You can hardly visit the Internet these days without coming across someone’s life-affirming think piece about giving up one food item or another. Gluten, processed foods, and carbs are frequently on the chopping block. “Lose weight now by giving up _________!” scream a thousand ads and “fad diets”. One of the latest and biggest adversaries? Sugar.
People who have given up sugar boast weight loss, better skin, reduction of joint pain, and help with regulating moods, in addition to a number of other results. It almost sounds too good to be true. And for some people, it is. Before you decide to give up all foods that fall into the “-cose” family (fructose, glucose, sucralose….), it’s a good idea to consider everything that will happen to you when you take the plunge. I gave up sugar for seven months in 2013, following the advice of a nutritionist. It was a challenging time, and while it had its rewards, I ultimately went back to eating sugar because it was really, really difficult to make it work in the long term – causing more stress than was intended. So, let’s take a look at some of the challenges I faced (that you might face as well) on your journey to a sugar-free life.
FOMOs & Missing Out
The hardest part of giving up sugar is feeling isolated. The first time you attend a birthday party and someone passes around cake, you start to reconsider your decision. “This cake is SO GOOD,” someone says. “Are you sure you don’t want any?” It’s hard to be the weirdo in the corner who hates cake for some reason. You feel really alone. You have to explain your choices a million times. It’s frustrating. You also lose any ability to be spontaneous. “Want to get pizza after the movie?” someone asks you. And you don’t want to go to the super trendy, expensive place that at least has a few salads on the menu, so you have to say no.
So, how do you get past it? The easiest way is to plan ahead. Bring a snack with you everywhere you go. If you’re going to dinner with friends, insist that everyone agree on a place in advance. And then look up the restaurant menu online and plan your meal. Figure out the questions you will need to ask before you order.
You Feel Cruddy
Sugar withdrawals exist, and they are the worst. I was grumpy, forgetful, and cold all the time during the first few weeks after giving up sugar. And you continue to have cravings sometimes months even months later. I had dreams of stuffing my face with cupcakes and wake up afterwards with horrible guilt.
When the cravings get bad, the best thing to do is give yourself something sweet. So, experiment with some low-sugar, high-protein snacks and keep some handy at all times. Nuts and unsweetened nut butters are great for a quick fix. If you absolutely need a cookie, stick with a recipe that uses an almond flour or unsweetened coconut base. And drink lots of water. Water is your friend.
Alcohol Counts As Sugar
This is where things get tricky. The sugar in alcohol can be significant, and if you have more than one drink, you’re consuming a lot of it. So, you have to give up alcohol and stay strong about it. “Fine,” you might say now, with a shrug, but think about special occasions like horrible frenemy weddings and Thanksgiving with your conservative aunt and uncle, when you might normally want a drink.
How can you cope? Well…you can’t. There aren’t sugar-free alcoholic drinks. But you can stay on the healthy side with your drink choices, should you choose to have one or two. Cut out the mixers and avoid the ultra-sweet stuff like dessert wines. You should also keep your refrigerator stocked with seltzer and lemon wedges, and enjoy those as often as you want.
It Requires A Lot Of Effort
Do you hate cooking? Then going sugar-free is not for you. If you grab a bagel on the way to the office in the morning, go out to lunch with coworkers, and then enjoy a Hot Pocket for dinner, you have to change your habits 100 percent. When I was sugar free, I worked from home. I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day because it happened to work with my schedule. But the first time you come home after a long day and realize you have absolutely nothing to eat, you can’t fall back on your Seamless app. You have to procure and steam that spinach whether or not you’re feeling it that night.
What do you do? Plan your menus in advance. Take time out of your Saturday to go to a farmer’s market and pick up a variety of fresh greens. Invest in an electric steamer with a time delay so that you’ll arrive home to already-prepared vegetables. Or buy a Crock Pot and let it do your cooking for you. Hard boil some eggs the night before for a fast, portable breakfast. If you plan ahead and never give yourself the chance to say, “Well, what now?” you’ll be much more successful.
I went on a road trip a few months after starting my sugar-free regimen. “It’ll be fine!” I promised myself. And then I stopped for lunch, and the only thing on the menu that I could eat was a $16 steak salad. Two days later, I had thrown in the towel because it was just too expensive. Eating healthy is expensive.
How can you make it work? Don’t rely on health food stores as the only source for healthy food. Buy vegetables from your regular grocery store and budget accordingly. Keep your meals simple and use lots of herbs to give your food flavor. One of the best techniques I found to help save myself some money was cooking meals en papillote, or steamed in parchment paper, using just a few vegetables and a piece of chicken or fish. Simple and delicious meals will keep you and your budget happy in the long term.
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