Quitting Sugar Gets Easier—We Promise

Lessons from a nutritionist's farewell to sugar.

quitting sugar
Photo by @criene for Twenty20

Prior to realizing the dangers of sugar, I was the type of person who rewarded myself daily with sweets. Most morning, I grabbed a coffee and muffin for breakfast, in the afternoons I hunted for cookies and cake in the break room, and à la Française I kept bars of chocolate at home. Dessert was so important, I would review restaurant menus before agreeing to go. My sugar cravings were out of control and I had no idea.

Depending on how your relationship with sugar, your experience cutting back will vary, but here are some things to expect.

My First Attempt At Quitting Sugar

The first time I quit sugar was for a fitness competition I enrolled in. I had three months to train and lose a massive amount of body fat. Every grain of brown rice was weighed, every egg white counted and there was no room for sweets.

With the excitement of a new adventure, the first week came easy. However, temptation began the second week. I was offered free dessert almost everywhere I went; a restaurant brought out chocolate cake to make up for a mistake, a salad bar offered a cookie with the meal, I earned a free drink at Starbucks. Through the support of friends and family, I was able to resist.

Like a nicotine addict, I bought half a dozen packs of Extra’s dessert-flavored gums which I would pop in my mouth between meals or anytime I felt stressed. I also had a few “binge” nights where I lost control and ate every nut and brown rice cake in my pantry (because I literally had nothing else). I would walk into cupcake shops just to smell and stare at desserts.

By the second month, I would ask others to order desserts so I could watch them eat while I smelled them and asked about the flavor and texture. Looking back, those were not my finest moments.

The day of the competition, I walked off stage and went straight to the Cheesecake Factory and ordered 3 pieces of chocolate cake. That was the end of my sugar-free lifestyle for a while.

The Takeaway: If you’re new to banning sugar, do yourself a favor and read up on how to quell sugar cravings. By eating healthy fats, avoiding processed foods, and more, you’ll be better armed to fend off the inevitable temptation.

My Second Attempts

About a year and 50-pounds later, I had my first child. Seeing myself at that size was so shocking I cleaned out the house of added sugars and scolded anyone who brought me dessert. This time around, my cravings were more manageable. Instead of counting calories, I ate plenty of fruits and healthy fats and was able to cut sugar cold turkey for about seven months.

The streak ended at a St. Patrick’s Day party my family and I attended and stayed later than intended. As my hunger grew, my self-control went in the opposite direction. A plate of brownies I eyed all evening became increasingly appetizing. One bite was all it took to relapse. I spent the rest of the night passing by the dessert table to sneak cookies, candies, and green rice crispy treats. The walk home was filled with guilt and shame.

After such a long break from sugar, I was able to feel the side effects, such as water retention, anxiety, joint aches and greasy skin. I might sporadically have muffin or a piece of chocolate at night with my tea, but I was a lot more conscious of what I ate.

The Takeaway: Remember why you started. As your body becomes less accustomed to eating sugar, you’ll begin to really feel the negative effects when you do indulge. And, there are so many amazing benefits to banning sugar. Use this as fuel to keep yourself going.

All My Other Attempts

Like a drug addict, I continued this trend of quitting sugar for a while then relapsing after a party, girls’ night out, or stressful week. What changed, however, was the difficulty of returning to a sweets-free lifestyle each time. I began to crave NOT eating sugar and looked forward to longer stretches.

With three little kids in the house, I want to be a good example, I want to have more energy, I want to be a healthy mom, and I want fewer body aches. I would love to quit sugar forever, but I recognize there are moments of weakness. However, in all these attempts, I have learned a few tips and tricks to help quell those sugar cravings. If you’re feeling like “the struggle is real,” read up on those tips—I promise they’ll help you fight the good fight.

The Takeaway: Cutting out added sugar from your diet is possible. Give yourself time to get there. If you tell yourself it’s all or nothing, you’ll ultimately fail. You can make cheat days fewer and further between if you find a delicious alternative you love. For me, hint’s unsweetened flavored waters and snacks like nuts or a ripe slice of avocado have really helped in those moments.

Have you tried to quit sugar? What was your experience?