One of the questions I get asked most often is how I feel since I stopped eating added sugar. Other questions include: Why did I stop eating added sugar? Is it hard? Does it get easier? Do you still get cravings? And do you cheat sometimes and eat sugar?
While I will discuss these topics in this post, you can find the specific answers in my FAQ pages here.
Before I get into this post, I just want to specify what sugar-free means to me. I don’t exactly like to use the term sugar-free, because yes, I still eat natural sugar. So since I stopped eating added sugar, this is what I’ve been avoiding:
I also limit large sources of sugar, even if natural, such as unsweetened fruit juice.
When I say I avoid fruit juice, I mean I very rarely drink a glass of juice. I do however, use a very small amount of freshly squeezed fruit juice in recipes, like this oatmeal. By small amount, I mean like 1-2 tablespoons because lets face it, it’s not going to affect me much. Otherwise, I do avoid drinking a glass of fruit juice because it’s very high in sugar and doesn’t have any fiber to slow your digestion. When you work as a dietitian in a diabetes center, you think about these things.
The reason I stopped eating added sugar in 2014 is because I was having uncontrollable sugar cravings. I was struggling with constant sugar cravings, which would lead me to binge on large amounts of sweets. Anything from chocolate, baked goods and even granola bars or breakfast cereals. Anything I could get my hands on.
As I explained in my story, I seeked help in 2014. Without help, I wouldn’t be where I am today mentally and physically. Therapy helped me uncover some of the reasons behind my sugar cravings/binges, but it also supported me while I went through the process of “quitting” added sugar.
Quitting added sugar is a decision I made for myself, but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone. I knew myself enough to see that I couldn’t just have sugar in moderation. For me, it was all or nothing (as much as I hate that “all or nothing” mentality, it was the best option for me in this specific case). To stop eating added sugar was the best decision I ever made for myself, but again, it’s not for everyone!
If you’re someone who can have treats in moderations, there’s no need to stop eating added sugar for good. This is just something I decided to do for myself and I’m sharing my experience here.
When I first stopped eating added sugar, I went to the extreme. I avoided every single gram of added sugar, whether it came from something sweet or from a condiment. I’m not sure I would do it the same way if I were to start all over, but that’s what I did. I was also avoiding any refined grains, including white bread, pasta and rice.
It was extremely difficult and I did feel deprived from things that weren’t necessary to avoid (for example, peanut butter with 1g of added sugar).
After one week without added sugar is when I started having withdrawal symptoms. I got a painful migraine for the first time in my life, which lasted for one week. With that, I was having the biggest cravings in my life, without getting the relief that comes from giving into your cravings. I remember being at Shaun’s apartment after university, almost crying as I resisted driving somewhere to buy sweets. I called him for a distraction and yes, the craving did go away later that night.
During that first month, I was avoiding being alone at home, where my parents had sweets. I didn’t trust myself at that point. I asked my parents to try and not bring sweets in the house, which worked, but living in a house with three other people, you don’t get full control of what comes in the house.
That first month was the hardest, but the migraine eventually went away and the cravings slowly started to decrease.
I first stopped eating added sugar in September 2014 and by January 2015, things were improving. That month, I moved out from my parents’ place, into an apartment with Shaun. This was extremely helpful.
Having our own apartment meant I had more control of what came into our home. Something I really needed those first months. Shaun was absolutely supportive and didn’t bring any sweets into the apartment, which was a big help.
That’s when I started experimenting a little more in the kitchen. I was beginning to feel more confident with my self-control and I started realizing that small amounts of sugar found in foods that aren’t meant to be sweet, weren’t causing me to have cravings (something that’s a little more obvious to me now). What I mean by that is that eating things like condiments or nut butters with 1-2g added sugar, didn’t bother me. Where I draw the line is when something starts purposefully tasting sweet, like a dessert. Or anything more than that negligible 1-2g of sugar, really.
Having my own kitchen, I started experimenting with fruit-sweetened desserts, using dates, raisins, apples, bananas, etc.
Why do I feel okay eating fruit-sweetened treats? Well, first, they’re naturally less sweet than any other treats. Second of all, those treats are filled with fiber and other nutrients, which I find makes me feel good and full after eating them. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel the urge to binge on those foods.
I associate the lack of cravings for these treats to two things: First, I hadn’t had added sugar in several months, so my taste buds had changed. I learned to love the taste of whole foods and my cravings were under better control. Also, I believe that those treats are more filling thanks to the added fiber, protein and healthy fats, so I don’t feel like eating more of them.
Yes, I do eat more than one serving at times. This is what I call “normal” overeating. It’s normal cravings that don’t come with the same urgency and intensity as before. (You can read what helped me manage my cravings in this post).
Fast forward 4 years and things are completely different from those first months.
I now feel a lot more confident in my self-control and I don’t get the same cravings as I did that first year. Yes, I do still get the occasional cravings, but they’re not urgent and intense like they used to be and they can be satisfied with a small treat, such as one or two little energy bites.
After 4 years without sugar, I feel a lot better mentally and physically than I did in the past. I don’t get cravings like I did before (I still have mild cravings from time to time, which I think is normal). I don’t have the energy crash that comes from eating too much sugar in one sitting.
While weight was not the reason I stopped eating added sugar, I did lose a few pounds, naturally. This is not because I stopped eating sugar, but because I didn’t binge like I used to. I feel more at peace with my body and in control of my eating.
What I don’t know: I don’t know whether or not stopping to eat added sugar helped me have better skin. I didn’t notice a difference and still get breakouts. I also don’t know if it will help in any way in the long term, when it comes to preventing chronic diseases. We do know that limiting added sugar is beneficial for your health, but I can’t say that avoiding it completely is better than having it in moderation.
Quitting added sugar is not the magic solution to all of your problems, but limiting added sugar can be beneficial in several ways. My goal here is not to have everyone quit sugar, I don’t believe sugar is the enemy. I believe that sugar, just like any other treat, can be enjoyed in moderation.
Simply know yourself and what works best for you. What I often recommend is to avoid having treats in the house. That way, you’re not tempted on a daily basis. Then, when you want that treat, either buy yourself one small portion, or have it away from home. Moderation is key and while I wish it worked for me, I just found that avoiding added sugar in general was the best route for my situation. Everyone’s different, you just have to do what’s best for you.