addicted to
+ Honey — honey also spikes our blood sugar but is a wonderful option for healthier desserts and sweet taste vs. the above.
NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT SUGARS THAT ARE OK (FOR THIS CHALLENGE AND IN GENERAL WHEN LOOKING FOR HEALTHIER SWEET OPTIONS) //
- Fruit sugar — I will be eating a lot of fruit this month because I will be in Bali, and I am also sticking to the Medical Medium protocol for eczema which includes a lot of fruit. Fruit doesn’t trigger my sugar addiction, so I feel comfortable with it. If you want to cut out certain fruits during this time period, go for it! Just don’t get too caught up in a FRUIT FEAR because fruit has so many beautiful benefits for our bodies… from fiber, to antioxidants, to hydration, to vitamins and minerals, and beyond.
- Stevia — I am a huge fan of the natural stevia leaf. These stevia drops are my literal lifeline. I drip them into decaf coffee, tea, smoothies, and more. It tastes so good and definitely curbs my sweet tooth.
- Monk fruit — Another natural sugar alternative that I love. I love this monk fruit in the raw brand and use it the same way I use stevia!
- Dried Fruit — It is up to you whether you are comfortable having dates, goji berries, raisins, golden berries, etc. during this time. For me they can be a bit of a trigger, but I will have a few dates here and there because I also know the benefits and they are part of my Medical Medium protocol!
STRATEGIES & RESOURCES //
+ The Gretchen Rubin book that I mentioned, The Four Tendencies, might be a helpful read while you go through this process to discover which type of personality you are and whether you’re a “cold turkey” person or a “have a little in moderation” person.
+ This episode from TBB Podcast on Human Design — we touch on how two types are supposed to eat for their optimal human design energy type. As a reflector, I am supposed to eat ALONE which has been a game changer. It helps to “fill me up” whereas if I eat with a group I am eating their energy along with my food and it’s no bueno.
+ My first TBB Podcast episode with Kelly Leveque, where we dive deep into the science of sugar and how it affects our blood sugar levels.
+ This book Why Diets Fail: Because You’re Addicted to Sugar. Buying this one to dive deeper into the science for the month!
+ This book My Confection that I absolutely loved about the author’s addiction to, and eventually freedom from, SUGAR.
+ In general, focus on eating more healthy fats, quality proteins, nutrient-dense fruit and veg, and keeping your blood sugar nice and stabilized.
Breaking Free from the Addiction //
You will quickly start to feel AMAZING when you’re free from sugar. I have been there, and I am excited to be there again.
As another tip, dig deep within yourself about what your own personal triggers are. As I mentioned, my main trigger is chocolate. I am not all that excited by anything vanilla flavored, cakes, cupcakes, etc. It’s really CHOCOLATE for me and any combo of chocolate / nut butter is my ultimate weakness.
There is nothing wrong with that when the feeling of addiction does not play a role. I have a highly addictive personality (it’s part of being a Highly Sensitive Person, another fab book you should get your hands on!) so for me, going cold turkey entirely is the way to do it. Eventually, I will add a bit of healthier alternatives to sugar back in (coconut palm sugar, honey, black strap molasses, dates, etc.) but right now I am holding off because I want to really break the addiction and feel amazing.
Join the Challenge! //
I will be hosting this mainly in the Soul on Fire Podcast Tribe on Facebook, and will also be sharing recipes on my blog, my Instagram, etc.
Share with us on social media by hashtagging #tbbmademedoit, #tbbgoessugarfree, and #sugardetox so I can see your amazing participation!
Let’s all inspire each other and raise one another up. If you fall off the wagon, you can easily hop back on. It’s not about perfection or rules in my book, it’s about effort and passion and trying to feel as good as we possibly can.
It’s going to be a FAB month…. I am already excited!
And check out these resources below for inspiration & guidance on the subject. I also included some of my fave spices & healthy fat foods so you can get your hands on those as well: