My Life Without Sugar and a Challenge for You

20121005_a_Geoff_5D2__MG_0304_RMToday I want to share something a little bit personal in hopes of inspiring you. This week is my two year anniversary of life without sugar. No cupcakes, no hot fudge sundaes, no blueberry pancakes covered in syrup, no french apple pie, no three musketeers, no just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies for me.

Crazy, right? I bet I know exactly what you are thinking right now-that you could never, ever do that.

It's something I never thought I could do either. And here's the thing-I love sugar; more than anyone I know. I have extremely detailed (and lengthy) fantasies involving Mrs. Fields cookies.

For some of us, sugar is like crack

Some people can have just a piece of chocolate or just a bite and feel satisfied. And then there are those of us who pretty much need to stuff as many pieces of cake/candy/pie as possible into our mouths when no one is looking. I'm talking about when everyone else helped themselves to one cookie; you've helped yourself to six (and you're thinking about sneaking one in your purse for later). For those of us in this particular hell, sugar represents an unbelievably good high that our bodies are constantly craving. Each bit, each slice is another attempt to get that feeling, that rush of joy.

no sugar dietI have always been this way. At one point back in in 2008 I even tried acupuncture to deal with chocolate cravings, and in fact that worked quite well for a while. If you are interested, you can read about that here. Eventually though, I was back to my old habits.

In 2010 I read about someone from Google (Matt Cutts actually) doing a 30-day no sugar challenge, and the idea appealed to me. After a party featuring my favorite cake (chocolate cake, raspberry filling, vanilla buttercream frosting) I committed to 30 days without sugar. It was hard, no doubt about it. During this time I researched all the damaging things sugar does to a human body to help me stay focused.

sugar free dietOnce I got over the intense withdrawal cravings, I really liked that I was free from this constant, constant need to get more sugar, find more treats, run errands (so I could get candy). I regularly embarrassed myself at the grocery store by eating those stale donuts from the bakery section. To justify eating two, I'd eat the tops only (the frosting part of course). It was kind of pathetic to tell the cashier, “oh, and two donuts, please. I already ate them.” I'd actually try to hand over the grimy wax paper wrapper to the cashier, who typically gave me a dirty look, or worse, a look of pity. So yeah, you can see where I was coming from.

My results

After completing the 30 day challenge I kept it up for 52 days while I decided what I wanted to do moving forward. Basically, I wanted to set up some rules in my life, such as only on special occasions or only at afternoon tea (my most favorite thing in the world). On day 52, I went out for afternoon tea and enjoyed a scone covered in delicious lemon curd and sweet whipped cream. Before I had even finished it, I felt absolutely horrible. Nauseous and shaky. My body had a violent negative reaction to putting sugar in my stomach.

Driving home, I made the decision that I was done with sugar. My body didn’t want it, and I knew there was no way I could control myself with a “special occasions only” rule (it's my birthday, it's your birthday, it's PhotoMint's birthday, it's the waiter's birthday…).

How has it been these past two years without sugar? It took a while to adjust. I still get my sweet fix by eating lots of fruit. I had to figure out what was off limits and what was OK for me. After more than a year I introduced honey in very small quantities. I eat ketchup, which usually has sugar in it, but I stay away from sweetened salad dressings etc. I don't allow myself the pure fruit jam, it would be my gateway drug. I'd be having toast and jam every night. Then I'd be having (healthy) peanut butter and real fruit jam sandwiches every day for lunch. Soon, I swear to god, I'd start having those pb & j sandwiches for breakfast too. So no, I cannot handle pure fruit jam in my life. Sad, but I know my limits.

I feel more balanced, more focused and my energy is more consistent. I lost almost 30 pounds, but I also started eating much healthier. It wasn't easy, but it has given me confidence in my own abilities and what I can personally accomplish. Every time I tell someone about this, and they say they could never do it, I feel more proud of myself for what I have done. It truly is a badge of honor for me. If I can do this, I can probably do anything, I tell myself.

The challenge to you

If you are inspired by this post, I want you to know that you can do anything you set your mind to. You don’t have to give up sugar completely; maybe you choose one thing like soda. Or maybe you challenge yourself to an exercise program for 30 days. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to stop checking email and Facebook on your phone after work hours.

Is there some roadblock to your health, happiness or productivity? Rather than taking it on forever, let's just commit to take it on for 30 days, see what happens. Anyone can give up any bad habit for 30 days. What's great about a 30 day challenge, is you are not committed to anything beyond 30 days. You can try out life without your bad habit for one tiny month and see how it feels. It's YOUR challenge to yourself. You own it.

What kind of 30 day challenge would you like to embark on? Let's do this as a group! I'll start. I have always struggled with starting my day early, even though I feel it is one of the key ingredients of my productivity. Starting today, I challenge myself to 30 days of getting up at 6:30am or earlier. When I do this, I'm so much more productive and happy. It's just the actual getting out of bed part that can be tricky. So that's gonna be my thing.

What about you? What's your 30 day challenge to yourself? What's the one thing holding you back? Are you ready to conquer it?


Facebook comments:

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

jason Holborn January 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Greetings.
I just finished Year One of no sugar/candy/donuts/juice/cake/chocolate etc. Like you, I was an addict and didn’t know when or how to stop. I am really happy I finally got successful at giving it up and I am excited about Year Two. It’s great to go on google and find others’ success stories. Thanks a million.
All the best in 2014!

Reply

Lara White July 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Christine, that is awesome to hear, wow! My husband Geoff has had digestive issues all his life and recently developed mystery allergies-I got him off gluten for about 3 months before, but we weren’t “certain” if it worked and he eventually drifted back. Now you’ve given me a reason to try it again, this time full Paleo.

And yep, still gettin up early-5am is my usual time now. I love it, but it still feels strange when I have lunch before 10am, and then come 3:00pm or so when I feel done with work and ready to put my pjs on…

Reply

Christine July 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Chiming in with a little encouragement hopefully for the people considering it – DO IT!!! It is so worth it!!!

I had been told for years to cut the “white foods” – flour, sugar, rice & potatoes. The high starch carbs. I swore up and down that I could NEVER do it. Potatoes are one of my favorite foods, and I was a hard core “pastatarian” (I love pasta!)

Then I watched “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” on Netflix. Changed my LIFE! I didn’t try juicing like he did, but I did decide I could try Four Hour Body (Paleo, Atkins, whatever) and cut out all the white foods. IMMEDIATELY.

6 months have passed. I’m down 20+ lbs. It was challenging that first week (as others have mentioned) but I learned by the end of week one that all those allergies I had blamed on everything else for years were actually from GLUTEN! Now if I eat wheat, I immediately become congested. Makes it a lot easier to skip something if you know how miserable it makes you feel!

My joints don’t hurt, I’ve started losing the weight that I just couldn’t lose on the “low fat, high carbs” diets that are so common. And it is super easy – meat (plus eggs), veggies & beans. All of my meals are a combination of that.

I completely cut caffeine at the same time. Now if I give in and drink an 8oz Coke, I’m up all night! I sleep better, more regular hours. I’m more alert than I was before when I drank caffeine. All around, it is a total win!

It isn’t just a diet, it is a life change. I’ll never go back.

PS – How did your 30 days of getting up by 6:30 go?

Reply

Lara White June 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

Christy,

did the cravings ever stop completely? After two years, I can still get a craving (usually when I’m tired and hungry and faced with sugary smells). I thought those would be over by now, i expected cravings to be completely gone. I have heard from many others that went without sugar for a year or more, and then went back, thinking they could control it, enjoy it in moderation. And everybody says that the cravings come back full force, and they find themselves eating just as much or more sugar than before they gave it up. that’s the reason I know I can never go back, I would not be able to moderate myself.

Reply

Christy June 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

This so hit the nail on the head for me!!! I gave up sugar for about five years and then I met my fiance and well I fell off the wagon. I’ve gained 30 lbs and crave sugar again. Thank you for posting and hopefully pushing me to give it up again. I never felt better during those five years and I rarely got sick.
Thanks again!

Reply

Nance June 2, 2013 at 12:26 am

I might have missed it, but did anyone mention Stevia, it’s extracted from a plant root I believe, and it’s sweet as sugar, and honey etc. It’s the sugar you are not really having. Have a read: http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/food-and-health/food-and-drink/groceries/stevia-sugar-substitute.aspx All you need do is copy and paste this link into the address bar.

I love using it, but you need a very tiny bit, like on the tip of a teaspoon for a sweet cuppa. It’s obtained from Health shops, or Supermarkets, and not dear, and it lasts for a very long time. It’s all natural, plant based and it’s not sugar, so you can use it safely….

My biggest concern isn’t about sugar, it’s about all the hype about High Protein Diets, and the harm it can cause Kidneys in the long term e.g. Kidney Disease. In the short term, high protein is okay, but in the long term, I’m not so sure! Can a high Protein Diet be harmful to the kidneys, and has anyone looked into this?? I’m wondering if there is any truth to this, it’s an interesting subject.

Have you looked into Alcohol? Supposedly it’s one of the biggest problems, it has a lot of sugar, and particularly in beer. Is there a wine that’s not considered too sugary, and quite safe to drink without jeopardizing the sugar intake?

Questions, questions…sorry.

Reply

Lara White June 13, 2012 at 6:14 am

wow, the advice and tips everyone is sharing is just incredible! Libby & Jenika,
you both mention vegetables, and I had to increase my veggie intake as well. We started having raw veggies and hummus at dinner most nights and sometimes lunch. It’s a great way to get veggies in if you aren’t a big fan of cooked vegetables. It was such a simple idea but so liberating, it felt like we were having party food at dinner!

Reply

Kathleen June 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm

The best book I read was called ‘Sweet Poison’ – you can get it on Amazon. It lays it out for you in very easy to understand concepts of what sugar does to you. It is EXACTLY like crack! Your body has absolutely no idea of what sugar actually is – it was only really pushed into our diets enmass about 120 years ago – and out bodies haven’t evolved to it. Read Sweet Poison – it blew my mind. The first 2 or 3 chapters I found I had to push myself through – in the end though -I couldn’t read fast enough to keep up with my need to know more! I am still not perfect at the no sugar thing – but I am so much better – and I read EVERY label of foods I buy! I have a rule – if it has more than 3gms of sugar on the label – it doesn’t go in my cupboard. Another tip — use dextrose. Especially when baking. So you can have your baked goods for your morning tea and snacks at work. Being organised makes it sooo much easier. Dont’ set yourself up for failure by not having appropriate food available. THAT is when you fall off the wagon! Your starving, you NEED to eat and there is nothing else available so you buy your take away. Take some time on a Saturday or a Sunday – and give yourself a meal outline for the coming week. That way – you are in control – and you can look forward to the meal you have planned – rather than having a bad and hectic day and feeling frazzled and then just giving up on the whole ‘what’s for dinner’ question.

Good luck to everyone giving the sugar free life a go!! As someone above said – if you fall off the wagon – just pick yourself up – and get back on. No need to get all huffy at yourself. My ‘treat’ is a beautiful caprese salad, buffalo mozarella, fresh baby tomatos halved, torn basil leaves drizzled with good quality olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Fresh, colourful and when I serve it in my large martini glasses – it looks lush and amazing!

Reply

Lara White June 13, 2012 at 6:08 am

great, great advice Kathleen, thanks for sharing! Wow, I love your description of the caprese salad in a martini glass, I’m going to give that a try!

Reply

Tobin June 11, 2012 at 11:10 am

Lara,

Okay, the no-sugar thing has been cropping up in my theatre of awareness quite a lot, and now here it is again.

Question- do you drink coffee? If so, how does that affect your energy levels? I just did a week-long cleanse that of course eliminated sugar for a week, but there were other elements about it that weren’t right for my body, I feel.

But I totally feel how sugar affects my body and mind and I’m going to talk to my zealously-sugar-addicted wife about taking you up on your challenge. More later.

Thanks for the authentic share.

Tobin

Reply

Tobin June 12, 2012 at 6:48 am

Update: talked to my wife about it and we’re IN. Can’t wait to feel the results!

Thanks for the inspiring nudge!

Cheers,
Tobin

Reply

Jenika June 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

Super inspiring Lara! Way to keep it real, thanks for sharing your journey with us. I’m an avid cook and baker, so while I am sure I could live without sugar altogether, I don’t *want* to. I throw a lot of dinner parties and it’s just part of who I am.

But last fall I decided I needed to make some changes. My changes were:

1a) No sweets that I didn’t personally make (i.e. I can’t just go buy junk, I have to get up and bake something – and the time commitment is a natural barrier).
1b) It also has to be gourmet or high quality. Eating really expensive, fine desserts (like super high quality chocolate) leads me not to want to binge, smaller amounts are satisfying. As opposed to cheap junk, which just makes you crave more.
2) Don’t make treats more than once a week, and do something with the leftovers (freeze or give away)
3) Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day. This means I pretty much have to snack on veggies during the day, which curbs hunger, which in turn seems to curb sweets cravings.
4) Activity 3 times a week. This can be walking or tennis, it doesn’t have to be gym time, but I have to get up away from my desk.

I’ve lost about 21 lbs since last August, and am now at an all-time low weight (in a healthy way – I’m in even better shape than I was in high school). And I don’t miss candy/cheap stuff. I am happier because what I DO eat is homemade and high quality, and I eat less of it. Anyway, that works for me. It took about 30 days to get used to it, and 60 days to be happy with it, so I like your 30 day suggestion.

Reply

Libby June 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Well I don’t know what to tell ya. I’m up at about 4:45 every day, and the sugar demon was conquered in 1995. Sugar along with too much high carb trash.

Proof? Weight in 1995: 305 lbs. Weight Present: About 160.

Yeah I still slide a little, I should really make an effort to dump about 15 more. But cutting out all of the sugar and high carb barrage was the best thing ever. It’s one thing to have a treat now and then. I had a nice big homemade oatmeal cookie today. But it’s quite another thing to install a pipeline for the stuff and then just keep it coming.

Reply

Lara White June 11, 2012 at 7:47 am

wow Libby, that is very impressive, you have accomplished more than most of us! Any tips you can share?

Reply

Libby June 11, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Use proteins as a partial replacement to all the junk you ate. When I started on the regimen, I also eliminated white flour for the first month – I had to – with all the weight I was having a hard time getting up the stairs and that was bad. Believe it or not that after a month of the no sugar no white flour discipline, I could actually move my joints again without screaming. But don’t forget, I was 300 lbs, and hopefully most of you are not. I had to take the drastic measure.

What will happen with you is that by eliminating the sugar, you’ll also eliminate a good portion of the white flour, but not all of it.

For the first 3 days you will want to rip out your hair and eat the carpet. See if you can do the first 3 days on non busy days – and when it gets bad for you, just take a nap. Get it out of your head.

Make the first goal 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks treat yourself to something like a nice steak dinner or if your vegan, a nice veg giant burrito or something with a good dose of sour cream and maybe some guacamole if you want. The high protein will help you regain some sanity and will help you feel satisfied because without the sugar, you’ll definitely feel deprived.

Reward yourself once a month. Go out to somewhere nice for dinner – because of all the crap that is now gone from your eating regimen, believe it or not you will find extra cash in your pocket.

The best fruits for you from a sugar standpoint are kiwi and strawberries. My favorite dessert – 3 or 4 large ripe strawberries smashed in a bowl with heavy cream drizzled over them. The real stuff. Not that coffee creamer stuff. You honestly don’t need that much of the cream.

The Fat Watch people will call me out on this, but what’s better eating a bagful of absolute garbage and 3 candy bars in a day? Or some nice fresh fruit with something from the cow?

You have to think of this as a life change, not deprivation. A strict regimen is needed to begin – you need to get that poison out of your system.

It is imperative that you start reading package labels. And once you realize the hidden sugar in all of the packaged foods, you’ll have rude awakening. It’s not just the donuts and candies. Education and determination are your best fiends here. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on. I can’t stress the importance though of going cold turkey the first 2 weeks. Do that. Because you’re n Sugar Crack and it needs to be dealt with.

You have to make your way in this and quit being led by the TV ads, quit being sabotaged by conveniences stores and even your own grocery market. They set you up to fail – REALIZE THAT!

So how do I feel about the sugary stuff today. Well I don’t deprive myself. If I want something I have it. Sure I have my treats – one of those Cinnabons once in awhile or Lindt chocolate truffles – my 2 downfalls. I do a fast food meal maybe once a month. I don’t make myself crazy. The problems come about for some when they obsess over this stuff, and that’s bad. It’s just like any diet. If you are thinking about it all the time, chances are that food is n your mind all the time, and that’s why most diets fail. The change should become a natural and routine part of your life.

Oh and just one more thing – for years and years, I used all of that margarine healthy spread garbage. I threw it all away and went back to real butter. Screw it. I was going through a tub of that spread garbage every 2 weeks. After going back to real butter, it was more satisfying and I actually used much, much less by volume. See what I mean about sabotage by the food companies?

Hey sorry if his is a little disjointed – I had a big retouch job last nite and I’m a little loopy still. Take care -Libby

Reply

Becky June 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm

You know, Lara, I have to say… you’re wonderful. You really, really are. I’ve told you before that you’re the ONLY photographer out there whose teaching we find completely credible and sincere. And now, for you to share this – my respect increases all the more. I’ve been staying up really late to work and have been compromising my exercise, which is *absolutely* essential to my mental health, to make up sleep (never enough, of course). Thanks to you, I’m committing for 30 days to get a run in before my husband leaves for work and the kids wake up. Let’s see where that gets me in terms of realigning my schedule. Thanks.

Reply

Lara White June 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

wow Becky, that is AWESOME! And thank you so much for your kind words. It’s my intention to grow PhotoMint into a thriving community of creatives that support, encourage and educate one another. I figure if I put my own experience and knowledge out there honestly, others will follow suit. Good luck on your 30 day challenge to run each morning, that is fantastic! I’ve read that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so you’ll be well on your way!

Reply

Stephanie June 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

This is inspiring to me in so many ways. I have a sugar problem too and as much as I say I want to “cut back” on sugar, I inevitably end up eating it. What’s funny is that I’ve given it up for Lent before without a problem. Something about knowing it’s only for 40 days and I can have as much as I want after that made it easy to keep going. But the thought of giving it up for longer than that (and possibly forever!) overwhelms me in some ways. You’ve definitely given me a little boost of confidence to try again!

Reply

Lara White June 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Stephanie, it overwhelms me too, still. 2 years later! When I start thinking forever, and then I begin mentally running through each and every candy bar and treat I used to enjoy, I can become quite angry/anxious etc. So I find that when I face those moments, it’s best to focus on the choice in front of you-“I’m going to chose to say no to a hot fudge sundae right now. It’s my choice and I can always reconsider.”

Ultimately, at this point, I know that I am not willing to jeopardize my accomplishment, and that alone is often the piece of info I use to recommit myself. I do know people who gave it up for a year or whatever, and then went back a little bit and then full force more than ever before.

I don’t think people who can enjoy sugar in moderation have anything to be concerned about. It’s only those of us with an insatiable need for more who need to find a better way.

Also, with a very clear boundary, it makes it easy in that I do not need to consider/question/justify/monitor. It’s a clear no, done. I find it much easier than moderating, which would be a total disaster for me, even now.

Reply

tanja June 7, 2012 at 8:06 am

Thanks for sharing! We stopped with sugar in January and feel great! I am a fan of the four hour body and of marks daily apple. (we do a combination of eating primal and eating beans/lentils etc. For carbs)
Best thing ever! I am back at my pre university weight. 🙂

Reply

Lara White June 7, 2012 at 9:18 am

congratulations on that! It’s always nice to find others as well, as so many people think of sugar as “essential” I will have to check out the marks daily apple, had not heard of that before.

Reply

Libby June 11, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Now see, raw apples are a trigger food for me. I can have a full meal, then eat an apple, and want whole full meal again. I can have them cooked just fine, like in a cooked no sugar added applesauce. But the raw apples will just send me into a tailspin and an eating frenzy. Everybody’s different.

Reply

Tobin June 12, 2012 at 6:46 am

Hi Tanja!

Ha! I got my wife, Jasmine The 4 Hour Body for Christmas last year with the hopes that she’d read it and pass along the pearls to me. Heh. She’s yet to read it, but we’re mostly on the primal diet, too! Big fans of animal protein and fat and we eat little to no refined grains at all. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Have a great season.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: