A love affair with sugar may not be tearing you apart, but it could be taking your energy levels for a roller-coaster ride.
In pursuit of a higher energy level, Brittany Baez, 34, said she gave up foods she loves, such as bread, pancakes, pasta and ice cream, because they were leaving her feeling tired and bloated.
“I don’t want to continue to feel that,” said Baez, who works at the front desk of Mercy Family Medicine.
She was interested in boosting her energy because she has three daughters, ages 2, 4 and 5.
Baez is one of the more than 2,000 people who have participated in a 21-day sugar detox program through Mercy Regional Medical Center since it was started in 2015.
The program is based on the “21-Day Sugar Detox Daily Guide,” which calls for eliminating sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, said Jolie Ensign, wellness coordinator at Mercy.
“Most of us are addicted to carbs and sugars, and we get immense cravings,” Ensign said.
The guide encourages participants to eat meats, vegetables, dairy and some nuts.
The program is offered multiple times a year online and in person to Mercy employees and the general public.
The diet is meant to reset the palate and can help end the roller-coaster effect eating sugar and carbohydrates can have on your blood sugar, Ensign said.
“Unhealthy blood sugar levels lead to high insulin, which leads to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and so on. Long-term effects of high levels of sugar include depression, anxiety, eczema/psoriasis, insomnia, infertility and, of course, Type 2 diabetes,” Ensign said in an email.
Sugar can light up the brain’s pleasure centers like a drug. However, cutting out all sugars and carbohydrates may not be the answer for everyone. It’s important to ask yourself what is more likely to work for you, Durango dietitian Mikel Love said.
“Are you one of those people who can check in with your habits?” she said. “Or do you need to have absolutes?”
Baez said she participated in the detox in the fall and noticed a big difference.
“I am a 30-something. I felt like a 20-something,” she said.
Earlier this month, on Day 4 of her second detox, she said she was still adjusting to her new diet, but it was going well.
“The first few days to a week can be uncomfortable at times,” she said of the detox.
She has been eating more vegetables, healthy fats and protein, she said. Her favorite dish has been roasted sweet potatoes with garlic and onions.
Some of the common reactions to the 21-day detox plan during the first few days include flu-like symptoms, nausea, fatigue, leg cramps and constipation, Ensign said.
Foods rich in carbohydrates can increase water retention in the body, and when they are replaced with foods high in healthy protein and fat, the body will excrete excess water, she said.
“This can result in dehydration and a lack of salt during the first couple weeks, resulting in flu-like symptoms,” she said.
Drinking more fluids or an electrolyte supplement can help ease those symptoms, she said
People who cut out just refined sugar from their diet will find they may be moody, tired and achy, Durango dietitian Fran Sutherlin said.
Typically after the first week, people who participate in the detox find their energy levels are more balanced, their thinking is clearer and they are not eating as much because they feel satisfied, Ensign said. The detox can also help participants identify some food allergies or sensitivities they may not realize they have, she said.
“People can do the detox over and over again, and they can definitely live it as a lifestyle,” she said.
At the end of the detox, the guide prepares participants to reintroduce some foods into their diet slowly, which allows them to test what effect those foods will have, Ensign said.
People who can cut refined sugar out of their diet for three to four weeks will find that foods high in sugar are too sweet, Sutherlin said.
“The more good stuff you eat, you crave it. That’s just how the body works,” she said.
An alternative to cutting sugar out of your diet completely is becoming more conscious of how much sugar is added to prepared foods, such a pasta sauce and frozen pizza, Love said.
“It can be shocking to start reading labels,” she said.
The average American consumes about 57 pounds of added sugar each year, according to the University of California San Francisco.
Ideally less than 5 percent of an adults daily calories, about 25 grams, should come from added sugar, according to the university.
Foods high in sugar are also easier to overeat, especially for those who struggle with emotional eating, Love said.
“When was the last time you overate salad because it was so good you couldn’t stop?” she said.
When her clients find themselves reaching for a Coke, or another high-sugar indulgence, Love suggests they pair it with a piece of cheese, which can buffer a blood-sugar spike and an accompanying low.
She also recommends starting a meal plan with a vegetable, even if you are making up dinner on the fly. For example, you can set out raw vegetables while you cook, so the vegetables don’t get left out of the meal entirely, she said.
“I believe there is not one diet that is the best diet for every human. ... What’s important is to figure out what fuels your body,” she said.