Could you be suffering addiction and not know it? I was.

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All photos by Peggy Sealfon

As a wellness specialist, I was alarmed that I’d gotten hijacked by a legal food substance: sugar. How could I have missed the symptoms? If it could happen to me, I fear others are unknowingly seduced. Sugar wrecked havoc on my body and mind creating obsessive cravings. Is this happening to you?

A few years ago, right after my birthday. I began to blame my fatigue and painful joints on advancing years. “I must be slowing down,” I thought. I was experiencing digestion issues and often waking up with lower back pains and various twinges throughout my body. Could it be that in spite of my healthy lifestyle, signs of aging were inevitably creeping in? I decided to do a food detox and convinced Patrick, my life partner, to do it with me, especially since he prepares most of our meals. He was also suffering terrible body aches and pains.

We used Dr. Mark Hyman’s 10-Day Detox Diet which sounds drastic in that it eliminates all sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol and coffee. We got innovative with our meal planning for two. From the first day, we started a countdown — only nine more days, eight more, seven, and so on. We can do it. The experience became an adventure.

Sugar Is Far Worse Than Cocaine

The toughest lesson was learning how sugars are insidiously hidden in the most innocuous of foods like ketchup and innocent-looking BBQ sauces which Patrick had been using in his culinary creations unbeknownst to me. In far too many products, sugar masquerades under the name of high fructose corn syrup which has no nutritional value. Much like cocaine, sugar stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. In fact, studies show it’s actually eight times more addictive than cocaine. Yet unlike cocaine, sugar is not a substance you might intentionally choose but one that is ever-present in manufactured foods. Without warning, it slips into your system and disturbs metabolism, impairs brain function and contributes to diabetes, weight gain and feeds cancers.

It became clear that sugar, in all its hideous forms, had caused our downfall and contributed to our physical issues. The rest of our diet had been fairly healthy and in alignment with Dr. Hyman’s recommendations of wild-caught fish, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, omega-3 eggs. So we set about to detox our pantry and refrigerator (shocked that even packaged chicken salad and old-fashioned canned soups contained corn syrups). We re-stocked with basics including healthy fats such as olive and coconut oils, coconut and almond milks and flours, all kinds of nuts, plus lots of spices. We eliminated almost all packaged foods, opting instead for whole, real foods.

We got inspired. I actually started baking biscuits and muffins (even crackers!), making my own mayonnaise and salad dressings. I found the experience fun. Admittedly it requires a shift in mind set and a quantum leap out of old habits to embrace a new way of thinking about food. Patrick got even more artistic with food displays.

Patrick’s artistry in presentations of an all-organic fruit platter to tempt the eyes and the palate.

Avoid All Forms at all Costs

You’ve got to become a detective in checking food and drink labels beyond just grams of sugar listed. Sadly, food manufacturers purposely intend to get us addicted to their products. (They even hire scientists and food engineers to develop habit-forming ingredients. ) So here’s a list of additives you want to eliminate: Barley malt, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Cane juice in any form, Caramel, Corn syrup, Dextrose, Diatase, Ethyl maltol, Glucose, Galactose, High fructose corn syrup, Lactose, Malt syrup, Maltose, Sorghum syrup, Sugar and Turbinado. Artificial sweeteners are even worse and are linked to weight gain, vision problems, depression and brain cancer. Keep reading. I’ll share alternatives you can use safely.

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One of Patrick’s healthy no-sugar dinners made with shrimp, scallops, pineapple, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes on a bed of arugula

The Outcome

At first, Patrick and I didn’t think we could stick to the diet. We chipped away one day at a time. Surprisingly in only three days, our sugar (and coffee) cravings diminished. Within seven days, they were gone completely and so were all the aches and pains. Yes, in one week all the physical problems vanished. We were high-fiving each other and doing cartwheels.

Alternatives To Satisfy A Sweet Tooth

After that experience, I went on to get certified in Dr. Hyman’s Functional Medicine and Functional Nutrition programs. More recently, Patrick and I have added items back into our diet (like wine and beer). But we do so mindfully and pay attention to how we feel. About twice a year, we do full detoxes.

These days, I use the following five alternatives to provide sweetness in a non-toxic way:

Fresh Fruit: While containing fructose, fruits like berries, apples, cantaloupes, etc. also deliver fiber and minerals. I opt for organically-grown as much as affordable.
Dates: I add these to smoothies or to baked goods.
Stevia: Another natural plant-based product, a tiny pinch goes a long way.
Honey: I prefer local organic honey which I still use in moderation so I don’t reactivate cravings.
Apple Sauce: Also a good sweet additive for baking needs. I use it in muffins and cakes.

Another remarkable benefit of eliminating sugars is that real food tastes better: strawberries are sweeter, nuts are nuttier, homemade sauces are richer. Sugar had duped our taste buds. We’re now continuing to enjoy a completely different approach to food and snacks. Sugar is our poison and a big taboo. Of course, Patrick complains laughingly that it used to take him only 20 minutes to shop for groceries and now it takes an hour just to read all the labels! As for the increased expense of organic products and the time needed to make our own goods, we believe we’re saving money on surgeries and other medical expenses and we’re enjoying a better quality of life without pain. So spending that time is giving us back extended time. A win win.

In the end, food feeds the body and mind. Like a car, the body needs the right fuel to run optimally. Healthy food is clearly one of the best anti-aging remedies. Many years in the future, I’m expecting to celebrate my 105th! Maybe by then all processed sugar will be a banned substance.

Thank you for reading.

Peggy Sealfon is author of the best-selling book Escape from Anxiety — Supercharge Your Life with Powerful Strategies from A to Z.

Originally published at

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Personal Development Coach, Author, Speaker. Internationally-recognized expert on reducing stress and anxiety. Inspires and motivates.

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