Recently, I decided to take on the challenge of a sugar cleanse. This wasn't meant to be a following of fads but rather an attempt to change some unhealthy eating habits I had found myself in. Leading up to the cleanse, I had gotten to a point where I was having at least one can of soda almost daily, as well as eating way too much candy, chocolate, pastries..all the sweets. I was feeling heavy, tired, and held back in achieving some of my health goals. So, when I saw some people on social media post about sugar cleanses, it seemed to be just what I needed.
For me, I decided to make it two weeks and cut out all soda, candy, pastries, sweets, and tried to cut back on sneaky culprits of sugar, like cereal, bread, and condiments. I did allow myself fruit and some carbs. I also got some advice from friends who recommended adding in more healthy fats to my diet, as it's supposed to help fulfill that desire for sugar. With that, I added some extra salmon, fish, avocado, and coconut.
Two weeks later, and I had gained some surprising insights into my eating habits and mental health, something I was not at all expecting. First, let's look at how the actual cleanse went. Keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist or physician, so this was just formed around my own research, taking advice from some helpful friends, and listening to my body.
The first few days
Early on in the cleanse, I noticed I was having some digestion issues, had headaches, and was feeling tired. I assume all of this was due to the lack of sugar that my body had grown used to having and was now detoxing from. In an attempt to combat some of the symptoms, I drank extra water and began eating some additional healthy fats. I also continued my workout routine. My hope was that all of this would kick start my body into getting used to having less sugar and alternative healthy foods instead.
One week in
At about the fourth day, I started to feel much better. I regained my energy and found that my workouts were going much more smoothly and I had more endurance and strength. The headaches and digestive issues also subsided, and I finally got back on a normal schedule with my bathroom visits. I also noticed that I was drinking much more water than normal and easily hitting (or surpassing) my 8 glass/day quota, a goal I struggled with for years.
Then, came the test of Friday night. Fridays are date night for me and the hubby where the ritual goes that we treat ourselves to a meal out and a dessert. I decided instead of the normal cake or ice cream to go with some dark chocolate (70% cocoa). The hubs also recommended I put some peanut butter on it, which made it seem oh so decadent. I had such a sense of pride in finding an alternative.
The final stretch
With the rounding of the halfway mark into the second week, I continued to notice my body stabilizing and feeling way better than before the cleanse. I also continued to drink plenty of water and explored foods high in healthy fats. However, about halfway through the second week (about 10 days in) my mind started to push back. I started to notice my mind telling me things like, "Oh, just a little bit of jam won't hurt. You can have that ice cream, because you've been so good." And, I won't lie, I gave in a couple times. Even though those moments were disappointing, they taught me some valuable lessons about myself and my relationship to food (I'll explain more in a bit).
Life after the cleanse
As I sit here writing this, it's one week out from finishing the cleanse. I'm continuing to drink lots of water and work to find alternatives to fill the space where sugar once lived. One thing that really taught me about sugar's affects on my body and mind was reintroducing it into my diet.
Following the cleanse, we had quite the week of sugar here. It was both a holiday in Iceland (Bolludagur and Fat Tuesday) and my birthday, so it was day after day of having sugar for about six days straight. And, sure enough, I started to feel tired, heavy, and got digestive issues again, and irritability cropped up this time. So, here's what I've taken away from completing a cleanse, then having several days in a row of the thing I had just cleansed from:
Easier than expected. I was kind of worried before starting this. I didn't know how I would feel not having the comfort of soda and sweets. I had gotten so used to having them in my life, almost daily. But, once I decided I was going to do it and got started, it wasn't that bad. I found the challenge of it fun and enjoyed trying to find new foods and new ways of eating. Sure, there were moments where I was tempted (see above), but outside of those moments, I wasn't thinking about it that much.
Drinking more water. Like I said, I started drinking more water and hit my goal much easier. I wasn't really expecting this to happen going into the cleanse. Easily hitting my daily goal of water intake was a very pleasant surprise, and even more so that I'm keeping it up one week later.
Treating my body well. Through this cleanse, my mindset changed from eating what made me emotionally feel good to eating what made me physically feel good. Cutting something out of my diet that was only hurting me and adding in foods that make me feel amazing has allowed me to form a mindset of treating my body well. I think I was doing pretty well in this before...I exercise often, eat decent, have a good sleep schedule, but this just reinforced that even more. I'm learning to view food from this space of what it's going to do for me physically. Is this food going to make my body feel fueled, good, strong? If not, why am I eating it? That leads me to the biggest breakthrough...
I do not need sugar to be happy. Seriously, "I do not need sugar (soda, chocolate, sweets, whatever!) to be happy." This was a huge realization. I, and I think many of us, tie our food choices to what we think will make us happy. We eat cake, cookies, burgers, junk to feel good, to relax, and treat ourselves. But, the crazy thing is, my..our happiness is not tied to food. I have so many other things in life to be happy about, and my relationship to myself is the most important part of that.
The bigger picture here is that happiness doesn't come from external factors, not true, long-lasting happiness. But, we're asking food to do that for us. Let me be clear here, there is nothing wrong with having a freaking cupcake or soda here and there, to have a piece of cake at the party. But, understand that that piece of yummy deliciousness does not create your happiness. Which ties into...
Be easy on yourself. Like I said, I had a couple slip ups. i really wanted some ice cream one night, so I allowed myself some. If you're trying to make positive changes in your life, whether that's a diet change, an exercise routine, better communication with your partner, you're going to have slip ups. We're all human, which means we're not perfect. Just because I've made a change doesn't mean that I'll never again have a piece of cake or some chocolate, and that's okay. It's more about what your reason is for making the change and living that out to what you feel is a good balance in your life. Balance is the key to all this.
Have you tried a cleanse? How did it go? What do you feel you learned from it? Did you have some slip ups like me..? Where are you going from here? I'd love to hear about your experience with this and how you view our relationship with food.
With love and healthy, healing vibes,
This article in its edited version can be found on Elephant Journal.