How to Detox from Sugar & Beat Cravings

Have you ever heard someone say “I’m going sugar-free for 30 days!”… and then think of 100 REASONS why you could never do that?

That’s just the sugar talking.

According to brain scans, sugar is more addictive than cocaine. If that sounds crazy, consider this.

In 1900, the Average American ate 5 pounds of sugar a year. By 2000, the Average American ate 150 pounds of sugar a year.

That’s nearly my entire bodyweight in sugar. Every single year.

Once upon a time, our guest, Barry Friedman, was addicted to sugar, too. He kept his blood sugar in check with a Snickers-a-day. He realized it was an addiction.

Today, Barry will teach you to tame your own sugar monster.

Barry is a 6-time TED presenter and bestselling author. He’s also a 4-time juggling world-champion, opening for celebrities including Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and even Tom Jones and Dean Martin. Pretty rad.

Today, Barry Friedman is the bestselling author of “I Love Me More Than Sugar,” and he’s joining me on the show to talk about slaying your sugar monster.

On this show with Barry Friedman, you are going to learn:

  • How to detox from sugar for 30 days
  • What to do when you have a sugar craving
  • How to avoid hidden sugars in common foods
  • How ditching sugar affects your body and mind
  • And – more importantly – This is the first time I’ve ever had someone juggle on the show!

You’re in for a real… treat. 🙂

Barry Friedman: How To Beat The Sugar Monster

I’m privileged to be joined here today by the great Barry Friedman, the bestselling author of “I Love Me More Than Sugar.” Barry is a 6 times TED presenter, international award-winning performer, business coach, commercial pilot, tri-athlete, writer, husband and father.

Barry is also a four-time juggling world-champion, opening for dozens of celebrities including Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Howie Mandel, and even Tom Jones and Dean Martin. Wait, you even ride your unicycle off-road. You know, you’re the second off-road unicyclist I’ve had on this show.

Barry, thanks so much for being here. I can tell we’re about to have some fun.

You had another mountain unicyclist on the show?! That’s awesome.

Abel: I did! After I had Dr. Alan Christianson on, he sent me a video of him off-roading on his unicycle thanking me for having him on the show. It was the most surreal video I’ve ever seen.

It’s a remarkable skill. I wish it would catch on.

Abel: Ok, so I’ve talked to everyone from Harvard MD’s and average Joes… and every single person on earth struggles with sugar.

Like many people, you tried beating your sugar addiction. But something terrible happened on Day 4. What went down?

It was February 28th, the day before Leap Day 2012, and my 9 year old asked me,  “Daddy, what are you going to leap for Leap Day?”

We had just eaten a big frozen yogurt (the sizes things are sold today aren’t right) with peanut butter cups on top. So, I felt really disgusting and I said, “I’m gonna leap sugar for the day.”

I was certainly the person least likely to think about going even several hours without sugar.

I woke up on the 29th and changed everything. I had protein for breakfast and spent the day not eating anything with sugar. By the end of the day, I started thinking, “Wow, here’s what I would have eaten.” At the end of the night, I saw all the things I would have eaten that day on the table in my mind.

I woke up March 1st and I felt this power and control. Then I said I’m going do 30 days, and at about 21 days I thought I’d do a year. But the hard part was over. I had gone 21 days eating nothing with added sugar. No honey, syrup, or sweeteners. I ate some fruit. But it was just a radical change in my life.

What Happens During A Sugar Detox?

Abel: Tell me about that change?

I shudder to think about day 4 when I was crawling out of my own skin. It was the moment I was sitting on the couch and my son was eating this chocolate bar, and it wasn’t even that I wanted to eat it.

It was a flashback and realization that my entire life I had been bribed, rewarded, and punished with this stuff… and I was voluntarily not having any.

My wife gave me a massage to get me through the hard part. I was flopping like a fish on the table. I wouldn’t be standing here now if I had grabbed a piece of his chocolate bar.

Abel: Part is physiological, but some is mental. When you dump something like sugar, you have this inclination that’s tugging at you… I want a little bit of candy or cookie, or this is the time of day I normally have that sweet fix.

What do you recommend to people who are in the sugar slump?

It’s a mindset. If someone wants a little bite of this, I wish it could be that way. Sugar is not designed for satisfaction. This brain gets very happy when it has something like sugar, and it’s about wanting more.

That’s how we’ve gone from back in the day when it was discovered, rich people ate maybe 4 pounds of sugar a year. Today, we eat 8 pounds of sugar every three weeks.

Moderation is a toughie. Click To Tweet

If you want to try to eat less sugar, here’s a simple hack:

Every time you want to reach for something sweet, whether it’s from boredom, loneliness, emotions, any of the myriad of reasons we reach for something sweet: Drink 2 glasses of water and take a 5 minute walk, and if you come back and still want that, eat a quarter of what you normally would.

Abel: People might hear that and they still want the silver bullet. But anything to interrupt that cravings pattern, even doing a couple of pushups to get that blood flowing, it nourishes the brain and the cravings pass.

We are seeking that a lot in this world. Since birth, we are bribed, rewarded, and punished with sugar and it has a real part in our vocabulary.

My little boy is 13 and he’s doing 30 days sugar free this month. We have an exchange student from Sweden, and they’re doing it together. There are those times when his hand goes for it, and I’m like, “Let’s go outside and shoot some hoops or ride the unicycle.”

Abel: We are using sugar as a drug. When you reaching out to sugar for a “state change,” you’re literally using it as a drug.

The mouth wasn’t designed as a portal for squelching fear, sadness, loneliness or anger, but we use it that way all the time.

Food is nutrition, and percentage-wise very few of the 600,000 items that sit on market shelves serve that purpose. A whole lot of them aren’t about nutrition.

Abel: Most foods are about addiction – vaporizing on your tongue like Cheetos to make us hungrier and hungrier.

Now, you lost some weight, but that’s not why you went sugar-free, right?

I was never the guy having a Cinnabon at 6:30 in the morning waiting to get on a 6 hour flight. I did get up to a 38-inch waist, but now I’m a 32-inch waist, my high school weight, and I’m wearing skinny jeans.

It was more about the feeling I had after I ate that yogurt. After feeling like a victim of my mouth, and then gaining some control, having the option, and having one day become clean and sugar-free… I really got into what else all this is about. The unfolding, the emotion, the fears and how I cover up.

How To Fuel As A Sugar-Free Performer & Athlete

Abel: Even for people who work out, that sugar monkey beckons.

When I ran marathons, sometimes we’d using Gu and pack in the sugar on purpose to avoid glycogen depletion.

When you’re running 12 miles a day, you can come back and eat half a pie and (kind of) get away with it.

The problem is when you stop running but keep eating.

How do you manage being an athlete, fueling with carbs, and also being off of sugar?

I actually don’t work out hard enough to require glucose. Since I’ve been off sugar, I’ve done a couple of triathlons, a Tough Mudder, a two mile lake swim, and none of those things say, “Start shoving in some glucose.”

One of the triathlons, I did pop a Gu and man it was intense.

I used to do those pretty regularly. I didn’t even know what was in them, but I was jonesin’ on the run. I use fruit now because it’s a slow releasing sugar. I’ll grab a banana.

I’m 53 and I have this rule: I consider myself winning first place in a triathlon, marathon, or a swimming race if my time is less than twice the winner.

Abel: That’s a pretty good formula, because you’re not going to kill yourself but you’re going to get a pretty good time. You’re likely below the anaerobic zone, so you’re burning fat the whole time.

I didn’t start swimming until I was 42, and I asked one of the guys on my masters team how to get a better time.

He said, “Barry, you started as an adult. You’ll always have an accent.”

Abel: Reading your bio is a lot of fun. You’ve lived many lives. One of people’s biggest excuse is that their work and home life doesn’t give them a lot of time to think about food. What do you say to people?

I hear some interesting excuses when this comes up. You probably hear it at a party, as soon as people hear sugar-free, the next sentence is always why they can’t do it. Time and money.

After helping so many people go sugar-free, I realized that being sugar-free is actually cheaper.

I saw this ad in the hotel room for $4 for four items, and it’s sad you can’t compete with that. But if you get a whole chicken and put it in the crock pot, you have dinner, and you have soup, and bone broth, and then you grind up every single bone in the food processor and you have one of those $8 – $10 rolls of dog food for your dog.

You take that chicken from the wrapper to the end of the world and have $50 worth of food. It’s developing a maturity around our relationship with certain foods.

I promise you, maybe it takes a month or six months, but on the other side of that addiction there is a fundamental shift in your body, your mindset, your operating system, that makes any other change or transformation in your life feel simple.

Abel: One cool thing about dropping sugar is that your palate changes.

You go from eating all of this junk without even realizing it, let alone getting pleasure from it. If you stay away from sugar for thirty days and you try to bite into that Snickers bar, it’s like a punch in the face.

The stale fat, sicky-sweet chocolate-like substance, and plasticy crunch… It doesn’t taste good.

That description, that was visceral. This is coming from a guy that popped a Snickers a day, and on a good day there was more ice cream and Reese’s.

Man, to even hear you talk about that is a little intense right now. There comes a time when something like a Fuji apple becomes such a treat that I almost have to sit down to take it. The truth is waiting inside of us, it’s a natural reaction.

A mango, there’s probably nothing more wonderful in the world. It’s pretty high on the glycemic index, but from where I come from if the worst thing I do is eat a mango…

A bonus for anyone watching a video: This is an 8 pound bowling ball. This is the amount of sugar an average american eats in three weeks.

Abel: So when you’re fueling on sugar you get that sugar rush, but a crash as well. Especially as a performer, you want to be sharp and clear-headed on stage.

Did you feel a difference in your brain when you started staying away from the sugar?

It’s funny, we’re so used to that little spike from sugar, but it’s very artificial. It comes on in an unnatural rate and it falls off on a rate that is very punishing to the body. We feel that peak in the middle, but the cool thing is that adrenaline takes that naturally.

4 big changes happen when you stop eating sugar:

  • Anxieties settle down.
  • Sleep becomes an entirely different game when your body isn’t processing sugar. Because of boredom and loneliness, right before bed some people have a bowl of ice cream or cereal. When you’re not doing that it’s incredible.
  • Skin looks healthier and younger.
  • Weight loss just happens.

These are changes we regularly see in people who drop sugar. Some people say, “Hey, but you’re still eating sugar in the fruit and stuff.” But if you can just get rid of processed sugar you’ll see incredible changes.

Abel: A lot of people can conceptualize kicking out the junk foods, but the problem is you walk into a health food store and they have paleo / vegan / whatever “health foods” that are packed with sugar and bad for you.

How do you help people differentiate real health food from the junk?

We can’t confuse health food with food that comes in a wrapper with a nice looking woman and a picture of a barn. Just take a quick look at the nutritional facts. Sugar content, ingredients, and compare.

There are about 60 names for sugar under all kinds of great names. Click To Tweet

If there’s a gram or two of sugar in a product, it comes from something.

I was looking at hummus and there’s two grams of sugar in it—and it’s the most savory food ever. I looked at the ingredients and it has a red pepper pureed into it. I don’t worry about that.

I look for the different names for sugar. I think that’s really important for people during the first thirty days to take in the actual feeling of rehabilitating and replacing the taste buds.

Your taste buds completely regenerate every 21 days, and what a great ride that is when you go, “Wow, this is broccoli?” It’s a pretty magical taste.

Abel: When you start resetting your palate, you can start appreciating that a sweet potato is really sweet. And so is a tomato, and even kale, when you get really fresh food. That’s one of the most beautiful things about getting away from processed food.

I hope someone’s listening to this and they trust themselves, and if this touches something inside of you, I encourage you to not squelch it down and cover it with a donut and say that’s not for me.

This might be the time to trust yourself, to gift yourself with this. There’s a reason you’re listening.

The costs of a processed diet are painful. It’s really hard to see someone suffer without trying to make a change.

You have to want health more than you want the donut. Click To Tweet

When the addiction is gone, the lights shoot up, and you can make other incredible changes in your life.

Abel: Sometimes I walk into a restaurant or anywhere you shop for food, and I feel like I know too much. But you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know everything. And you can get vast benefits just by eliminating processed sugar.

Man, you have a lot of followers and I pray that even 1% listens to you and does what you’ve said, because that pebble tossed will have a ripple effect.

My dad says that the FDA wouldn’t let us eat it if it wasn’t okay. But there’s big money in food and when there’s money it’s really hard to get the truth.

I like to think of ourselves as giant test tubes, and why wouldn’t we experiment on ourselves?

I was at a chiropractor 6 years ago, I had swollen knees and it was hard to even get up. She said, “Do you eat a lot of wheat?” and, “How about not eating it for 30 days?” Two weeks later I was jumping off a wall with my son. I’m running. I could do knee modeling now.

Now, I never think about pizza or pasta or beer.

The important part is to keep testing. If you’re not feeling good or you don’t like what’s happening in your head, play with the recipe. You’ve got options.

There’s only one time you’re stuck, and that’s when you have a tombstone. Click To Tweet

Abel: Everything science has to say about sugar is that it’s bad.

You said something important, when you combine avoiding sugar with avoiding wheat, it’s incredible. When I went off of sugar and wheat I could literally see less inflammation in my face and feel less pain in my joints. You see yourself in pictures, avoiding sugar and wheat can make you look ten years younger.

I saw a picture of myself from 2008 and I was like, man did I go on TV like that?

Abel: You’ve been on TV for a long time… and that lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to health. Sometimes you’re shooting 18 hours a day, and the food that production brings in is the worst. That food will be here long after the zombie apocalypse.

What do you recommend to keep our health in a world that’s stacked against us?

Bring your own snacks. There are simple things you can throw in a baggie. I’ll do raw or roasted almonds, a couple pieces of fruit, homemade beef jerky.

Plus you have to ask yourself two questions before eating: First, am I hungry? Second, will water solve this?

Especially when we’re on the road, we need water. We are big water containers and it’s not real common in the world. We have to keep that going because so often, we’re not hungry, we’re thirsty.

If you’re back in the green room, realize that those things sitting there for people who haven’t yet made the decision to take care of themselves.

Abel: I can definitely say that’s the key to success… prepare yourself.

It sounds weird, but I love packing sardines everywhere I go. They’ve helped me on so many camping trips, green rooms, and conferences.

That’s the real world. That’s where the rubber meets the road. None of that stuff in the green room locker is there because it’s healthy. It’s there because it will stay there forever.

If you want to get to the place where you’re really in control of your mouth, it’s going to take a break, you’re going to have to draw that line in the sand. Give yourself a fixed term and when you get to the end of that, make another goal.

If you say, “I’ve done this and now I’m going to dabble a little…” I’ve never seen that end well.

People come back six months later and ask if they can do it again. Do it again? Man, that’s life. We wake up in the morning and it’s life.

Abel: Even the health nuts will say, “I’m on a seven day cleanse or I’m going off dairy for thirty days,” but they’re bouncing around from one thing to another. Or you go away from sugar for thirty days and then start eating normally again.

How do you make staying away from bad food normal?

Someone said this in a TED talk I watched…

Experience without reflection is recreation.

Whenever you’re doing any diet or change in your life, record this stuff. Journal just a short piece, something you noticed about yourself that day.

Those moments of reflection change our thought patterns. Click To Tweet

Think about food as you’re shopping: What’s good about it? What’s bad about it? And what do I need to say to this food?

There is something you want to say to it, and it’s probably good and bad.

Pick something—a Snicker’s Bar—there’s been good experiences in my life with it and I don’t want to short those. Maybe Snickers kept me from thinking about something bad or kept me company on a lonely night.

There are definitely bad things about Snickers. There’s an apology that I need to make to people in my life about it. What it cost me in sleep and my inability to focus in conversations.

Do I need to apologize? I’m sorry what it did to my relationships, I’m sorry for what it did to my waistline and to my sleep.

30 days off sugar, my wife said to me, “This is the first time I feel that you’re in a conversation instead of just at the conversation.”

That was really powerful to me, and I wanted to apologize for all the years of moving through life like a sugar processing blob.

Abel: Once you get off of sugar, you’re like, “Man, where was I?”

Helping thousands of people go through a thirty day challenge, one of the favorite things for me to read is people’s journal entry from day one. They are so lit up, they’re like “where has this been all my life? I feel like I could do anything right now!”

Abel: Where do people bottom out?

After about ten or twelve days the conversations become really different.

The first day is the high, then there’s the reality, the nitpicking: What do I put in my coffee?

I don’t do coffee, I do tea. I don’t know what people put in their coffee, but their taste buds change and then they’re not putting sugar in their coffee.

The conversations move in waves from the really highs in the first days to reality in under ten days. And boy when the change happens (and I always look for this in the 18 – 24 age range) when they taste that new food, when the Fuji apple gives them that rush, that’s cool.

Wanting it more than you don’t want it, that’s the continuing piece. Are you feeling this life so that you can make a new doable goal.

Abel: I’m glad you mentioned the sugar in the coffee, because that’s why I put a lot of wacky fats in my coffee… I put butter and heavy cream or full fat coconut cream. Sometimes people just want something more substantial or they want to get away from the sugar… when you’re putting healthy fats in, you don’t need or want the sugar.

I was at a Starbucks and there was some holiday drink with caramel in it that was like 1200 calories. The girl was walking around the Starbucks with these little taster cups handing them out like the guy with the only lighter at a crack house. People were grabbing these things like crazy.

Abel: When you’re a performer, especially one that involves some dexterity, it seems like if you don’t die at 26, you live forever. BB King was like that, even though he had diabetes, he was there and he played.

There’s seems to be some connection between dexterity and your mind and your hands that lends itself to a long healthy life.

It’s interesting, I was doing a show in Minneapolis this weekend and a bunch of performers, circus people (jugglers, ventriloquists, magicians) we had this three hour lunch at Whole Foods, and a football game was on that seemed important to the people of Minneapolis.

We all had this realization that none of us had any interest in professional sports.

Is there some connection—we were the builders, the creators, the writers—and that kept us from consuming stuff that had this mass appeal.

Quite possibly with juggling, I think about this: I was 15 years old at camp and we had a choice to either go in a hot smelly room with arts and crafts, or do juggling by the pool. I never left that class. 40 years later, juggling has been a big part of my life.

Crossing the midline in the brain, throwing something from one side to another… not a lot of sports do that.

There might be something with guitarists and musicians—it’s circular. I don’t look at left and right that differently.

Juggling is probably the five minute plank of the brain—really any kind of art where we get to draw on both sides and use both hands are great.

Abel: Using both sides of the brain helps us feel deeply human.

When I go camping, we’re climbing trees, playing and doing things that most “domesticated humans” today (especially adults) just don’t do anymore. It’s planks for the brain.

I once stripped down and dove into freezing cold water and played in the waves. People were like, how could you do that?

It’s a mindset shift. How could you NOT do that?

I’ve seen a ton of regular people take control of what goes into their mouth and it manifests into a newfound energy, love, and passion. That energy that comes from within and they have the ability to make any change they want.

Tackle the sugar monster and the rest of life becomes a fun little game. Click To Tweet

Where To Find Barry Friedman

You can find Barry’s sugar-free program at, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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