This fall, I spent a month in Montreal obtaining my 300-hour Modo Yoga Teacher Certification.  As part of the training, we are to complete projects throughout the year, in order to achieve our coveted 500-hour certification.  The projects involve practice teaching and various options that correspond with Modo’s founding 7 Pillars: Be Healthy, Be Accessible, Live Green, Community Support, Reach Out, Live to Learn and Be Peace.  I figured the close of the holiday season and the start of the new year would be the perfect time to take on the Be Healthy project that challenges participants to give up alcohol, caffeine, sugar, chocolate, tobacco, drugs, junk food and fast food for an entire month.

I may have it easy compared to others, because to begin with, I don’t use tobacco or drugs, I don’t eat fast food, rarely eat junk food, I have already weened myself from caffeine in an attempt to restore my adrenal glands, and I only drink on certain occasions, as I’ve never been one who “needs” a glass of wine at the end of the day.  While that eliminates the majority of the list, the task to eliminate sugar and chocolate looms over me.

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you are well aware of my sweet tooth, and perhaps my many *failed* attempts to do a sugar cleanse in the past. I’ve loved sweets since I was a little girl. It’s characteristic of my dad’s side of the family, and my mom is sure to remind me of that whenever I’m complaining about how I need to quit. Put some fast food or a bag of chips in front me, and my willpower is rock solid, but with a stack of chocolate chip cookies in front of me, I could clean the plate with absolutely no problem.

As Americans, we have a deep-rooted attachment to sugar. We indulge for every special occasion from birthdays, weddings, baby showers, promotions, anniversaries, a casual hump-day…and the list goes on. With the era of processed food upon us, manufacturers and chefs sneak sugar into everything, and yes I mean EVERYTHING- just take a glance at the ingredient labels in your pantry, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to discover how much sugar you’re unknowingly taking in.

Even though I don’t eat processed food like candy, and I’ve never liked soda, I’ve discovered first hand how even the “healthier” versions of sugar I ingest, like honey and dark chocolate, still trigger my brain to go on a vicious hunt for more. I’ve tried to quit before, but it’s just down right hard.

What is it about this stuff that makes us keep wanting more? Even though I eat very healthy- I’m talking; popping brussel sprouts like chips, healthy- I still can’t shake this raging addiction. It’s a love-hate relationship I have with this delicious substance, but one I’m hoping to divorce after being reminded of these negative side effects it has on my body:

  • Energy Rollercoaster– Sugar is counter productive. We often reach for something such as a candy bar for an afternoon pick-me-up, only to be left with a feeling of unrelenting sluggishness once the energy spike wears off
  • Addictive– Some studies show sugar is 4-8 times as addictive as cocaine. Continued exposure to excess sugar leads to repeated dopamine signaling- your “feel good” hormone. While this may seem nice in the short run, overtime your brain becomes tolerant to sugar, meaning you need even more of the chemical to receive these same sensations. Overtime, your dopamine receptors begin to down-regulate, so there are fewer receptors for the hormone, which can lead to mood disorders such as depression.
  • Inflammation– Added sugar causes spikes in your blood sugar, leading to increased insulin in the bloodstream. Overtime, this can lead to insulin resistance, hypo- and hyperglycemia, and diabetes. Additionally, increased insulin in the bloodstream stimulates inflammatory processes in the body leading to sickness and other issues such as skin breakouts.
  • Hormonal Imbalances– Eating too much sugar reduces your body’s natural ability to tell your brain you’re full. Fructose specifically can suppress leptin (your fullness hormone) leading you to still “feel” hungry even though you’ve had more than enough calories.
  • Weight Gain– Not only does fructose mess with your hormones and trigger your liver to store fat more efficiently, but it also delivers “empty calories” — calories unaccompanied by fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Too much added sugar can crowd healthier foods from your diet, leading to  weight gain and a wide a variety of conditions resulting from being over-fed yet under nourished.

I wish this article could end with the steps to take in order to successful complete a lasting sugar cleanse, but up until this point, I don’t have a foolproof method. As I mentioned before, I have tried to give it up several times before, but always end up with it back in my diet on a regular basis. However, I’m hoping that now that quitting sugar is a “project” to me instead of just a whim, I’ll be more successful this time around.  Over the next month, I plan to document my experience- the highs, the lows, what worked, and what didn’t- to hopefully give you a first hand perspective on what quitting is truly like.

Even if you don’t plan to join me on this journey, my hope is this post can open your eyes to the negative effects this seemingly innocent ingredient not only has on our bodies, but the consequences that can spill over into our lives from its mood and performance altering properties. While you may not be able to quit cold-turkey, just making a conscious choice to start consuming foods with less sugar will surely gain you great results, as the less your body receives, the less it will crave.

Do you have any quitting tactics that have worked for you in the past? What are some of the ways your tame your sweet tooth? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Intoxicant & Sugar Cleanse Part II coming next Monday!