Here's What I Learned From My Failed 30 Day Sugar Detox

Hello. My name is Madeline, and I am a sugarholic. I am addicted to sugar... literally. I crave it every single day, after every meal, for every snack and even when I first wake up. There have been mornings where I can’t even wait to eat breakfast first, so I go straight into eating sweets or sneaking in a few spoonfuls of ice cream from my freezer. This is how bad my addiction is.

I knew this was a problem, so I decided to do a bit of research. I found that sugar IS an addiction. The more you eat it, the more you crave it. The only way to cut the cravings is to cut it out— cold turkey. You may think, “No sugar? No problem. I’ll just cut out desserts.” Wrong. Sugars are hidden in everything. You may not realize it because there are so many alternate names for “sugar.”

Here are 192 alternative names for sugar: 

Crazy, right?

Grab any packaged snack in your pantry, and I guarantee you will most likely find sugar as a listed ingredient. Goldfish, a savory cheesy snack, has sugar. Trident gum, a brand claiming to be “sugar-free” has four types of hidden added sugars: Sorbitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Aspartame. 

You may be wondering, what counts as “added sugars” then? Anything that is not a natural sugar— that is sugar that is contained in whole, natural, unprocessed foods. For example, natural sugars are found in fruits and lactose products, like Greek yogurt or milk.

Knowing this, I decided to embark on my “no sugar” detox for 30 days. I decided to also add gluten to my list of restrictions. Gluten, although not addictive, has similar effects as sugar does on me. Along with sugar, gluten often makes me feel bloated and lethargic. In addition to this, knowing myself, if I couldn’t have sugar, then I would binge on bread, pasta and crackers, making me even more depleted of energy and bloated.

As a preface, I want to make it clear that I have done a detox before. It seriously did wonders for me. It cut my addiction to sugar, and I lost a good amount of body fat. However, this was done in the comfort of my own home, where I had a kitchen and thus the power to control everything that was in my food. It wasn’t too hard to avoid sugar and gluten; I just didn’t cook with them.

Here’s the thing: I am in college now, and I am living in the dorms on a meal plan. I don’t have control over the ingredients in my food, and I have to work with what is offered in the dining halls and take-out eateries. I planned to look at all the claimed ingredients in all of the dishes in the dining halls and take-out places on the online database and avoid the foods that had “sugar” or “wheat” listed in it. Little did I know, that would pretty much be everything they offered except for brown rice, vegetables and sometimes certain meats (however, most of the meats offered had marinades with sugar). As for takeout places, I could have salad… without dressing. At first, the food was fine. It was actually pretty tasty. But having it every day... that's a different story.

Here’s what I ate throughout Week 1:

Sunday

  • Breakfast: RX Bar

  • Lunch: chicken breast + lettuce + roasted veggies

  • Dinner: salmon salad 

  • Snacks: fruit

Monday

  • Breakfast: RX Bar

  • Lunch: chicken breast + lettuce + brown rice

  • Dinner: salmon salad

  • Snacks: fruit + unsweetened Yerba Mate

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: RX Bar

  • Lunch: salmon salad

  • Dinner: salmon salad

  • Snacks: fruit

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: RX bar

  • Lunch: chicken breast + lettuce + brown rice

  • Dinner: salmon salad

Thursday-Saturday

  • I’m sure you can guess by now.

After the first week of this detox, I was about to go crazy. I couldn't eat another bite of salmon salad or chicken breast, let alone even look at it. Although I had noticed I was less bloated and actually lost a little bit of weight, the thought of having to eat these items for 23 more days made me feel sick. It wasn’t worth it. Right then and there, I wanted to binge on something—not just sugar, but anything that wasn’t salmon salad or chicken breast. Even if it was just roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon. If I had a place to cook, I would've been able to cook dishes of variety and wouldn't have had to eat the same thing every day.

At this point, I knew it was simply unsustainable for a college student to do such an extremely restricted diet. Because of the widespread use of sugar in pretty much everything, there are very little options offered in dining halls of colleges. I knew that in the end of this, I would've gorged on anything and everything just because I was so deprived. This caused me to have an even more unhealthy relationship with sugar and food in general. Overall, I decided this challenge needed to be a summer project rather than one during the school year. With the stress of my classes already in my mind, the added stress of eating really put me in an unhealthy mindset.

I’m sure you're wondering, “What happens next? Is this just an article about someone failing a diet?” Yes and no. I know that this diet can be sustained under the right conditions. I had already noticed the positive effects in terms of my physical health but also dealt with negative effects mentally. From here, I want to suggest alternative solutions. This experience taught me the importance of balance. Living under a meal plan is just one of those situations where you don’t have much control. Instead of trying to control the situation so minutely, try and have moderation. An easy solution is to first start small; for example, first cutting out processed foods and snacks. Then, gradually, expand on your goals. Maybe only having something sweet one to two times a week, rather than every day. From there, see if this is maintainable. If it isn’t, then modify.

What I want others, and myself, to take away from this experience is to understand that diets shouldn’t merely be just for weight loss. They should also be for mental health, long-term sustainability and healthy habits. If a diet or detox doesn’t include all aspects of these factors, then it isn’t one that should be pursued. When starting a diet, just make sure to do your research, plan ahead and be realistic. Remember: a diet is for all aspects of health, not just the physical part. Good luck!