Everyone understands the importance of good health.
And due to the current pandemic, it’s more important than ever for people to focus on doing what they can to preserve or boost their health. For some, this could mean cutting down, or eliminating, the junk foods that they’ve become accustomed to regularly consuming. But when it comes to you, you want to take it a step further because cutting out unhealthy foods isn’t enough: you want to quit sugar.
When I first decided to give up added sugar, it was more of a last-minute decision. However, during the months prior to my last sugary snack, I often thought about my overall consumption and how I wasn’t happy with it. In fact, I used to think about how nice it would be not to eat it at all. I didn’t necessarily obsess over it, but I did enjoy eating it. Was I addicted? I don’t believe that I was.
I was lucky enough to be able to stop eating it without any problems. And I didn’t even have any withdrawal symptoms; I simply got on with it. This is why I believe that I wasn’t addicted. Unfortunately, for many people who want to give up sugar, it’s not going to be so straightforward. It could be because they’re addicted to it or because of a number of other reasons.
Whatever the reason, if you’re serious about eliminating sugar from your diet, here’s how you can get off to a good start and give yourself the best chance of sticking with your new way of eating, despite the many challenges that may initially arise.
In other words, the more prepared you are, the better.
Before I take you through the steps, let’s first get clear on what sugar-free means. For some people, it means eliminating not just the obvious foods, like sweets, cakes, and ice cream, but also processed foods; grains (e.g. wheat, rice, oats, couscous, quinoa); starchy veg (peas, potatoes, carrots); most fruit; fruit juice and smoothies; sauces, like mayonnaise and tomato ketchup; sweetened yogurts; and beans and legumes. This approach is similar to following a keto diet. But, some people have concerns about it.
Others, however, feel that eliminating so much from their diet is too drastic and prefer to focus on simply eliminating anything that contains added sugar and refined carbs and grains. In other words, white flour, white rice and anything that’s considered highly processed.
What’s your why?
You’ve probably heard it said many times before that if you have a goal that you’d like to achieve, then you need to have a strong why. It’s exactly the same when it comes to quitting sugar. It’s pointless saying, “I just want to quit,” and leaving it at that. There must be more to it. After all, very few people choose to go down this route. So, if you’re determined to make it work, you’re going to need a why that’s strong enough to act as your springboard. And you’ll also need it for if you ever find yourself falling off track.
Cold turkey or gradually reduce?
Next, you’ll need to decide which approach will be the best for you. There’s no right or wrong answer. What you decide to do depends, to a certain extent, on your personality. The following questions may also help you to decide.
· Do you find yourself thinking about when you can get your next “fix”?
· Do you hide the foods that you buy?
· Do you feel embarrassed about how much sugar you eat?
· Do you find yourself wanting to eat something sweet first thing in the morning?
· Do you eat a lot of processed foods?
· Do you drink a lot of drinks that are laden with sugar (including fruit juice)?
· Do you experience frequent crashes?
· Is eating sugar the first thing that enters your mind when you encounter a situation you perceive as stressful?
· Do you find it difficult to focus without something sweet in your tum?
· Do you always have something sweet with you wherever you go?
· Do you only ever have one or two sweet “treats” a day?
· Does simply seeing cakes, pastries or chocolates make you want to eat them, even though you’re not hungry?
· Is fruit enough of a dessert for you?
· Can you say “no” to, for example, a slice of cake if you genuinely don’t feel like it?
If your answers to the above questions suggest that you are addicted and you have all-or-nothing thinking, going cold turkey might be the best approach. On the other hand, If eating sweets and processed foods is more of a habit, and you like to have a dessert after every meal because, well, it’s what you always do, then you might get away with a gradual reduction. But, if you also have all-or-nothing thinking, then going slow probably won’t be good enough for you.
What this means is that initially, you might need to experiment because your life, mindset, personality and needs, compared with someone else who wants to give up sugar, are different. So, although some addicts may only be successful by reducing gradually, others might fare better by going cold turkey. Just because they have the same issue, it doesn’t mean that they have to give it up in the same way.
Dealing with the nitty-gritty
To help keep you focused during the first few weeks, you can create some kind of meal plan or, at the very least, keep a list of the kinds of foods that you can eat. Without these things to hand, you might find yourself very quickly coming unstuck. Because if you go shopping without any idea of what to buy, you might be tempted to grab anything, especially if you’re in a hurry.
Something else worth considering is letting your friends and family know what your plans are so that they don’t unintentionally sabotage your efforts. If they don’t know, they’ll probably offer you something with sugar in it at some point. However, giving them a heads up doesn’t guarantee that they won’t forget.
Also, remember to clear out your kitchen if you’re going cold turkey! Either eat whatever you’ve got lurking in there or give it away.
Be kind to yourself
Some days might feel effortless, but there will be days when you find yourself struggling. You might have a stressful day. You might feel tired. You might feel down. You might think nonstop about chocolate. You might get angry at yourself for making a “stupid” decision to go sugar-free, even though it’s what you really want.
To top it off, and depending on how much sugar you’ve consumed over the years, you might experience all kinds of withdrawal symptoms: headaches, fatigue, mood swings, etc. And maybe your mood swings cause you to snap at someone. All of this could lead to you feeling disheartened and disappointed because it’s supposed to be a positive move, but there you are feeling awful.
This is why you need to give yourself grace. If you’re certain about your decision to quit sugar, then you’ll only feel worse if you get impatient and annoyed with yourself. So, expect to have lots of ups and downs for a while, go back to your why, talk to yourself in the same way that you would talk to someone you care about, be patient with yourself and even laugh at yourself when you can. It may not be easy, but it’s not impossible.
Change how you talk
What do people often say and do when they decide to go on a diet? They think, and grumble, about all the foods they can’t have. Although quitting sugar is different from going on a diet, the way you talk about your decision to drop sugar will impact how you feel and how well you do.
Imagine the scenario. You’re at a party, and someone offers you some pizza (many pizzas contain added sugar):
Person: Here you go, it’s Hawaiian pizza. It’s so good!
You: No thanks, I quit sugar last week, so I can’t eat that kind of pizza anymore.
Person: Wow, that’s a shame. You’re missing out!
You: Yeah, I know.
How do you feel knowing that you can’t have pizza and that you’re missing out? Not great. If you always think like that, you’ll end up wondering why you’re bothering because it will always be can’t have this, can’t have that. Can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t. In other words, your words are not supporting your decision to not consume sugar. So, imagine if you owned your decision. what would that look like?
Person: Here you go, it’s Hawaiian pizza. It’s so good!
You: No thanks, I quit sugar last week, and those kinds of pizzas usually contain sugar, so I’d rather not.
Person: Wow, that’s a shame. You’re missing out!
You: Not really, I can make my own healthier/tastier one whenever I want.
A slight tweak in what you say can either make you feel as though you’re missing out, or it can reinforce your commitment to your decision, which will help you to feel proud of yourself and more confident about the changes you’ve made.
You could do it without support, but it’s always good to have someone there who can help to hold you accountable. So, share your intention with someone who won’t question your decision. Someone who won’t try to tempt you into eating sugar. Someone who has your back 100 percent and will even check in on you to make sure that you haven’t thrown in the towel.
Most importantly, someone who is patient and who isn’t going to roll their eyes because they don’t like your new food choices and because, as far as they’re concerned, you’re being too fussy. If the person you’ve turned to for support ever says something along the lines of, “it’s only a little bit; it won’t do you any harm,” then you probably haven’t found the best person to support you.
A few last words
For some, spending too much time planning might not be in their best interest as they could find themselves planning and planning and planning until they plan themselves right out of what they initially set out to do. Or they use the planning phase as a way to make themselves believe that they’re doing something positive for their health when all they’re really doing is stalling. If you feel nervous about quitting sugar and you tend to procrastinate, keep tabs on yourself to ensure that you’re not holding yourself back.
And remember that these steps are simply guidelines. They won’t necessarily be the best steps for everyone to follow as, depending on their situation, there might be other factors to consider. Other than that, if you’re feeling a little lost and need some direction, the above steps will stand you in good stead.
Lastly, being a sugar-free person means that you’ll be in the minority. So, if you can, find like-minded people to chat/spend time with. It’s not the most important thing, but it’s a bonus. And if your resolve ever feels shaky, their presence will be a blessing.
- Denise McKen runs The Sugar-Free Life Newsletter to support women embarking on an (added) sugar-free life. Connect with Denise here!