sugar detox gradual vs. cold turkey

Sugar detoxing methods: Gradual vs. cold turkey

So hey ho, you’ve decided you want to cut down on the sweet stuff and you’re feeling uber motivated with all the articles you’ve been reading about why you should eat less sugar. You’re ready to give it a serious go but perhaps you’re not sure what the best approach is.

Do you go hard with a brutal cold turkey sugar detox or do you go for the more gradual option, where you gently prise yourself away from your beloved chocolate? To answer your sugar detox method woes, I thought I’d weigh up both approaches with the pro’s and con’s. Then you can make a decision that suits you and your personality the best. I know it’s mega annoyingly cliche, but like many things, there isn’t a one size fits all with this.

Going gradual – the good stuff:

  • A gradual approach allows you to change without a drastic overhaul of your lifestyle. You don’t have to worry so much about the social dilemmas. This is great if you have lot’s going on and a sugar detox is not at the top of your agenda – sometimes the rest of life can just get in the way!

  • You have a greater chance of changing habits long term because just changing 1-2 things at a time, you allow yourself to focus. For example, you can simply work on reducing the sugar in your tea for a month and nothing else, knowing you’re still moving forward and making progress.

  • Things don’t seem overwhelming and you don’t feel down at the complete lack and deprivation of everything sweet (a feeling that I definitely know I felt early on).

Going gradual – the drawbacks:

  • Because fructose will still be in your day to day diet in some form, you will still feel (& need to resist) sugar cravings, potentially daily. This will require regular amounts of ongoing willpower and can get somewhat exhausting mentally.

  • It takes longer and you don’t make marked progress as quickly.

  • It’s harder to determine the differences that are directly related to sugar – there could be other things you’re changing or that are impacting on your health.

  • It’s easier to slip backwards without really realising.

  • You can stay in the same place for a while and get a bit complacent.

Cold turkey – good because:

  • You can make a marked step change in your physical cravings and increase your sweet sensitivity (basically you re-calibrate your tastebuds to sugar).

  • You can attribute any noticed health improvements directly to what you’re doing e.g. clearer skin, increased energy. This can provide you with great motivation in the future.

  • There are clearer boundaries and this is sometimes easier to stick to.

  • You learn a lot in a short period of time and can use the knowledge longer term to help you.

Cold turkey – unfortunately:

  • You’re in the unhealthy ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mental state which is dangerous, especially if you have binge tendencies.

  • Cold turkey isn’t as sustainable because it’s hard to keep everything up longer term.

  • You have increased chances of experiencing unpleasant detox symptoms.

  • You can get caught up on finer details and lose sight of the bigger picture e.g. fussing over a few grams rather than addressing the root emotional causes for your cravings.

  • Can be anti-social (but you can get around this if you want to!).

What did I do?

Well, I did a bit of both. I started off with gradual changes – changing the topping on my porridge, swapping lower sugar products into my diet etc.(If you sign up to Happy Sugar Habits, I send you some gradual tips to focus on each week to help you with this).

When I reached a place where I was still craving sweet but I had made lots of healthy changes and substitutes, I started playing around with some experimental detox ‘cold turkey’ periods. I then went back to being more relaxed but at a new baseline. I now float around a bit. For some periods of time there’s barely any fructose passing my lips and others there’s probably a little too much (for me, anyway). The main marker of success for me is feeling like I’m 100% control of things. I think this is a nice thing to aim for, but you need to understand what that looks like and what it feels like for you.

There’s certainly a place for both of these approaches and a blend of them depending on where you’re at in your life, what other priorities you’ve got, what you’re commitment level is and of course, the level of sugar you’re currently consuming as your ‘baseline’. Your personality traits will also come into play. Just know there’s not one right way and you will have your own individual journey. Weight up the pros and cons in terms of what is more valuable to you and give things a go.
What approaches have you tried? Do you think there’s a ‘better’ one? What did you find worked/didn’t work?

2 replies
  1. Mrs B
    Mrs B says:

    I have gone cold turkey with white sugar but I eat plenty of fructose. Just as long as I get something sweet every day I’m ok and raisins, dates, etc. do not influence my blood sugar levels / mood / etc. the way white sugar did so I’m ok with this arrangement.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      That’s great for you that you’ve found what works, everyone is different and has different sensitivities to natural sugars. Fresh fruit I am ok with these days too but dried fruit I have to be careful of just because I abused it a bit when I was addicted. When I do have a date or fig now though, it feels like the most mind-blowing treat ever!


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