So you’ve decided to dump sugar. Just like with any break-up, you’ll need a plan to get through those first lonely days. One key to survival? Keep the extreme detox short, says Brooke Alpert, registered dietitian and co-author of The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great and Look Years Younger. Her plan recommends a three-day “cold turkey” approach to quitting sugar, followed by a gradual phasing back in of fruits, dairy and other whole foods with naturally occurring sugars.
“We eat so much sugar as a nation, we no longer know what natural sugar tastes like,” she says. “So in the book, we say, ‘Let’s start from scratch.’”
True, those first three days may be rough—depending on how much sugar you typically consume, you could experience headaches, irritability and fatigue. But here are some tips to help you push through.
Stock up on sweet veggies. One of the biggest benefits of reducing sugar in your diet is that you’ll become more attuned to the natural sweetness of good-for-you foods. In the early days of a detox, naturally sweet, crunchy vegetables like carrots, bell peppers and sugar snap peas can be your saving grace in the afternoon when you’re craving a “hit” of something sweet. Pair them with a little protein, like hummus or nuts, to keep you full until dinnertime.
Plan some pampering. Many of us formed the mindset that sweets are a treat in childhood, which can make giving them up feel like a punishment. (It can also help explain why we get cranky without them.) So when it’s time to cut sugar out of your life, be sure to build in lots of other indulgences, like long baths or DIY spa treatments, for the first few days. “It will make the detox feel less like deprivation and more like something you’re doing to take care of yourself,” Alpert says.
Don’t sub in artificial sweeteners. It can be tempting simply to swap the sugar in your morning coffee for Splenda or Stevia. But if your long-term goal is to break your dependence on sweets, that trick will actually work against you. Artificial sweeteners tend to taste much sweeter than sugar—in some cases up to 10 times—which can make you crave that sensation more rather than less. “You no longer know what sweetness is like,” Alpert says. “Apples and berries should taste sweet enough.” Can’t stomach the thought of your coffee without sweetener? Alpert suggests trying it iced, which can take the edge off the bitter flavor.
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Make a date for a fun fitness activity. You may feel low on energy when you first cut sugar out of your life, which will make it easier to talk yourself out of your usual treadmill workout. But exercise will give you a boost of energy—and feel-good endorphins—you desperately need. So, take the opportunity to finally cash in that Groupon for aerial yoga lessons, a stand-up paddleboarding excursion or some other fun fitness class you’ve been telling yourself you’d try for months. Better still, arrange to meet a friend there so you can’t back out when the ice cream shop is calling instead.
Try out new varieties of tea. Just as we view sweets as a reward, they’re also the food we often gravitate towards as a boredom buster. If you can’t distract yourself from the urge to consume something during that 3 p.m. work lull or just before bedtime, satisfy it with a hot beverage instead. “A cup of tea is a great way to add flavor,” Alpert says. Peppermint tea may give you that after-dinner refreshment you’re looking for, with the added bonus of better digestion. But treat yourself to any kind of tea that intrigues you in the supermarket aisle—try mango, berry, cinnamon, coconut or licorice.