As someone who doesn’t add sugar to my coffee, rarely drinks fizzy drinks, whose breakfast hasn’t come from a box with a cartoon on it since I was a kid, and doesn’t load up their shopping basket with biscuits, cakes, and chocolate – I don’t seem like the kind of person who needs to take on the challenge of quitting sugar.
However, I do have a sweet tooth and often find myself over-indulging in sugary treats when they’re presented at someone’s home or shared with the staff in the office.
My weaknesses for sugar are:
- I don’t say no to a slice of birthday cake.
- I keep returning to the box of chocolates in the staff room.
- I never have just one cookie when someone has shared a plate at an event.
Basically, when I start, it’s very hard to stop. So I decided to cut myself off and see what happens.
So I decided to challenge myself and quit sugar for 30 days to see what would happen. By quitting sugar, I learned a lot about my eating habits, how to stop sugar cravings, and the benefits of no sugar in my diet.
Starting The No-Sugar Challenge
Quitting sugar cold turkey has its challenges. In the first hours of my 30-day no-sugar challenge, I made the mistake of devouring some chocolate before even noticing what I had just eaten.
This made me aware of my unconscious sugar-eating habits and pushed me to be more mindful of what I was consuming. It also made me realize that I needed to learn how to stop sugar cravings, especially in the afternoon.
I made the mistake of not planning ahead with meal prep, but luckily had some healthy choices on hand for breakfast and dinner at home like:
- Scrambled eggs with healthy fats from avocado, bacon, and tomatoes
- Sugar-free porridge, berries, and flax seeds
- Baked salmon, green beans, and sweet potato turmeric wedges
What I found to be especially challenging were my impromptu lunches, especially on a work day. I realized that some of the quick and easy options I normally rely on still have sugar in the ingredients, forcing me to change up my order — like having sashimi instead of sushi due to the sugar in the rice.
I was also missing sugarless choices for pre-run snacks, realizing that I often reached for a sweet treat to elevate my energy levels before a run.
How To Stop Eating Sugar
The first couple of days were riddled with mistakes in my commitment to the no-sugar challenge, and I quickly learned that:
- Meal prep is key: My impromptu lunch frustrations led me to prepare and plan my meals for the rest of the 30-day no-sugar challenge. Meal prep is important to avoiding and successfully quitting sugar.
- Have healthy snacks on hand: I learned to keep a bag of nuts nearby and/or healthy snacks with me as my go-to sugar-free snack during my challenge.
- Plan ahead, eat in advance: Social settings can be challenging when trying to quit sugar. I have found that eating in advance, being surrounded by supportive people, and even accepting that I’ll have to decline some invitations are how I can be successfully commit to quitting sugar.
- Check food labels for hidden sugars: Seemingly, sugar is added to nearly all packaged foods, including some canned vegetables, and pops up in many sauces, dressings, added flavors, and more.
Giving up sugar isn’t easy, and willpower is required should you choose to do it. Knowing more about sugar, how it affects your body, and how to stop sugar cravings will set you up to succeed in your no-sugar challenge.
Why You Should Stop Eating Sugar
I needed to know more about why quitting sugar was challenging and what benefits it could have for my health. So, I educated myself about the topic by watching a few films and documentaries about sugar consumption, which were truly eye-opening.
Why is sugar so bad?
Sugar consumption is linked to a wide range of chronic diseases like diabetes and is a catalyst for obesity and hypertension, which can lead to death.(1) So, there is a need to reduce sugar consumption, but it’s common to find sugar in a lot of foods. In fact, it’s in 80% of packaged food.
Some of the harmful effects of sugar are:
- Sugar is highly addictive: The more you consume sugar, the more the body will crave it. Consuming sugar can trigger the brain to feel rewarded and lead to compulsive overeating.(2) This is why knowing how to stop sugar cravings is essential to break the cycle of too much sugar consumption.
- Sugar affects your brain: High sugar consumption has been found to impair cognition and memory.(3) It’s also been found to increase the effects of depression and other mental disorders.(4)
- Sugar is linked to chronic diseases: A diet that is high in sugar has been linked to health issues like chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver disease, gout, and even cancer.(5)
- Sugar affects your hormones: Not only does it send your energy levels up and down, but it can also do the same to your hormones. Over time, the constant fluctuations will leave them unbalanced and not operating as they should.(6)
- High sugar consumption can lead to diabetes: When we eat sugar, insulin is released by the pancreas in order to remove glucose from the blood. Eventually, this constant request, mixed with high levels of insulin and glucose, leads the pancreas to produce less insulin over time, which causes insulin resistance – the precursor to diabetes.(7)
- Sugar is stored as fat in the body: If the energy from sugar isn’t burned soon after consumption, it’s converted into fat and gets stored in the body. High levels of sugar consumption can actually accelerate obesity.(8)
Clearly, sugar is not a healthy food source to consume regularly, and since it is highly addictive, it can be difficult to quit sugar and stop sugar cravings. But it’s important for your health and well-being to make an effort.
How To Stop Sugar Cravings
Cravings can be fierce, especially when you’ve first quit sugar. So how can you stop sugar cravings from taking control and luring you to consume something sweet?
Substitute your typical sweet treats with something healthier
If you’re craving something like gelato, opt for frozen grapes. Or if chocolate is what you’re after, choose dark chocolate with 80% cocoa.
Add a sprinkle of cinnamon or Stevia
If you’re used to sweetened coffee or are not a fan of savory yogurt, consider adding a dash of cinnamon or Stevia for some sweetness but avoid sugar.
Distract yourself with movement
Commit to your no-sugar diet
Like any other goal we make for ourselves, abstaining from sugar requires dedication, planning, and willpower. Overcoming the craving for sugar will take some grit, but if you’re prepared with alternatives to eating sweets, you can succeed.
No Sugar and Weight Loss
Even though I began my no-sugar 30-day challenge right after the Christmas holiday season, I still lost around 3kg (6.6 lbs). Other than cutting out sugar completely, nothing else changed — I continued running regularly and ate as I usually do.
Around 2 weeks into my challenge, I noticed that I looked more defined — and I hadn’t even been to the gym.
I was on a high-fat, moderate-carb, and protein diet – nuts, cheese, avocados, and peanut butter became my regular snacks. Main meals were made up of carbs or veggies, along with fish or meat. Knowing how to stop sugar cravings and meal prep properly helped me quit sugar with more ease.
My food choices, activity, and no-sugar diet most likely made me more fat-adapted — someone who burns fat for energy instead of sugar or readily available glucose. It made me wonder how much fat can be lost when you abstain from sugar for more than 30-days.
5 Benefits of Cutting Out Sugar
I learned a lot during these 30 days. But the best part is that the biggest lessons I learned came along with some really nice, unexpected benefits…
1. Makes you more aware of what you eat
Before doing the no-sugar challenge, I was frequently consuming sugar and not even realizing it. The challenge helped me to become mindful of the foods I was choosing to eat because sugar is lurking everywhere.
Be sure to read the labels on all packaged foods because many of them contain “hidden” sugars. Sugar comes in many forms. The label might not read “sugar,” but if the word ends in ‘ose’ — like glucose — it means it is still a sugar source.
You might need to unlearn what you’ve considered being healthy meals before — a breakfast of cereal, yogurt, and fruit with a glass of orange juice can contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar which is double the recommended daily amount of 7 teaspoons per day.
2. Increased focus and mental clarity
I was a bit mentally hazy for the first two weeks of my no-sugar challenge. Even though I had a few nights of poor sleep and some long days at work during this time, this felt different from the usual feelings of tiredness.
After about two weeks, I snapped out of my haze and suddenly felt more focused with more mental clarity than I had in a long time, which makes me think I went through a bit of a sugar detox.
3. More energy and no energy slumps
Since quitting sugar, my energy levels have gone up, and I’m no longer looking for a sugary treat to give me a boost. I wake up feeling more refreshed and have higher levels of energy. The afternoon slump is gone, and I’m no longer looking for a sugary fix to remedy it.
4. Improved skin
Another benefit of the no-sugar challenge I noticed is that I have a less oily T-Zone (the forehead and nose). Excess sugar intake can cause oily skin, spots, and even wrinkles. So instead of focusing on treating your skin by applying products, look at what’s going on inside your body to find the answer to skin problems.
5. I regained my love of cooking
I have always enjoyed cooking, opting for relatively healthy meals, but I had resorted to using a lot of premade sauces and ready-made ingredients to make meal preparation easier.
Since most sauces were out of the question and a whole range of products were no longer allowed on my plate, I needed to cook almost everything from scratch. This got me making old recipes I had not made in a while, as well as researching and cooking new meals.
Altogether, this sparked my enthusiasm and love for cooking. And the best part was knowing exactly what was in every meal I made, which really was the key to detoxing from sugar.
Will it be no sugar forever?
I’m sure you’re wondering whether or not I will eat products containing sugar again. The short answer is yes. If someone brings birthday cake into the office — sure. If there’s tiramisu on the dessert menu in a restaurant — you bet.
But I will be more mindful of products containing sugar and aim to limit my intake. The benefits of cutting out sugar were so good that it’s definitely worth continuing healthier habits in moderation. Perhaps a sugar–free diet is not my forever goal — but education and creating awareness about the no-sugar challenge and how to stop sugar cravings sure are!
About Jonathan Meadows:
Jonathan is a keen marathon runner with a personal record of 2:54. He likes to read about new fitness trends and ways to constantly improve himself and is always up for a challenge.