This post first appeared in my other blog Giving Up Sugar.
I have been trying to live sugar-free for the best part of three years now, and since beginning back in 2012 I’ve noticed the sugar-free movement getting more and more traction.
While sugar-free living is not a magic path to a super-slim me, I prefer eating this way. I certainly do lose some weight and have waaaay more control over my appetite when I am sugar-free. Some people are able to give up and stay off the white stuff for good, but I was derailed from the sugar-free wagon by both my pregnancies. I’m not sure why. Both pregnancies played havoc with my thyroid (I have hypothyroidism), and I found it impossible to ignore my chocolate cravings.
BUT, I have leapt back on that wagon with gusto and must report that it’s been pretty easy so far. Knowing that I have been successful at keeping sugar-free for months and months in the past is a great motivator.
The number one question I get asked about living sugar-free is how I go about quitting. So here’s my guide giving up the white stuff.
1. How did you do it? How can I quit sugar too?
You can either quit gently (I’d recommend Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar programme if this sounds like you) or go cold turkey. I went cold turkey, cause that’s just how I roll. Either way, here are some tips to make it easier on yourself.
- Quit when your social calendar isn’t full. It was the beginning of November when I first discovered Sweet Poison. As Christmas was coming up, the first time D and I quit (more on that later) we decided to be kind to ourselves and wait until AFTER Christmas/New Year’s. We waited until we were back at work, so we didn’t have lots of free time to think about food. Stay in for a couple of weeks instead of going out for dinner at night. Avoid your favourite cafe. Have friends over to your house, instead of going to theirs.
- Get sugar in all its variants out of your house. Give it away to your neighbours. Just get rid of it. You don’t want to be sitting at home on day two with that stash of chocolate you always keep in the top right-hand cupboard calling your name.
- Generally I think soft drink is the devil, but get some Coke/Sprite Zero, or other zero-sugar drink to get you through the withdrawal period, if you think it might help. Trust me, after a few weeks you will no longer want the stuff anymore. I had it for about a week (that’s all I could stand) and it helped me when I got cravings.
- Expect to have a few days of feeling rubbish. It passes. Sooner than you’d think.
- Really think about if you’re ready to quit. It’s okay if you’re not. Just file the idea of quitting sugar away for when you are. For me, I’d just had enough. I’d hit bottom. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of my over-eating that carrying on as I was just wasn’t an option anymore. Sweet Poison was the first thing that gave me hope in like, forever. My daughter is my main motivation for staying sugar-free. I don’t want her to grow up with a weight problem, or have the food issues that I did.
2. Why should I give up sugar?
Oh man, once you’ve been off it you’ll see. Fructose is killing us. It’s making us fat, sick, tired, diseased, spotty and addicted. There is nothing in fructose that your body needs.
Giving up sugar has changed my life. Here are some benefits I’ve seen:
- weight loss
- increased energy
- increased satiety levels (I only need 3 meals a day)
- clearer mind
- fewer mood swings
- better sleep
- clearer skin
- HAVING CONTROL OVER MY APPETITE. I never could stop a one chocolate. Now I can look at chocolate and not even want it. Now I seldom even think about chocolate. Or other sweet stuff.
3. What’s sugar withdrawal like?
Unfortunately, it’s different for everyone. David Gillespie reckons men have an easier time of it than women. I think he’s probably right. My husband D took a couple of weeks to withdraw, which is pretty typical for men. I took a couple of months. Some women take longer. You may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:
- irritability (Duh! Of course you’re going to be irritable)
- intense hunger (When D and I quit we were both RAVENOUS on the first day. I would have eaten anything not nailed down). Have a metric tonne of sugar-free snacks at the ready.
- trouble sleeping
All these symptoms are normal. You are detoxing from an incredibly addictive substance. I felt headachey, hungry and tired for a couple of days, but otherwise I was okay. I found the worst part of withdrawal was simply saying no to temptation when out and about.
4. How will I know when I have withdrawn properly?
Your appetite will decrease. You will no longer have thoughts of food taking up valuable space in your mind. You will no longer be planning your day around trips to get snacks, or panicking about when food might get served at a friend’s dinner party because you’re starving. You will be able to look at sugary treats and say ‘euck’.
5. How do you stay sugar-free?
Expect to mess up. Ok? Just expect it. You’re going to be okay. You’re making a big change. You’ve been addicted to this stuff for most of your life.
It takes a person an average of SEVEN times to break any sort of addiction, and sugar is no exception. D and I first quit in January 2012 and did really well until we went to America in September that year. We came back totally addicted again (hard to avoid it when you are been hosted by people). As I was pregnant at the time and finding withdrawal incredibly hard, we decided to be kind to ourselves and quit after the baby arrived.
I am not militant about never eating any sugar – but I do have strict, self-imposed rules around when I do have it: super-special occasions like milestone birthdays and weddings only. This means I hardly ever have it. I do this because D and I are very social and always have ‘special occasions’ going on. I do this because I enjoy celebrating with loved ones, and some times are special enough to me to eat a damned piece of wedding cake. It works for me. Some people find staying away altogether works best for them. Figure out what approach works best for you.
After you’ve been sugar-free for a few months it really does get easier and easier. If you mess up, or deliberately choose to eat some, just gird your loins and start eating sugar-free again at your next meal. It’s not the end of the world.
6. How do you get kids to be sugar-free?
Err, good question. One of my kids is only a baby so he doesn’t know any different. My older kid is often surrounded by it at play groups and birthday parties. I try not to be militant about what she eats when we are out as I think that merely serves to increase the desirability of sugary food to children. Her meals are home are almost always sugar-free which helps her have a balanced diet. I try to spread the sugar-free message where ever I can (without being a pain in the butt) – especially at play groups where there are always biscuits etc on offer.
If you’ve got older kids, you might need to take a different tack. Sugar is in most of the food your kids eat, even if you haven’t meant to sugar them up. Seriously. It’s in their cereals, their yogurts, their ‘healthy’ muesli bars. Depending on your kids’ personalities, you might want to take the softly, softly approach. Arm yourself with lots of yummy sugar-free recipes. And once you’ve all withdrawn, you can replace the sugar in their favourite recipes with alternatives. (Occasional treats people, occasional).
7. I love baking. What sugar alternatives do you use?
Okay, lots of recipes will claim to be sugar-free but still use honey, agave, or maple syrup. Those things are all high in fructose and still bad for you. So you do have to look a bit harder online to find truly sugar-free recipes.
Occasionally I use stevia, erythritol, dextrose and rice malt syrup. While many people who have researched these alternative sweeteners swear by them, I must say that I think the jury is still out on them for ME, so I don’t have sugar-free treats a lot. With all due respect to my sugar-free friends out there, some people use sweeteners like it gives them free licence to eat cake. Like it magically makes things healthier. It’s still cake. You can make some amazing sugar-free treats for sure, but use them sparingly. Dextrose cookies twice a day does not a healthy diet make.