If you, like everybody else, enjoyed the holiday season and all of its sweets and treats, you will have a harder time resetting your brain and body. You need a plan to detox from sugar!
Eating sweets actually has similar effects on the brain and body as opiates do. Sugar mimics opiates.
Sugar changes the activity of Dopamine and opiates in our brains. These are the chemical systems associated with pleasure and reducing physical or emotional pain. Because of these effects, eating sugar is not only reinforcing as our brains want to consume something pleasurable (the Dopamine Reward Pathway), but also our go-to when we’re stressed, which is due to its effects on numbing a bit of that stress we’re feeling (physical or emotional pain).
If you’re trying to heal from the chronic psychological and/or physical effects of trauma, or are working with a child who has trauma and attachment issues, those sweets will have derailed the brain and their healing process.
Healing and attachment work directly involve rewiring the Dopamine and opiate system, so the healing cannot be done while those two systems are hijacked by sugar. Healing from attachment trauma cannot occur while we’re getting pleasure from sugar instead of relationships, and certainly cannot occur while we’re numbing the emotional centers of our brains with opiates through sweets.
Effects of Sugar on the Brain and Body
Sugar and sweets have a lot of other effects on the brain and body that make a post-holiday or post-binge detoxification necessary.
A lot of the research specifically looks at the effects of high fructose corn syrup on the body, but sugar will cause more unhealthy bacteria to populate your intestines, mess up hormones, and increases the inflammation in the body.
Sugar and Gut Bacteria:
Our intestines are full of bacteria! As long as you have the right kinds of bacteria in the right amounts it can be a great relationship, because they help many other processes in the body.
In fact, having the wrong kinds of bacteria or in the wrong amounts has now been associated with many mood disorders, therefore making this a recent focus in the psychiatry world.
By disrupting this healthy balance, sweets are going to derail systems in the brain and the body.
Sugar and Hormones:
Hormones that control appetite and metabolism are also disrupted by sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup. This will disrupt the normal communication between the brain (via the hormone leptin) about how full it is and to stop eating – causing weight gain, especially belly fat.
Sweets cause problems in metabolism or your body’s system of making energy from the food we eat. They cause problems in your hormones and metabolism that set you up for having inflammation, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, and being overweight despite dieting.
Sugar and Inflammation:
Many adults who have histories of trauma already struggle with the problem of inflammation, because inflammatory conditions are one of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on a body. Adding to the inflammation in any way is going in the opposite direction of healing your body.
When there is inflammation in your body, it will drain your energy faster, you’ll feel the need to nap and it may be harder to get up in the mornings. Your body will feel like it’s dragging, because that inflammation is putting excess stress on the body. Inflammation also affects the brain; inflammation is most known to cause brain fog, a general sense of being more forgetful of small things, less ability to focus on a task, and in general, not working as well or as sharp.
When you have become dependent on sugar and sweets, those are times that you’ll crave them the most! Sweets will give you an initial burst of energy and what feels like mental alertness, but this effect is short-lived and once again, you’ll find your body and brain in a slump that’s craving more sugar.
Eating Sugar Can Become an Addiction:
Some of the most surprising and fascinating research studies have shown how sugar is addictive.
A sugar addiction is definitely real, because of the qualities and symptoms, and the actual chemical and activity changes in the brain associated with high sugar intake.
The qualities and symptoms associated with any addiction are: tolerance, dependence, bingeing, withdrawal, cravings, and cross-sensitization.
Eating high amounts of sweets has all of these qualities and symptoms!
Many people feel compelled to eat sweet foods, similar in some ways to how an alcoholic might feel compelled to drink. This is the quality of cravings and binging.
A person will become dependent on the amount of sweets they consume, so much so that if they eat less, they will experience withdrawals.
Tolerance is also developed. As you eat more sweets, you find you need to now maintain that amount to have the same feeling and stay out of withdrawals.
Sugar withdrawal is a commonly reported symptom that people report when they commit themselves to not having any sweets, desserts, and sticking only to fruits and veggies as their only source of simple carbohydrates.
Finally, there is cross-sensitization of sweets with other drugs. Meaning, they’re interchangeable. They both contain similar effects that can be achieved and withdrawals eliminated by switching to sugar from another substance or from sugar to another drug.
Sugar and Addictive Brain Activity:
Studies have shown that sugar activates the same regions of the brain as other behavioral addictions.
What does this mean?
Just as there are addictions to drugs, there are behavioral addictions that show the same behavior patterns as those addictions to drugs, because of the areas of the brain that get activated in the process.
The behaviors that show up when those areas of the brain are activated include cravings, a sense of loss of control or behavior, tolerance, dependence, and high rates of relapse.
Just as with stopping other behavioral addictions that can include, but aren’t limited to: gambling, sex, shopping, video games, and eating disorders, going off sugar has withdrawals that are smaller versions of going off of opiates.
Sugar Detoxification Plan
So, whether you’ve returned to sweets because of the holidays or because of stress, you need to go on a sugar detoxification plan to get back on track!
Sugar and its effects on the brain and body are a large burden on your system. Physically, mentally, and emotionally your system is stressed on sugar. Those sweets come at a high price, and a higher price for those with histories of trauma.
Maybe you’ll be cutting out sweets and sugar for the first time, which I cannot applaud you enough for this decision!
Given the effects of sugar on your body and brain, it’s impossible for your body to heal from trauma or perform at your best in life and relationships on a diet that includes sweets and sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
The How-To of a Sugar Detox
The most obvious way is to not eat any form of sweets or foods with high sugar content. You should expect to experience pretty significant withdrawals, usually peaking at days 2-4. It can take up to a few weeks for your body to recover and develop its new and lower tolerance for sugar.
However, a sugar detox is easier said than done. The additional tips below will help you get through this phase faster and help clear the effects sooner, getting you back to good moods and health!
Meal Choices: Small, High Protein, Anti-Inflammatory and Low Sugar
When you have an informed and organized approach with your meal plan, you’ll be much more successful in getting through a sugar detox! A smart and organized approach includes eating smaller meals more frequently, choosing foods that are high in protein, and keeping carbohydrate (sugar) content <10 g per meal.
The digestive tract needs to heal itself from the inflammation of the sugar. Initially, it will be to help digest smaller meals better, which will help the reactions to be less.
Depending on how much food you have been indulging in due to stress or the holidays, you may even feel like your stomach has stretched out, there can be an initial discomfort with not eating until you feel stuffed.
Eating small quantities more frequently and choosing foods with high protein content will help you get through this discomfort as your stomach relaxes back into its normal size.
Your food choices should be high in protein.
Protein will help you feel full even with the smaller amount of food.
Protein will also help provide your brain and body with the building blocks it uses to make different hormones and neurotransmitters like Serotonin which will help decrease sugar cravings.
To repair your digestive tract and your body from the inflammatory effects of sweets and high amounts of sugar, you’ll want to hit the anti-inflammatory foods pretty hard at first!
One of the best anti-inflammatory foods is the seasoning Turmeric. This is a yellow-colored spice that is widely used in Indian food, and has been shown in medical studies to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Here are turmeric capsules that I like because they also have spirulina (boost the body’s natural detoxification system). I also have organic turmeric right next to my stove for adding to my soups and curries, you can get that here on amazon. Be very generous with seasoning your food!
To get total body inflammation down faster, I also frequently use high doses of Vitamin C (up to 10,000 mg daily), liposomal glutathione, and activated charcoal.
Ketosis is a fat-burning state the body can go into during fasting and certain diets that have been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Some people find that doing a ketogenic diet helps them recover from a sugar binge even faster.
This type of diet is also used by several diet programs for rapid weight loss, and is behind the science of Paleo Diet, Atkins Diet, Medifast and Nutrisystem. A lot of the rapid weight loss is due to the loss of water weight associated with decreased inflammation.
Repair the Digestive Tract:
Repairing the lining of the digestive tract is important to get your mood and physical health back to an optimal place.
Since sugar feeds the growth of yeast, candida and bad bacteria in your intestines, a healthy balance needs to be restored. Usually this can be done with specific probiotics and eliminating the sugar intake.
I have found that taking probiotics for both the yeast and bacteria help reestablish gut health faster.
The best yeast probiotics are Saccharomyces Boulardii and Grape Seed Extract. Click on the names for direct links to see the ones I use and recommend.
Saccharomyces Boulardii is a healthy yeast that will bring other intestinal yeast and bad bacteria under control.
Grapefruit seed extract is not technically a probiotic but is toxic to yeast and so helps to control yeast overgrowth in the intestines.
To get the good bacteria back into your gut, it’s important to take a probiotic that will give you a wide variety of bacteria, not just one. I have found taking a combination of different probiotics is necessary to get all the good bacteria back.
The combination of food products that will give you the variety of bacteria you need include yogurt from Grass-fed Cows, Forager Cashew-Based Plain Probiotic Drink, and Kombucha drinks.
If you would like to add a probiotic in a capsule form, Just Potent Probiotic is a good choice as it has 8 different strains of intestinal bacteria.
Repair Intestinal Lining:
Glutamine is the source of fuel for the cells that make up the lining of your intestines. To repair this lining, it’s most important to take away what has been irritating it (sugar, inflammation, bad bacteria, yeast, toxins) and establish good bacteria.
Then, you can take L-glutamine to help the cells repair. It’s recommended to take 3,000 mg daily for repair. You can take that all at once or 1,000 mg three times daily. It does need to be taken on an empty stomach with water.
Movement and Distraction
Finally, it’s important to distract yourself by keep moving and exercising!
Part of the withdrawals from sugar and sweets is due to decreased levels of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, and exercise will give you those chemicals! You’ll be surprised at how your cravings will decrease or go away entirely when you exercise.
Distractions with new or novel activities, things you may not normally do, also stimulate your brain to release dopamine.
Changing my diet, including going completely off any processed sugars and sweets was one of the changes that had the most impact on my health and life.
I’ve found it essential for healing a body from the chronic effects of trauma. The amount of damage and inflammation that processed sugars causes on the body makes it impossible for a body to focus on anything else! It constantly has a war that it’s still fighting inside.
The withdrawals from sugar should not be minimized though, and if you can push through, you will love the new way your body feels and performs for you! You’ll make strides in other areas of your health and life once you clear processed sugars from your diet!
Encouraging You On!
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