When Arianne Perry, the co-founder of Sweet Defeat, invited me to participate in a 21-day Sugar Detox, my initial thought was, “That’s impossible…I will never be able to quit sugar.” But I said “yes” anyway. I experienced some tough moments and surprising victories during the three-week detox, and I learned a lot about my body and the effect sugar has on it. Here’s how it felt to commit to a low-sugar lifestyle and why it changed the way I think about food.

Before

After

The Sugar Detox: Challenge Accepted

The timing of the detox was pretty perfect. I’m in my late 20s and work as an administrative associate at Loeb NYC, a busy and exciting startup lab. The company has an annual summer beach day, and the 21-day detox would finish the day before the event.

Loeb NYC is an awesome place to work, and it keeps me on the move and engaged. But one of the perks of the office—a kitchen well-supplied with free food—has had its effects on my eating habits. We have bagel breakfast Mondays and Pizza Fridays, plus frequent catered events and happy hours. It’s so easy to reach for a bag of chips or crackers when I hit a 3pm slump or when racing between meetings. Grabbing a snack went from an occasional treat to a daily habit to a seemingly unbreakable cycle of cravings.

I wanted to see what it would be like if I tried to break that cycle. One reason I agreed to the detox was that this time I had a secret weapon to fight my cravings: Sweet Defeat lozenges, which I knew I could use any time I felt cravings coming on.

Sweet Defeat is a lozenge about the size of a pea that you dissolve on your tongue after a meal or any time you have a craving. It’s made from all natural ingredients; mainly gymnema, zinc, and mint. The gymnema blocks the sweet taste receptors on your tongue, so you can’t taste sugar for at least 30 minutes. When you take a bite of something sweet like a piece of chocolate, it tastes pretty awful when you can’t taste the sugar, so you don’t want to eat it. By the time the Sweet Defeat wears off, your cravings have subsided. That all sounded pretty great. But, I wondered, would it help me quit sugar for 21 days straight?

The Rules of the 21-Day Sugar Detox

In case you want to play along at home and try to do your own sugar detox, here are the simple rules Arianne gave me to follow (you can also read about it here, with tips and meal plans from Arianne):

  1. I was allowed up to 25 grams of sugar per day (that’s 6 teaspoons) based on the World Health Organization’s recommendation. Natural sugars (as in fruit) counted towards the daily limit, and so did any sugar added to food or drinks (e.g. the packet of sugar you might add to coffee).
  2. Cut out hidden and artificial sugars (check for sugars hiding in unexpected places like pasta sauce, smoothies, bread, and flavored yogurts).
  3. Focus on eating lean proteins, healthy fats, and unprocessed carbohydrates.

“The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than 25 grams of sugar a day for women and 36 grams of sugar a day for men,” Arianne told me. But the average American eats way more than that—82 grams a day.”

I was shocked. I realized that I didn’t really know how much sugar I ate each day. She told me that I needed to learn to read labels: “Packaged goods tell you how many grams of sugar are in a serving,” she said. “One gram is about ¼ teaspoon of sugar. That’s why we translated the 25 grams into 6 teaspoons, so you realize that adding a few spoonfuls of sugar into your morning coffee uses up a lot of what you should be eating each day.”

To stick to the challenge, I would have to be diligent about reading nutrition labels on food, and doing research when it came to unlabeled food. There were definitely some surprises.

The First Few Days of My Sugar Detox

For the first 4 or 5 days, my brain felt foggy, my energy was low, and I felt hungry all the time. The weather was getting warmer and I wanted ice cream! I would take Sweet Defeat when I felt a craving coming on—often in the mid-afternoon and late at night.

The first weekend was the hardest. One of the biggest struggles was going out to eat at restaurants with friends or networking over drinks. I was surprised to learn how much sugar is in cocktail mixers like tonic water and even orange juice! There are 22 grams of sugar in 1 cup of orange juice—almost the daily limit. And a cup of tonic water has 23 grams of sugar (so surprising considering it’s still so bitter!).

Food is about more than eating for satiation or survival: It’s social, a mechanism for connecting with people, and a way to relax. I had felt so hungry after the first couple of days and was nervous that I would eat my way through the weekend. But I didn’t! I just took a Sweet Defeat lozenge whenever I needed one. Plus, I realized I should plan meals for the week in advance, so I started shopping and prepping for low-sugar dishes on Sundays.

Something else that was tricky at first: trying to understand how much sugar is ACTUALLY in my food, especially when eating a meal prepared by someone else, like in a restaurant. Unless the food came with an ingredient list and nutrition label, I couldn’t tell how much sugar a meal contained. It felt sometimes like I was just guessing. How much sugar is in this sauce? In the bread?

My Low-Sugar Meal Plan

Arianne gave me a suggested menu. Here’s an example of what I ended up eating (I’m vegan, hence the abundance of tofu). Another thing: I thought that because I am vegan, and my diet is veggie-based, that I had healthy habits. Not so—there was a ton of sugar in the products and snacks I had included in my diet:

  • Lunch: Grilled organic tofu, quinoa with preserved lemon & lime leaf, sauteed broccoli with lemon, roasted kale with caramelized onions—I ordered this from Dig Inn, but was careful not to use all the sauce they provide, since the sauces often had hidden sugar in them. That way, I could “save” my sugar grams for an intentional treat. That helped me stay on track.
  • Dinner: Walnut, black bean, and veggie tacos using Trader Joe’s taco seasoning, corn tortillas, salad slaw, and homemade salsa
  • Dessert: Sweet Defeat! Popped one after a meal so that I wouldn’t eat dessert.

I also regularly made these:

  • Salad: As much salad greens as I wanted, plus tofu, sliced almond, black beans, avocado and other assorted veggies. I used freshly squeezed lemon juice as a dressing (I love lemon!) because Arianne told me that bottled dressings often have hidden sugars.
  • Homemade soup: I would heat up Trader Joe’s Low Sodium Vegetable Broth (1 cup = 3 grams of sugar) in a pot and add zucchini noodles and assorted veggies.
  • Snacks: Avocado or almonds (both are low in sugar and full of healthy fats).

Livestrong has a useful database for checking sugar content and nutritional facts and MyFitnessPal does too. One of the surprising things I learned was that artificial sweeteners (i.e. Splenda, stevia, aspartame) make you crave more sweets just as much as regular sugar does.

Hitting My Sugar-free Rhythm

After the first 4 or 5 days, the brain fog and fatigue started to lift. I started to feel like I was sleeping better, I had more energy, and my mind felt clearer. The sugar detox gradually became easier to follow. As time went on, the more questions I asked and the more research I did, the simpler it became to pick the right foods and make better, more informed choices. I discovered that some restaurants, like Dig Inn, publish nutritional information (including sugar content) for all of their menu items.

I found it worked best for me to use Sweet Defeat three times a day, at the times my cravings were the worst. At first, I was taking a shot of apple cider vinegar in the mornings before going to the gym to beat cravings (I had heard that some people drink vinegar or eat a pickle when they feel cravings), but it was so astringent and didn’t make me feel good. Instead, I replaced the vinegar with a Sweet Defeat lozenge so that I didn’t crave sugary morning foods (breakfast bars and sweetened cereals). Then I would take another lozenge in the late afternoon so I didn’t have the urge to snack as I made dinner. Finally, I would use one after dinner before brushing my teeth so I wouldn’t be tempted by ice cream.

During the whole 21 days, I only slipped up once! It was towards the end of the challenge. I was at a friend’s birthday dinner and someone ordered sangria for the table, which proved irresistible (and delicious). Because of the effort I had been putting in up to that point, this one sangria incident made me feel pretty guilty. Then Arianne reminded me that the point of the challenge is not to feel deprived or to beat myself up. The point was to eat more healthily overall, gain awareness of what I was putting into my body, and test how a high-sugar diet had affected my health and brain.

Did Sweet Defeat Help Me Fight Sugar Cravings?

Yes, it did! And in ways that I didn’t expect. Sweet Defeat was my accountability partner. I relied on the Sweet Defeat blog, website, and social media community (other Sweet Defeat followers on Instagram, for example) for inspiration, ideas, and motivation. They kept me going. The lozenges were so helpful when I got cravings. I would take one, and my brain knew that there was no point touching the cakes and treats in the kitchen afterwards—because even if I took a bite, the food would taste terrible (as a result of the gymnema binding to taste receptors).

It felt like a relief to be able to easily say “no” to sugary cocktails and foods with sweet sauces.

The Results and Unexpected Benefits: How I Felt After Quitting Sugar for 21 Days

By the end of the 21-day detox, I felt refreshed. I was sleeping better (I didn’t realize that would happen), eating healthier, and had lost 5 pounds.

I realized that I had previously been eating sugar in unexpected places, and eating sugar was making my brain crave more sugar. After cutting out sugar for the detox,  I’m now more aware of its effects on my body and I crave it less, even if I don’t use as many Sweet Defeat lozenges each day as I did when I first started the detox (now I mostly have one in the late afternoon). For example, I went to get ice cream with a friend the other day (coconut cream-based, so it was vegan), which I normally love, but this time it tasted too sugary, so I threw away most of the scoop. The combination of the Sweet Defeat lozenges and the inspiration from the sugar challenge to be more conscious of what I’m consuming has made me more vigilant about maintaining a healthy diet and more aware of the direct effect of food on my body and feelings.

My main motivation for sticking with the challenge through the whole 21 days was to test the effect of sugar and to understand how different types of sugar (fructose, maltose, refined sugars) interact with my body’s chemistry. Before the challenge started, I had no idea how much sugar is safe to consume per day, and I didn’t track how much I was consuming.

I went out of my comfort zone to rely on the research and science that went into developing Sweet Defeat. I now consider myself a passionate follower of their concept and overall approach to sugar. (Check out nutritionist Heather Bauer’s “5 Reasons to Quit Sugar Now,” which I found very useful.)

I don’t have the kind of model body type that you might see in movies or fashion shows, nor do I want that. I love being me. But I do think it’s important to take care of both my body and mind, and a huge part of that is paying attention to what I consume. Like many Americans, I’ve tried many types of diets, but even when they were effective in the short term, I didn’t feel like I had found a way of eating that I could sustain indefinitely. After detoxing from sugar, I think I’ve found something that will change the way I eat for the better—and for good.