I just want to apologize to everyone in advance: my husband, my parents and other family members, friends, co-workers, my dog, my cats, even the cashier at the grocery store and the surly barista who makes my coffee in the morning—basically everyone I come into contact with in the new year.
I’m giving up sugar.
This may be hard to believe on Christmas Day, of all days, while we’re eating sugar cookies, candy canes and rifling through our stockings in search of little chocolate bells. But that’s my plan. And as it looms in the not-too-distant future, I’m currently working on stuffing myself silly with all the sugar I can get my mittens on.
Why all the apologies? Let’s just say I’ve done this before … and it’s not pretty. Sarah on a sugar high (or right after a “quick hit”) is super easy going, but Sarah two days into life without the white stuff?
If At First You Don’t Succeed (Try, Try Again …)
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, so it’s strange that this is the second January in a row where I’m making a resolution—but something has to give. Like most people, the changes I started around this time last year have slowly gone away. And here I am, back at a worse spot than where I started before: I’m always tired. I feel bloated and out of shape. I’ve put on weight. I’m depressed. Add to that the trying in vain over last year to get pregnant. Thia calls for drastic measures.
Something has to give.
Last year I tried Whole30—an elimination diet designed to cut out certain foods that may be causing health issues. The program suggests that everything from fatigue to joint pain and fertility issues to allergies can be helped by pinpointing which foods are to blame (and saying goodbye). After going cold turkey without sugar, grains, dairy and legumes, you slowly add each back into your diet one at a time to test the affects.
I felt so good after my 30 days on this program! I dropped weight, stopped feeling so bloated and had more natural energy to get through my day … but then the icky stuff came back. Whether it was stress or feeling a little down, I eventually returned to my pre-Whole30 eating habits. Is it any wonder being a product of a sweet toothed family?
Sugar Busting 101
Nutritionist Kathy McNeely, who you may remember from her bone broth and bitter greens posts on We The Eaters earlier this year, says the first step in kicking a addiction is to simply identify how much sugar you’re currently eating. One issue: Sugar is a deceptive little frenemy. It goes by many names and tends to hide where you least expect it. Read your labels and learn where sugar hides out. McNeely gives a list of the most comment suspects you can use to cross reference.
It’s eye-opening: Just look at this infographic from Forbes describing how much sugar the average American consumes. They also note a study that suggests that sugar is just as hard a habit to kick as cocaine due to the effects sugar has on the brain.
The Monkey On My Back
So what can you expect when attempting to kick the white stuff? In the short term, extreme cases can feel just as bad as getting the flu! You may get a headache in the first few days or experience a bit of anxiety. Mood swings, depression and anger are all likely to occur as well, since your brain is not getting the easy, quick, feel-good rewards throughout the day. Along with all this, you may initially feel more tired since sugar provides a quick little rush of energy. But remember the crash that hits not soon after!
In the long run, though, it will be well worth it. Your appetite will change as sugar makes you crave more carbohydrates. Without the empty calories, you will drop weight. Plus, as your blood sugar stabilizes, you’ll be able to function better with all-day energy that wont leave you feeling drained five minutes after you eat. Any you’ll sleep better at night. And we all could use a little more of that!
Going cold turkey can be hard! Addicting habits take a lot of will power to kick without weening yourself off—so be patient with yourself. You can do the thing. But you don’t have to do it alone! Want to take the 30-day no sugar challenge with us? It starts January 10th. Sign up below for our free newsletter for more information.
Take the 30-day no-sugar challenge … and get lots of awesome tips from We The Eaters delivered right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter, The Peppercorn Press, below.
Tips for Cutting Sugar
Don’t replace with substitutes. One thing I learned from Whole30 about cutting sugar is not to replace it with substitutes. Most studies suggest that these have the same stimulating effects on the brain as sugar.
Give into the tired and sleep more. If you’re having symptoms from cutting sugar that increase your fatigue or sleepiness, give in! Getting more sleep—earlier to bed, longer in bed, and lots of cat naps—will help you get more real energy. It means you’re listening to your body.
Eat real, whole food. Feed your body properly with what it really needs. Natural sugar from fruit is okay. My husband and I eat a clementine or two after dinner on those nights the dessert cravings hit. Plus, adding smarter carbs like sweet potatoes to virtually any meal will help with your energy levels and brain fog.
Form a support squad. Whether it’s a friend cutting sugar as well, or just someone to be your biggest cheerleader: You’ll want a team to turn to when you need to vent your frustration, and folks who will push you to keep your eyes on the goal. Just apologize beforehand for all the terrible things you might say while you’re going through withdrawal.
Give yourself time, at least 30 days. It takes at least 30 days for your body to eliminate the bad stuff and for you to start feeling the really good effects. By the end, you’ll have way more energy and be sleeping way better. It will also give you time to get over the withdrawal effects, if you have harder symptoms for a longer period.
Enlist professional help. Kathy McNeely holds lots of workshops, like this Post-Holiday Detox, to help you kick the habit … with one-on-one meetings, support group and tools to help guide you through. If you’re not in the Washington D.C. area, she’ll also do phone calls or Skype sessions!