I get really strong sugar cravings. I've eliminated most processed foods, and I am in the midst of eliminating all sugar from my diet for 21 days. My question is this: What about after the 21 days? If I eat sugar every once in awhile, such as on someone's birthday, will the sugar cravings come back? And if so, how bad will they be?
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The short answer is you might indulge on day 22. :) After my Whole30, I certainly did. But, alas, we are human.
In my experience, sugar begets sugar. Meaning that the more you eat, the more you'll want. For me, it's less immediate and more insidious. It creeps up on me over time. A few weeks of strict no sugar is a great way to tame the beast. It's also so enlightening to eat some seasonal fruit after such a time and enjoy it for how truly delicious and sweet it is naturally.
How you manage it will depend on the reasons for your sugar cravings. I seem to lack the psychological component, but others really struggle with this. For me, it's mostly about keeping my sugar-loving microbiota in check. After vacation, for example, when ice cream seems to make repeat appearances, I'll do a week of no sugar to get things under control.
When doing no sugar, you do have to make sure to not get accidental doses of it, which often means no deli meats, bacon (SOB!), sausages, anything remotely processed, and sometimes dried fruit and such. You have to be a strict label reader, otherwise, no dice.
Stay strong! I think you'll find that if you manage your intake responsibly, your cravings will subside. Good luck!
It's better not to cheat - cheating is psychological random reinforcement, the strongest kind of behavioral conditioning. My answer on faux-paleo foods is apropo:
Dr. Harris suggests that paleo- in front of neolithic foods, such as pancakes, is a bit like smoking candy cigarettes:
"Do you train yourself to crave the manufactured food of the dominant paradigm? ... "I am on record as saying that sweets should be mostly avoided if you do not want to have difficulty avoiding sweets.
"It’s easy to make fun of commercial junk in a box like “low carb” pasta, zone and atkins bars, etc. All stuff that may be gluten free or have sawdust in place of high glycemic-index starch, but whose real reason for existence is just to appropriate what should properly be freestanding, honest, real food back into the maw of corporate big-agra commercial interests."
"I cannot prove it, but it also seems plausible that eating and drinking artificial sweeteners is a physiologic version of “smoking candy cigarettes”. There is likely to be some neuro-hormonal conditioning along with three diet sodas a day. Is there any way a diet soda habit makes it easier to avoid the hyper-ubiquitous sweets we are surrounded by?
"And planning for “cheat days” makes just as much sense as a weekly Marlboro red for ex-smokers or the odd line of coke once in a while after you have left Hazelden." .
I quit all grains and sugars for 30 days and felt amazing. However i did still have cravings. They came and went in batches, i did succumb sometimes, but generally sticking with my grain-free and mostly sugar-free diet, they slowly got less and less frequent.
Then finally after about 5-6 months, somethig changed - the way that grains and sugars made me feel (awful), and the fact that i otherwise felt so much better than i had in the past, made it a lot easier to avoid them. In other words, the cheats just weren't worth it any more, a few mouthfuls of some crap food just weren't worth the 1-3 days of discomfort and uneven energy that i would have. And there are plenty of other, delicious options. So i have pretty much quit grains and sugars for good, not because i am on a "diet", but this is just how i eat now, it tastes better and i feel better without them.
This is just a personal experience, but last night my boyfriend and I got some coconut milk ice cream (something we do once every three or four months). Before eating the ice cream, I had a couple really delicious strawberries and commented on how sweet they tasted. We ate some of the ice cream and a few minutes after that, I had another strawberry. I was shocked at the taste difference. It tasted significantly less sweet. This morning I had another strawberry and it tasted sweeter, though not as sweet as they did to me yesterday.
I have no idea what the scientific reason is for this, but it sure as hell proved a point to me. I think spacing out sweet things until fruit tastes very sweet to you is a good (though very imprecise and subjective) barometer.
It's really up to your individual body and how you've adapted to lower sugar and being more of a fat-burning than carb-burning creature during the detox.
I find that I have to be really careful not to let myself slip too far--I am totally happy having a special home-cooked treat or friend's birthday cake but I have to not allow that to become an excuse for continuing to eat sugar normally. If you fence it off as a rare indulgence, it's a lot easier. I don't find I have physical cravings for sugar any more, but definitely emotional ones.
The 21 day detox or Whole30 are great tools to have up your sleeve if you do find yourself sneaking sugar -- Whole30 certainly taught me which foods to avoid that look completely innocent! Good luck!