So, I tried a no-sugar diet for a month and here's what I found: I actually really liked it... (Am I crazy?)
Last month a friend asked if I'd go on a no-sugar diet with him because he wants to lose weight, so I said "sure". I had no reason to say no: I'm stuck in lockdown anyway, wanted to support his dieting, and I felt like if I want to talk to clients about dieting, I need to know what it is like myself. My partner thought I was mad, but unto the breach I went.
To be clear: we were avoiding foods with added sugar in order to reduce the amount of processed sugar we consume. For this diet, things like fruit and honey are fine, things like muesli bars and tomato sauce are not fine. To keep my sanity, I allowed myself certain exceptions: beer, bread, birthday cake on birthdays and, because I already struggle to keep weight on, I still had my high calorie Growth cookies on occasion :)
The first day was difficult. Not because I was craving sugar, but because I spent so much time reading labels to find out what had added sugar in it. This brings me to the first benefit of the no-sugar diet: it made me more conscious of what I consume.
Breakfast cereals? Unless it's Weetbix, chuck it out. Can of tuna for lunch? Better get the unflavoured can. A bit of sauce with your dinner? Looks like you're making it yourself.
None of these things were a major roadblock, in fact they were quite easy to get around. I started having toast for breakfast (probably healthier than the Nutrigrain and Milo cereal I was previously having), had my tuna with salad or in toasties for flavour and avoided any unnecessary dressings with dinner.
Managing to get through the day wasn't a chore for me as I consider my diet to be quite healthy anyway. Still, the sheer number of food products with added sugar was shocking to say the least and the diet definitely helped me acknowledge this fact.
After dinner time, for me, had become a bit of a problem recently. What had started out as "yeah I'll treat myself while I'm in lockdown" had become the nightly habit. A bowl of ice cream and some chocolate isn't a ridiculous thing to have after dinner, but the problem was I was consistently having this every single night. It was just hard to have a reason to say no while we can't even leave the house. Which brings me to the second benefit of the no-sugar diet: it made me replace my old habits with new ones.
Now it isn't easy to say "no" to chocolate and ice cream late at night when you're craving a snack, but it is easy to say yes to something you like. Every night when I got peckish, I would fill up a bowl with Greek yoghurt, honey, frozen berries and sometimes some oats, depending on how rambunctious I was feeling. It was delicious, cheap, easy to make, and I looked forward to it every night. How much healthier is that than ice cream and chocolate?
That's right, if you paid attention to what I wrote in the second benefit you would have noticed the word replaced, which I think is the key word in that sentence. It's not easy to say no to temptation, so find something healthy that you can say yes to. Rather than relying on will power to ignore the gaping void, make it easy by giving yourself a better option. I'm all about making things as easy as possible, because then you are more likely to succeed on your worst days, meaning you will find more success overall.
There were some difficult nights. One such night was after dinner at home, my mum pulled out her homemade banana icecream for dessert. While everyone else sat around the table eating a sweet dessert, I munched on some dates instead (I didn't have many options). Is this what being a vegan feels like? This was one of my rare near misses with temptation. The trick: I don't love banana flavoured ice cream anyway, so it wouldn't have been worth it.
It felt like even my own family was against me on this one. The third benefit of a no-sugar diet, then must be: I learnt most people will just laugh and continue doing their own thing (my family included), so I couldn't rely on never facing temptation, I had to be able to address it.
In my ice cream case, I pulled out another sweet treat in the form of dates, but if I had been more prepared, I could have easily created a sugar-free dessert such as a mango lassi (basically just blend up some frozen mango). In your case, think of all the people in your life who wouldn't be helpful if you tried to change your habits and have a plan for dealing with them. Maybe you could try, offering to bring your own dessert.
Also, having a friend to check in with every week is super motivating. Even if the whole world and my mum was against us, having just one person to share the journey, the trials, the good and the bad bits with was a huge boost in morale.
As the month was coming to an end, I indulged in a slice of birthday cake to celebrate with my friend and the one thought that went through my mind while eating that cake was: "I don't miss this..." (...after wishing Camille a happy birthday of course!)
That's right, the final benefit of a no-sugar diet is realising I don't miss sugar.
By the end of the month, habits had been replaced, the cupboard was stocked with healthy snacks, and I was excited about trying new recipes for sugar-free foods. Since finishing the 1-month that I initially committed to, there has been no big binge on sugary foods. This was helped in part by my exceptions of cookies and a piece of cake, but overall, I felt no need to return to my old ways.
It has been about a month now since the diet finished and sugar has slowly been creeping back into my diet. This slow return is more out of reluctance and laziness than desire or glutton. I've had a couple of bowls of cereal, since I've been waking up at 6am for work again and haven't been preparing breakfast. I've had some chocolate (after an exam that I didn't do great on) but only once, as opposed to every night. I still avoid buying ice cream, although walking past that aisle when Connoisseur's Belgian chocolate is on special is always difficult. I'm still choosing to eat no-sugar for the most part, because I found I enjoy it more than not paying attention to my food choices, although I'm not following any strict rules anymore.
Overall, I found this month-long experiment worked as a bit of a reset on my diet which had been declining so slowly over lockdown that I hadn't even noticed. This diet benefited me by teaching me:
to be more conscious of what I consume
to replace, instead of trying to completely remove
to expect temptation and plan to deal with it
and that I don't need sugar to be happy with my diet
In the long-term I expect sugar will slowly fill up my diet again, but I wouldn't hesitate to go on a month-long crusade such as this again. It certainly breaks the mould and forces you to be more mindful of what you're doing. And at least it is something to talk about that isn't lockdown...
If trying to go on a similar diet, it undoubtedly helps to:
allow yourself certain exceptions so you don't feel like you're missing out
and have a friend to share your experiences with
What do you think, could you go a month without sugar?
Let me know if you'll be trying this one out.
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