Sugar Detox: What to Do When You’ve Had Too Much Sugar
By: Spencer Brooks
- Need a sugar detox? Junk food binges happen. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help your body recover faster.
- The symptoms of eating too much sugar include fatigue, cravings, low blood sugar, irritability, mood swings and headaches.
- Prepare yourself mentally for the week after you indulge. You’ll be dealing with symptoms and temporary weight gain, and they can catch you off-guard if you don’t get ready for them.
- The right supplements, habits, foods, and mental state can help you bounce back faster after you go off the rails. Read on for the details.
Need to detox from sugar? Sugar binges happen to the best of us. Birthdays, holidays, Halloween… heck, even just a stressful day can throw you off your clean-eating game into a spiral of candy and sugary treats. Some diets even advocate weekly cheat days to make it easier for you to stick to the diet. The idea is that you can stick it out and eat clean six days a week, and then go crazy on day seven.
Here’s what that’s a bad idea: Your body takes a few days to recover from eating too much sugar, and by the time it’s back to full power, it’s nearly time for you to cheat again. Your brain function will dip and you’ll have background inflammation for most of the week. You may lose weight, but you’ll never end up feeling like the energetic and clear-headed badass who’s totally on top of her game.
That said, total restriction isn’t the answer either — and when a sugar binge happens, planned or unplanned, you shouldn’t feel bad about. Delicious food is one of the great pleasures in life. Plus, letting loose now and then can remind you of how bad you feel when you eat too much sugar, and strengthen your commitment to a good diet.
When you do decide to binge on sugar and carbs, use this sugar detox guide to make it easier on your body. These five steps will help you recover faster and get rid of cravings, so you can get back to high performance Bulletproof living as quickly as possible.
The sugar hangover – what happens when you eat too much sugar
When you go crazy with the sugar or carbs, you’re going to face a few different things during the week that follows. Prepare yourself mentally so you don’t get caught off-guard. The effects of eating too much sugar can result in symptoms like:
Temporary weight gain
If you’ve ever looked in the mirror after a heavy carb day, you already know about this symptom. You’ll put on a few pounds and look puffier than usual. Don’t panic; the extra weight is mostly water (more on that in a second). It’ll come off when you cut back on sugar and return to your normal diet.
Sugar lights up your brain’s reward centers like a Christmas tree, which feels great…until the next day, when the sugar runs out and withdrawal settles in. Sugar hits all the same brain regions that addictive drugs do, and while it’s melodramatic to compare sugar to cigarettes or cocaine, you’ll still have to deal with pretty heavy cravings while your body gets itself back into balance. A couple of the tips below will help ease those cravings. Even so, prepare yourself mentally to deal with sugar cravings.
Refined carbs like sugar cause systemic inflammation, that taxes your energy production in two ways. First, sugar impairs your mitochondria, so your body makes less fuel overall. Second, your cells have to spend a lot of their energy dealing with the stress of low-grade inflammation — the result of too much sugar — meaning you have less energy to put toward living your life. Sugar also causes a sharp decline in testosterone, which makes you feel lethargic. Be ready to weather a couple days of feeling tired. They’ll pass once your body repairs itself and you get back to eating good food.
Mood swings and headaches
Sugar destabilizes your blood glucose levels and causes withdrawal, leaving you with symptoms like intense cravings and low energy. A lot of people get headaches, migraines, and mood swings too.
How to prevent sugar crash symptoms
Drink extra water during your binge: When you eat too much sugar, you pack several hundred grams of it into storage as glycogen. Your body uses three molecules of water for every molecule of glucose you store, which means you’re storing a bunch of extra water with your carbs. This explains the water weight you put on after eating lots of carbs. You want to drink more water than usual during your cheat day, otherwise you’ll get dehydrated, which can lead to headaches and fatigue.
Add electrolytes: Bonus points if you add salt and potassium to your water in the week after you binge on carbs. When you return to a low-carb diet, your body will burn through your carb stores and release all the water it took on, and you’ll lose a lot of sodium and potassium with it. Make up for it with salt water and a good potassium supplement to decrease dehydration-related headaches and fatigue.
Don’t skip meals during a sugar detox
It can be tempting to fast the day after a sugar binge. Maybe you want to balance out the extra calories, or to detox your system of sugar and give it a chance to get back to baseline.
Fasting is good for you for about a dozen different reasons and it’s usually a great idea. However, on days after you’ve eaten too much sugar, you’re better off eating lots of quality food instead of fasting. Here’s why:
Hunger, low energy, and cravings
Sugar throws your blood glucose levels out of whack, resulting in withdrawal symptoms like intense cravings and low energy. This can cause headaches, migraines, and mood swings too. It’ll take a lot more willpower to stick to a fast the day after you eat a bunch of carbs.
Do this: Eat foods that stabilize your blood sugar so you don’t feel awful and relapse into a second sugar binge. Think: plenty of vegetables and healthy proteins like pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed beef.
Your cells will be dealing with chronic inflammation after you overindulge in sugar, and you want to give them the building blocks to repair themselves afterward. Fasting after a sugar binge deprives you of the nutrients and raw materials that your body uses to get back to baseline.
Do this: Eat inflammation-fighting foods, like wild-caught salmon, broccoli, avocados and green tea.
Damaging eating patterns
If you’re tempted to fast because you feel guilty about eating lots of sugar the day before, you can fall into eating disorder-like patterns where you binge, fast, and then binge again. That’s not a cycle you want to go down.
Do this: Eat at regular intervals, listening to your body and eating only when hungry, and only until you’re comfortable.
Sugar detox diet: What to eat after a sugar binge
Quality fats and proteins will fill you up and decrease cravings. They’ll also help you replenish testosterone and other sex hormones that took a hit from all the sugar. Eat foods like grass-fed meat, wild-caught salmon, pastured eggs, and coconut oil.
Fiber will help you build stable energy and decrease cravings by regulating your blood sugar. Fiber also feeds beneficial gut bacteria that may have been hurt by sugar. Eat extra veggies to make sure you’re getting lots of fiber. Best bets include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, celery, leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
Antioxidants will help your body deal with systemic inflammation and repair itself. Coffee is an amazing source of antioxidants, as is green tea and colorful veggies like red cabbage and Swiss chard. Blackberries and raspberries are also packed with antioxidants.
Choose foods from the green zone of the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap to get your body back on track. These superfood picks are low-inflammation foods that nourish your system and don’t mess with your blood sugar.
Foods that crush sugar cravings – what to stock up on
Sugar lights up addictive reward pathways in your brain and will inevitably cause withdrawal and cravings in the days following a binge. Make sure you stock your kitchen with quality snacks to nip those cravings in the bud before they seduce you into another sugar binge.
Sugar cravings come on fast and sap your energy, so high-fat snacks that you can eat immediately are a good choice. A few options are:
- Dark chocolate (85% or darker)
- Grass-fed hot dogs
- Pastured salami or pepperoni
- Grass-fed meat sticks, jerky, or bars
- High-fat nuts like macadamias or almonds, preferably raw
You’ll also want to clear your pantry of all high-carb snacks to reduce temptation.
Why exercise helps speed up your sugar detox
Even if you feel like a beached whale, do some kind of exercise after eating too much sugar. Hit the gym, do some high-intensity interval training, or just go for a long walk. Exercise stabilizes your blood sugar and helps you burn through glycogen stores faster, and psychologically, it helps you get back to your high-performance routine after you break it. It can be tough to exercise during or on the heels of a high-sugar day, but you’ll feel much better afterward.
Above all else, remember that diet exists on a spectrum. You don’t have to eat perfectly all the time. The occasional sugar binge is worth it sometimes. Accept that you won’t feel your best for a couple days afterward and enjoy yourself. And when you do go wild with the low-quality food, keep this sugar detox guide handy. It’ll help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible.
Read Next: Is Sugar Consumption Linked to Alzheimer’s?
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