Environmentalist, filmmaker and model Summer Rayne Oakes' latest project Sugar Detox Me began two years ago with her own journey to understand her relationship with sugar. It started with a 30-day sugar detox. She decided to chronicle that journey in a blog and created a website to help others do their own sugar cleanse.

The project grew, and last fall Oakes invited readers to embark on a seven-day guided sugar detox with her and a doctor. The program sets participants up with the resources to continue for an additional 30 days after the guided portion finishes. She just completed the third round of guided detoxes and is in the midst of taking a look at the feedback she's received to see how she can improve on the successful program before offering it again in the spring.

But if you want to curb your sugar intake — or completely cut it out — you don't need to wait until the spring. On the Sugar Detox Me website, there's plenty of information to help you get started now.

The benefits of eliminating sugar

different types and forms of sugarThe benefits of banning sugar can happen more quickly than you think. (Photo: alexpro9500/Shutterstock)

Sugar is everywhere, and the amount of sugar we eat keeps increasing.

"When things are sweet in nature," Oakes said, "they're often difficult to get to. Now we have easy access to the things that are hard to get if we were to go in the wild. Humans have never had sugar in quantities like this before."

On her website, Oakes goes into specifics about the sheer quantity of sugar around us. About 300 years ago, the average person consumed about 4 pounds of a sugar a year. Now, the average person in the United States consumes almost 3 pounds of sugar a week, according to USDA statistics.

Our over-consumption of sugar is leading to health problems like Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and more. Removing sugar from the diet can improve those health conditions in the long term, but the short-term benefits of doing a seven-day detox or a one-month detox are significant, too.

"In a short period of time, you can see positive health results really quickly," said Oakes. She referenced a recent study in which researchers took the sugar out of obese kids' diets without changing their caloric intake for 10 days. In those 10 days, there were significant changes in "cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar" of the children.

Adults who drastically cut or eliminate sugar from their diets can see similar benefits, and many of the 150 people who have already gone through Oakes' seven-day guided detox have seen positive health results in a week. They've experienced increased energy, weight loss, healthier-looking skin and a better relationship with food.

How to do a detox

meal-mapsCreating a meal map, a basic plan that charts out several meals using just 15 or 20 ingredients, can help to keep the costs down when you're doing a sugar detox. (Photo: Summer Rayne Oakes)

Oakes' detox doesn't simply avoid ice cream and candy bars. When she talks about detoxing from sugar, she's referring to more than refined sugars like table sugar, honey and agave. For her own detox, she also removed grains and starches, dairy, fruit and sugary vegetables at the beginning while adding very small amounts of some of them back into her diet at specific times. Alcohol is not allowed during the detox either.

Oakes points to research that has convinced her that a sugar detox should include natural sugars and some foods that most of don't associate with sugar, like grains or dairy.

Even if you don't add processed sugar to juice or a smoothie, your body will treat the sugars in them as added sugar, so they're eliminated form the diet.

"Most folks will assume that a giant juice, like freshly pressed orange juice or a smoothie contain 'natural' sugars and not 'added,' " said Oakes, and points to studies done on blood glucose levels for diabetics for information. "This is where the confusion lies. When fiber is removed — in the case of fruit and some vegetable juices — or insoluble fiber is torn to smithereens in smoothies, sugar gets into our system at a quicker pace and acts more like added sugar."

Cutting out starches like potatoes or white bread may not seem so unusual. The simple carbohydrates in those foods are treated like sugar in the body when they break down. The reason or cutting out whole grains isn't as obvious.

"It's actually incredibly challenging to find true whole grains, and why I say true, most people don't understand what that means. The reality is there isn't a language nor labeling that can assist the consumer," said Oakes, citing a study from the Center of Science in the Public Interest. "Certain true whole grains like barley and rye — without the fiber content removed — can actually help control blood glucose levels, but white breads, white rice, corn puffs and many other products have a high glycemic index and glucose load. Some people feel more comfortable taking all breads and grains out, whereas others leave some of the true whole grains in, within limits."

Dairy also seems like an unusual food to take out during a sugar cleanse, but Oakes points out that the lactose in dairy is a type of sugar.

"You'll be hard-pressed to find dairy that doesn't have some form of added gaur in it, or carrageenan which has an inflammatory effect on one's gut," said Oakes.

With all of these foods to eliminate, Oakes obviously isn't offering a quick, miracle fix to the sugar problem. "It's damn hard to get sugar out of the diet!" she said.

Oakes walks participants through how to detox on Sugar Detox Me. She firsts discusses why you should do it before outlining 10 steps to help break sugar reliance. Then she gives the rules — what needs to be eliminated and why.

All of this information plus many recipes on a blog give you the information you need to do a detox on your own. And it's all free.

"Learning how to get your optimum health should be as free as possible," said Oakes.

While the information is free, but of course the foods you eat during the detox will cost money, but Oakes aims to make that as affordable as possible. She urges people to create a meal map, a "basic plan that outlines ingredients for recipes and then charts out how those ingredients can be used across multiple meals in order to maximize your use of those ingredients, minimize waste, and help save you money." Oakes estimates that someone should be able to eat a healthy, sugar-free, mostly organic diet for less than $400 a month using meal maps and planning their shopping around those maps.

The seven-day detox

The guided detox is offered for a nominal fee, and those who participate get the added benefits of having access to audio and video recordings, a daily newsletter, planned-out meal maps, and consultations with Oakes and Dr. Louis Vastola, a chiropractor who advises clients on any health questions Summer doesn't feel qualified to answer.

Vastola has made changes to his own diet since working with Sugar Detox Me, including cutting out extra sugars in yogurt by making his own. He feels one of the biggest benefits the average person can gain from a short fast from sugar is that it will reset your digestive track and glance your blood sugar throughout the day.

"Most people find they need to eat more sugar as stress builds in their bodies," said Vastola. "This happens as prolonged stress can exhaust the adrenal glands, which then effect your ability to digest fats and proteins. Once you switch over to sugar and carbs, you crave them any time you need a boost. This keeps you in that cycle, which can result in higher blood sugar levels. If prolonged, the higher sugar impacts every part of your body in a negative way."

Oakes did a video prior to the seven-day detox offered in January that gives more information about how it works:

"People need to do a sugar detox when they are psychologically ready," Oakes said.

Anyone who is ready now can use the resources on Sugar Detox Me to get started. For anyone who needs to work their way up to being ready or who knows they'll need the encouragement of the guided cleanse, you have some time to prepare. The dates for the next seven-day guided cleanse are April 15-21, 2016. Registration for the cleanse isn't open yet, but if you sign up for her newsletter, you'll be notified.

After the detox

Cutting out sugar for seven days doesn't seem so hard. Thirty days seems a bit tougher, but still doable. But, then what? Do you stay sugar-free for the rest of your life?

"Everyone's nutritional needs, preferences and quirks vary from person to person — therefore how one wants to continue will naturally vary," said Oakes. The guided journey is meant to be only an introduction, and each individual can then introduce sugar and starches back into the diet — whether it's in the form of whole grains or honey.

"In general, I encourage folks to begin introducing whole fruits back their diet (if they removed those for a time) and true whole grains," she said. For other foods like brown rice or grains, she advises giving them a good soak beforehand so it's easier for the body to get more of the nutrients.

How each participant will eat after the detox is a personal choice. The idea is that by doing the sugar detox, you give yourself time to acclimate to a new way of eating and then they make choices about sugars and starches when you aren't craving sugar the way you probably were before the cleanse.

"It sounds silly," said Oakes, "but in a way we have to approach eating food as if we are children again. We may not like something the first time we try it, but once we expose ourselves to nutritious foods again and again, it gives our tastes, our bodies and our brains a chance to acclimate and enjoy."

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.