A Week Without Sugar

by Wendy Copley on November 22, 2010

This is not the same without that
This – that = crappy mornings!

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have figured out that I like setting goals for myself. And if you haven’t read this blog for very long you can see what I mean by checking out that list at the bottom of the sidebar for an idea of what I’m talking about.

Last week I decided to forgo sugar for seven days and with only  a few minor slip-ups, I made it! The rules: no desserts, nothing where the primary ingredient was a form of sugar, avoid products with added corn syrup (things like commecial salad dressings or catsup), and no artificial sweeteners. I allowed myself whole fruits and simple carbohydrates like white bread because I knew I’d never make it without them.

Why did I do this? I’ve found my sugar consumption growing at a really fast rate over the last year.  I have been pretty uncomfortable with the amount of unhealthy food I’ve been eating for a while now, but once Halloween hit, it went through the roof. Partly I just wanted to prove that I’m not completely dependent on sugar and that I can go without it if I decide to. Having done this before, I also knew that after my week was up, my cravings for sugar would be much, much less intense — it just takes a little time to break the habit.

Here are some of my observations about the week:

  • The first day wasn’t that hard, because I was feeling virtuous and determined.
  • The second and third days were awful. I had a splitting headache all day and visions of cookies, cupcakes, pies, toast with homemade jam, and waffles dripping with maple syrup danced through my head non-stop.
  • Then, on the fourth day, I almost completely forgot about sugar. No cravings, no headache, no aching desire. In fact, I forgot so completely that when I went grocery shopping at Trader Joes, I picked up a sample cup without thinking about it and accidentally ate a big bite of pumpkin cheesecake! That first bite brought me back to the task at hand pretty quickly though and I threw the rest of the sample away. From then on out it was smooth sailing.
  • The hardest thing for me to give up — by far — was my morning cup of tea with milk and sugar. I knew this would be the case from my last week with no sugar and it was true this time too. I’ve been drinking a cup of tea prepared exactly the same way — lots of milk and two shockingly large spoonfuls of sugar — for twenty years now. I depend on the caffeine, of course, but I also depend on the ritual and the familiar flavor to get my day going properly. Drinking tea with no sugar just wasn’t right and it made me crabby. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried drinking lattes instead and that worked pretty well.
  • The second day — only one day into the experiment! — I ate a piece of white bread and it tasted incredibly sweet. Of course simple carbs like this are a form of sugar, but I’ve never noticed this before.

Today, I’m allowing myself to eat sugar again, but already I’ve noticed a change in my food cravings. I wanted eggs for breakfast instead of toast with jam or cereal and I have no desire to buy cookies when I go to the grocery store later (this is huge — I love cookies). I am drinking my tea with sugar though — but only one spoonful.

Have you ever cut sugar out of your diet? How did it go? Do you have any tips to combat sugar cravings?

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  • Krissi

    It’s like you read my mind! I really need to do this because I am diabetic and this past week my sugars were really high. I haven’t really been binging on sweets or anything…it’s actually probably more stress related than it is diet. But when they’re high the cause doesn’t really matter, and the extra sugar needs to go out the door! I am wondering though why you vetoed artificial sweeteners? Was it just because of the association to sweetness?? Just curious because I would have been happy to switch so that I could still have my daily tea!

  • It was mostly because of the association of sweetness. I really wanted to go cold turkey on that to break myself of the dessert habit. If I had been able to sub in artificial sweeteners, i would have leaned on them too much, I think. Also, I’ve found that I’m pretty sensitive to the taste of artificial sweeteners. Every one I’ve tried — including stevia — tastes kind of chemically and weird to me.

  • Anonymous

    I’m impressed! I don’t know if I could go a week without sugar. I did stop putting sugar in my coffee, which helped a lot, but I LOVE sweets. A little too much! Lol, maybe I should do the same challenge, lord knows it would be good for me. 🙂

  • BB

    Way go go Wendy, not an easy thing to do! I have to agree on the artificial sweeteners tasting of chemicals. I have the added unpleasant effect that if I do drink a diet soda or eat something artificially sweetened, I find myself craving real sugar even more voraciously than before.

  • nice one! hey, u should try out this nifty tool from MS for tracking calories/weight, etc:

    (health tools, at the top)

  • I cut sugar out last winter in January. It was part of a healthier eating thing overall, but when I did then have a treat I noticed a big difference in my mood. So I made a conscious effort to not eat any sweets or foods with added sugar and there was a noticible difference in the severity of my seasonal depression. I hardly had to deal with it at all last year, with the only exceptions being when I ate something sweet.

    I’m going to try to do it again this year after the holidays, but it may be harder because I know how bad I crave everything when I’m breastfeeding and I’m due to have a baby around Christmas time.

  • Victoria

    I am on a doctor-advised diet that I started because I’ve had trouble losing weight past a certain point and basically, I’ve cut out all sugar from my diet. This includes simple carbs and even starchy vegetables and some fruits that are super-high in sugar (tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, etc.). It’s definitely a life-changer and while I sometimes can’t resist temptation (yesterday I caved to a piece of cornbread), it really has changed the way I feel about food.

    My doctor even believes that artificial sugar substitutes or ‘diet’ foods like diet sodas, sugar-gum, etc. aren’t really great for you because they trick your body into thinking your eating sugar, but your insulin doesn’t mount the same response, so you end up craving more sweets.

    I am not one of those people that will preach that sugar is the devil, but I definitely think that sugar intake should be monitored very closely – especially in kids – because the amount of health issues related you’ll end up with because you’ve abused sugar is just not worth it.

  • Susan_ruby3

    I have also found that having the fake sugar makes me crave sweets too. If I do have anything with the fake sugar I make sure to eat it with a healthy serving of protein. For some reason the combination works well for me.

  • Victoria

    @Susan Ruby: The reason why combining proteins with foods containing ‘fake sugar’ (foods which are probably high in carbs) helps with cravings is because protein helps to slow down the digestion of carbs and your blood sugar won’t spike as it will if you eat carbs alone. Insulin makes us hungry and is at the root of many cravings – the less your blood sugar spikes, the less insulin your body produces, and the less hungry you feel.

  • Victoria

    @Susan Ruby: The reason why combining proteins with foods containing ‘fake sugar’ (foods which are probably high in carbs) helps with cravings is because protein helps to slow down the digestion of carbs and your blood sugar won’t spike as it will if you eat carbs alone. Insulin makes us hungry and is at the root of many cravings – the less your blood sugar spikes, the less insulin your body produces, and the less hungry you feel.

  • That’s really interesting, Jessie! I hadn’t thought about it until I read your comment, but I think my overall mood was better this last week, too. Another great reason to try to keep the sugar consumption in check.

  • Hey! You commented successfully!! Yay!

    I hope this question isn’t too personal, but I’m curious to know if cutting sugar out has helped you with your weight loss? I’ve had a really hard time losing weight over the past few years and while I readily acknowledge that a lot of it is emotional, I’ve found that I’m not losing much even when I watch my calories carefully. I think the sugar thing is probably a big part of it, because aside from my sweets addiction I think I eat very healthfully over all.

  • Victoria

    Well, almost successfully…I didn’t realize there was a ‘reply’ option, so two of my comments are redundant!

    I’ve been trying for more than a decade to lose weight. I’ve tried diets, crazy exercise regimens, nutritionists, etc. and I always got to about 35 lbs away from my goal weight and never could get any lower. It was super frustrating.

    I started seeing a bariatric doctor in August because I’ve been on a nutritionist-advised 1100-calorie balanced diet for 2 years and my weight loss was completely stalled, regardless of exercise. She advised a no-sugar, very low-carb diet and I was losing weight, but very slowly (1-2 lbs a week vs the 3-4 lbs she usually sees). Because I’d been struggling with other issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, she had me take a glucose tolerance test and we learned that my body was basically over producing insulin, which causes high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, menstrual issues, weight gain (difficulty in weight loss), etc. She put me on Glucophage 3x a day and I’ve seen huge changes … my BP is now down to 100/60 – from 140/90 and my weight loss has definitely picked up (although since I hurt my back, I haven’t been able to exercise as much). What I’ve noticed most, though, is that I don’t get hungry as much. I used to be ravenous by dinner time – even on a balanced 6 meal-a-day diet. Now, by the time I get home, I barely have an appetite, so I end up eating a couple of slices of cheese and a piece of fruit and I am full.

    The thing I didn’t really think about much before seeing this doctor is that I’d eat what I thought were ‘healthy carbs’ like whole grains and think I was doing something good for my body, but at the end of the day, my body was just treating it like sugar, anyway. The other thing I didn’t realize is how much damage eating processed meat was doing to my glucose tolerance – the nitrites in processed meats has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. So, practically every day for the past 6-7 years, I’d eat a Subway turkey sandwich on whole wheat and think I was making a healthy choice when really, I was just doing more damage to my body.

    My weight loss has been slow, but steady. Since August, I’ve lost about 20 lbs, despite ‘cheating’ here and there.

  • Minjenah

    I had to cut out sugar for a medication I am on. The hardest part is this time of year. All the cookies, pies, homemade candies that people only make once a year.

  • John

    This sounds sort of cliche, but when I started training for the triathlon my food cravings shifted significantly. My wife noticed when she asked what sounded good for supper one night and I really wanted a salad with some fresh veggies from the garden. This is very unlike me, as I am usually a meat and potato kind of a guy, followed by a tasty dessert. But when I’m training, my body craves healthy stuff, and my sugar consumption drops dramatically (as does my weight) And I was doing a swim every couple of days a week, a run every couple of days a week, and a bike ride once or twice a week. Just a thought.

  • Michele

    It’s so tough. I went four years without sugar or simple carbs. I was never a big sugar eater in the first place, but cutting out white potatoes, bread and pasta is tough. I didn’t eat watermelon, pineapple or bananas either. My dreams consisted of mashed potatoes and gravy! It was a great way to lose weight, but the cravings got really bad after four years. I eat those “white” items in moderation now and still avoid real sugar. Don’t be so rough on yourself. I think it backfires in the end. A gradual reduction works better. Like you said, white bread tastes like a danish once you kill the sugar fix. And a teaspoon of real sugar each day is not going to kill you.

    Whole grain foods can be sketchy. I have no idea why they add the sugar, but they do. Check labels and make it yourself if you can. You’re such a good cook, you can control the amount of sugar or “turns into sugar” foods with the healthy way you cook. Even my teen daughter is looking into sugar content and she’s a skinny minnie. It’s just the way to go. We don’t need all that sugar every day. But I do think you should allow yourself sugar in moderation. It’s too hard to cut it out entirely.

  • meg

    I stopped eating sugar after halloween too! I’ve try to cut out most carbs–bread, grains, potatoes, other starchy veg, and some fruit. It seems austere, but has changed me (physcially and emotionally). I try not to be too hard on myself. And I know christmas is coming and it will be hard no matter what. But I know myself and if I have a little sugar then I just want more more more. If you are interested, the book Good Calories, Bad Calories is a really good and very thorough–if a little dry–explaination of how carbohydrates and how they work in our body. The author is coming out with a new, shorter version after christmas I think. Even if you skip around in Good Calories… it is worth it because it will completely change what you think about food and weight loss (because it actually is different than what you think it is).

  • That’s awesome! Congratulations!

  • Sunah

    I didn’t eat sugar for fourteen months when I was in my twenties. My mom KNEW IT but insisted on making me a birthday cake anyway, and cried when I wouldn’t eat it.
    I always enjoy life without carbs, but this month decided to just forgo grains in case they were the main problem, which, it turns out, they are.

  • Tnishee

    I first cut out sugar when I had gestational diabetes. It changed my life, since sugar has always been my downfall. Since then I’ve done it periodically and I’ve always been glad when I did. I try to give it up for Lent every year, not because I’m Catholic, but because I’m from New Orleans and I like the ritual of giving something up along with a lot of other people. In fact, a bunch of friends and I gave it up for Lent together last year, and was very inspiring to have the support. I too have been binging for the past few weeks. Maybe you have inspired me!

  • My experience has always been as you describe — that the first few days without sugar are awful, but after a week my cravings are markedly less and they remain that way for quite a while. That is, until the momentum builds again, which it certainly has lately. It may be time for me to take a break, too! Thanks for sharing this, Wendy.

  • Anonymous

    I stopped eating white sugar about five years ago. (Wow! Has it been that long?) I thought about it for a long time, and then I spent the last 30 days before I stopped deliberately overindulging in sugary stuff. When I had cookies, for example, I made myself eat them until I felt sick. And then I took time to focus on the sick feelings – really inhabit them. (Sugar was a huge part of my life for so many years, I actually had to train myself to recognize the fact that it made me feel crappy.)

    Anyway, after 30 days of that, giving up sugar was so easy. I simply didn’t want it anymore. Nowadays, I have some honey in my morning tea, and occasionally bake with alternate sweeteners, but that’s about it. Your whole flavor perception shifts when you’re off the white stuff, and after a while, it’ll taste horrible to you.

  • Look what you’ve done! Since reading your post, I have set aside my daily medium mocha with whip habit for a short 2% unsweetened latte. Way to inspire. 🙂

  • Kendra

    Love your blog! 😀

    My family gave up sugar 2.5 years ago. Our son was all of 4 and had these wicked mad rages where nothing got through to him to settle him down. He showed no remorse over ill intentions/behavior. It was incredibly stressful and emotional. A little research and I discovered that he and I both had sugar intolerance issues. We cut it, cold turkey. We don’t consume any form of cane sugar. We can do honey, stevia, organic coconut sugar, maple syrup/sugar, agave, anything natural but not derived from cane sugar. We don’t crave it that much, but every now and again we have a hankering. We’ve spent a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes too. 😉

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