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 one of the 5-day sugar detox.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going...to the gym, to the running trail or to the meditation cushion. But for many of us, it’s normal to respond to stress by turning to quick fixes that don’t serve us in the long run. When you’re stuck at home during a pandemic, no less, snacking on sugar-filled foods and drinks can provide that comfort you crave. It’s time to give your body a break from refined sugars.
Today is Day 1 of 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. It’s a guided program that just about anyone can do at home. For the next five days, we’ll provide the encouragement and know-how you need to adopt healthier habits and become a “quitter” for good.
“[A sugar detox] is important no matter what, but especially now in these times that we’re living in. Your immune system needs to be very, very strong. So it's very, very important to kick that sugar out of your daily routine,” says McConaughey.
The mom of three has teamed up with licensed nutritionist Maya Feller to challenge readers on Day 1 to take the first bold step: commit to quitting sugar. Of course, the journey is a winding road, but once you set your mind to it, you’re well on your way.
Why should you commit to cutting out sugar? Disease prevention, increased energy and better skin, to name a few...
“A lot of us are feeling tired, bloated and stressed with everything that's going on around us,” says McConaughey. Sugar is a temporary fix, as it activates the pleasure pathways of your brain. After a while, though, you feel the crash and need an even bigger hit. Adds Feller: “It's this very complicated cycle that happens because our bodies are kind of saying, ‘Hey, give me more.’”
Like any drug, sugar becomes addictive — and it’s something of an epidemic in our country. How much added sugar do Americans consume? “The numbers are through the roof. It's something like more than 34 percent of our total energy intake [for teens]. I think adults are above like 40 percent. It's just part of our day-to-day, and it's so habitual,” says Feller.
Here’s the good news: giving up the sweet stuff is absolutely doable and gets easier with time. Take it from Alexandra Sowa, MD, who is a board-certified doctor of internal medicine specializing in metabolic health (and an outside expert who is unaffiliated with Women of Today). “In fact it really will change your relationship with sugar,” Sowa tells Yahoo Life. “There really is a light at the end of the tunnel where you just don't want those same [sugar-y] foods again.”
Eliminating sugar can combat those icky short-term feelings, like bloating and crashing, pretty quickly — and permanently, if you truly commit — but the long-term effects of a sugar detox are even more profound.
“When you consume excess amounts of added sugar, it actually increases your risk for all non-communicable diseases, [such as] diabetes, cardiovascular disease, [and] hypertension,” says Feller.
Sugar is also a major cause of inflammation. “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.
Feller agrees. “This is a moment where we really want our immune systems to be as strong as they possibly can. And we know that when you have high amounts of added sugar, it changes actually the diversity of those bacteria in your gut,” notes Feller. “What you really want is all of the beneficial bacteria, rather than having the bacteria that doesn't allow your body to express its best health.”
Feller adds that giving sugar the boot can balance your gut’s microbiome, doing wonders for your energy levels and complexion, too. “You can expect to see more luminous, bright skin when you remove some of that added sugar from your daily pattern of eating,” she says.
Another benefit? You won’t have those moments when you’re so hungry you could bite someone’s head off! “You'll have less of that up and down ‘hangry’ feeling,” Feller puts it when she describes the angry-hungry combo you feel after a sugar crash. “So you can expect to have a little bit less of the highs and the lows.”
Also, you’ll be able to listen to your hunger better when you’re not “filling the gap” with sweets like sugar-sweetened beverages, which fool you into thinking you’re full. “You don't actually know when you're hungry or you're satiated, and when you remove [sugar], then you're like, ‘Oh wow. I actually feel great after this meal,’ or ‘Oh, I feel like I could have a little bit more,’” she says.
How should you commit — gradually or cold-turkey?
Once you’ve committed to a sugar detox, the question becomes: how? Should you wean yourself off of this highly addictive substance little by little, or should you quit cold turkey? There’s no one answer: “It’s very person and situation dependent,” says Sowa.
“If your life is incredibly hectic and you say, ‘I'm going to do a 180 in the way I eat,’ you might have a hard time, and you might not succeed,” adds Sowa. “So for some people, 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.”
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
Sowa says others find it easier to make a big change all at once. “They'll say, ‘you know what? I truly feel like I have an addiction. If I don't even surround myself with the choices of the sugar, I won't go for it,’” Sowa points out. “So 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.”
“So we’ve talked about how we are going to do this detox: cold turkey or slow transitioning. Pick what works for you,” McConaughey says. “But at day one, what should we be cutting out of our diet?”
Practical ways to start your sugar detox — and a few temporary downsides to expect at first
“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.
While you’re at it, look for sodium, says Sowa. “You'll see that most packaged foods, even if it's just a snack bar or a pre-packaged cookie, will have more salt than you'll need in a whole day.” She says the same is true of most sweet electrolyte drinks. For this reason, dehydration is a surprise side effect of cutting out sugar. So if ditching processed foods is in your sugar-detox plan, Sowa strongly encourages drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day.
Other side effects of sugar detoxing will also vary by person, as will the amount of time it takes for those effects to hit you — this is no one-size-fits-all challenge. “Usually for most people who really consume high amounts of added sugar, it could be within 24 hours,” notes Feller. “You might feel...a decrease in your mood. You might have some headaches similar to a caffeine withdrawal. In terms of starting to feel the upswing and feeling good, some people report even within 72 hours feeling a little bit better.”
Is a sugar detox right for you?
Of course, no matter how gung-ho you are to start your sugar detox, remember to be smart about it. Sugar detoxing is not for everyone.
“People with a history of disordered eating or active eating disorder should steer clear 100 percent,” says Feller. “Also people who have any diagnosed medical condition should talk with their primary care provider or their dietician” before starting a sugar detox.
Sowa adds that if you are — or think you may be — insulin resistant (frequent sugar crashes could indicate this), you should also consult a doctor before embarking on a sugar detox. “If you're starting to feel dizzy, if you're starting to feel nauseous, if you have fever or chills as a result of the detox, this is when you call your primary care provider and you stop what you're doing,” adds Feller.
Above all, be kind to yourself and patient with the process. “It is day by day, one step at a time and lots of deep breaths,” encourages Feller. “The goal here is to teach you how to [adopt] lifelong good habits,” agrees McConaughey. “One thing at a time, slowly but surely, so...you can continue for the long run.”
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