As a sweets fan myself, I can fully admit that there have been moments in my life when I've polished off a pint of ice cream solo, housed a box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting, and inhaled half a sleeve of Oreos without even thinking twice about it. I'd like to think I live a healthy life and adhere to a pretty healthy diet, but we've all had our questionable moments, and it's fine, we're all fine, everything's going to be fine. Are you feeling me on this? Are you reading this with Oreo crumbs on your face, nodding with a mixture of regret and relief?
If you've had a lapse of judgment or just really indulged on a dessert marathon (I'm with you), there are things you can do to counteract your sugar binge. And if you're feeling a little sick, jittery, and wondering "what do I even do with myself now?" then don't fret — we consulted some dietitians to give you a step by step guide on how to get your body and brain back on track.
"When it comes to counteracting a sugar binge, there is unfortunately no magic food or step to resolve it," said Lisa Eberly, R.D. "The three main ingredients to combat a serious sugar binge are moving, water, and time." And while we're bummed about the "no magic food" part, we're relieved to know that there are steps we can take.
Let's sweat it out, right? Eberly explained to us how all this sugar is processed by the body, and how you can begin to balance things out again. Although movement is only the first step, it's totally necessary to get the detox going.
"When you ingest any kind of carb or sweet, it breaks down into glucose," said Eberly. "That glucose runs through your veins in the hopes of being taken up into the cells and used for energy." Got it. Sugar becomes glucose, glucose is the body's energy.
"This glucose — a fancy word for sugar — cruises through the blood until your muscle cells signal that they need some glucose to break down and use as energy." Hungry muscles want sugar! Use those muscles, and you'll be using up some of that excess sugar. Thanks, Oreos!
But if you're not using your muscles (read: working out, moving, etc.) then that energy is actually going to turn into fat (womp, womp). "If you eat a ton of sugar and then lounge on the couch, your muscles are like, 'Nah, no thanks.' And that glucose mulls around a bit and ultimately gets stored as fat," said Eberly.
"On the contrary, if you eat sugar and then go for a 10-minute walk, your muscles are like, 'Hey dude, thanks for the fuel,' and they soak that glucose up. This doesn't mean you need to hit up a SoulCycle class right after eating three cupcakes, it just means that if your body is moving, you're using glucose. Best practice would be a nice walk for 15 to 20 minutes to counteract a sugar binge."
And a reminder, there are WAY healthier ways to feed your muscles glucose — like in whole grain breads, potatoes, and even pasta.
Everyone we talked to suggested water as the best step. To break down why water is so crucial, Eberly explained the physiology with a metaphor many of us can relate to.
"Remember that glucose running through our blood? Well, let's pretend for a moment that our blood is a cocktail and sugar is alcohol. After a sugar binge, you'd imagine your body's cocktail would taste, well, strong. Now add a little bit of water to it. Better . . . Now add a ton of water. That's a weak cocktail."
"Drinking water will help to add volume to your blood, diluting the sugar," she said. "Additionally, water will help speed up the filtering of your blood, getting the sugar outta there. Lastly, most sugar binges have an accompanying headache, which water helps to prevent. Guzzle for a few hours following a binge; your body will thank you.
In addition to staying hydrated with H2O, nutrition coach Carrie McMahon suggests you "stick to as many whole foods as you can," and "try not to eat anything in a package, or anything pre-prepared." Her advice? "Stick to vegetables, meats, fruits, eggs, nuts, avocados, and whole grains . . . These foods are hydrating and fiber-filled, to ensure you get your body back to normal after a sugar rush."
Lara Felton, R.D., gave similar advice to McMahon, suggesting you "don't skip meals" (if you're hungry, you'll probably binge again!), but "cut calories" and "fill up on lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and vegetables."
"There's no magic pill or special food that will rid your body of sugar," said Eberly. "Water and moving will speed the process up, but being proactive is the best way to prevent the dreaded post-binge feeling."
She reminded us that "every bite of a sugary treat tastes the same." (Truuuue!) "So having three bites will taste the same as 20, with a much easier follow up. One way to keep yourself from bingeing is to eat sweets mindfully and intentionally."
That intentionality is essential to saving yourself from the effects of future binges. Ilana Muhlstein, R.D., told us to identify if there's anything in particular that caused the binge — what are your trigger foods? "Get clear on what triggered the binge, what you could have done to stop it sooner, and how it felt to lose that sense of control, so you don't repeat the act again."
Eberly stated that portion control is crucial going forward. "Going for the ice cream? Put it in a small bowl. Hand in the M&Ms? Take one handful and put away the bag. Big slice of chocolate cake? Put your fork down in between bites. These small steps toward mindfulness can help you not only eat less of your treats, but help you savor and appreciate them so much more."
Another tactic to preventing a future binge or stopping the onset of one: "Don't fall into the "all-or-nothing" mentality," said Felton. "This means, even if you 'fell off the wagon,' you don't need to go crazy. If you can step back, walk away from the food (or throw it away in the trash outside so you aren't tempted to go back for it) and distract yourself with another activity, you can reset your attention and focus from the sugar rush," she said.