Getting Off of Sugar: An Interview with Margaret Floyd

Margaret Floyd - Author of Eat Naked

Last week I had lunch with my friend Margaret Floyd, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and author of Eat Naked.  (You  may remember her from her October Unprocessed guest posts, The Salad Dressing Formula and The Superfood Secret to Making Homemade Condiments Last for Weeks.)

You probably know I’ve been railing against added sugar lately (not just high fructose corn syrup) – and especially how it is being added to more and more foods, using more and more names.  As much as I enjoy a sweet treat from time to time, “sneaky” sugar has become one of my bigger pet peeves.

After our lunch, I sent Margaret a list of questions about sugar.  I hope you’ll get something out of her answers below.

Andrew: There are so many different things that are pervasive and harmful in the Standard American Diet. Why do you focus on sugar?

Margaret: I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions about sugar – it’s hurting us on every level. There isn’t a disease or health condition out there that isn’t exacerbated by sugar. But you could say that about trans fats as well, so why sugar? The main reason is that sugar is ubiquitous. It’s in everything processed – even “healthy” processed (if there is such a thing). When you remove sugar from the diet, by default you end up taking out all the other harmful aspects of processed foods, because you’re forced to eat strictly whole, real foods.

A: You use the term “sugar” a bit more broadly than other people. Can you elaborate?

M: When I talk about sugar, I’m not just talking about what we sweeten our coffee with. I’m talking about anything that converts to glucose (sugar) quickly in the blood, thus spiking insulin levels. In moderation, insulin is a very important hormone. But in excess, it drives inflammation, it drives fat storage, and it is the pathway to more serious blood sugar handling issues such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

So yes, I’m referring to table sugar, but it’s also anything “starchy”: potatoes, all grains (even whole grains), and most fruit. I also include anything that has an “insulinemic” effect (this means it raises insulin levels even in the absence of an increase in blood glucose) such as dairy and non-caloric sweeteners (there’s been some research showing that even the taste of sweet can initiate an insulin response).

I also include any carbohydrates that are metabolized by the liver in a way that stresses it – fructose falls into this category, as does alcohol.

A: So it sounds like you’re talking about the “Paleo” diet?

M: Well, it’s close to the Paleo diet, but not identical. For example, we allow legumes, which are typically eliminated in the Paleo diet. These are what we call “slow carbs” – yes, they’re starchy, but their fiber and protein slow down the blood sugar spike, so we include them on the cleanse. They’re a great way to get that starchy feel without the impact on blood sugar levels. And we haven’t seen any adverse reactions by including them.

A: You told me that it’s really important for someone who is getting off of sugar not to have the taste of anything sweet during their detox — so that means artificial sweeteners are off-limits, too.  Why?

M: As I mentioned earlier, there’s been some research showing that even the taste of sweet can initiate an insulin response – this means you’ll have the negative physiological reaction even without the calories or the actual sugar. But even without an insulin response, having the taste of sweet on our tongue maintains its dominance on our palate. A key aspect of any successful sugar detox is to re-sensitize yourself to flavor. One of the bonus side effects of our cleanse is that food tastes amazing. You can taste the natural sweetness in foods that previously seemed bland, and the whole array of flavor profiles – bitter, sour, tangy, sweet, spicy, salty, and so on – will come forward in a whole new way. Simply put: you’ll taste more.

This is also a key aspect of the sustainability of this cleanse. That sweet treat you love so much will be almost intolerable after the cleanse. It makes it much easier to maintain the benefits.

Also – artificial sweeteners have their own set of issues neurologically (Amazon affiliate link). Even the natural alternatives such as stevia have typically been so highly processed that they’ve lost their nutritional value, so we don’t recommend them.

A: I get this question a lot from my readers, so I’m curious to know your answer: Do you ever use added sweeteners in your food? If so, which do you prefer? Which do you avoid?

M: I do, just very minimally. It’s the exception and treat, not the rule. If it’s something cold, I like raw honey. It’s got great health benefits outside from just the sweetness. If I’m sweetening a sauce or a smoothie, I like to use a couple of raw dates. This is a trick my chef husband taught me. You get all the fiber and nutrients from the dates, as well as their sweetness.

For baking we typically coconut sugar (palm nectar, dehydrated). It’s unrefined and has a low glycemic impact.

I avoid anything highly processed like the plague. And I avoid agave nectar, which surprises a lot of people. Agave nectar – even truly unrefined, raw agave (which is extremely hard to find; most “raw” agave is anything but) – is extremely high in fructose. It’s higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup! And fructose is exceedingly damaging (Amazon affiliate link). It’s the most toxic sugar in our food supply. It is metabolized by our liver putting a tremendous amount of stress on it, and is on the fast track to fat storage in our bodies. In whole fruit and small doses, it’s fine. But agave isn’t whole nor does it have the benefit of the fiber to slow down its absorption.

A: Some folks are now claiming that sugar is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Hyperbole?

M: It does sound extreme, but in fact sugar trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain as do heroin and cocaine, and it is exceedingly addictive. If you look at the seven criteria for substance dependence put forward by the ADA (American Psychological Association), I think you may recognize them as pervasive in many people’s relationship to sugar. They are:

  • tolerance (you need more to get the same effect)
  • withdrawal (experience physical or psychological symptoms when use stops)
  • bingeing (use more of the substance or use it longer than you intended)
  • desire or attempts to cut back or quit
  • craving or seeking (an “intense drive to self-administer”)
  • interference with life
  • use despite negative consequences

Now just like with any addiction, not everyone is going to be as susceptible to its grasp. Just like some people can have a glass or two of wine without a problem, some people can give up sugar easily. But for many, without a very specific program and lots of support, giving up sugar is no joke and exceedingly difficult.

A: How can someone know if they have trouble with sugar?

M: There are a lot of different ways to tell if you’ve got some blood sugar handling issues. The key ones are:

  • you crave sweets generally (yes, it is possible to live without sugar cravings!)
  • you crave coffee or sugar in the afternoon, and/or you get sleepy in the afternoon
  • you get irritable, shaky, or a headache if a meal is delayed or skipped. I call this ‘cranky hungry beast’ syndrome and let me tell you I know this one well
  • you wake up a few hours after going to sleep, and have a hard time getting back to sleep
  • you tend to binge or eat uncontrollably
  • you can’t imagine life without one or more of the following: dessert, chocolate, bread, rice, pasta, alcohol, coffee…

A: Hang on there. I can’t imagine life without chocolate, bread, or alcohol… Those are foods I truly enjoy and really wouldn’t want to live without those.  Do you mean I’d have to cut those out completely?  (For a couple of weeks, sure, but forever?  You may be losing me here…)

M: Haha! No, I don’t mean forever, but I do mean drastically reduced and as a special treat rather than on a daily basis. None of these things contribute much nutritional value to our diet, in fact, none of them are nutritionally required. We can live quite easily, fully, and healthfully without them (this comes as a surprise to many people). And all of them are contributing to blood sugar handling issues in their own ways.

All that said, I am a big believer in moderation and I have an 80:20 rule that I live and swear by. If you told me I could never have ice cream again I might punch you. As long as you’re steering clear of this stuff most of the time, then the occasional treat isn’t going to hurt you.

A: What advice do you have for my readers who are trying to reduce their sugar consumption?

M: You know, I’m usually a big proponent of baby steps, but with sugar you need to get aggressive. Baby steps will drag out the process in a way that makes it harder for longer. I’m a big believer in doing an aggressive sugar detox – either ours or another – that’s assisted and supported so that you have someone to go to for support along the way. I like to think of it like a chiropractic adjustment for your blood sugar handling. The majority of people are able to have major breakthroughs and results after two weeks; for some it takes a bit longer.

After two weeks without anything in your diet that converts to sugar quickly in your blood, it’s remarkable how good a person can feel.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

You May Also Like:

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 4, 2013 7:35 am

Andrew, I just read that you’ve taken a hit financially every time you’ve done the #Unprocessed challenge. I’m SO sorry! You have encouraged me, my hubby & our 2 kids to eat healthier & be healthier. You can’t put a price tag on that. I pray that God blesses your work! You’re helping a lot of people!

May 23, 2013 10:22 am


good article, thanks!
I have been eating clean for a while, eliminating processed sugar but not the occasional wine glass, fruit (I keep it to a minimum) and dairy (I eat non fat green yogurt and cottage cheese.)
The thing is that I exercise a lot, I’m training for a marathon and feel that natural sugars in moderation are good for an active person.
I;ve still yet to lose my tummy though, but I’m afraid to stop eating healthier carbs as I don’t want my body to be deffiient in nutrients.
And advice would be appreciated!
thanks again.

Reply to  Miriam
May 24, 2013 12:32 pm

Hi Miriam, I used to run marathons too so I know where you’re coming from here. A couple of things: we have used this protocol very successfully with Olympic athletes (one of whom just competed in the London Olympics) and they experienced big gains in their training – switching your body to slow burning fuel for a long distance activity like marathonning actually makes a lot of sense. But something else to consider with marathonning is that it’s actually quite a stressful state for the body and many people (especially women) actually GAIN weight when training for a marathon. This has been my experience and I’ve talked with many trainers who see the same thing with their clients. I know it’s frustrating to run that long and keep the extra pounds, but when your body is under stress it is reluctant to let go of extra pounds. Just food for… Read more »

May 20, 2013 4:50 pm

I totally agree with cutting out many of the sugary foods we consume. When you see the effects of eating a meal that converts to glucose quickly, you realize that it can’t be good for you. Good interview.

May 20, 2013 3:11 pm

I have just finished reading Dr Lustig’s book FAT CHANCE. He also thinks sugar is toxic and should be eliminated from the diet. Except for Lactose, in Milk, which he puts on his OK list. He says that lactose turns to glucose in the liver…and that there is no fructose (which is his real culprit) involved. Lactose in milk is not an ‘added sugar’ so it is intrinsic to the food.

Any comments.

Reply to  William
May 20, 2013 4:04 pm

Hi William,
Fat Chance is a GREAT book loaded with excellent information on the topic. I love his work. I agree with him for the most part about lactose, except that for a sugar detox it’s actually important to take it out (unless you’re a vegetarian and then dairy becomes an important protein source) because it does have an insulinemic effect which is counterproductive to the cleanse.

Macarena Ramírez
May 17, 2013 11:17 am

Hi! This is such a great post!

I’ve had a serious problem with sugar ever since I can remember. Last month I tried to quit and I was aware of all the other sugars (potatos, rice, pasta, etc) so I tried to quit those as well and include more protein. But since I don’t eat meat or fish, I don’t realy knew what or how to eat. I’ve read that when you eat legumes and are vegan or vegetarian you have to eat some cereal with it so it can turn into protein. Is that true? And if it is, how can I just stop eating cereal? Do you have any tips on how to do a detox being a vegetarian?

P.S: English isn’t my native language, so I hope I made my self clear.

Reply to  Macarena Ramírez
May 17, 2013 3:29 pm

Hi Macarena. Yes, it’s a lot more difficult to do this detox as a vegetarian, but it is possible. (although I need to state up front that we can’t guarantee the results the way we can with meat eaters) It’s sadly just part of the deal with a vegetarian diet – it’s so heavily grain/starch dependent that it’s very difficult for some people, depending on your metabolic type, to stay away from the sugar. It’s not possible to do this protocol as a vegan, but as a vegetarian, as long as you’re willing to consume eggs and we’ll make an exception for you to include dairy, then you’ll be okay. But as I said, we can’t guarantee the same kind of results.