The truth is, I only gave up sugar because I had a coupon for a detox program. I probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise, but I’d recently lost 35 pounds, and I was interested in learning about the dangers of sugar as I continued to better myself and treat my body like a temple (or something).
The problem is that sugar is in nearly everything, from barbecue sauce to Cheerios. So really, we’re all sugar people, unless we’re making a conscious effort not to be.
And so, armed with my coupon, I decided to make a conscious effort not to be-at least for a month. The program I joined was aptly named The 30-Day Sugar Detox. Now, I’m bacon-loving, beer-drinking Midwesterner, so I knew the program was likely to be a little bit too much for me, but I wanted to at least try.
The program leader frequently and somewhat morbidly reminded participants that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, but the program booklet itself was upbeat and encouraging. It touched on topics like connection (studying the emotional elements of eating), education (learning about sugar’s negative effects), observation (doing a lot of food journaling), and integration (figuring out how to live sugar-free beyond the detox).
Each day, participants received an email that outlined, in detail, exactly what the program leader had eaten that day: raw almond butter, spinach salad with hemp oil and lentils, sprouted grain bread. Her go-to snack was air-popped popcorn with cinnamon, and the only dessert she ever mentioned was an agave-sweetened cupcake. She even avoided fruit because of its high natural sugar content!
These daily menus were meant to be reassuring and to prove that sugar-free diets could work in real life, but they were so far from my reality that they only made me feel more overwhelmed and doubtful. I’d signed up hoping to find the will power not to shamefully eat kettle corn at midnight! I wasn’t quite prepared for conversations about the many merits of chia seeds, and I felt like a traitor for totally planning to live a post-detox life that included foods like pasta and yogurt and alcohol.
Still, I diligently made my way through each step of the program. I scribbled down my “sugar goals” and trashed every item in my fridge and pantry that included sugar (or any synonym for it, including brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, etc.) At the supermarket, I only bought items from the program-approved grocery list and planned to make meals that were green-lighted by the Detox Meal Plan. I even made the program’s approved/unapproved foods list the background on my phone so I could refer to it with ease.
I started day one of the detox by eating a bowl of plain oatmeal with almond milk, organic vanilla, and walnuts. This was filling, but it had the consistently of lumpy glue. Good start.
But I stuck with it. I did it.
My meals weren’t particularly inventive-lots of cold cuts, green smoothies, and scrambled eggs-but I wasn’t going hungry, either. I snacked on pistachios and slivers of hard cheese, and I still drank my daily latte, switching from soy milk (sweetened) to whole milk (safe). I did not consume any agave-sweetened cupcakes or any sleeves of Oreos.
By the end of the detox, I physically felt pretty good. I slept more soundly at night and seemed to have more energy during the day. My body wasn’t as achy as it usually is, and even my allergies seemed to find some relief.
But on the inside, I was miserable.
Yes, I wanted to eat better. Yes, I wanted to be more conscious about what went into my body. But for me, going sugar-free meant giving up the joy of food.
During the detox, I meticulously recorded every morsel I consumed, making sure I didn’t eat anything “unapproved” or exceed my daily sugar intake limit. I couldn’t go out to dinner with my boyfriend or meet friends for happy hour lest I be tempted by carbs or booze or even a fruit salad. I’d become obsessed with what I ate, and I could think of little else. It was all-consuming and ultimately exhausting-no matter how well I was sleeping.
The detox gave me a valuable understanding of sugar’s negative effects on my body, but let’s be honest: my sugar-free life did not last beyond 30 days. I decided that there were ways to incorporate my new, healthier habits into my everyday lifestyle, which definitely included indulgences that made me happy, like a cupcake filled with-you guessed it-actual, real, sweet sugar.