10 Fool-Proof Steps To Help You Kick Your Sugar Cravings (For Good!)

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woman eating a donut

Most people are well aware that sugar is bad. When people talk to me about sugar and I tell them they need to get it out of their lives, they usually have at least one of these things holding them back:

1. They don't know how bad sugar really is

2. They don't think they consume very much sugar

3. They've tried to quit and found it too hard

But sugar is actually horrible for you and it's killing people every year.

Why is sugar so bad for you?

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A lot of people think that sugar really isn't so bad because how horrible can a natural food be? But there's a huge difference between naturally-occurring sugars in foods like fruit, and "natural" sugar that's been highly refined and added in huge quantities to almost every processed or packaged food in the supermarket.

Think about it this way: water is essential for good health and you should drink lots of it, but you can kill yourself by drinking more than your body can handle.

An excess of sugar has been directly or indirectly blamed in numerous research studies, for everything from heart disease to behavioral disorders to cognitive issues, and Type 2 diabetes. Sugar is directly connected to weight gain and has even been linked to degenerative bones and connective tissue.

Sugar feeds cancer. 

You probably already know cigarettes are linked to lung cancer, but did you know sugar is actually the fuel that gives cancer cells their deadly growth rate?

When doctors want to find cancer cells during an MRI, they inject you with a sugar solution equivalent to a chocolate bar and watch as it illuminates tumor tissue like a wicked rave party. Cancer cells "consume a higher amount of glucose compared with healthy tissues, as a way of sustaining their growth."

Sugar dehydrates you. 

Tote a water bottle with you everywhere but still feel thirsty? No matter how much water you're drinking, you could be dehydrated. And sugar is to blame.

Here's how sugar can affect your hydration levels: high blood sugar causes your body to kick into overdrive. It pushes sugar out through your kidneys, requiring water to move it into the urine. As a result, your kidneys can't reabsorb the water.

If that doesn't sound like such a big problem, consider that up to 60% of your body is water. And 73% of your brain is composed of water. Dehydration isn't just a sign of thirst; it's a sign that your body doesn't have the right chemical composition to work properly.

If you've ever experienced brain fog, unexplained pain, or sapped energy, sugar may be to blame. It can essentially throw you into "body drought," affecting both your current mood and your long-term health.

Sugar is harmful because it causes its own cycle of chronic cravings. You don't lose bone density overnight; you don't get fat because of one piece of candy. But feed your sugar cravings over a lifetime and you'll start to see serious health effects after just a few years.

Sugar is linked to cellulite. 

You know you need to lose weight because nearly 1 in 5 deaths is caused by a weight-related disease. But maybe that long-term view isn't enough to change your diet or stop you from eating sugar. So get a little vain instead.

If the mere thought of bikini season has you hitting the panic button because of embarrassing levels of cellulite, chances are you're consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar.

Cellulite is the external warning sign that your internal system is struggling. In a nutshell: cellulite happens when decreased circulation and growing fat cells poke their way through collagen cells. While cellulite can be related to hormones (estrogen levels play a huge part in cellulite creation), consuming too much sugar increases the body's need for fat storage and can exacerbate cellulite creation.

Reduce sugar intake and you'll naturally be on your way to reducing fat.

Sugar may cause heart disease. 

Sugar — not fat — is making you fat. But researchers have now found direct links between sugar and heart disease as well. Much of the current focus on sugar is in the form of corn syrup, consumed as a soda or sweetened beverage.

Here are the shocking results from one recent study, published in the 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine: 1) People who consumed more than 21% of daily calories from added sugar had double the risk of death from heart disease as those who consumed less than 10% of calories from added sugars. That's about 3 cans of soda daily for a 2,000-calorie diet. 2) Participants who consumed 7 or more servings/week of sugar-sweetened beverages were at a 29% higher risk of death from heart disease than those who consumed one serving or less.

Scary.

How do you detox your body from sugar?

If you're here, considering a Sugar Detox, you're probably already familiar with this Sugar Craving Cycle. On the outside, it goes something like this:

That looks pretty familiar, doesn't it? We eat sugar, we feel amazing, then we crash and feel tired, then we get hungry, so we just go and eat some more sugar. The external vicious cycle we feel is actually due to internal events.

When you eat sugar, especially straight-up natural sugar — not fruit with fiber to slow that sugar down, but refined sugar and/or refined white flour — your body has to kick itself into overdrive.

On the inside, the cycle looks like this:

This chart shows what happens in our bodies when we eat sugar.

When you eat sugar, your liver turns sugar to fat, which is why a lot of us gain weight. Then, as the liver releases sugar into the bloodstream, your blood pressure rises and dopamine levels in the brain surge, like when someone does heroin.

The sugar then causes your body to release high levels of insulin, which drops your glucose levels. Your body gets tired and asks for more sugar, via cravings, to offset this glucose/insulin imbalance. Therefore, your body ultimately makes you pick up that next sugary beverage or snack.

No wonder we are addicted.

The most harmful part of sugar, perhaps, is that it's been touted as a substance that's okay to eat. In fact, more than touted, it's been turned into a multi-billion dollar market that is lauded, celebrated, and cherished in Northern American culture.

We've become so addicted to sugar that there are entire industries dedicated to getting us more of the sugar we want, whenever we want it. Many breakfast cereals (marketed to kids, no less) contain 27 grams of sugar per serving, the equivalent of a chocolate candy bar.

Commercials offer candy as a midday pick-me-up snack, and companies hock treats to after-dinner dessert lovers. Sugar has made its way into our entire day, and somehow, we've been taught to think that it's okay.

How much sugar are you really eating?

Even if you eat a fairly healthy diet, making sure you watch calories and eat fresh fruits and veggies every day, you're probably getting a lot more sugar than you think.

The average American eats about 152 pounds of sugar each year. That's about 22 teaspoons each day, every day, for every person living in the US. But the situation is even worse with our children.

Kids consume an average of 34 teaspoons of sugar daily every day, and for the first time in history children as young as nine are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, an estimated 25% of our teenagers are either pre-diabetic or diabetic.

Even if you don't eat a lot of sweets or add sugar to your tea or coffee, you're probably still eating plenty of sugar. And if you eat bread, cereal, or processed foods, you're also getting a ton of flour.

You may not know this, but a slice of bread (even whole wheat bread) actually raises your blood sugar more than table sugar does. All refined flour has the same effect and we are eating it in huge amounts.

Americans consume about 146 pounds of flour a year, per person. So that means we're eating about one pound of sugar and flour combined for every person in the US.

Why is it hard to quit sugar?

Do you know why it's so hard for you to quit sugar? Because studies have shown that sugar is 800% more addictive than cocaine.

How many people do you know who eat a vegan diet, work out every day, and snort coke between meals? Not too many. I've seen plenty of otherwise health-conscious people who stash chocolate in the freezer or have a cola with their lunch because they "have a sweet tooth."

No, you are a sugar addict. Sugar and flour addiction are very real and it's not an emotional reliance on sweet treats or bagels.

It is a recognized and well-documented physiological disorder involving both your neurotransmitters and your hormonal system. In a study at Harvard, researchers discovered that a very sugary milkshake didn't just cause a huge spike in blood sugar and insulin levels; it also stimulated huge changes in brain activity.

In short, the brain becomes addicted to that spike. I realize that this makes it sound even harder to get sugar out of your diet, but the truth is that you can do it.

The addiction to sugar and flour might be powerful, but studies have shown that our bodies and our neurological systems can be free of the addiction within a week to ten days of going cold turkey.

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If you have these 5 symptoms, it's time to consider cutting sugar out of your diet:

1. Mood Swings

If you haven't been feeling like the nicest or happiest version of yourself, your diet could be to blame.

"A high-sugar diet can cause you to have severe mood swings," says clinical nutritionist and detox specialist Autumn Bates. This is "due to the rise and fall in blood glucose levels — think 'hangry.'"

We've been there!

"This happens because sugar is absorbed much more quickly into your body than fat or protein, so this results in a surge of energy and a very sudden drop. That drop can cause you to feel moody, angry, anxious, annoyed, and really hungry."

Limiting your intake of sweets could potentially balance out your mood and lead to more positive feelings overall.

2. Acne

Is eating too much sugar giving your skin a little #TBT to your middle school years? You thought you outgrew acne, but your diet had other plans for you?

"[Ingesting] high levels of sugar has been linked to hormone imbalances," says Bates. "These imbalances can appear in a variety of ways, but one of the most common forms is acne."

Plan of action: keep your skin routine the same, but just start reducing your sugar intake. Take some before and after photos to see if the diet overhaul is making a difference, and go from there.

3. Headache

Ouch. Are you catching yourself reaching for NSAIDs and calling out of work with a migraine more than once a month?

"Having a sudden spike, then drop in blood glucose levels (which happens with a high sugar diet) can trigger hypoglycemia," said Bates. "Common symptoms of hypoglycemia can include headaches or migraines. If you experience headaches often, you may be eating excessive amounts of sugar."

4. Inability to lose weight

If you're exercising constantly and eating pretty healthy but still not losing weight, it's time to reassess your diet's sugar levels.

"Having a constant stream of sugar given to your body makes it impossible for your body to utilize its own fat stores," she said.

Want to burn fat? Time to ditch the sweets. "It's much easier for your body to use sugar as a source of energy when it's available, so a high sugar diet will make it extremely difficult to tap into the energy stored as fat."

5. Hormone Imbalances

For women especially, a sugary diet could be linked with different hormonal issues — according to Bates, this is specifically true for women with PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

"PCOS has become an epidemic with women in their 20s and 30s," she said. "The two main factors that have been traced back to PCOS are stress and excessive sugar intake."

Fun fact: stress can also cause all of the aforementioned symptoms that sugar can . . . so eating sugar is almost like eating stress.

"PCOS has been linked to insulin resistance, which can be caused by excessive sugar in the diet," said Bates.

Keep in mind that even if your PCOS is not caused by sugar, you can potentially control the symptoms by reducing your intake. "One of the ways that I've seen PCOS controlled and sometimes reversed with my clients is by cutting out any additional sugar, reducing fruit intake, and limiting grain intake, especially refined grains — which ultimately get broken down into simple sugars in your body," said Bates.

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How long does it take to detox from sugar? Typically, it takes about 7 days.

You're probably consuming far more sugar than you think. But you can do a complete sugar detox faster and more easily than you think.

I'm going to tell you how, but first I'm going to tell you why.

Of course, you first have to get through that 7 days ... and you'll need help to do it.

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So, here are the steps that will help you prepared for a sugar detox diet, plus a customized 7-Day sugar detox diet blueprint to help you through:

1. Remove all sugar and flour from your house — and your diet.

The easiest way to do this without having to spend hours reading labels is to eliminate anything that is packaged, canned, frozen (with a few exceptions, like frozen organic berries), or pre-cooked. Even potato chips have sugar in them.

There are so many names for many common forms of sugar that it could take you forever to weed them out by reading labels, so just commit to eating fresh, whole foods and nothing else. That means meats, eggs, poultry, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

2. Drink unsweetened water, fresh greens drinks, and unsweetened herbal tea or decaf coffee.

Sugar in liquid form is even worse for you than sugar in a Twinkie because it goes almost immediately into your bloodstream. What makes it worse is that a sugary beverage like soda doesn't fill you up and the energy only lasts a short time, so you drink another very shortly after.

Even if you don't drink soda, your beverages may be loaded with sugar. Gatorade has 14 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. That's only one less than a 20-ounce Coke. One of the problems is that sending this much sugar flying into your bloodstream at once actually inhibits the liver's own fat-storage mechanism, leading to additional fat storage in the belly.

Not only that, but almost all sugar is 50% glucose (which spikes your blood sugar) and 50% fructose. The latter is just as problematic and often overlooked.

Fructose (especially in hidden or liquid form) is bad news because it must first be metabolized before the body can use it as glucose. However, because this is a "rate-dependent" process, too much fructose at once causes your liver to spit out triglycerides into your blood. Many of those TGs are also trapped in your liver, which can over time lead to problems like "fatty liver disease."

3. Eat a high-protein meal first thing in the morning.

You've been fasting all night; that means that your carb levels are low and your insulin levels are high. This is the main reason so many people reach for something sweet first thing in the morning.

Combat this by getting plenty of protein instead. Not only will it fill you up without spiking your blood sugar, but it will also re-train your body to use protein as energy.

You also want to make sure you get some healthy fats into your body as early as possible. Try a protein shake or have some eggs and a handful of walnuts.

4. Make sure you're consuming plenty of healthy carbs.

Yes, you can still eat carbohydrates. Not all carbs are bad. We need carbs to function well and even to survive, but you must eat the right carbs.

That means non-starchy, low-sugar vegetables — in other words, no white potatoes or corn, and skip the beets, winter squash, and sweet potatoes just for this detox period.

When you want something sweet, help yourself to fresh berries and lower-sugar fruits like apples, pears, and plums. By the way, during these ten days, you shouldn't limit your consumption of produce at all.

Eat until your eyes pop out if you have to. The crunch will satisfy you during the first few days of cravings and you'll probably drop a few pounds as well.

5. Eat healthy fats.

Fat is not to blame for obesity — sugar and flour are. Fat actually helps steady your blood sugar levels, keeps you feeling satisfied, and is even used to transport vitamins and minerals throughout your body.

You should have both protein and fat at every meal. The best fats are nuts and seeds, nut butters (except for peanut butter), olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, avocados, and the Omega-3 fats from pasture-raised meat and eggs, and wild-caught seafood.

6. Always keep healthy sugar-free snacks with you.

It's as sure as Murphy's Law: you will get your worst cravings when there isn't a farmer's market, fruit stand, or healthy restaurant within five miles. In fact, there will probably be five fast-food restaurants, three vending machines, and a donut shop just within sight.

So be prepared. Keep plenty of healthy snacks in your desk, in your car, in your laptop case and anywhere else you can stash them. Rely on nuts, seeds, apples, jerky, celery with nut butter, berries, and other portable treats. It's best to have a combination of protein, carbs, and fats in every snack.

7. Lower your stress level.

There's a reason why stress makes many people reach for junk food. Stress raises your cortisol level, causing hunger and stimulating fat storage at the same time, but de-stressing actually reverses that process.

Studies have shown that just doing some deep breathing can stimulate the Vagus nerve and change the focus of your metabolism from storing fat to burning it.

Take a fun fitness class, go dancing, call a friend or watch a funny video. Have a nice long shower or curl up with a cat, a book, or both. Whatever it takes, even just for a few minutes, to help you unwind and refocus.

8. Get plenty of sleep.

Lack of sleep or even sleeping at erratic times also raises your cortisol level. It also interferes with your leptin and ghrelin levels, the hormones that control hunger and satiety.

Get at least eight hours every night and try to go to sleep at roughly (within an hour or so) the same time every night. Many people find that doing this one thing ramps up their fat loss enough for them to lose weight without restricting calories.

9. Start an exercise plan that includes strength training.

Strength training cannot only help you with your sugar detox but also helps keep your blood sugar levels steady for good. When you use your muscles, they require more glucose, which means less glucose in the bloodstream to elevate your blood sugar and fewer cravings for sugar later on when your blood sugar begins to crash.

The more lean muscle you have, the better your body is at getting blood glucose out of your bloodstream and into your muscles. Exercise also releases those feel-good endorphins so that you're not so vulnerable to mood eating.

10. Reduce inflammation from food sensitivities.

Inflammation has been shown to cause unhealthy blood sugar levels and lead to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Illness or injury are not to blame for most inflammation — food sensitivities are.

The most common problem foods are gluten and dairy, so just for the first ten days, kick them out of your diet as well. You may not even realize you have a problem with one or both of these, until a few days later when you suddenly have more energy and far fewer symptoms — such as bloating, gas, headaches, and nausea.

Doing a sugar detox may seem a little extreme, reasonable, or incredibly difficult. But research supports the idea that we all need to get sugar and flour out of our diets for good.

With this 10-step, 7-day plan, you can do it much easier than you think, I promise. The first three days are the hardest, but if you follow all of these steps, you’ll start feeling amazing in no time. Here's how to flush sugar out of your body fast.

Will I experience detox symptoms?

Cutting refined sugar from your diet will likely exacerbate that sugar craving cycle for a few if you stick to the sugar detox plan. Physical symtoms of sugar withdrawal include light-headedness and fatigue due to the drop in blood sugar levels, while mental symptoms include cravings, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and even a depressed mood. 

What happens when you stop eating sugar for a month?

It might be tough to push through those initial symptoms and sugar cravings, but keep up the hard work! It will all be worth it in the end. All those nasty sugar addiction symptoms you experienced will start lessening over time.

Will I lose weight on a detox?

Great news: studies have shown that you lose weight much quicker when you ditch the sugar!

“We had over 80 testers from all over the country, and they lost anywhere between 5 to 20 pounds during the 31 days, depending on their weight or sugar addiction,” registered dietician Brooke Alpert told CNN about the 30-day sugar detox plan she conducted for her book The Sugar Detox. “Many also noticed that a lot of the weight was lost from their midsection. Belts got looser!”

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Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the NYTimes Best-selling book "The All-Day Energy Diet." In his upcoming book, "The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet" (Rodale, 2015) he walks readers through a 5-day food cycling program guaranteed to double your weight. Look for it in bookstores.

This article was originally published at yurielkaim.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.