In late November of 2010 I cut out the last sugary indulgence in my diet – tonic water (read the ingredients and you’ll be surprised how much sugar it contains). Since then I’ve allowed myself fruit and dairy, but nothing with any added sugar or other sweeteners.
Why did I do it? I was convinced – and still am – that I am a sugar addict. Yes, I know, by medical standards sugar is not an addictive substance. There are no withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it. But when I eat sugary treats I can’t stop until it’s all gone. If I try to have a small portion like a sensible person I can’t stop thinking about it until I eat the rest.
For years I battled back and forth, and saw my weight spike and plummet wildly as I tried to deal with the issue. I made sure I got exercise. I tried cutting down dramatically on fats or carbs. I tried changing the ratios of fats, carbs and proteins. I tried Atkins, which turned me into a zombie. I tried going vegan for 3 months. Nothing seemed to work.
I finally realized that the amount I ate seemed to correlate with how much sugar I consumed. Sugar was stimulating my appetite, and I ate not only more sugar, but more of everything else too. I did some tests and tried cutting out sugar for a few months. It was torture! I noticed, however, that over time the cravings diminished. They were still there, but they were less powerful, and I could distract myself with other things until they eased. Then one day, I decided to treat myself and have some key lime pie for my birthday. The next day, off I went to the grocery store to get more treats.
At last I knew what I had to do. I had to make a permanent change. To ease myself out of the sugar habit, I started cutting out sweetened desserts, then processed food containing sugar in general, and finally the tonic water, which I loved as part of my Friday night gin and tonic.
It made things really difficult – sugar is an ingredient in almost everything. I had to pretty much stop going to most restaurants. But I have learned some important things that I hope will help you if you’re considering taking a drastic step like this.
Change is Possible – If You Want It Badly Enough
You’re not stuck. You CAN turn things around. The question becomes, “what are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?”. It’s not enough to want something. You have to do the work. If that means denying yourself what you want most, then that’s the way it is.
You Can’t Kill the Demon…
Sometimes if I walk into the baking aisle in the grocery store, the powerful smell of sugar almost overwhelms me. I’ve learned to identify the dangerous situations that makes things harder.
…But You Can Tame It
Staying away from sugar makes it easier to stay away from sugar. The longer I hold out, the more the cravings subside. And you’d better believe I still want candy. I still get cravings for sweets, but I satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit. If I’m really craving a dessert, I’ll go with dried figs or (on special occasions) dates. But I have to really watch out for dates and save them for special occasions only.
The good news is that once the extra sugar is gone, your appreciation of other flavours evolves. You’ll start noticing the natural sweetness and other flavours in foods you would normally consider bland. For example, plain oatmeal now tastes sweet to me… it didn’t before.
There Are More Demons Waiting In The Wings
There is no silver bullet. I still love cheese, butter, nuts…or just too much healthy food. I will still overeat these things. Just because I quit sugar, it doesn’t mean my eating habits are magically sorted out. I fall off the wagon all the time. It’s just that when I fall these days, it’s not for key lime pie or chocolate bars, it’s for food with nutrients in it, like fruit, nuts or kale chips. And I know there’s nothing to do but get back on again.
The Little Things Add Up
My weight still varies, but it doesn’t spike and plummet the way it used to. I used to gain and lose over 40 pounds, now I keep it in a 10 to 15 pound range. That’s a huge improvement.
This change has also led to other positive changes. I’ve been reading about nutritional science, and I stay away from silly fad diets because I know more about how my body works. I make sure I get fresh fruits and vegetables, and try and arrange it so they make up half of my daily food intake.
It Was The Right Thing To Do…For Me
Quitting sugar is a very drastic step, and many people will not understand if you want to do this. Often, these are the same people who can have one cookie, and be happy with that. It’s definitely not necessary to quit sugar for everyone, but for me it was.
You might not even need to do this. Try quitting short term and see what effect it has on you. If it’s positive, you might want to consider taking it up for good, or just for a couple of years. See how it goes.
Quitting sugar will not impact your health: there’s nothing in sugar that your body needs. You can check that with your doctor. You need a good balance of the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein). You need micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that you get from a mixed diet that’s heavy on the vegetables and fruits. You don’t need extra sugar.
Good food is medicine. Exercise is medicine. Go out and get yourself some.
by Jennifer Priest
- All images on this page by Justin Dane and Jennifer Priest