Two years ago I decided to quit sugar. I’d played with the idea many times before, but had never quite gone the full distance. Then I decided to get serious.
What started out as just a New-Year experiment became something more. Giving up sugar was easier that I thought, and I felt better than ever, so I just kept going and going.
I interviewed dozens of experts around the world and did my own research as a qualified health coach. I experimented, using myself as a guinea pig, and eventually assembled a stack of scientifically tested techniques that really worked. Then I got serious and committed. I chose. These things are always a matter of choosing. And committing.
We have a deep-rooted resistance to quitting sugar. We grow up with an emotional and physical attachment to it. Just the idea of not being able to turn to it when we’re feeling happy or want to celebrate, or when we’re feeling low or tired, terrifies us.
If not a sweet treat, then what? Well, I’ll tell you what: a mind and body that’s clean and clear.
But I soon learned that when you quit sugar, you can feel very much on your own. Our modern food system is set up around sugar, and seductively so. A muesli bar can contain more sugar than a block of chocolate; everyday barbeque sauce more than chocolate topping. You try to do the right thing only to find low-fat yoghurt contains more sugar than ice cream. You feed your kids ‘wholegrain’ cereal in the morning with some juice and pack their lunchbox with ‘healthy’ snacks, like raisins or fruit. By lunch, they’ve eaten their way through a Mars-bar-and-cola-can-worth of sugar.
And don’t try taking refuge in a health food shop – they’re little dens of fructose-dressed-up-as-healthy food stuffs. Some of the highest fructose snacks I’ve encountered were found in health food shops, usually festooned with ‘low fat’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘100% natural’ and even ‘no added sugar’ labels. What hope do we have?
It also doesn’t help that the nutritional bodies we rely on to advise us as to what to put in our mouths are in many cases funded by – you guessed it – the sugar industry. Just about everything we eat is laced with sugar.
I found breakfast became a minefield and trying to grab a healthy, sugar-free snack on the run was virtually impossible. I had to get clever and creative. So I spent the next twelve months inventing new fructose-free snacks and meals, both sweet and sweet-diverting.
This book will show you how to take sugar out of your diet and get well. It’s a step-by-step eight-week program, full of tips, tricks and techniques that will help you eliminate the white stuff for good.
Plus it’s a recipe book. It’s a compendium of all the things that I personally ate and treated myself to while giving up sugar, and beyond. The recipes are a combination of my ‘inventions’, plus a few contributions from some of my lovely health-focused friends.
For me, eating sugar-free has become incredibly easy, efficient, economical, sustainable and… right.
For the first time in decades, I am eating exactly what I want. That’s what going sugar-free does – it recalibrates your appetite. I don’t think about restricting my intake. Ever. And eating has become even more joyous and deeply, wholly satiating.
I’m no white-coated expert. But I did succeed in ridding my life of sugar and I did experience first-hand what worked and what didn’t. Now I want to share what I found and help as many people as I can make the leap to healthy, sugar-free living.
I wish you luck and a whole lot of wellness.
Just a few things about the recipes
The recipes in this book are not fancy. They’re simple and everyday. No croquembouches!
Less is more. I try to use as few ingredients as possible. You’ll notice that I use the same staples over and over throughout the book. This way you get to experiment with each ingredient, using it in a number of different ways, plus it means you’re not buying an entire jar of something for one dish, never to be used again. This means less wastage – which is fundamental these days, right?
I don’t like to cook precisely. The recipes reflect this and, as a result, are really rather foolproof. See them as an invitation to play a little and experiment.
I focus on stumbling blocks. When you give up sugar, the hardest foods to accommodate are breakfasts, quick-and-easy snacks, desserts and feeding your kids – which is why I’ve focused squarely on these. I’ve also provided some great detox meals that will help with the transition period to sugar-free eating.
Most of the recipes are completely fructose-free and are perfect for the eight-week quit-sugar program.
Some contain sugar alternatives or low-fructose fruits and are best for eating after the two-month quitting period.
The recipes are mostly gluten- and grain-free because I think starches from grains can feed the sugar addiction and are best minimised if you have issues with sugar.
The recipes are mostly suitable for those with fructose malabsorption, but it depends on your relationship with coconut products. It’s worth speaking with a nutritionist or doctor about this if you’re concerned.
This is not strictly a Paleo cookbook, mostly because I don’t subscribe to dietary labels. The principle of the Palaeolithic diet is that we should eat as close to the way our hunter-gather ancestors did 10,000 years ago – lots of meat, fats, nuts, vegetables and some fruit, and no grains or sugar. Most of the recipes in this book are Paleo-suitable, but with some great vegetarian and vegan options provided.
When a recipe calls for dairy, meat or eggs, please try to use free-range, pasture- or grass-fed, organic options. Not so flush with cash? Try cheaper, less fashionable cuts of meat, and don’t trim the fat, bones and cartilage. Use them instead to make a stock.
These recipes are a reflection of how I cook. I like to mix a bit of this and that. I eat whole (never low-fat), nutrient-dense food where possible.
My story: Why I had to quit
I was a sugar addict. I didn’t look like one. I didn’t drink Coke or put sugar in my coffee. I’ve never eaten a Krispy Kreme donut, and ice cream bores me.
But here’s the thing: I was a covert addict.
I hid behind the so-called ‘healthy sugars’ like honey, dark chocolate and fruit. Which made things harder in some ways because first I had to face my denial.
Growing up on a semi-subsistence property, my family ate very naturally. My attachment started when, as a teenager, I moved into town from the country. A cocktail of girl hormones, newfound access to malls and convenience stores, as well as a-kid-in-candy-store delight with foods I’d previously been denied meant I went sugar crazy.
I remember being at university not being able to function if I didn’t have a cinnamon scroll at 10 a.m. I loved the pink icing blob in the middle. And convinced myself the dried currants made it healthy.
Over time this wasn’t enough. I’d then eat an apple pie after lunch. And some chocolate. Soon, I was riding a horrible rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows. I was bingeing. Then, feeling guilty, I would starve myself the rest of the day.
I got sick off the back of this reactionary eating – very sick. I developed mood disorders and sleep problems, and finally I developed adrenal issues and my first autoimmune disease – Graves, or overactive thyroid. Ever since, I’ve had stomach problems linked to poor gut balance and have developed further autoimmune issues, most recently Hashimoto’s.
Over time I swapped my processed sugary carbs for ‘healthy’ sugary treats. And, yeah, I ate less sugar overall. But all the symptoms still continued. I didn’t put it down to sugar completely. But I knew that it was a major player.
For the past ten years I’ve eaten very well. But up until two years ago I was still eating too much sugar every day. After every meal. I was still addicted.
Here’s a snapshot: I was eating three pieces of fruit a day, a handful of dried fruit, a teaspoon or two of honey in my tea, a small (35 g) bar of dark chocolate after lunch, and, after dinner, honey drizzled on yoghurt, or dessert (if I was out).
A conservative day would see me consume about 25-plus teaspoons of sugar, just in that rundown of snacks above. That’s not counting the hidden sugar in things like tomato sauce and commercial breads.
I told myself I ate ‘good’ sugar and convinced myself I didn’t have a problem.
But sugar is sugar.
Sure, the other ingredients mixed in with the sugar, in, say, a muesli bar or a piece of fruit were good for me. But the chemical composition of sugar – whether it’s in a mango or a chocolate bar – remains the same. And it is highly addictive.
It was time to face the facts.
Fact 1: I was eating way more sugar than we’re designed to eat.
Even though I was eating much less sugar than the average Australian, and many would say my diet looked very healthy, I was still consuming too much sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day and men no more than 150 calories a day from added sugar. That translates into about six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, inclusive of hidden sugars.
Australian guidelines differ and are hazy when it comes to defining ‘added sugar’ and the amounts vary from 85-110 g a day, which is up to 26 teaspoons. From my research over the past 18 months, I found that those who espouse eating sugar at the levels we used to before the ‘invention of sugar’ and its related chronic diseases tend to suggest 20 g (5 teaspoons) a day as a maximum. Which isn’t much.
Fact 2: I was addicted.
And in a most undignified way. If someone put a cheesecake in front of me or a family-sized block of chocolate, and I was having a weak moment, I’d damn well eat the lot. Once I got a taste, I couldn’t control myself.
Fact 3: Autoimmune disease (or adrenal issues or an excitable personality) + sugar = bad.
I suspect my autoimmune disease is, to an extent, linked to my lifelong sugar habit. And it is certainly made worse by sugar. Anyone with a compromised system simply cannot afford to have their stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), their neurotransmitter levels (dopamine), or their insulin levels tipped off balance by sugar. It’s a hard, cold, but oddly motivating fact!
Fact 4: I wanted to lose weight.
I’d put on weight (12 kg) from my thyroid disease a few years back and hadn’t been able to shift it. It wasn’t a core issue for me but it played on my mind. I was keen to see if cutting sugar would help.
Fact 5: I’d had enough.
I was done with riding the rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows and my obsession with my next fix. And I figured it was time to at least try eliminating sugar. Just to see what happened.
To begin with, I committed to ‘just trying it out’. But after two weeks I felt so much clearer and cleaner I kept going. I wasn’t draconian about it. I just remained curious…
This is a principle I apply to many aspects of my life. Like exercise. I commit to exercising 20 minutes every day (it’s the ‘every day’ bit that counts). I don’t baulk at the idea of 20 minutes, so I do it without fuss. Plus, once I set out for a job or a swim for 20 minutes, I get engaged and invariably go for a bit longer. I apply the same psychology to quitting sugar. It works!
Are you ready to quit?
I’ll be upfront. There are a few harsh-ish realities to bear in mind before you set out:
Quitting, I found, took about two months. Studies say it takes between 21 and 66 days to change a habit from a psychological perspective. My experience and research found it took most people the same amount of time to overcome the physical habit of eating sugar, too. Sugar is a gnarly habit; I advise pacing yourself. Do it properly over eight weeks.
When you first quit sugar, you must quit ALL of it. Including fruit, fruit juice, agave and honey. Some nutritionists advise just cutting out the added sugar. But a lot of the sugar experts agree: it’s best to get rid of all of it at first, so you can break the addiction and then recalibrate.
At the end of the eight-week program, some fruit and safe table sugar alternatives can be reintroduced.
There is a detox period where you will feel like crap. This lasted only a week or two for me. For some it can last six weeks. After that, it’s a non-issue. I promise.
Still not convinced?
First consider this:
- We’re eating more low-fat food than ever before.
- We’re joining more gyms.
- Yet we’re putting on more weight.
Then consider this:
- Today we eat more than a kilo of sugar a week. Just 150 years ago we ate next to none.
- Low-fat food often contains more sugar than the wholefood version. (Sugar is added to make a food taste more like the original.)
- The low-fat industry is big business.
A picture forms, right?
There is a lot of resistance to eliminating sugar. The sugar and corn industries in many countries are propped up my government tariffs. And government nutrition bodies around the world are too often funded by the sugar industry. I don’t want to spell things out with outrage and finger-pointing. But I will highlight that quitting sugar is something that’s not about to be encouraged by a big world-wide health initiative any time soon. We have to make the change ourselves, consciously.
Should you be quitting?
- Do you get an energy slump in the afternoon?
- Do you need something sweet after meals?
- Does your stomach get bloated after eating?
- Are you unable to eat just one piece of cake and walk away?
- Are you ‘podgy’ around the middle, perhaps even slim everywhere else?
- Do you often feel unclear? That you’re not always sharp and on-form?
I ticked ‘yes’ to most of the above and had a sneaking suspicion that sugar might be the thing making me feel baseline-crappy. If you do too, than have a go and see if quitting works. It has for tens of thousands of people who have completed my eight-week program already.
I’ll be working to a few IQS mantras throughout the program. This is the first.
IQS Mantra 1: Be Gentle and Kind
As you do this program, please go gently and don’t punish yourself. We don’t respond well to ‘restrictive thinking’. You’re doing this not because you have to, but because it might make you feel better. Be alive to this as often as you can through this process. Gentle and kind…
My final tips on quitting
Take a ‘let’s just see’ approach and it will make the process less onerous.
Get an IQS mate to do it with you. It does make it easier. Even just to have someone to cook new foods with.
Read and learn as much information on the science of sugar absorption and sugar politics as you can. It will help remind you why you’re doing it, and keep you motivated.
Change doesn’t happen with an about-face. It happens by building up habits in our minds. Slowly, we form new neural pathways in our brains until we’re doing things differently, effortlessly. So every day that we flex our ‘I’m not eating sugar’ muscle, the stronger we get. I found it helped to view this process as a strengthening exercise.
Excerpted from I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson. Copyright © 2013 by Sarah Wilson.
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