My sugar detox: headaches, sweats, dizziness, but it gets better

Avoiding added sugar isn’t easy but nutritional therapist Elsa Jones is there to help

Added sugars, found in processed food and drinks, are a contributing factor in obesity and diabetes. Photograph: iStock

Last year, I tried to give up sugar and caffeine. I found it much more difficult to avoid added sugar (see below) than it was to stop drinking caffeinated drinks.

By 2018, I was ready to give it a go again – hoping that, after combating the caffeine addiction, I might be able to face down sugar more easily.

The problem is that sugar is ubiquitous and takes a special effort to avoid – so I was keen to see what tricks nutritional therapist Elsa Jones had up her sleeve to help those who signed up for her 10-day sugar-free diet.

Nutritional therapist Elsa Jones.

Would her daily motivational videos and private Facebook group help us cope with sugar craving and detox symptoms?


Once you are signed up for the online course (costing €49.95), Jones advises participants to prepare for the change to their diet a few days before they start.

That means getting familiar with all the foods you can eat – rather than focussing on the ones you can’t. “Tell yourself it’s more about appreciating the tastes and textures of these foods – rather than missing out on sweet foods,” she advises, giving us a long list of foods we can eat over the next 10 days as part of healthy, satisfying meal plans.

She also introduces the healthy eating plate guide. This involves filling half your plate with vegetables/salads, one quarter with protein and one quarter with carbohydrates for lunch and dinner.

However, you must count root vegetables as part of your carbohydrate allowance – a task I found impossible to achieve.

The tricky part was to plan my meals so I would feel full enough to avoid reaching for something sweet.

Having protein at breakfast time became a key to survival. So, most days I had a boiled egg and slice of wholegrain bread preceded by an orange/pink grapefruit and porridge. Once or twice over the 10 days, I managed to cook something a bit more interesting for breakfast such as mushrooms, spinach, fried egg and tomato.

So what did it feel like?

A little dizzy

Well, yes, I did feel a little dizzy after lunch on my first day in spite of a large broccoli, feta cheese, tomato and hazelnut salad. By day two, I was experiencing detox symptoms including headaches and a sweaty feeling. I was also very hungry for my dinner and snacked on cheese and crackers before egg-fried rice, bacon and vegetables. As advised, I drank plenty of water throughout the day.

Generally speaking, as the days went on, if I was tempted to eat something sweet, I reached for an orange, had a glass of water or opted for a favourite herbal tea. I developed a taste for stewed apple with cinnamon and made plans to make sugar-free apple strudel, which never materialised.

Jones – the author of Goodbye Sugar: Hello Weight Loss, Great Skin, More Energy and Improved Mood – advised us not to have sugar alternatives such as xylitol, maple syrup or honey over the 10 days as the aim of the programme is to retrain our taste buds so that what seemed normally sweet beforehand will seem exceptionally sweet afterwards.

“Once your taste buds are re-set, your sweet cravings will be satisfied by fruit or dairy. And your body gets enough natural sugars from fruit and vegetables, dairy, rice and oats,” she says. She also suggests that every time a sweet craving comes, it’s a good idea to pause and reflect on the benefits of not giving in to it. “Distract yourself with something else for 10 minutes – go for a walk, listen to music or even brush your teeth and the craving will pass,” she says.

So, yes, I did manage to go almost sugar-free for 10 days – with the exception of a couple of alcoholic drinks on both Fridays and a delicious dessert after dinner on the last day.

Now, I aim to keep to the five/two rule – avoiding added sugar five days a week and joining others in a tasty dessert or an alcoholic drink at the weekends.

What are you giving up when you give up sugar?

Sugar can be divided into added sugar and naturally-occurring sugar. The former is the sugar many of us consume far too much of and includes sugar as an added ingredient in processed or home-made savoury or sweet foods or sugar added to food and drinks at the table. Naturally-occurring sugars are, as the term suggests, sugars that occur naturally in wholefoods such as dairy, grains, beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables.

These sugars form part of the carbohydrates, essential to the body. Added sugars, on the other hand, have no role to play in our diet and are a contributing factor in obesity and diabetes.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment