Life in between sugar detoxes

by Cindy Figueroa

When I first started the sugar detox days seemed long and I couldn’t wait to complete it. I remember day dreaming about all the foods I would be able to eat again: cookies and cream ice cream, ketchup, mole enchiladas, cereal, etc. Although I was seeing amazing results in my body, externally and internally, I was excited to go back to my “normal” life and diet. But that feeling short lived. About a week or so after I finished the detox, I decided to get back on it and I think it is important that I share with you the reasons behind this decision! I’ll tell you why:

Here are a few side effects that I experienced while off of the Sugar Detox in a matter of one week’s time.

  • Bloated and gassy. I looked like it too! I felt and looked as if I was consuming too much sodium.
  • Tired! I kept wanting to take naps. I remember falling asleep at church after eating a sugary breakfast. In my defense, it was delicious – pastries, hot chocolate, juice – but man did I feel that! Needless to say, I went home and took a good nap afterwards. I hadn’t napped, or needed it, while on the detox so I knew this was related to my diet.
  • Grumpy. Crazy, but I felt my mood changing. Maybe because I was tired and bloated, but it affected my energy and my interactions with those around me.
  • Cravings. After the detox I started eating refined sugar slowly, but soon after I found myself craving it more. I began the detox because I felt I couldn’t control this feeling and kept buying candy purposefully located near the cash register, and this feeling was coming back. I knew I needed an “all or nothing” approach to help control this.

I am currently on day 24 of my third 30-day detox and at this point I’m pretty convinced that this is going to be my new lifestyle. Now that I’m back, I feel good again. Those side effects are gone and I have been able to maintain my weight, which decreased (8 lbs!) during my first detox. I still haven’t had much time to work out, but I am making plans and modifying my schedule to change this. Although my body feels and looks better while not eating refined sugars, I know exercise is still important. I am still consuming natural sugars (carbs: fruits, vegetables, starchy foods), which contain glucose and fructose. Fructose is a simple sugar that is metabolized solely by the liver, unlike glucose, which can be metabolized by other cells in the body and is your body’s preferred energy source. The liver has a storage capacity of about 50 grams per day for the average individual, so consuming more fructose than this amount will convert it into fat to store energy. So, this is where exercising becomes really important, since it is direct energy expenditure will help deplete some of the liver-stored fructose and reduce fat conversion.

Confused yet? Hopefully not, the process of fat conversion is pretty important for you to understand especially if you still don’t understand why processed sugars are bad for you. Let me further break it down. As stated earlier, fructose (all refined sugars) is a simple sugar that is metabolized solely by the liver. If you consume less than 50 grams per day, it will be turned into glycogen (energy), but if you consume more than this (as most of us do), the fructose will turn into fat. So yes, ladies and gentleman, fructose is what is making us fat.

But back to my detox life. Now I’d like to share the things I’ve learned to make this process easier to handle. Truth is I don’t really miss consuming sugary foods anymore. I honestly think that I can go on without them. Sure I will enjoy them here and there, (as I did on my birthday three days ago when I had a cookies and cream ice cream cone!), but my body and I agree that we are good without it. So, here is what you should know before and while doing a sugar detox:

Learn where you are consuming your sugar. I learned which foods that I consumed on a regular basis had processed sugars and either removed or found a replacement for them. It is important to keep in mind that a good portion of sugar intake comes from breads, sauces, drinks and frozen and canned foods. For example, I love pasta so found a sugar-free substitute: brown rice or quinoa pasta and I learned to make my own sauce. It’s super simple and yummy too! Make sure you read labels.

Remove all temptation in your house/office/etc. This is important because your mind is very powerful, so it will be very easy to “cheat” if you have it close to you. There were many times when I would tell myself ‘no one would really know anyway’, but I tried to quickly shift from those thoughts. It was really the only way I could do this successfully. And trust me when I say that the process becomes easier over time. Take a look at the foods in your kitchen – salsas, dressings, drinks, candies, breads, cereals, etc. – and get them as far away as possible. Oh and don’t forget to share your plan with your family, friends, co-workers, etc., you never know how many will actually help you and not offer you temptation.

Plan your foods/recipes in advance. One of the biggest lessons I learned during the detox is that I got hungry often, way more often. Maybe this was because I was consuming less processed foods, so my digestive system was on point. But this was difficult at first because I wasn’t prepared to eat more meals so I learned to carry snacks with me at all times, especially fruit. Fruit was my lifesaver whenever I got hungry or whenever I craved something sweet. Once I got into the rhythm of things and learned which foods/ingredients I could eat/use, I began researching recipes or meal ideas that would work for me. My lifesaver meal for my family and I, as it is very kid-friendly, has been “haystacks” (aka taco salad). Although they contain tortilla chips, I found some without sugar and limited the amount used. The dish also contains black beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado, chicken (for them), and homemade salsa. It was great and super easy to make. You can definitely do this without the chips, maybe add rice and you have your homemade version of a Chipotle bowl! The main takeaway is that there are plenty of healthy alternatives; you just have to be creative and learn substitutes.

Below are meal ideas that I used. It is very easy to find recipes online. Just remember to read the ingredients on everything you buy (you’ll soon learn what you can and can’t buy/eat) and be open to try alternative options. You never know what new foods you may end up enjoying.

Breakfast options:

Plain oatmeal –once it boiled, I mixed the oatmeal with a banana in the blender to give it a sweet taste. My step-son mistook this for apple sauce at first, he loved it. I topped it with more fruits and cinnamon for flavor and sweetness.

Bread with almond butter - Once in a while I had sourdough or Ezekiel bread with almond butter and banana. Again, be cautious of the ingredients in nut butters.

Greek yogurt – topped with fruits, cinnamon and walnuts. Yummy!

Eggs and potatoes – On weekends, when I had more time, I would spoil my boys with this dish since it was much more filling for them. Since my step-son loves fries, I’d chop the potatoes like fries and use very little coconut oil and plenty of spices to give it flavor. Covering the pan helped soften the potatoes so I didn’t have to use much oil. Then I’d add a fruit or tomatoes as a side dish.

Pancakes – mmm, my favorite. I experimented a lot with pancakes, but found that adding ripe banana to the mix (banana, eggs, oat flour, and cinnamon) gave it the sweetness I needed and love. Since the boys are still consuming honey, they would add maple syrup to their pancakes. I topped it with strawberries and/or blueberries. If you decide to consume honey, you can try doing a berry syrup by mixing coconut oil, any type of berry and honey in a pan and bringing it to a slight boil. The kids, and maybe you, will love it.

Lunch options:

Lunch was the easy meal for me. Since this is a solo meal so I didn’t worry about the boys. They usually went to the local sandwich shop and had a wrap or sandwich. Places are quite accommodating if you tell them your dietary restrictions, so don’t be shy when asking to modify their foods for you.

Sourdough sandwich – Sourdough is one of the few types of bread that doesn’t contain sugar, so it’s relatively safe. Just be cautious of consuming too much of it as breads contain gluten and other ingredients that may be harsh for you digestive system. The ingredients to be aware of with sandwiches are turkey slices (ask for chicken breasts instead), mayo, and other sauces. I loved replacing my sauces with either avocado and/or mustard.

Salads – You can never go wrong with this, just be careful with the dressings. Use lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (not vinaigrette), tahini or other homemade alternatives.

Leftovers – If you plan ahead, just make enough dinner to eat it for lunch the next day. This is what I did and it was a money saver too!

Dinner options:

I must confess dinner was also not that difficult for me to prepare because they boys are not vegetarian like I am. Therefore there is an abundance of meat dish options.

Chicken/Beef – with many side options such as rice, beans, salad, vegetables, etc. Be cautious with frozen vegetables as many frozen foods contain sugar, among a million other additives. But if you are in a crunch between frozen and canned foods, go for frozen; canned foods have a gazillion additives. But obviously the best thing to eat is fresh foods. Also, one good tip for cooking chicken is to “fry” it in fresh squeezed orange and lemon juice, adding spices to flavor it. The boys loved the flavor it gave the chicken.

Haystacks (taco salad) - black beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, avocado, homemade salsa and chicken (for non-vegetarians/vegans)

Tacos – this is easy too as you can prep the meat days in advance so all you have to do is chop the fresh ingredients (of your choosing) the day of. Be cautious of the tortillas you use, luckily I found some without sugar and with only about 3-5 ingredients. These could be found in your conventional and health food stores.

Pasta - Because pastas and its sauces contain much sugar, I pretty much stayed away from it during my first and second 30-day detox but very recently my niece taught my how to make my own sauce and I've been loving it, in moderation, since. I learned that there are plenty of pastas that don't contain sugar such as brown rice or quinoa pasta. And the sauce is actually quite simple to make. You heat garlic in coconut oil - medium heat - then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer this into a liquid form then add fresh parsley and oregano.  finish it off with sea or Himalayan salt for flavor. Trust me, you'll love this taste too. I'm sure it resembles Italian food much more than Olive Garden does!

So there you are folks, just some ideas for a sugar-free lifestyle. Not too bad right? And tasty too!

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