Do you have this unhealthy habit? If so, Camila Alves McConaughey has the perfect solution, exclusive to Yahoo Life readers

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Kristine Solomon
·11 min read
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Camila Alves McConaughey curates a 5-day detox challenge exclusive for Yahoo Life readers.
Camila Alves McConaughey curates a 5-day detox challenge exclusive for Yahoo Life readers.

Take the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge to cut back on your daily sugar. Follow along with us as Camila Alves McConaughey and top experts show us how to cut back on sugar and form new habits every day this week. This is day three of the 5-day sugar detox.

Imagine eating 42 and a half teaspoons of sugar every single day. It sounds pretty absurd when you think of it that way, but that’s exactly how much sugar the average American consumes when you factor in things like processed foods, pre-packaged snacks, sweetened beverages and other easily accessible grub. Countless studies have shown that added sugars lead to everything from bloating and skin breakouts to chronic diseases.

Cutting sugar is a crucial step toward better health. That’s why we embarked on a 5-day challenge in partnership with lifestyle guru Camila Alves McConaughey — wife of iconic actor Matthew McConaughey — and her website, Women of Today, for the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge. This is a guided program that just about anyone can do at home, with McConaughey and licensed nutritionists providing the encouragement and know-how you need to clean up your eating habits and quit your dependency on sugar.

A sugar detox is undeniably worth it, but it’s also no easy task if you’re hooked. ”In terms of the relationship that we have with sugar, it's a very scientific thing,” says McConaughey in conversation with licensed nutritionist Maya Feller. “Absolutely. When people consume added sugars, it actually activates the pleasure pathways [in the brain], the feel-good systems within the body,” replies Feller.

Like most drugs, sugar is addictive — but kicking the habit makes space for smarter eating habits and a better quality of life. Ready to get healthy, one day at a time? Here’s an overview of the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge.

Nutritionist Maya Feller says eliminating sugar from your diet isn't easy; consuming it activates pleasure pathways in your brain. (Photo: Maya Feller)
Nutritionist Maya Feller says eliminating sugar from your diet isn't easy; consuming it activates pleasure pathways in your brain. (Photo: Maya Feller)

Day 1: Commit to a sugar detox and learn the fundamentals

“[A sugar detox] is important no matter what, but especially now in these times that we’re living in,” says McConaughey. “Your immune system needs to be very, very strong. So it's very, very important to kick that sugar out of your daily routine.”

On day one, we learn all about the fundamentals of a sugar detox — why to do it, what to expect during the process and how to make better food choices. A sugar detox can completely “change your relationship with sugar,” says Alexandra Sowa, MD, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine specializing in metabolic health. “There really is a light at the end of the tunnel where you just don't want those same [sugar-y] foods again” after a detox.

You feel the effects of eliminating sugar in the short term — less crashing, less bloating, more energy, brighter skin — as well as in the long term. If you truly commit, the far-reaching effects of a sugar detox are even more profound.

“We all know that if you have high inflammation in your body, your immune system starts to go down. Then you'd be more prone to not feeling well, getting diseases,” says McConaughey. Drastically reducing your sugar intake decreases your risk for all non-communicable diseases, says Feller, and it’s great for your gut’s microbiome.

A sugar detox can improve your gut and reduce inflammation. (Photo: from Camila Alves McConaughey)
A sugar detox can improve your gut and reduce inflammation. (Photo: from Camila Alves McConaughey)

As for how to start your detox, you have two options: gradual or cold-turkey. “If you have an intention to cut back on sugar, instead of doing it all at once, you might start with one meal or by cutting one thing like sugary sodas or a sweet snack,” says Sowa.

For cold-turkey quitters, Sowa says, “I really emphasize doing an inventory of your life circumstances and what your goals are, and really start there before you decide whether to go dip your toe in or do a drastic sugar detox.”

Then start paying attention to what you put in your mouth. “Take a look at where the added sugars are coming into your individual daily routine,” says Feller. It might be processed foods, sodas, energy drinks, sweetened yogurts, sauces or even salad dressings. “Also, read that nutrition facts label, [which shows] added sugar. Anything that's close to 20 percent is considered high,” she says.

Side effects of sugar detoxing will also vary by person. “Usually for most people who really consume high amounts of added sugar, it could be within 24 hours” that you notice withdrawal symptoms, says Feller. “In terms of starting to feel the upswing and feeling good, some people report even within 72 hours feeling a little bit better.”

Day 2: Ditch the artificial sweeteners

Once you’ve committed, it’s time to understand more about the difference between naturally occurring sugars, like the ones in fruits, and the artificial sweeteners that are added to much of the food and drink we consume each day.

When McConaughey refers to artificial sweeteners, she means everything from the high-fructose corn syrup in a candy bar to the saccharin you might put in your coffee instead of a heaping spoonful of refined white sugar. She calls artificial sugars “made-up” sweeteners, and says if you absolutely must use added sugars in places like coffee or tea, those derived from fruits like monk fruit, agave or dates are “better-for-you sweeteners.”

“Artificial sweeteners are still processed, not natural,” nutritionist Erin James tells Yahoo Life. Processed (added, refined or artificial) sugar isn’t good for anyone, and the sooner you rid your body of it, the healthier you’ll be and the more natural energy you’ll have.”

McConaughey understands first-hand how tempting added sugars can be, “I've gone from waking up and eating chocolate to not having chocolate at all,” she says. “So, I know it’s hard. If I did it, you can do it.”

Day 3: Eliminate sneaky sugars

On days one and two, you committed to a sugar detox and learned how to ditch artificial sweeteners. On day three, you learn how to cut those sneaky sugars from your diet so they don’t derail your detox and undermine your long-term health goals.

Added sugar — the refined, processed and artificial kinds — likes to hide where you least expect it. In fact, you’ll find nauseating amounts of sugar in everyday foods like crackers, ketchup, salad dressing, yogurt, apple sauce and nut milks. Unless the food you’re eating is a whole food, read the nutrition facts label, where all kinds of added sugars are lurking.

“Some of the biggest hidden sugar culprits are corn syrup, honey, sugar syrup, dextrose, or fructose. Brown sugar as well. We are almost tricked to think brown sugar is healthy, but it’s still sugar,” says James. Artificial sweeteners, which will masquerade under names like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame and acesulfame.

The goal here is to teach you how to [adopt] lifelong good habits. One thing at a time, slowly but surely, so...you can continue for the long run.Camila Alves McConaughey

It turns out the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now differentiate added sugars from total sugars in the new nutrition facts labels. They even indicate what percentage of your recommended daily allowance is contained in each item. So check those labels for sneaky sugars!

In fact, before you even think about going to the supermarket, McConaughey suggests taking inventory of the items already in your pantry. “This is very important because if you end up having those sneaky sugars in there, it's going to make [the sugar detox] harder for you,” she says.

Day 4: Eat more fruit

“A lot of us are feeling tired, bloated [and] stressed with everything that's going on around us,” says McConaughey. “It's time to focus and our health.” And day four of your sugar detox is a welcome reprieve from cutting things out of your diet. Now you’re encouraged to add something back in, and it’s pretty sweet: fruit!

“I know you’re probably scratching your head going, ‘Wait. I thought fruit gets processed in my body and turns into sugar.’ Yes, it does. But it is a natural form of sugar,” says McConaughey. Of course, when we discuss sugar, we’re talking about two kinds: added sugar and naturally occurring sugar.

Camila Alves McConaughey recommends eating fruit during your detox: your body naturally occurring sugars differently than added sugars. (Photo: Ashley Burns)
Camila Alves McConaughey recommends eating fruit during your detox: your body naturally occurring sugars differently than added sugars. (Photo: Ashley Burns)

Naturally occurring sugar in fruit can metabolized more slowly thanks to the fruit’s fiber, so your body uses the energy over a longer span of time. Plus, fruits are more nutrient-rich, and there’s less sugar in a typical piece of fruit than there is in, say, a piece of cake.

“When you are eating a whole fruit [and not just the juice], you're also getting the fiber, and you’re getting other nutrients that help your body process the natural sugar in the way that it should,” says McConaughey.

“Natural sugar that you find in fresh fruit is not bad for you. Too much of anything is bad but natural sugars don’t impact your body the same way as processed sugar,” says nutritionist Erin James, another expert who is unaffiliated with Women of Today.

“You may not think of it as a treat when you first start changing your lifestyle habits, but over time your body and mind will see fruit as a treat of sorts because your body isn’t craving processed sugar anymore.”

Day 5: Amp up your protein

When you’re getting the majority of your energy from added sugars, which are metabolized quickly, your system is on a kind of roller coaster: up and down. “Added sugars cause a big spike in your blood sugar. They kind of increase that inflammatory cascade and then wreak havoc within your body,” says Feller.

The idea of your sugar detox is to re-train your mind and body to rely on new, more sustainable and nutritious sources of energy. “We want to look at how to rebalance our plates,” she adds, and protein is a key component in a balanced meal.

“Proteins are the building blocks for every system within your body,” says Feller. They give you fuel and help you feel full, so you won’t turn to junk food at all. Think of proteins as the anchor of a balanced diet — that’s why they’re the focus of day five.

Nutritionist Maya Feller says adding protein to your diet during a sugar detox is essential to a balanced plate.
Nutritionist Maya Feller says adding protein to your diet during a sugar detox is essential to a balanced plate.

There’s no one way to get protein into your diet. Protein can be animal-based or plant-based, depending on your dietary preferences. For instance, McConaughey is a huge fan of beans as a primary protein source “I'm a bean-lover, baby! I grew up eating beans every day. Beans are like a superfood,” she says.

Feller agrees, but also loves fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, pasture-raised poultry and grass-fed beef. “What's most important is that [protein is] in its whole and minimally processed form with limited additives,” says Feller.

In fact, Feller provides this rule of thumb: “Aim for half to three quarters of your plate as a non-starchy vegetable.Then you want a quarter of your plate as starch. Then the other quarter protein, and it could be animal protein or plant-based protein.”

After Day 5: Make your sugar detox becomes a lifetime habit

After you’ve cleansed your system of sugar, you may not even crave it anymore. But if you do, the idea is to have more conscious control over your sugar intake.

“The reality is that these five days, it's just really a kickstart for [a lifetime] of good, healthy habits that will make a world of difference,” says McConaughey.

Feller agrees that a sugar detox is a lifelong investment in yourself. “It’s fantastic to look cute on the outside, but your insides are what really matters,” she adds. “So if your metabolic health is in a place where you want it to be, you can think about longevity. That is really the direction you want to be headed in.”

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