by Jonathan Meadows, running coach
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 forever 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 I volunteered to take on the challenge to quit sugar for a month. So I did.
My weaknesses for sugar are:
if there’s chocolate in the office, I’ll have some. Then I find that I keep coming back for bits throughout the day…
If there are cookies laid out at someone’s house, you can bet I’ll take one – then a few more…
If I’m offered cake, it’s unlikely I’ll say no to a slice…
Basically, when I start, it’s very hard to stop. So I decided to cut myself off and see what happens.
The first 2 days of the no-sugar challenge
Here is an overview of the beginning of my no-sugar experience.
Day 1, January 1st*
I opt for scrambled eggs with healthy fats from an avocado, bacon and tomatoes for a healthy breakfast – we’re off to a good start. However, with New Year’s Eve being the night before, there’s some bottles to tidy up, bowls to wash and a chocolate fondue to put away.
On the way to kitchen to put the chocolate away for the next 31 days, I break off a chunk and eat it before I even realize what I’ve done.
Yep, chocolate for breakfast (you can do that when you’re grown up and don’t live with your parents anymore). After 50 minutes of sugar-free living, my challenge of quitting sugar is already over….we’ll call that a false start. But, tomorrow is a new day, so another chance, right?
*Jonathan originally completed his challenge in January 2017.
Day 1, Take 2, January 2nd
I stayed up a bit later than I should have, so I set myself up to be tired and low on willpower on my first day of the challenge.
Breakfast: It’s a sugar-free breakfast of porridge, berries, and flax seeds. I didn’t prepare anything for lunch – tired and no meal prep, I’m really making this easy for myself!
Lunch: I head to a sushi place near the office figuring sushi is a good choice. As I’m in the queue I remember you add sugar to sushi rice. Overpriced sashimi for lunch it is. The first day back at work kept me busy and nonstop all day, which usually would have me reaching for something sweet, but I stay strong and keep satiated on nuts.
Pre-run snack: Another time I sometimes reach for a sweet treat is for a pre-run snack to give me a little pick-up and extra energy, not tonight. Baked salmon, green beans, and sweet potato turmeric wedges make the 3rd and final sugar-free meal of the day. Day 1 of quitting sugar is done.
It’s day 2…
… and I haven’t prepared my lunch again. Clearly I didn’t learn anything from day 1.
Improvised sugar-free lunch:
I quickly decide on mackerel fillets, microwave rice, and peas from the supermarket. Except they’re out of mackerel and frozen peas. I try to find the canned peas (passing the chocolate aisle twice), only to find the ingredients on the label say peas, water and sugar! Why is there hidden sugar in a can of peas!?
Seemingly sugar is added to nearly all packaged foods; not even peas are safe. The green beans appear to have been saved the same sugary water fate and the tin says it contains only green beans and water – which is what I’d expect. I opt for a trout fillet and head back to the office. That’s about as good as it gets when it comes to an improvised sugar-free lunch.
After two days, I already learned…
Having learned my lesson the hard way that Meal prep is key to avoiding and successfully quitting sugar, so I begin avidly preparing and planning my meals in advance for the rest of the month.
I also ensure I should keep a bag of nuts nearby or with me as my go-to healthy snack during my challenge.
Social settings provide a challenge when you’re trying to quit sugar, but I’ve found the key is to eat in advance and accept that you’ll have to decline things you previously would have accepted without hesitation. It also helps to be surrounded by supportive people.
Giving up sugar isn’t easy and willpower will be required should you choose to do it! Quitting sugar has become a hot topic in the last few years and for good reasons. Learning more about sugar really opened my eyes…
If you want to succeed, educate yourself about sugar
During my challenge I educated myself about the topic by watching a few films and documentaries about our sugar consumption, which were truly eye-opening.
Why is sugar so bad?
Sugar is everywhere; in fact, it’s in 80% of packaged food.
Did you know that…
Sugar is highly addictive and it wreaks havoc on the body.
Not only does it send your energy levels up and down, it can also do the same to your hormones. Over time, the constant fluctuations will leave them unbalanced and not working as they should.
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.
Also, if the energy from sugar isn’t burned soon after consumption, it’s converted into fat and gets stored in the body.
Find out more about why you should consider quitting sugar.
Quitting sugar and weight loss
During my challenge I lost around 3kg (granted my challenge started right after the typical season of excess that is Christmas). Apart from that, I continued my running and ate as I wished (as long as it was sugar-free of course!).
I noticed around 2 weeks into my challenge I looked more defined, not bad for someone who hadn’t been to the gym yet in January. Which makes me wonder what kind of fat is lost when sugar is removed from the diet. Around the same time I realized I was on a high-fat, moderate-carb and protein diet – nuts, cheese, avocados, and peanut butter became regular snacks. Main meals were made up of carbs or veg, along with fish or meat. Which likely made me more fat-adapted, someone who burns fat for energy instead of sugar or readily available glucose.
Summary: These 5 things are the biggest benefits of quitting 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. Realizing how much sugar you really eat
Sugar is lurking everywhere. Check the products next time you go shopping, read the labels of a range of items and you’ll find out just how many of them contain “hidden” sugar. Sugar comes in many forms. The label might not say “sugar”, but if the words end in ‘ose’, it means it is still a sugar. A “healthy” breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, and fruit with a glass of orange juice can contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar – the recommended daily amount is 7 teaspoons.
2. Increased focus and mental clarity
The first 2 weeks felt like I was bit hazy. I had a few nights of poor sleep and some long days at work during this time, but this felt different to the usual feelings of tiredness. After about 2 weeks something changed. I snapped out of my haze and suddenly felt more focused with more mental clarity than I’ve had in a long time. I’m guessing 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. That’s all-day energy too; that 3pm afternoon slump is gone and I’m no longer looking for a sugary fix to remedy it.
4. Improved skin
Since quitting sugar, I’ve noticed I have a less oily T-Zone (the forehead and nose). Excess sugar intake can cause oily skin, so instead of applying products to the outside, maybe looking at what’s going on in the inside is the answer to skin problems (sugar can also cause spots and even wrinkles!).
5. Love of cooking
I regained my love of cooking. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I always cook relatively healthy meals.
Since most sauces were out the question and a whole range of products no longer allowed on my plate, I needed to cook pretty much everything from scratch. This got me making old recipes I’ve not made in a while, as well as researching and cooking new meals. You know exactly what’s in your meal if you make it yourself! I really feel that this is the key on how to detox from sugar.
Will I continue to eat sugar?
Will I eat products containing sugar again? Yes. If someone brings birthday cake into the office? Sure. If there’s tiramisu on the dessert menu in a restaurant? You bet. But will I be more mindful of products containing sugar and aim to limit my intake? Absolutely. A sugar free diet is not my aim – education and creating awareness is!
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.