If I’d told friends and family I was no longer going to eat, say, cashews, I’d have gotten little response from them. No big deal, they’d say. If you’re eating too many cashews, then stop.
But almost three years ago, I quit sugar. It was a simple dietary vow, but one that sparked gnarly resistance from everyone around me.
I stopped eating sugar — in all its forms — because I’d been told by specialists and nutritionists for years that I should. I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimotos, a disease that attacks the thyroid and mostly affects women over 30) and sugar flares up my condition terribly. Some argue sugar causes the disease in the first place.
I was also addicted to the stuff, eating upwards of 25 teaspoons of sugar a day—honey in my chai tea, dark chocolate every afternoon and sweet treats after dinner. It all looked like “healthy sugar,” but as I soon learned, sugar is sugar, whether it comes from a beehive or a sugar cane field.
Plus I’d gained weight as a very annoying side effect of my disease. I was keen to try a new way to shift it.
I told myself at the time that it was a health-based experiment, just to see what might happen. I was petrified about living even one day without a sweet treat. What would I do when I got my 3pm slump? How would I cope when friends were enjoying a piece of sticky toffee cake in front of me? How would I reward myself? Viewing my new vow as a curious experiment somehow seemed less daunting.
Once I quit, though, my decision seemed to suddenly threaten everyone around me. They made disparaging comments and told me it was all just a fad. Why the vocal antagonism? My theory is that my decision held up a mirror to them, reflecting back their own uncomfortable, guilt-laden and very attached relationship to sugar.
That was two an a half years ago. Today I’m still off the sugar; I’ve lost the weight, never have 3pm slumps, and manage my disease much better now. The reaction I get now from those who learn of my extended experiment is different. Mostly people are genuinely curious to try the “experiment” for themselves. They’ve heard about the studies that show sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and the ones that link our over-consumption of the stuff to modern diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and cancer. And, of course, they’ve read about the research that links sugar to obesity. We’re eating less fat than ever before, we take out more gym memberships than ever before, but we’re only getting bigger and bigger. Could it be that it’s sugar that’s making us fat?
To date, more than 180,000 people have done my 8-Week Program for quitting sugar. It involves cutting out one ingredient, although in the process you effectively cut out all processed food. It’s not a diet and it doesn’t come with a gruelling exercise regime. But pretty much everyone who has completed it has lost weight from this one dietary omission.
Ultimately, though, quitting sugar is a personal experiment. If you’re up for trying it, then these techniques might just help.
1. Ditch fruit juice and dried fruit.
I’ll cut to the chase here: a glass of apple juice contains the same amount of sugar as a glass of Coke. That’s about 12 teaspoons in one standard glass. And dried fruit contains 70% sugar. Oh, but the sugar in fruit is natural, you might say. True, but so is petroleum. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean we’re meant to eat it. Fruit is high in sugar. Eaten whole, with the fiber and water intact, we’re able to metabolize the fructose. But when the fiber or water is removed, in the case of juice and dried fruit, we’re left with a heap of sugar that our system simply can’t process. The best trick? Opt for low fructose whole fruit, such as berries and kiwi fruit.
2. Eat full-fat dairy.
Know this: when fat is taken out of products like yogurt, it’s often replaced with sugar (and a bunch of other nasty ingredients) to make up for the lost texture and taste. Some yogurts contain six teaspoons of sugar in one individual serving. The same applies to mayonnaise – always choose whole-egg and full-fat versions to avoid the fattening sugar dump.
3. In fact, eat more fat…and healthy protein!
Of course, I’m not talking fried fats or trans fats. I’m talking the kinds of fats our grandparents ate – eggs, cheese, butter, chicken (with the skin left on). The French eat this way and, like our grandparents’ generations, do not have an obesity issue. It adds up. The other thing about fat is that it fills you up, which helps with sugar cravings. Some ideas that work: when out at a restaurant, order the cheese platter instead of dessert; eat cheese and crackers at afternoon tea; swap muesli for eggs and ham.
4. Stay away from sauces.
Did you know barbeque sauce contains roughly the same amount of sugar as chocolate topping? About 50% sugar? Tomato sauce is much the same. My advice is to develop a taste for good quality mustard and whole egg mayonnaise instead. Tomato-based sauces are also full of sugar, especially when you consider you rarely eat a mere quarter cup of it, but more like a cup.
5. Eat simply.
Again, I consult my grandmother’s way of eating here. She didn’t eat food slopped with lots of fancy, sugar-laden sauces. It was meat and vegetables. The easiest way to eliminate hidden sugars, especially when you’re out, is to choose food that has as few ingredients as possible. At a restaurant or pub, go for a steak and vegetables drizzled in olive oil instead of the Thai curry (Thai food is teaming with sugar), and at the supermarket, opt for the version with the shortest ingredients list. This, again, will see you eliminate a lot of processed foods.
6. Watch out for health products.
Some of the most sugar-laden foods are found in health food shops. To avoid the “sugar” tag, many seemingly nutritious packaged foods are sweetened with honey, palm sugar, coconut sugar and agave, all of which are sugar with another tag. Agave is one of the most problematic at more than 70 per cent fructose.
7. Allow eight weeks.
According to various studies, it takes up to 60 days to reverse a habit. Sugar is a particularly tough habit to kick, and one with many deep-rooted emotional ties. I find it takes most people about 6-8 weeks of going cold turkey to get sugar out of their system. After about two months their bodies are then able to determine how much sugar want. When they reach for sugar, it’s not because they’re addicted.
There is one other really important tidbit I like to share with people. It’s this: go gently. Quitting sugar isn’t a draconian diet, it’s a gentle switch. It’s not about rigidly forcing something, it should always be a simple experiment just “to see” if works for you.