Sugar Detox Tips: How to Kick Sugar to the Curb Without Going Crazy

After every major candy-laden holiday I jokingly tell myself that I need to do a sugar detox. I’m mostly kidding, but sometimes I wonder if it’s really possible to quit sugar.

The average American consumes an astounding 156 pounds of sugar a year. This is about 10 times the amount consumed back in 1915.

All this added sugar contributes to well known problems like obesity, and lesser known issues like gut health problems, acne and premature aging.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about taking a sugar break, and tips to help you detox without getting the sugar shakes.

Pile of sugary treats on a bed of white sugar. Sugar detox instructions.

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What Is a Sugar Detox?

What? Isn’t a sugar detox just going without sugar? That seems too obvious! No more sugar in my diet? Fine, I’ll just put my sugar bowl away.

Well, it is a bit more complicated than just skipping the sugar in your iced tea. You’ve probably already thought about eliminating sweets, chocolate, cake, and white sugar. The problem is that sugar is hidden in so many foods that you might never suspect were a source of sugar.

For the last 30 years or so, we have been brainwashed into thinking fat was bad. Food manufacturers made everything in a low-fat version.

Low-fat cookies, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, you name it. In order to make these low-fat versions taste good, they had to add in something else, and that thing was sugar.

So now it turns out that fat is not our enemy, but all that added sugar is making us fat and unhealthy.

The sugar hidden in these processed foods is known as added sugar.

What is Added Sugar?

If you’re thinking that because you drink your coffee black and don’t eat ice cream that you are safe from sugar, you’re probably wrong.

One of the biggest problems with the modern diet is the amount of added sugars in nearly everything we eat. Most of the sugar we eat is actually in foods that don’t even taste sweet like bread, salad dressing, and breakfast cereal.

It’s likely you’re eating sugar from morning until night without even knowing it.

Natural sugars are the sugars found in foods naturally, like those found in milk, fruit, honey, and grains.

Added sugars are those found in processed foods like soda, granola bars, breakfast cereals, sauces, peanut butter, and condiments like ketchup.

Check out this word cloud I made of all the names for added sugar you might find on the labels of foods you thought were healthy. The sheer number of them is unbelievable!

Low-fat foods that are labeled as “healthy” often are full of added sugar so make sure to check labels for any of these culprits..

Colorful word cloud of other names for sugar you will find on food labels.
Names of Sugar on Food Labels

Why Should I Do a Sugar Detox?

If you’re eating the average American diet, you are probably consuming WAY more sugar than you know.

A sugar detox can help you realize the incredible amount of hidden sugar that lurks in packaged items we all eat on a daily basis.

Doing a sugar detox can help you build long-lasting, sustainable healthy habits, help you lose weight and improve a whole host of health issues.

Sugar Detox Benefits

So now that we know sugar is a problem because it’s everywhere, what are the benefits of cutting back on the sugar pipeline?

Surprisingly, there are serious health benefits to cutting back on sugar that don’t just involve your waistline.

  • Weight Loss: Sugar has calories but no nutritional benefit. Multiple studies have shown that body weight changes directly correlate with the increasing or decreasing intake of sugar.
  • Lowered Diabetes Risk: Studies have shown that people who consume sugary drinks each day have a 26% higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Better Brain Function: A long term clinical study showed that individuals with high blood sugar levels had a faster cognitive decline and those with type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than healthy participants. Doctors are even starting to call Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes” because of its link to insulin resistance in the brain.
  • Stronger Immune System: Consuming the amount of sugar in a can of soda can suppress the function of white blood cells by 40% for at least 5 hours.
  • Slowed Aging Process: Sugar has been shown to accelerate the aging process. The more sugar we eat, the more our insulin spikes and the faster we age. No bueno!
  • Better Skin: Insulin spikes caused by sugar can lead to inflammation which can cause acne and rosacea.
  • Heart Health: Studies have shown that the higher the intake of sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease.

The Willpower Myth

Willpower! Can’t we just decide to stop eating sugar? Aren’t we strong, smart women? The fact is, if you think that you can quit sugar by counting on willpower, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Sugar has a scientifically proven effect on both the brain and the body.

Our brains are wired to crave the chemicals released when we eat sugar. Sugar makes the brain release dopamine, which is part of your brain’s reward system.

Our brain is hardwired to love that dopamine rush – so eating sugar makes you want to keep eating sugar.

Neuroscientists say that the part of the brain that gets activated when we have a cupcake is the same center that lights up in response to drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Coffee cup with sugar raining down.

A Connecticut College neuroscience study revealed that Oreo cookies were just as addictive as cocaine in lab rats. And those rats preferred the creamy white middle of the Oreo – just like humans do!

And with sugar lurking in nearly everything we eat, it’s no wonder that it’s hard to kick the sugar habit.

Sugar Detox Symptoms & Side Effects

If you’re used to eating a lot of sugar each day, it can be a shock to your system to suddenly cut back on those sodas. All of these sugar detox symptoms should be temporary and only last for a few days.

When you’re detoxing, remember the willpower myth, set realistic goals, and cut back slowly if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.

Most of these symptoms are caused by hormonal changes your body experiences as you decrease the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day.

All of these sugar detox side effects are temporary and will go away as your body adjusts to a healthier diet.

  • Fatigue
  • Cravings: Most people notice cravings when cutting back on sugar. The good news is, the longer you stay away from sugar, the easier it gets.
  • Headaches, aches, and pains
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight loss: This one probably is a welcome side effect for most people!

How To Detox From Sugar

Cutting back on sugar as well as starchy carbohydrates (that rapidly convert to sugars), can not only help you lose weight, but provide so many benefits listed above.

Cake pop with colorful sprinkles.

Are you convinced that now is the time to detox from sugar? Here are some tips to help you kick sugar to the curb and start feeling healthier.

  1. Make the decision to detox and decide that the health benefits far outweigh the satisfaction of your next sugary treat or drink.
  2. Don’t drink your calories. Drinking sugary sodas and even fruit juice sends a steady stream of sugar right to your liver. Stay away from sodas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas and coffees. Drink plain water or try fruit infused water for a healthy refresher.
  3. Eat plenty of protein at every meal to help balance blood sugar levels and cut cravings.
  4. Cut out all processed foods. Anything that comes in a box, a package, a can or a container with an ingredient label that has more than a couple of ingredients should be off limits if you’re trying to detox from sugar.
  5. Going cold turkey is easier in the long run. Cutting out all forms of sugar and artificial sweeteners will help your body adjust the quickest.
  6. Eat unlimited amounts of vegetables and salads. Just make sure they are non-starchy veggies and you can eat to your heart’s content.
  7. Eliminate starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, and carrots for at least 10 days.
  8. Eat good fat at every meal to help you feel full and balance your blood sugar. Stick to fats like nuts and seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados.
  9. Get some exercise and fresh air every day.
  10. Eliminate dairy and gluten to help fight cravings faster. Try to go for at least 10 days before you add back in these foods. There are plenty of foods you can eat on a sugar detox that aren’t dairy or gluten based.
  11. Get enough sleep. Studies have shown that being sleep deprived can cause a rise in hunger hormones, which you do NOT want when you’re trying to cut out the sugar.

Sugar Detox Wrapup

Doing a sugar detox or even figuring out how to quit sugar gradually is a great thing to do for your overall health.

Expect quitting sugar to be challenging! The sugar withdrawals may lead to fatigue, headaches, and other side effects once you get started. These are all temporary and will go away.

You’ll feel so much better once your body readjusts to your newer healthier diet, that it will all be worth it!

For a little help in decoding those confusing food labels, download a cheat sheet to help you find all the added sugar in your favorite foods. ⬇️⬇️

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Stack of different sugary donuts with so much sugar you might need a sugar detox