Week 1: Going Sugar-Free
First things first.
Why Go Sugar Free?
Well, if you have to ask, this article probably isn’t for you. Not that you shouldn’t read it. I’m just borderline the least-reputable person when it comes to reporting on scientific data. There are quite a few scientific and factual websites entirely dedicated to giving up sugar, and if you’re serious about finding out why you should cut it out of your diet and body, including all the health risks of continuing to eat it, and the benefits of giving it up, they’re a great resource.
This post isn’t to convince anyone to give up sugar. It’s to tell you about the last week or so of my life. And maybe…convince you to give up sugar. (Okay, I lied.) But not because I’m trying to be “right” or make you feel bad about yourself. The only reason I care at all whether or not you give up sugar is because giving it up feels sooo good, and I’m kind of all about that. But in the end, I’m not here to twizzler-twist anyone’s arm. I know you know what you need, and if sugar’s benefits outweigh the cons for you, there’s no reason for you to stop.
Okay, but assuming you’re still interested in how giving up sugar has gone for me thus far (at this point it’s actually Day 9), I will do my best to chronicle the last week plus two days in detail. I’m not always the best with details, so bear with me here.
My Goal For This Mission
My main goal for this, and for pretty much any of my dietary endeavors, is to achieve and maintain a healthy equilibrium in my body through the foods that I’m eating. I don’t really believe in weight loss goals per se, because I’m just not going to starve myself to get to number on the scale. It’s not that I haven’t sometimes wanted to, it’s just that I prefer comfort above all else. My approach to weight loss is like my approach to everything else: if you want to lose weight, don’t try to put yourself on some unnatural diet. Get to the root of the problem, and focus on fixing that. Figure out why you gained the weight in the first place. If you start from the foundation and work your way up, everything will fall in line. For me, that’s the only way you can achieve not only lasting, but relatively effortless results.
I believe our bodies naturally go to the weight they need to be when we are able to offer them the proper environment to re-calibrate. I have never been able to stick to a restrictive program in terms of diet or exercise, and the program is only as good as your ability to continue it. Hence, why it’s relatively easy to lose weight and really hard to keep it off long-term.
I wanted to re-set my extreme cravings and get my relationship with food back to a more natural and neutral state. Did I need to lose weight? No. I would have still been within the healthy range if I lost a few pounds, but my main goal was to get my body to its healthiest and most natural state. I knew that eating sugar was interfering with my ability to stop eating when I should have, and that sugary foods were taking up caloric space in my diet where others should have been.
Regardless of weight, I most wanted an emotional space from thinking about food in terms of mostly pleasure and what I was ‘in the mood for’. I wanted to eat for nutrition and only when I was actually hungry. For me, it appeared sugar had overrideen my natural eating instincts.
My Life With Sugar
Prior to quitting sugar, on a regular day–
Okay. I have to be honest, I have little to no idea what I’d eat on a “regular day” because 1) I just pay attention to what I’m eating in the moment and forget it two minutes later, 2) I’m pretty sure I’ve always eaten something different each day, and 3) I don’t eat at a set schedule (I know, maybe that’s bad, the jury’s out on that as far as I’m concerned).
If someone were to ask me what I normally eat, the only reason I know now is because I’ve been documenting it and paying so much attention to it for the last nine days. Plus, cutting out sugar (and grains, sorry) has greatly reduced the amount of variety I have available to me. There have been times in my life where I’ve been about to go to the grocery store, and I can’t remember what I’ve been eating for the last two weeks. So this is a feat for me to try to recall, but I’ll do my best attempt just for you.
So a very “general” day for me would involve quite a bit of fruit (How much is that? I don’t know, but I ate as much as I wanted, and I freakin love fruit), peanut butter, a Spirutein smoothie with a banana or two, maybe some nuts, probably not as many vegetables as I should have had. And I don’t know, like I said…No idea what I actually ate. I’m kind of stumped on how I wasn’t a lot skinner! 🙂 Oh and I’d gotten into raw honey, so I ate one to two tablespoons of that every day (apparently it stabilizes your blood sugar, but I’m not sure if that happened for me or not).
I’d have some dark chocolate here and again. I really just grazed a lot. Hummus and carrot sticks come to mind.
I ate pretty healthfully by most people’s terms, but I knew I could do better. I definitely wasn’t eating enough greens. Also, while I was at healthy weight and I looked good by probably most people’s estimation, that I had five to ten pounds of weight that I didn’t think served a purpose on my frame. It was totally unnecessary for me to lose for any health purpose, but for instance, it would feel nice to open up that space in my body for yoga, or to feel more light when I ran and walked. This was purely an estimate, a feeling. It seemed this weight was from a combination of the wrong foods and emotional eating. It may have appeared healthy weight to someone else, but for me, I felt I had been eating more than my body required.
Ultimately, however, my goal wasn’t about a number or a weight; it was that I wanted freedom with food, to clear off my over-eating or emotional-eating hard drive. I had a hunch that freeing myself from a life-long sugar entanglement would lead me to experiencing a bit more space in my body, as well.
In Going Off Sugar, What Did I Eat?
On July 24, 2013 I stopped eating sugar.
I know that sounds extremely simple and obvious, but I’ll highlight a few of the details for you and what this meant for me in particular.
Instead of eating sugar, I just ate things without it. My game plan was to focus on vegetables, protein, and fat. I thought that would help curb my hunger and stabilize my blood sugar. Maybe it did, but it was still crazy strong. I went to the store and stocked up on kale, mushrooms, other vegetables, cheeses, and raw nuts.
While I was at it, I also cut out mostly all carbs. I apologize if this throws you off in the whole keeping a constant variable thing. Like I said, I’m not very scientific. My reasoning behind this was two-fold:
1) I’m no nutritionist, but it seems to me most carbs increase your blood sugar more than proteins or fats.
2) I just didn’t want to create another addiction. Sure, it would probably be easier to give up sugar if I was digging into french fries and corn chips. But I wanted to do this in a healthy way. My ultimate goal was to create positive long-term habits, and not just replace one bad thing with another. Not that there’s anything wrong with carbohydrates. But I’d always felt a little more energetic and alert when I’d limited them in the past, so this was my time to experiment without sugar in there to cog up the works.
The carbs I did consume came mostly from green vegetables and things like beans and lentils. So this was a low-carb, no sugar diet. By the way, certain foods I ate had small amounts of sugar, like peanut butter (the only ingredient was peanuts). I didn’t eat anything with added sugar, like ketchup, but whole foods that had a little naturally-occurring sugar were fine for me, as long as it was minimal, like the peanut butter, or the little bit of 2% organic milk I had in a smoothie one day (smoothies without sugar kind of suck, by the way).
The first three or four days were the hardest by far. My hunger was un-relentless. I gave into it and ate all the time, because it was literally a gnawing pit in the bottom of my stomach. It wasn’t the kind of thing you could just ignore and keep reading.
No matter how much I ate, I was still hungry every hour to three. But like I said, I kept at it because it just wasn’t worth it to have to be hungry all the time. I vaguely remembered this was what happened last time I went off sugar several years ago. In fact, I think this annoying hunger was probably the biggest reason I hadn’t tried going off again since.
I’m fine with being hungry here and there. This wasn’t the slight hunger that can make you feel a little more alert and energized. It was like a wombat was eating a hole in your stomach. Yeah, so you know what I mean.
While I was eating a ton of food, it wasn’t that fun. I was eating less for pleasure, and more to quell the gnarly beast within. I ate what seemed like copious amounts of things like broccoli with coconut oil, a ton of nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, mozzarella. I actually ate coconut oil by the spoonful, which only seemed to increase my hunger. But then again, it’s hard to say what was causing it, since my system was in such disarray.
I kept eating my salads, vegetables, quinoa and lentils. Scrambled eggs my dad orders from a local farm (Lisa’s farm fresh eggs!) were a huge godsend. Those really helped fill me up. I was adding olive oil, coconut oil, peanut butter, or butter to almost anything I ate. Nothing really helped, but I did the best I could.
Sometimes I noticed that from all the fat I was eating, I would get like some sort of nice, warm, high feeling coming from my stomach/gut area (I don’t have a “gut” but you know, the literal gut). I noticed, as I’ve noticed before, that eating a lot of fat really seemed to agree with me. The more I ate this way, the more I began to appreciate it. Fat seemed to really support my mood and energy. I kept catching myself talking to myself about how much I really loved fat.
[Side note: This may sound funny, but I’ve always thought I could feel when my body was burning the energy off or storing it as fat. If I eat only when I have that “fiery” feeling, like I’m ready to digest, I don’t seem to store fat. Additionally, when I eat mostly fats and proteins in my diet, I can literally feel my body metabolizing it better than when I eat a carbohydrate, which feels nice, certainly, but also sluggish in my system. Sometimes carbs seem to take away my energy, as opposed to giving me more. The only regular exception to this is fruit.
I don’t believe this is some placebo effect; these are actually sensations within my body that I’ve noticed over time. In fact, I used to ignore it until I realized how reliable the effects seemed to be. I’ve found that when I eat according to these feelings, it’s less about how much I eat and more about what and when. I’ve found I can eat a lot of something most people would cringe at (like peanut butter, raw nuts, or coconut oil) and not gain weight. From personal experience, I don’t believe it comes down to simple calories. I think it’s more the way certain micronutrients react with your particular body composition, but that may be just me… So If at the end of this I weigh one hundred pounds more, you’ll know why. 😉 ]
A Note on Going Low Carb:
If you decide to do no sugar, but still keep things like popcorn, bread, corn chips, and potatoes in your diet, the transition to no sugar may be a little easier for you. I wanted to make a clean sweep of things, and I think it has been easier for me, personally (an all or nothing kind of person) to just ditch it all together and start fresh. It eliminated the need for me to keep going through these cleansing periods in my diet. I was looking for a long-term menu I could learn and use, so for me this period of making meals that I intend to keep in rotation has added to the pleasure of my experiment.
Some Specific Notes:
By about the fifth day I was feeling better. On days four, five, and six, I added very small amounts of fruit; watermelon and one small green apple between the days. I ate the fruit on day six because it seemed I was going into ketosis, which wasn’t my goal necessarily– my basic goal was to stabilize my blood sugar– and I wanted to slow it down.
Night six was uncomfortable. Not because of giving up sugar, but because I had been eating too much protein and fat and not enough carbs. I couldn’t get my thirst quenched and my mouth was dry and gross-tasting. I probably shouldn’t have eaten smoked salmon right before bed, either. But my parents had just brought it home from Alaska, and I was being rash. That’s why I caved in and finally ate the watermelon, to get some water and carbohydrates in my system and hopefully slow what appeared to be ketosis. It was a real chain of events…
Although excessive thirst can also be a sign of sugar withdraw, which I experienced at the onset of my trial, now that I was no longer excessively hungry or experiencing intense desire for sugar or fruit, I felt this thirst was based on my drastically increased protein consumption instead of not having sugar.
Along with this I’ve also begun taking apple cider vinegar and Nutiva coconut oil in tablespoons throughout the day. I love the ACV, which tastes gross, but gives me a good boost of energy. Again, going off science and into experience, I feel somehow it balances the chemical composition of my body. It just feels right (but tastes so wrong).
I started taking the ACV two days after going no sugar. Therefore, another cog for the works. But as I said, I’m looking for a whole-health routine.
As for the coconut oil, I’m not sure where that fits in. It doesn’t seem to squash my hunger as I might have imagined, but I’ve always heard such great things, I will continue with it until I have reason not to. I purchased the large container from Amazon. I currently have a half-empty one in my shower, which I’ve been using for washing and shaving purposes. It makes your skin glow!
I’m not currently taking any vitamins or other supplements.
Pros So Far:
-I’ve always had a bit of trouble putting myself to sleep. But for a couple of nights I experienced a deeply relaxing soporific feeling before bed, which led me right into sleep. It was like a calm slumber mood, which was great.
-One amazing thing I noticed right away which was probably one of the biggest reason’s I’d wanted to quit sugar and go lower-carb in the first place, was that I didn’t need a nap after lunch anymore. I would almost always feel exhausted after eating, even after one of my protein shakes (which still probably had a ton of carbs with the bananas and the sugar in the Spirutein), I’d be zonked. Freeing up my energy with foods that seemed to agree more with my digestion had an almost immediate and pleasant effect.
-Surprisingly, no chocolate cravings either. I guess they must have been tied to sugar cravings. (We’ll see what happens when that time of the month hits…)
-No more cravings for food at all, except when I’m actually physically hungry
-Feeling of being in control with food
-Able to stop eating when I’m full
-Thinking less about food when I’m not actually eating
-Much less likely to eat for entertainment, since most comfort foods are off the menu
-Fruit tastes much sweeter. I’m so happy with each piece I get now, that it’s like a real treat when I allow myself to have it. I’ve gained a newfound love for it.
Cons So Far:
-Extreme hunger (which, by day nine, has drastically decreased/mostly subsided)
-*Arm pit stench. Like no matter what I did. This was really gross/annoying, so I finally looked it up and that’s when I realized I must be in a state of ketosis.
-*Kind of a gross taste in my mouth. This was during when I was really not doing any carbs. Only lasted a day. Has since subsided.
-Extreme thirst. At the beginning, I believe this was from giving up sugar and fruit. From what I’ve read this is common. By day nine, this has subsided, but I’m still drinking a lot. Urine is very light.
-Constant waking in the middle of the night to pee and eat. This lasted for the first four nights or so. Because I of my excessive thirst, I was constantly drinking. In fact, I now have to go to the park to get more water. I went through so many two liters of spring water, it’s unbelievable. I don’t know how many I was drinking a day, maybe three. I really don’t know. Anyway, because I couldn’t stop drinking, it was hard for me to sleep because I also couldn’t stop having to pee. Then once I was awake, hunger would strike. This wasn’t like some just-for-pleasure trip to the frig at two am. It was like, ugh man I would much prefer to sleep but that crazy wombat’s back. So I’d get up and mow on some nuts and then hit the sack.
*Probably not even from sugar withdrawal, but more likely from ketosis.
Once more going against any scientific-data-collection, I didn’t weigh myself throughout this. I don’t remember the last time I weighed myself, but I think it was within two weeks. To me, there wasn’t a point in watching my weight go up and down throughout this process. I knew I was going to be eating a lot and that I’d probably gain weight in the beginning. I’m not too attached to the number on the scale. I’m five foot four and a half inches and weigh on average between 123-127. I have a pretty muscular build, no matter what I do. I’m “solid”. My weight tends to fluctuate within this range, which is another reason I felt that stabilizing my blood sugar could be beneficial.
I did feel that my weight increased very slightly in the beginning. One day I felt particularly water logged. For the last two days, as well as today to a lesser degree (I slipped up and ate french friends at one am last night…) I have been feeling and looking lighter.
Once my appetite is totally stable and I feel like I’ve reached a kind of steady pace, I’ll check in with my weight and see how it’s doing. Again, this isn’t a huge area of importance for me. I’ve learned to tell what’s going on in my body more by how I look and feel. How I feel is more important to me than anything else.
Day Nine Conclusion:
This has been fairly easy. The worst part was the hunger, which I think I’m basically out of the woods on. Although I will say, when I do get hungry now, the hunger sensation is much stronger and more intense than it ever was before. But the great thing is I haven’t had any sweet cravings, the hunger was just for actual food!
Truthfully, I haven’t had any sugar cravings since going off sugar. I know that will sound weird. I mean, the hunger was a craving of sorts. But I’ve had a piece of dark chocolate in my cupboard for the last nine days and I never once considered eating it. I didn’t over-do it on the fruit. There’s been sugary things around me and my house that I simply haven’t wanted to have. I’m not sure why I didn’t experience any direct sugar cravings, but I certainly experienced some symptoms of going without.
By the way, I’ve always noticed this but it’s especially true when you’re in the midst of sugar withdrawal, it’s extremely important to get enough sleep. You may need more than normal, and you may have trouble sticking to a sleep routine. My sleep schedule has been pretty funny since I started this but then again, it’s always kind of all over the place. But for certain, I am much more likely to crave sugar (probably by a 1,000 percent increase) when I’m tired or exhausted. Maybe one of the best things you can do is to sleep as much as you can allow yourself to. If you don’t have to, definitely don’t push it through until you can hardly stand it, or you may find yourself headed to the cupboard to eat some baking chocolate or a thing of orange tick tacks. 😉
In Conclusion (For Now):
Over all, I’m feeling really good. This feels like just what my body, and even my mind, needed. I feel like the hard part only lasted a few days. I always tend to gloss over things in hindsight, but I truthfully don’t think it was that bad. It certainly wasn’t fun, but it’s entirely worth it to be feeling like food doesn’t have a hold over me anymore. At this point, I can’t say for sure, but I feel like I’m probably out of the woods in terms of withdraw symptoms.
I’m also glad that I took out most of the carbs. I have mixed feelings about going back to grains, and how important they are to my diet. I know I’ll have rice and corn again, for instance, but I’m not planning on making them staples. Wheat I am definitely happy to be rid of, but I’d already been off that.
By default, I am eating what I personally consider to be much healthier than I was nine days ago. And I’m enjoying the flavor of simple dishes that I surprisingly don’t mind making, like broccoli with garlic and coconut oil. And lentils, quinoa, kale salads, and ginger tea. I’m really loving this back-to-basics move with my diet. The other night I baked a zucchini my neighbor had given me with coconut oil and a bunch of spices and it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Even Leo, who’s been known to complain about the ratio of jelly to peanut butter on a PB&J, complimented me on it.
I’ve also found that I like to grind up chia, flax, and sesame seeds (I just happen to have those but I’d use any of them) and toss that on to my salad, too.
The only thing I sometimes miss are my smoothies. I don’t right now, but I know the other day I actually had a craving for one. For me, they were like dessert! I will find a way to incorporate them back in at some point, but I’m not in a rush. I’m actually happy to have this little challenge, and I think this experience has shown me that perhaps they weren’t quite as healthy as I’d always thought. When and if I do go back, I will definitely use less fruit.
On Having Fruit For Dessert:
I used to think it was lame to have fruit for dessert, like it was some kind of rip-off. Whenever someone suggested fruit for dessert, I immediately suspected them of having the uncanny ability to suck the fun out of anything at all in life. They quickly went from being my friend, to the equivalent of an undercover cop at a Phish show parking lot. Well, now I’m thanking that cop who thinks he knows what people wear on lot (hint: not brand new sneakers and sunglasses with a tie for hanging around your neck) for busting my ass and getting me clean. Thank you to all the people who weren’t too ashamed to let their fruit-for-dessert freak flag fly. Today I salute you, apple in hand.
I can see an apple as dessert, I’m really getting away with something close to murder. What a great place to be. And I don’t care if I’m a less sophisticated diner because of it. (I never had a shot in hell at being a sophisticated diner in the first place).
Is Sugar Free Freedom For You?
Giving up sugar is not as difficult as you might imagine. At least, it wasn’t as difficult as I imagined.
If you’re willing to allow yourself some slack and eat things you might think of as “bad”, like nuts, cheeses, butters and oils, along with fish and other proteins, it makes it much, much more palatable.
As for no sugar long-term, don’t freak. It’s actually nothing you should even worry about because you can only ever live moment to moment anyway. Plus, you’re currently thinking with an addict’s mind. It’s only “giving something up” as long as you still want it. Sure, maybe you can’t imagine it now. That’s because you’re in the grips of an addiction that no one even seems to want to admit exists! What do they call that, stinkin’ thinkin’?
Once the hard part of a week or so is over, it is amazingly effortless. You’ll actually be able to enjoy eating again with full abandon because you won’t be scared about knowing when (or being able) to stop. For me so far, the effort versus the gain is like, no competition. And when you remember all the crap sugar caused for you in your last lifetime, it won’t be hard to continue to say no once the cravings are totally gone.
If you do decide to go sugar-free, I believe you’ll see it’s not the big scary deal it’s made out to be. That’s just hype from people’s twisted sugar thinking getting in the way of reality and all that you have to gain. The annoyance is only short-lived and the long-term rewards are great.
I’m obviously just getting started, but it’s as if I’ve gotten a long-lost piece of my life back. I think it can only get easier and better from here.
Just be good to yourself. And by the way, if you fancy yourself someone who likes to help others, just remember: you can only be as good to others as you are to you first.