I was brought up on sugar. My bones are made from Angel Delight and hokey pokey. My veins are filled with plum crumble and raspberry liquorice sticks. Sugar is my life-force. That’s why I chose to give it up.
That’s right: for eight weeks in February and March 2017, I went sugar-free. What was it like? Read on to find out. No sugar-coating, I promise.
Did I collapse crying, huddled into ball on the floor? Yes.
Did I crack under the pressure and eat something sweet? More than once.
But first, let’s crack into the general idea behind giving up sugar. What do you actually give up when you give up sugar, and why would you even try?
Me on an average day (before I quit sugar). You get the idea.
Why give up sugar?
There are plenty of reasons why people choose to give up sugar. Personally, I'm not usually pro 'diets', and don’t take eliminating food groups lightly. But when I decided to give up sugar, my reasons felt really good and body-positive. They included:
- Mood stabilisation. I get HUGE sugar highs and lows. Perhaps going sugar-free would change this? I imagined I would reach a semi-enlightened state involving lots of benevolent smiling and no more pedestrian road rage.
- Great skin. A few friends of mine have experimented with giving up sugar, and their skin looked great! They looked like they slept 15 hours a night and got placenta facials every other day. I wanted a fresh-faced placenta-facial look too.
- Not being addicted to sugar. Some studies have indicated that fructose might be more rewarding and more addictive than cocaine (!) Did I want my life run by a soluble carbohydrate? The jury was out.
- A whole new world of flavour. According to my friends who champion quitting sugar, giving up the sweet stuff led them to a whole new appreciation for existing flavours, like carrots. And I was NOT going to go hungry. There was NO WAY I was losing out on calories. My plan? Eat lots and LOTS of organic butter. (It's at least twice as delicious as non-organic butter.)
- Why not? It was just eight weeks. It wasn’t a lifetime. I’ve done way harder things before. Like that time I took the wrong train while alone at night in a small village in India. Or that time I got concussed sparring with a semi-pro boxer. Or when I sang a song about crustacean mating rituals in front of 100 people while lying on top of a piano dressed as a lobster. In comparison, giving up sugar couldn’t be THAT hard, right?
What DO you give up when you give up sugar?
There are a number of sugar-free programmes out there. I chose Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar, mostly because my colleague Lucy already owned the book, so I didn’t have to do anything (EXCEPT LOSE MY WILL TO LIVE).
I Quit Sugar is an eight week Australian programme designed to end your addiction to sugar. They suggest you cut down on sugar in the first week or two, but after that it’s hard-line: no refined sugars, no agave, no honey and NO FRUIT (more on this later). To be fair, I Quit Sugar does allow for an occasional glass of dry wine (preferably red), because most of the sugar is fermented in the wine-making process. #smallvictories
They include lots of sugar-free meal and snack suggestions and recipes (including vege options) in the I Quit Sugar book, which I found really helpful. We sell I Quit Sugar books in store, if it's not in stock, you can ask to order it in!
The FRUIT issue: Fructose vs. Glucose
“No FRUIT?” was the question I kept on hearing from concerned colleagues / friends / my Dad. The main focus of the I Quit Sugar is fructose, the form of sugar contained in fruit and other things (standard table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose). Here are some reasons why:
- Fructose doesn’t make you feel full. Eating glucose naturally triggers a ‘stop eating’ signal to be sent to our brains. Fructose doesn’t do that. In fact, consuming fructose can trigger other signals that make us want to eat more.
- Fructose stresses out your liver. Almost all fructose gets broken down in our livers, which can over-tax it. Sucrose is different: it can be broken down by cells all over our bodies
- Fructose is twice as sweet as glucose. It's like the Captain Planet of sugar. Very addictive.
Some popular sugar alternatives, like agave, are actually very high in fructose (agave is 90% fructose!) After the 8 weeks are finished, the I Quit Sugar teams recommends experimenting with low-fructose sweeteners like stevia, rice bran syrup and cassava syrup.
MY 8 WEEKS OF NO SUGAR: A DIARY
Week One: This Isn’t Too Bad
I'm doing okay, I think? I do feel bitter when I can’t try our new chocolate samples at work, but my feelings of incredible virtue and vast superiority balance out the scales. I am a jellybean martyr.
Difficulty level: 4/10
What gets me through: Coffee, and 'sharing' bags of Sea Salt Serious Popcorn
Week Two: The Nothing
The days drag on, grey and endless. I cry at work three out five days. It’s like I’m lost in The Nothing from The Neverending Story, and there is no candy-coloured Luckdragon out there to rescue me. Things are tough in this sugar-free wasteland.
Difficulty level: 3215/10
What gets me through (barely): The Commonsense Kitchen spelt scones with lashings of organic butter.
Week Three: I am invincible!
My skin is looking great. I no longer have huge energy slumps during the day. It’s like I’m stuck in a real-life Instagram filter. My confidence sky-rockets and I decide that now is a good time to give up coffee too… Two days later my colleagues call an intervention. Coffee, I will never leave you again.
Difficulty level: 4.5/10
Week Four: All I Have to Do Is Dream…
I cheat, and eat an organic grape. After a moment of panic, I decide not to worry. Instead, I turn my attention back to what’s important. Namely: baked goods. I wake up with visions of carrot cake, I dream of cupcakes all day, and I lay my head in a cushion of apple crumble at night. It's astonishing: I haven't been this focused since the last season of Game of Thrones came out.
Difficulty level: 6.8/10
What gets me through: Coffee, Mac Snack’s Golden Roasted Macadamia Nuts
Week Five: cake for breakfast
Have you ever tried Dovedale’s Paleo Turmeric Bread? It sounds like every food fad in the world baked in a pie, but it's actually 100% delicious. The coconut flour sweetness means that it’s basically like eating cake for breakfast. This week is GOOD. I seem to have escaped from the riptide of sugar addiction. In fact, instead of fantasising about bathing in a tub of cream cheese icing, I dream vividly about eating a Beurre Bosc pear. It’s flesh is buttery soft, perfectly ripe, and my teeth sink into it like a hot knife through butter. I wake feeling confused and full of remorse.
Difficulty level: 3.5/10
What gets me through: Coffee, Dovedale's Paleo Turmeric Bread
Week Six: worst birthday ever?
It’s my birthday this week. Great. I guess I’ll welcome my 32nd year by sticking a candle in a potato. Maybe I can flavour it with the salt from my tears... Actually, my birthday turns out to be okay. I don’t really miss the cake. Although I must admit that I do go a bit above my weekly wine quota…
Difficulty level: 5/10
What gets me through: Coffee, a few glasses of Brightside Pinot Gris. And, two birthday cocktails (!!!)
Week Seven: I am the Clint Eastwood of I Quit Sugar.
I’m starting to feel like a grizzled Clint Eastwood of I Quit Sugar: experienced, care-worn, a veteran. It’s my new normal. Boring, even. I don’t get cravings, but I don’t feel any kind of smug satisfaction either… I guess this is my new life now.
Difficulty level: 1.5/10
What gets me through: Coffee, Raglan Coconut Yoghurt's Natural Coconut Yoghurt
Week Eight: I did it!
I'm at the end of my I Quit Sugar experiment, and, to be honest, I’m feeling pretty good.
Difficulty level: 1/10
What gets me through: Coffee (always).
My 'I Quit Sugar' Verdict
I had expected to feel joyful AND smug when my eight weeks were up, but things turn out a bit differently. Life is strange.
I have I Quit Sugar permission to start back on the sweet stuff on Wednesday, but I ignore this and carry on for two days, without sugar, until Friday, when I eat a toasted hot cross bun. What is going on?!
That evening, I go out for a delicious sugar-laden Thai meal with my best friend. It is DELICIOUS. But waking up the next morning, I don't feel that good. I start biting my fingernails again. My skin goes has transformed from pretty clear to inflamed in less than ten hours. Insatiable cravings start. I have been back on sugar for less than a day, but I already feel like Cruella de Vil. I'm angry and bitter and I want a metaphorical coat made of metaphorical puppies.
I didn't expect this to happen, but I kind of want to quit sugar... forever?! And, without sugar-cravings prompting my every food choice, it feels absolutely possible to do so. I can't believe I'm writing this, but quitting sugar has made me feel... well... free.
Resources & Further Reading:
- That Sugar Film
- The I Quit Sugar Website
- I Quit Sugar: 6 Reasons Why We Focus on Fructose (but still Eat Fruit)
Liz Willoughby-Martin is the Communications Coordinator at Commonsense Organics. She writes many of our Facebook posts, our e-newsletter and blog posts. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your own sugar-free journey.