Recently, I gave up sugar for a month. Yes, that means 31 days of sugar free eating!
Let’s start with a little background first.
I love sweets especially chocolate, but let’s face if something contains sugar I will eat it. In addition, I am one of those emotional eaters. Therefore, when experiencing stress, fatigue, anger, fear or basically any negative emotion appears, I will turn to food. Eating regardless of whether or not I’m really hungry.
These two habits do not make a good combination. Mainly because they also create a cycle, and once it gets started, it’s hard to break out of it. As an added challenge, I work in foodservice which means I am surrounded by unhealthy foods all day. Throughout our locations and kitchens there are trays of cookies, cakes, fresh baked muffins and much more. Some of it right outside my office. I often find it easy at the start of the day to just walk by and not grab something, but by the 10th or 11th time, it becomes more difficult.
In order to break the cycle, I decided the change that I needed was to give up sugar for 31 days. I convinced some others at work to join me, and we all committed to going sugar free for the month of May. That’s a whole 31 days of no sugar – which is HUGE for me.
What I didn’t do
I didn’t get super precise and read every food label to eliminate every food containing sugar. Let’s face it sugar is in almost everything, and I just didn’t feel like I could deal with that amount of effort. Next, I didn’t avoid foods that include sugar naturally such as fruit, because they are still good for me and provide much needed nutrients to my body.
What I did do
On the other hand, what I did do is give up the things that were an issue for me. These included the sugar in my coffee every morning, and all the obvious sweets which surrounded me daily. In addition, getting others to join me provided some accountability for me, as well as bringing out my desire to succeed over the others. Both served as the necessary push to stick to my commitment for the duration of the 31 days.
The results and what changed for me
And you know what? I was successful and the whole experience was interesting because while I did miss the sugar, especially the first few days, it did get easier. Here’s what really changed for me in those 31 days:
- I started to be less aware of the sweets surrounding me every day, and I stopped noticing the rack of cookies that I walked by 10 times in the course of my day.
- I wasn’t hungry all the time and got back into a routine of eating more regular meals.
- I still noticed my emotional eating trigger response, but was able to manage it more effectively. Some days it was just a matter of acknowledging a particular emotion or feeling and realizing that food wasn’t going to make it go away.
- I was more sensitive to added sugar. For example, one day I grabbed something for lunch that the kitchen had prepared that day, and the sauce was so sweet that it wasn’t even enjoyable.
- Cinnamon camouflaged the missing of sugar. This idea was not mine, I had seen it on another blogger’s site, but it worked wonders, especially in my coffee. Yes, no sugar in my coffee along with unsweetened almond milk wasn’t a good combo at all and to be honest that was the hardest change for me to make.
- There were physical changes as well. My face cleared up, my energy level increased as well, started sleeping better, and in general just felt healthier. I will tell you that I didn’t really see any significant weight loss but I did feel less bloated.
Balance over elimination
As a nutrition and dietetics student and a future nutrition coach, I know what foods I should be eating. However, that doesn’t always mean that I am successful in following a healthy diet every day. I have learned in class how science demonstrates that avoiding food groups isn’t always the healthiest approach. Foods should only be avoided when there is a medical issue requiring the elimination of a particular food. For example, those with celiac disease must eliminate all wheat from their diet because it is a health risk. Also, I have learned through personal experience that avoiding particular groups of foods is difficult to sustain long term.
I believe Instead of avoiding foods, it’s important to find balance, and to find ways to eat healthy and live a healthy life while at the same time enjoying all your favorite foods. My intention in eliminating sugar for a month wasn’t for its exclusion to be forever, because the truth is that isn’t possible for me. But what I did need to do, was to break-up with a bad habit and push a giant reset button. This 31-day no sugar commitment did exactly that.
What happened after the 31 days
After eating sugar free for 31 days, I added sugar back into my diet but in smaller amounts. I went back to using the regular almond milk in my coffee because I enjoy my morning latte, and it just wasn’t the same. What I have managed to do though is to eliminate the 2 tsp of additional sugar I used to add to my coffee as well. Instead a little sprinkle of cinnamon and I am good to go. And as far as other sweets such as desserts, I allow them, but try to make them less of an everyday thing and more of an occasion or a whole experience.
Importance of limiting added sugar
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which are published every five years, are meant to guide Americans on how to eat a healthier diet. These are updated every five years because nutrition is still an emerging field. As further research is conducted it requires changes to these recommendations. The 2015 version recommend consuming no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake in added sugar. Added sugar doesn’t include sugar that occurs naturally in foods such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk. It’s important to include these foods in your diet in reasonable amounts because they also provide nutrients to the body.
The number one reason to reduce the amount of added sugar you are consuming daily is that it contributes to additional energy consumption which can lead to weight gain. Your body only needs a certain amount of calories daily in order to function. Anything that is left unused is converted in the body and stored as fat. Therefore, over time, this can actually lead to weight gain. Excessive weight gain unfortunately can lead to many other more serious complications such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
Easy changes to reduce added sugars
So maybe you are wondering how to go about making some changes in your diet to reduce your added sugars. Here are my suggestions.
- Replace sugary beverages with water, unsweet tea or coffee. I keep a pitcher of water in my refrigerator and add mint leaves, basil leaves, berries, citrus fruits and even watermelon rind to create flavor-enhanced water.
- Try adding other flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla to foods to camouflage the reduction of sugar.
- Check out the nutrition labels on your favorite foods and see which contain the most amount of sugar. For me the biggest processed food culprits were salad dressings and yogurt. Remember that foods marketed as being healthy can often contain large amounts of added sugar. To reduce the amount of sugar I consume, I buy plain greek yogurt and add in my own toppings usually fruit and nuts. It may take a bit of getting used to the reduced sweetness, so I recommend maybe gradually reducing the sugar. You can start by mixing plain greek yogurt into your favorite flavor. Then gradually increase the amount of greek yogurt. Eventually your taste buds will change and make the adjustment. For salad dressings, I generally make my own or just use oil and vinegar. Not only is this healthier but it’s also less expensive.
- When preparing recipes, look at ways to reduce the sugar. It is possible that you can reduce the sugar in small amounts without it really impacting the overall flavor of a recipe. Or maybe you can replace the sugar with fresh or dried fruits with no added sugar. Sometimes it just requires a bit of trial and error to get it right.