We know that not all sugars are the same, there are artificial ones and there are the natural ones, but whichever way you go there’s no avoiding them, all our foods are pumped with them. In order to clarify some confusions and explain how things really are in the sugar world nutritionist, fitness trainer and acclaimed author JJ Virgin wrote a new book in which she gives practical advices on how to steer clear of this harmful ingredient and protect your overall health.
In her latest book The Sugar Impact Diet: Drop 7 Sugars to Lose Up to 10 Pounds in Just 2 Weeks she gives detailed descriptions of every type of sugar we ingest and its effect on our organism and clarifies the popular belief about all-natural sugars, namely that they’re not as safe as many health-conscious people would like to believe. Agave, natural fruit juice, raw cane sugar, and any number of other natural sugars will still have a detrimental effect on your health.
“Sugar is really public enemy number one,” she says. “That’s why I chose to focus on it. I don’t think added sugar is really the problem; I think it’s what’s in a lot of our food that we don’t recognize [as sugar].
Whether it’s having apple juice (which is worse for you than a soda), or having a yogurt sweetened with fruit juice concentrate, or whether you’re just thinking that fruits are free for all, these are all creating problems.
I wanted to create a structured program that could help someone break free of those sugar cravings, drop the weight forever, and then let them go back and [do a food] challenge… in order to connect the dots between what happens when they drink one of those big fruit smoothies that are supposed to be so healthy.”
To end sugar cravings your body needs to burn fat as its primary fuel
JJ continues by saying that it doesn’t matter in what form the sugar you ingest is, it’s all the same to your body. “Food is information”, she says, and eating a muffin, a fruit sweetened yogurt or a smoothie sends the same information – SUGAR!
It will be difficult at the beginning but once you eliminate the constant urge for a sugar fix you’ll find yourself feeling extra energetic and focused. But first you need to teach your body to burn fat as its primary form of fuel instead of sugar.
It can be really challenging for many but that’s why JJ’s book is so helpful in this process. It specifically addresses the gradual process of getting from burning sugar to burning fat as your body’s primary fuel, in order to maximize your chances for success.
“There’s got to be a transition period, where you go from sugar burner to getting your body to be able to start to burn fat again,” she explains.
“You have to taper down from where your starting point is, which is what I call a Sneaky Sugar Inventory, of things you would never think about (like sundried tomatoes and marinara sauce) that we’re just using like crazy not realizing how much sugar this is actually adding into our food.”
The Sugar Impact Scales: A New Way of Looking at Sugar
If you want to do the sugar cleanse you first need to measure yourself and determine the waist-to-hip ratio to find your starting point. Then you need to do a list of all the hidden dangers in your diet, all the sugars you ingest without even realizing it.
How can you do it? It’s really simple, just start reading the labels on everything you eat and this means EVERYTHING. You have no idea how many food items contain sugars and this includes the jar of pickles in your fridge, condiments, sauces and marinades. JJ’s book gives a detailed list of all the sneaky places sugars hide in your diet and she gives a completely new perspective regarding sugars with her Sugar Impact Scales.
“It looks at fructose grams, glycemic load, nutrient density, and fiber. Bad are fructose and glycemic load; good are nutrient density and fiber,” she explains.
“Depending on where the food falls, it can either be low, medium, or high-sugar impact. The reason this was so important to me is I keep looking at programs out there, and they either focus on fructose… glycemic index, or glycemic load.
That can be very confusing because it makes things like agave sweetener look great. It makes milk look great… People go, ‘We should have fructose because fructose is low on the glycemic index.’
The main difference between fructose and glucose is that fructose doesn’t trigger an insulin response, which means that it doesn’t trigger insulin, leptin or ghrelin. Your body doesn’t even realize you ate something, it just goes in the liver where if it can’t turn into glycogen, it turns into fat.
So how can you tell if you have a high sugar impact? The most common signs are gas and bloating, then you have joint pain, headaches, fatigue, inability to lose weight or weight loss resistance, and sugar cravings. By grading yourself on those and other symptoms, while tracking your waist, hip, and weight, you’ll get a clearer picture of how sugar impacts your body, and your progress in terms of retraining your body to burn fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel.
The Three Cycles of the Sugar Impact Diet
In the first cycles you’re starting to adapt your body to the new changes by gradually switching from high sugar impact foods to medium sugar impact foods and this cycle lasts for one to two weeks. For example if you normally eat plain pasta you’ll start eating quinoa pasta.
JJ advises that you measure the time between meals and not eat every two hours but live a longer gap in-between meals so that you don’t feel insulin spikes. Once this period is finished you’ll measure your sugar impact again to see how far you’ve gotten.
If you’ve done everything right your symptoms should get less severe and you move on to cycle two. In this cycle you’ll really start resetting your taste buds and reclaiming your sugar sensitivity. And you’ll be able to start feeling how sweet food is.
“What I’m doing is I’m getting rid of all of the fructose. We’re getting down to five grams or less [per day], just as low as possible because you don’t want your body to be good at processing fructose. One thing we know is that the more fructose you eat, the better you get at handling fructose, which means the faster it goes to your liver, the faster you start making fat, and the more fat you make.
If someone’s used to eating fruit, they eat more fruit, they eat more fruit, and they can handle it. If you never eat any fruit, and you ate a bunch of fruit, you’d be bloated, you’d be gassy, and it’d be horrible. I take fruit out altogether except for things like lemons, limes, avocado, tomato, and olives. And we go down to all low-sugar impact foods. But you’re still eating great stuff. You’re eating wild salmon, grass-fed beef, kale, avocado, nuts and seeds, a little quinoa, legumes, and lentils.”
The shift from burning sugars to burning fats comes in a matter of weeks for most people. However, if your insulin/leptin resistance is really high it may take you longer but you’ll get there. “The reason it can happen so fast is number one, you’ve got to do that initial one-week [taper] period,” she explains. “Whenever you look at a program, you want to jump right into the most intense part, but you can’t because you’ll fail.”
In the last, third cycle you’ll have the real challenge – reintroducing some medium and even high sugar impact foods. You think you’ll succumb to the challenge? Don’t worry, by the third cycle you’ll notice how you’ll be overwhelmed by the sweetness and feel bloated and even ill from the high sugar impact foods. Consequently, you won’t want to feel sick and bloated meaning that the psychological grip of sweet foods will lessen and won’t tempt you anymore. It’s funny but sour taste (cultured veggies and the likes) has the power to reduce sweet cravings significantly.
This has a double benefit, since fermented vegetables also promote gut health. “It’s a sweet tooth strategy,” JJ says. “One of the things that I do in these books is I try to keep it simple and give people simple strategies. But I’m always thinking, how am I healing their gut with this? How am I improving their gut flora? How are we reducing inflammation?”
Healthy snack alternatives
If you ever feel hungry you can’t go wrong by snacking on nuts, they’re the perfect snack to satisfy your itch. The ideal daily combination would be a large salad for lunch and nuts, specifically macadamia nuts and occasionally pecans whenever you feel hungry. These nuts are perfect because they’re high in good fat but low in protein, eliminating the possibility of eating a whole day’s worth of protein in a handful of nuts (which can happen if you eat almonds).
JJ warns about food triggers and to keep in mind that everything should be in moderation. Snacking on an occasional nut doesn’t mean that you are allowed to eat a whole jar of them.
“If you know something’s your trigger, don’t bring it into the house. It doesn’t matter if it’s healthy or unhealthy. But I think if you put them into little serving baggies, that’s a perfect way to go with it. I also like that because most people aren’t home all day long, so I say, ‘Put one in your car. Put it in your purse. Put it in your office so that you have them scattered around if you ever get in trouble.’
Another healthy snack that is much harder to overdo is dehydrated kale chips. I’m in the process of planting six dozen kale plants on my property to create a surplus for this very reason. That way I can have kale chips year-round. Roasted Brussels sprouts are another alternative that you can’t really “overdose” on.”
Last but not least—the Maintenance Phase
Nowadays it’s pretty impossible to find someone who’s not burning sugar as a primary fuel. If you want to test yourself just note down how often you feel hungry during the day. If it’s every two hours, you’re burning sugar as well. You’re craving food because sugar is fast burning, and your hunger is an indication that your body wants to be refueled. Once you’re burning fat as your primary fuel, you can easily go five to six hours or longer without feeling hungry, as fat is a far slower-burning fuel. Sugar cravings are also virtually eliminated once you’re burning fat rather than sugar.
It’s beyond doubt that almost everyone who’s reading this can benefit from the program JJ has created. But the real question is how to continue once you’ve ended the reign of sugar in your body? Do you need to continue eating like this for the rest of your life? How to maintain your body in this shape?
“The maintenance phase is different from the weight loss phase,” JJ explains. “It’s like dating and marriage. Totally different beasts, right? During the maintenance phase—for weight loss—it’s about setting new goals and doing different fitness activities. The biggest thing that I want someone to do is to connect the dots between what they’re eating and how they feel. It’s to lose that sweet tooth that they had and reclaim their sugar sensitivity so they really say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s how sweet a blueberry really is.’
[In the maintenance phase] you’ve got to mix up your exercise; you’ve got to mix up your food… Food is information. You want your food to tell your body to burn fat not sugar, keep steady energy, great focus, and reduce inflammation. It’s the same with exercise. Exercise can be therapeutic or destructive. I do no endurance training at all. I do not believe in endurance training. I did so much endurance training [when I was younger, yet] I was always slightly overweight. I was never lean.”
JJ recommends high intensity interval-type exercises over endurance training, and for good reason. Endurance training is actually among the least effective forms of exercise when it comes to weight loss, and research has shown that the benefits of high intensity exercise are not necessarily related to calories burned. Rather, it creates beneficial metabolic changes that promote health and muscle growth while boosting fat burning.
These metabolic changes, which include boosting human growth hormone (HGH), do not occur when you’re doing endurance training such as long-distance running.
She’s also a big proponent of exercising in a fasted state, as this actually helps repair, restore, and rejuvenate your muscle tissues. A conflicting approach calls for loading up on carbs and protein before and after exercise, to boost performance and muscle building. So which one should you follow? It may be worth taking JJ’s advice, and experiment to determine what works best for you, depending on your fitness and weight loss goals:
“I kind of play with both of them. Because if you eat a little bit before you work out, you can generally work out harder. If you’re doing resistance training, a lot of times you’re better off having a little bit [of food] before. If you’re doing burst training, ideally here’s what you would do: on burst-training days, do it first thing in the morning. It doesn’t take long anyway. It’s 15 minutes at the most. Ideally, do that a couple of mornings a week, two or three mornings a week. You do your resistance training two times a week, have a little bit of food before; have something really good afterwards, and you’re set.”
Most of you have probably tried cutting back on calories without any meaningful weight loss. But have you eliminated gluten, pasteurized dairy and processed fructose from your diet? If the answer is no, then there’s your problem. You’re still eating the wrong foods even though your calorie count is reduced. As we already said before, food is information and you need to start seeing it as such. You want your body to start burning fat and not sugars and that’s when you start feeling better and lose weight. You need to cut down on the fructose-filled foods that tell your body to:
- Store the sugar as fat
- Eat more