Too Many Holiday Treats? Give Your Body a Sugar Break

Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home

Holidays are a time for indulging. We stuff ourselves on turkey feasts, swear that we couldn’t eat another bite, and then happily inhale a scrumptious piece of pumpkin pie. We attend multiple social functions, each one presenting its own array of sweet treats or special drinks.

Kitchens are full of temptation, as we bake cookies or make fudge to give as gifts and stocking stuffers (and sneak just a little taste ourselves).

I (unfortunately) find that I eat a lot of sugar during the Christmas season. Certainly more than I usually would. Most of us do, despite the fact that we know so much sweetness isn’t good for us in a multitude of ways.

If I had written this post a month ago, I might have given you tips on cutting back on sugar during the holidays, healthier alternatives and that sort of thing. But it’s a little late for that now. The damage is done, the sugar consumed. So now what do we do?

How Does Sugar Affect Us?

First, a quick reminder of the WHYs behind reducing our sugar consumption. Knowing why it matters always helps our motivation!

  • It compromises the immune system
  • It feeds opportunistic bacteria (ie. the bad guys) in our gut. This leads to symptoms like tiredness and lethargy, mental fog, increased sugar cravings, impaired digestion and more.
  • It weakens teeth and causes cavities
  • It makes our skin break out
  • It messes with our blood sugar balance, creating vicious cycles of highs and lows throughout the day
  • It depletes our vitamin and mineral stores, and impedes the absorption of nutrients from the food we eat
  • It contributes to an overly acidic state in the body (which in turn contributes to disease)
  • It throws off insulin levels which can create/contribute to hormone imbalance
  • It is addictive and the more that we eat it, the more that we want it

Perhaps you’ve noticed that you’re energy is low and you’re dragging just a little. Maybe your cravings for sweets have increased. Have you been found yourself feeling run down or getting hit by viruses that are going around?

Now is the perfect time to give your body a bit of a sugar break. 

Taking a Little Sugar Fast

To be honest, I’m writing this because I need to do this just as much as anyone else. I’ve indulged a little too freely and I know how much better I’ll feel if I take a short break.

For those who have never completely cut out sweeteners for any period of time, it is both challenging and very rewarding. The early days can be a tough time of battling cravings and possibly experiencing some mild detox symptoms, such as:

  • increased tiredness
  • headaches
  • bad breath
  • aches and pains
  • mood swings

Once you get through those early days, however, you begin to feel so much better! More energy, more mental alertness, a decrease in sugar cravings, steadier moods, and possibly even a decrease in symptoms of illness that you might consider unrelated (less eczema, improved arthritis, etc.).


Photo by SOMEBODY 3LSE

How to Take a Sugar Break

To take a true break from sweeteners, you’ll want to avoid all of the following: white sugar, brown sugar, raw/unrefined sugar (including Sucanat, Rapadura, Turbinado, etc.), honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup, molasses, etc.

I know that some of the sweeteners I listed above are actually excellent alternatives to refined sugars, BUT when you’re taking a break from sugars, you need to take a break from everything, even the healthier options.

1. Choose a date and then just do it

I like to go cold-turkey when I take a sugar break and I would recommend that you try to as well. If you still allow yourself to have some, you won’t experience nearly as many benefits, plus it makes it easier to compromise and have more than you were intending to. Cold turkey is hard at first, but it makes things black and white and when faced with a temptation, there’s no consideration- the answer is simply, “No, thank you!”.

Plan to do it, pick a date that is sooner rather than later, and when that date arrives, commit yourself to staying completely sugar-free. It’s a good idea to decide at the beginning how long your sugar break will last, rather than trying to decide once you’re already off sugar and telling yourself how good you’ve been. If this is your first time, you may just choose to go completely sugar-free for somewhere between 3-7 days. If you are really committed or have done this before, aiming for more like 1-4 weeks will offer the most benefit.

2. Stay away. Stay far, far away.

You might need to get rid of a few last holiday treats lingering in the house, or ask someone else to hide what remains. Figure out exactly which foods you’ll be avoiding and perhaps even put a list up on your fridge of sugary no-no items such as: 

  • All sweetened treats- chocolate, cookies, cake, candy- this part is obvious, right?
  • Sweetened beverages. We consume more sugar than we realize in our coffees and teas, juice-type drinks, iced tea or lemonade, etc. To avoid sweeteners in beverages, stick to water, 100% fruit juice (and keep this minimal), unsweetened tea or coffee.
  • Baked goods like muffins, quick breads, bagels, and even breads (other than plain/homemade breads that you know don’t have sugar in them). Also, almost all cereals and granolas contain sugar of some sort.
  • Store-bought condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, jams and jellies, many salad dressings, marinades… just check the ingredients before you go to use something.
It definitely helps to avoid places like your favorite restaurant or coffee shop, particularly in the early days when temptation runs high and your will power may be running low, unless you know that you can happily sip on a herbal tea or watch someone else eat dessert without succumbing yourself.

Photo by pj_vanf

3. Find tasty alternatives

Make it easier on yourself by planning for treats that you know you’ll enjoy, in lieu of your usual sweetened indulgences. It helps to have a plan for dealing with sugar cravings.

Some things that work for me are nut butters (especially with apple slices or on toast with a sprinkle of cinnamon), a handful of nuts like almonds, fruit smoothies (bananas help to add natural sweetness), and herbal teas (especially fruit teas or ones that are spiced and have a natural sweetness, like Good Earth or Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice). You might enjoy plain yogurt with a bit of Stevia to cover the tartness, and some fresh fruit or berries.

For those unfamiliar with Stevia, this can be a handy herb to have around. Stevia is a herb that is naturally sweet (extremely so). It is perfect for things like hot beverages, yogurt, oatmeal or anything that you would add just a small amount of sweetness to. Some people find that it has an unpleasant after-taste, which I would somewhat agree with. Our family enjoys the brand Nu Naturals. I keep the liquid in our fridge, and small packets of the powder in my purse for when I’m out.

Are You With Me?

Have I convinced you to avoid satisfying your sweet tooth, at least for a little while?

I’ll be taking several weeks in January to go 100% sugar free, and then I’ll just continue to be intentional about cutting back on my sugar consumption beyond that.

Do you think that your body needs a bit of a sugar break after the holidays? Will you join me in going sugar free for a period of time?

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47 Comments

  1. Audrey @ Mom Drop Box

    I really appreciate this article. Over the last year I’ve had a lot of blood sugar swings & it has really affected my life. I don’t know that I’ll go totally sugar-free, but I have found that I absolutely need to have a reduced amount of sugar in my diet in order to feel good. Thanks for the good resources & explanation of what sugar does to the body.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      It really helps once you begin to recognize its effects on your body, doesn’t it? Not that I know how sugar affects me, when I feel it, I’m so much more motivated to back off.

  2. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    This is such good advice. I’ve known for years that sugar and I don’t get along, and I used these strategies to successfully go gluten-free last January. Thinking about it as “Gluten-Free January” and not “Gluten-Free-the-Rest-of-My-Life” was enormously helpful. (My dr had been encouraging me to drop the gluten for some time, and I felt so good after a month off it that continuing GF was a no-brainer. I’m sure many readers will feel the same way about sugar.)

    If you want some accountability in your sugar-free month, you may want to sign up for something like Junk Free January.

  3. Kara E.

    I need to cut back. I’ve been craving sugar, but not just things like cookies, I’ve been craving grains too, which turn into sugar in the body. I’m not going to cut sugar out completely, but I definitely want to cut back on the sweet treats and processed grains. I want to get back to enjoying wholesome food. 🙂

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Kara, you’re totally right about grains turning into sugar in the body, especially refined ones. I didn’t go into that in the post, because I didn’t want it to be overwhelming, but cutting back on grains at the same time is a really great idea!

  4. Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable

    January 1 sounds like a great time to do this:) The holidays are a terrible time for our diet! No matter how hard I try, we always end up eating way to much junk. Thank you for such a great article Stephaine!

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      I’m with you, Andrea. We try hard, but with so many get togethers with those who don’t eat like we do, we end up eating too much junk as well and I really don’t like it!

  5. Heather :) :) :)

    Ever since I started eating gluten free, and even after I started the GAPS diet, I’ve pretty much eliminated all sugar from my diet. So this one isn’t too difficult for me, even during the holidays. I have used STevia in the past. It’s awesome…plus it doesn’t have any negative side-affects on my body. Once in awhile I will also use raw organic honey in my tea. It doesn’t bother my system either…but I will admit, that when I use the raw honey, it’s just a teeny tiny bit!!!

    Thanks for this post. There is good information here and good tips 😉 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Thanks for the great testimonial, Heather! You’re right that it’s so much easier once you’ve already cut sugar out of your diet!

  6. Krisjana Gorham

    I’m with you! I have done something similar once before (I kept honey and maple syrup). I’m finding the abundance of sugary treats that have piled up are taunting me and I keep succumbing to their tasty wiles! It doesn’t end for me though. Starting December 28th (today) our 5 children all have birthdays within the next 7 weeks…and Valentine’s day is in there too. I am going to plan my sugar detox for sometime in January as well. My energy is low and my frustration level is high. Time to take action! Thanks so much for the post!!!

  7. Eleanor @ Nourishing Words

    Love this practical advice! I’ve been (mostly) adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet for a while, and cutting out sweets was one of my first challenges. Initially, I even cut out fresh fruit, but now am able to have a modest amount. I use a tiny amount of liquid stevia in my chai, but that’s it. I’ve found that, over time, I’ve really tuned into the natural sweetness in other foods, like carrots and sweet potatoes. I feel so much better without those sugar highs and crashes!
    Eleanor

  8. Michelle

    I know I eat WAY too much sugar. I want to cut back, way back. So I will bite the bullet and “take a sugar break”. It will be tough, oh I know it will be tough because I’m addicted hard-core. I will prevail, I will. I have changed my diet since the beginning of December and have already noticed that I crave less junk. I am working on getting healthier with the help of a naturopath.

    Thanks so much for your post, in my case it is just in time I think.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      You know, it probably will be tough, but you will be so glad you did it, Michelle. Good for you to recognize that you need to do it! I absolutely believe that you can do it. That’s awesome that you’re already working with a naturopath and seeing your cravings decrease!

  9. Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)

    Great time of year for this post! I do notice a correlation in my energy level and cravings in general when I am consuming a lot of sugar.

    I strive to find a balance this time of year (yes, it’s easier said than done). I used to struggle with anorexia so at that time I swore off any type of dessert or treat, especially around the holidays, and did not let myself enjoy both food in general and the holiday season. Now that I am recovered I am learning to truly savor that piece of pie or cobbler with ice cream and let myself have some when I want it. It is wonderful! It is all about moderation now. No black or white way of thinking for me. That said… I can see how one could use a detox from sugar after an entire holiday season of treats, treats and more treats.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      That’s such a good point about learning to savor something small or just one piece of something. I think that is such a helpful thing to practice all of the time!

  10. Barb @ A Life in Balance

    Thank you for the tips, and I am definitely joining you with the sugar fast in January! I didn’t do tons of cookie baking this December because I didn’t have time, however, I gained a few pounds from the few cookies we did have around. I also got mildly sick a few times, including laryngitis last week and now a mild sinus infection. I’ve been debating about cutting out the wheat, too. I’m just tired of being tired and cranky. Not a happy mama here!

  11. Jennifer @ Cherish the Call

    I definitely want to do this! I’ve also considered going gluten free for awhile since a lot of the sugars I crave are in breads and other baked goods. What do you think about xylitol? Last time I did a sugar fast, I used it just for my coffee since I’ve not graduated to completely unsweetened coffee yet.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      I’m honestly not sure yet what I think of xylitol. I just haven’t done the research on it yet, so we generally avoid it. The one time we do use it is the occasional purchase of xylitol gum from the health food store, since I won’t let my family touch the aspartame-filled stuff at regular stores with a 20 foot pole! Have you tried using Stevia yet? I’ve just read much more about its safety from so many good sources.

  12. Hillary

    This sounds wonderful. But for a true beginner, like me, what kind of sugar is OK? Natural fruit sugar only? I’m assuming if it’s a natural food source if it has sugar it’s OK. If it has a label, read it and avoid sugar there?

    Also, some sugars have funky names: what are some frequently found that I should avoid?
    Thanks

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Hilary, for a beginner I would say natural fruit sugars are great, just avoid all additional sweeteners. Definitely anything with a label, look for sugar. If it’s a whole food, like an orange, just enjoy. 🙂

      On labels, look for words like malt, syrup, cane juice (or evaporated cane juice), anything that ends in “ose” (maltose, dextrose, sucrose, etc.), etc. Check out this post for a more thorough list of what to avoid- http://www.dietriffic.com/2009/03/26/names-for-sugar/.

  13. Danielle A.

    I would so like to do a sugar fast. But maybe just cutting back on certain sugars may be my key right now as I am pregnant, will be in the 3rd trimester next week. I already experience some headaches due to hormones, and eating is different for sure. I just feel I might set myself up for failure right now. I have already cut back though. After so many cookies, you start to gag. LOL.

    I am saving this article for after baby is born, and It will be a goal to get back in shape! Thanks for the extra motivation.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Danielle, even cutting back just on refined sugars and on the amount of sugars in your diet is helpful. You could always leave a couple things like raw honey, real maple syrup, etc. in your diet for now and consume them moderately, rather than going cold turkey off of everything.

  14. Renee

    I know I can manage this for myself, but I need to figure out how to make this work for my kids! Our two biggest challenges are my husband (who uses gummy bears to bribe them into behaving!) and everyone else who gives them whatever they want (school, babysitter, grandmas, etc.). I will try my best next week when they’ll be home with me for 4 days – I should be able to better control their intake during that time.
    Any suggestions on dealing with the aftermath of sugar detox with the kids? I have two boys, ages 2 and 3.5.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Alternative snack and treats is the best way I know how. I will be including our 3 children in the sugar fast (ages 7, 4 and 2) and so long as I have plenty of other yummy things to eat instead of sweets, I can keep them pretty happy. It’s when I start running low on snacks and alternatives that they have a harder time.

      Also, keeping protein levels up really helps to keep blood sugar even, which in turn helps to keep moods steady and cravings more at bay. If you can give them things like cheese slices with apple or pears, or nut butter with crackers, or a bowl of yogurt with berries, those types of snacks will help to keep them happier.

      If you do notice signs of detox, one thing that helps my kids a lot is to take a warm bath with epsom salts, which helps to draw toxins out of the body and is calming besides.

  15. Laundry Lady

    I’ve had to be very good about sugar this holiday. It has killed me to turn down all but a few small sugary treats because I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes the week before Christmas. On the bright side my blood sugar has been fantastic, but it has been very difficult avoiding the holiday only kind of treats. For those of us who aren’t pregnant it’s useful to remember that the body treats all refined carbs (white flour, white bread, white rice, regular pasta and potatoes) the same as sugar. I’ve learned to be OK with stevia in yogurt and soy milk since it isn’t really an artificial sweetener. Usually I’ll take sugar over artificial sweeteners any day, but now I have to be especially careful.

    • Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home

      Oh, I feel for you with the gestational diabetes over the holidays! I experienced some mild issues with sugar during my 2nd pregnancy, over the holidays, and it was hard to watch everyone else enjoying while I avoided.

      And yes, you’re so right about avoiding refined carbs and how they act similarly to sugar. I didn’t want the post to be overwhelming for those who have never done this before, but that is a really good recommendation!

  16. Amy

    Thank you for such a timely post! My church is going on a 21-day fast beginning Jan 2nd, and I have chosen to give up sugar (and all other carbs for the most part) for this fast. I will continue to eat fruit, but that’s the only sweet thing I will be eating!

    I have insulin resistance, so this has been something I’ve wanted to do for awhile. I hope to eventually cut most of these things out of my diet, since they aren’t good for me anyhow. Like you mentioned – when I eat sugar I crave it more. When I cut it out of my diet, I don’t crave it anymore after a couple weeks. That’s hard to believe, but very true. 🙂

    I did this ealier last year, and I felt so much better after I did it! It was tough detoxing (terrible headaches, body aches, etc.) for a few days, but about 4-5 days into it I noticed how much clearer my mind seemed, and I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with the day-to-day things that used to mentally overwhelm me before. Plus, my blood sugar was not going up and down all day.

    Thank you so much for this post today…It came at just the right time!

  17. Rachel

    I’m in! I’m going to try for the first 2 weeks of January and see how it goes.

  18. Kristin

    I will be joining you on this challenge, not entirely by choice though. I was just diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes and I cannot have any sugar at all. In fact, I cannot have more than 2-3 servings of fruit a day which is really hard for me because I love fruit! A part of me wants to do this though because I have always struggled with an addiction to sweets. I hope that this diagnosis leads me to living a healthier lifestyle as well as helping me lose the baby weight faster after our 2nd little girl joins us in February.

    • Laundry Lady

      I feel for you. I’m still allowed to have some sugar even though I have gestational diabetes but I’m supposed to be avoiding most sweets. It is really rough. I’m hoping I’ll adjust quickly, but I do still miss Christmas cookies and tall glasses of milk.

  19. Michelle

    That’s interesting, I was just going to put this as a new year’s resolution. But, I’m pregnant and doing the Bradley Method (husband-coached natural childbirth prep class) and they say to have citrus (juice or fruit) every day. What do you think about going cold-turkey from sugar and being pregnant?

  20. Kelly

    I do notice that my craving for junk increases when I eat refined sugar. It’s a nasty downward spiral in that the more I give in the less I care! But I do care and we’ve already begun adding beneficial foods. As another poster said, I’m not sure I can go off all sweeteners and don’t want to set myself up for failure, but I have noticed in the past that when I consume more coconut oil I lose my sugar cravings. I could stop now, except I made some fantastic limeade and cranberry limeade yesterday and I won’t let it go to waste! I did use half the sugar called for (and I use evap cane juice) and then mix that with club soda, so it’s at least a far smaller quantity than called for in the recipe.

    I need to get back to taking coconut oil as a supplement and not just for cooking and watch my cravings virtually disappear!

  21. Amanda

    My husband and I plan to join in on the sugar fast. It will be our first time. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. 🙂 This may be a silly question, but what about milk or cream? I love my coffee in the mornings and I do not use any kind of sweetener or sugar in it. I only use milk or cream. When I decided we would do the sugar fast in January, I started looking at labels just to see what actually has sugar in it. On the nutrition info on the milk, it says “Sugar 12 g,” but nothing is listed in the ingredients about sugar or any other kind of sweetener. I’m confused. Please help. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  22. sara

    i’m in! i’ll second the coconut oil to reduce cravings (at least, that’s what i’ve heard…) for my dh’s sake, hope the mood swings are minimal. 🙂

  23. Albert Bernard

    I’m not sure I can go off all sweeteners and don’t want to set myself up for failure, but I have noticed in the past that when I consume more coconut oil I lose my sugar craving, thanks for the post.

  24. Amanda

    Hi,
    Can someone please answer my milk question from earlier? Thanks so much! Happy new year! 🙂

    • Stefanie

      I don’t know if it’s correct or not, but we’ve just been avoiding anything that has sugar, etc. listed under the ingredients. A lot of food has naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, etc. I don’t *think* those that are naturally occurring in whole foods would be included in a sugar fast.

      • Amanda

        Thank you! 🙂

  25. Heather Novak

    Dang it. I guess if everybody’s doing it and it doesn’t involve a real cliff I am in. I was toying with the idea of this so I think a group think will be helpful. I am VERY compulsive about sugar and once I have some I eat A LOT. Like….I ate all the sugar cookies I made for my girlfriend’s Christmas gifts. Really. Mebbe three dozen ish. I mean, they are THE BEST sugar cookies in the WORLD….but still. OK. So I had sugar today, will commit to next two weeks sugar free except for honey.

  26. Carole

    Doesn’t all homemade bread have some sugar in it to feed the yeast? I am gluten free, so I only know about that for sure.

  27. Sue

    Very timely post! My friend and I just committed to cutting out sugars {including natural sugars such as honey, syrup, etc.} for the month of January. We are not looking for an all-out detox, but to help our bodies balance out and just be more intentional and conscientious about what I’m putting in. Plus, I’m hoping that it will help get rid of some of the baby weight from #2! {ok, let’s me honest…#1, too!} 🙂 I also downloaded Donielle’s e-book {from “Naturally Knocked Up”} tonight. While I’m not doing the 8-week challenge specifically, I found it very informative and helpful as far as answering some questions about “eat this, not this”.

    Great way to start the New Year and nice to know we’re not alone! 🙂

  28. Tricia

    I’ve been wanting to do a sugar fast and have been waiting for the holidays to be over. Breakfast is where I struggle the most. I do not eat eggs and have a hard time finding anything else that is not loaded with sugar (natural or otherwise). I am also in the midst of full-blown morning sickness and find myself eating anything I can grab to try and make the nausea go away. Any suggestions for breakfast and snacks?

  29. Megan

    Great post and great timing. I didn’t realize it could turn the body into a more acidic state. I’ve been having an increase in stomachaches lately and I think it’s because after all the holiday hubbub and overindulgences in sweets I’m more acidic than alkaline, which I find so frustrating as it increases my nausea/stomachache moments. I’m breastfeeding a newborn though, so it’s easy to “eat more,” so if I were to do a sugar reduction, perhaps I should be careful about some die-off? Maybe try to stick to honey or grade b maple syrup or stevia? What are your thoughts?

  30. Darcy

    Today is the last day of a two week sugar fast for us. We went a little bit farther than just a sugar fast, however, and followed a candida diet so we went without fruit and anything with yeast. It was very difficult, but we have survived and it made me realize how much sugar we actually consume. We will definitely be lowering our sugar intake permanently after this.

  31. PNS

    you are right, everyone should start doing this.

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