Last week I decided, on the spur of the moment, to cut sugar out of my diet for one week. It was a sudden thing, inspired by a website that I follow, Mind Body Green, who rolled out a pleasingly millennial pink social media campaign on Monday morning to herald the start of mbg’s first-ever no-sugar challenge. ‘Me too!’ I thought, and it seemed like the perfect time to get into it. I mean, Monday.
I’ve toyed with quitting sugar multiple times previously, and have even successfully eaten much less of it in patches, but booze tends to be the thing that makes it not stick. Until recently I wasn’t at all fussed about giving up fruit (I now like one portion in my morning smoothie), but it was surrendering the opportunity for even one drink over the weekend that I struggled with. Oh, and 3pm energy dives, aka the time when I scrounge around for something, anything to scratch my sugar itch. Anyway, so I thought I’d do this week of no sugar, no problem!
At 4pm I ate a brownie.
That same day. I didn’t even make it to sundown.
Cravings usually point to something else. Cravings aren’t the same as hunger. Hunger is your stomach, and your need for sustenance. Cravings are all your brain and your body telling you something. When you’re craving sugar, are you craving sweetness in general? Or is it more specific, like chocolate, or pastry? If it’s chocolate, a specific craving, it might be your body letting you know you’re deficient in magnesium (found in cacao nibs or powder, in greens, whole grains and beans, nuts, seeds), while craving pasta, white bread or pastry might be a chromium deficiency (found in onion, tomato, cinnamon, grapes, sweet potato). Want a fizzy drink? You might actually need calcium (found also in sesame seeds, in broccoli, kale, legumes. Address the cause of the craving and suddenly you don’t need that chocolate like you thought you did.
So here’s what I now know will help me the next time. I’m thinking Monday guys.
DECIDE ON A TIMEFRAME
Sugar is as addictive as cocaine. If you want to give it up, it probably won’t be a spur of the moment thing, and if it is, it will likely not stick. (Holding my hand up here as Exhibit A.) Planning and preparation really is key. Set a time frame for this; ‘forever’ is lofty and makes for a steep comedown if you fall off the wagon. Say a week, or a month, or whatever, and then reassess when you make it to that milestone. Usually the worst of the lingering cravings disappear after a week or thereabouts, so a week is a good time to get deep into it, and then feel free to go long-haul after.
DEFINE THE RULES
What is sugar? Of course it is cake, and sweets, and that teaspoon in your tea, but it is also fruit and those dates in your ultra-healthy dessert. Even the healthiest among us have sugar hidden in our diets, whether it’s that raw honey you virtuously swirl into your tea in lieu of the white stuff or the coconut sugar in your almond polenta cake. Large amounts of sugar even from “healthy” fruit are still stored as fat around your middle and the cause of a fatty liver. Even if the long-term aim is to retain some sweetness (I intend, for instance, to allow fruit when I want it because… mangos. And watermelon. Ooh, litchi!), for the duration of this challenge eliminate all of it.
CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR
I can tell you from experience that doing this the week that you have loads on the social schedule is a bad idea. You will eat the birthday cake. You will have that drink (and maybe a second, and a third), and you will have a bite of that dreamy dessert. You’re much more likely to glide through on a cloud of smug virtuosity if you make it a week of healthy eating, lots of water-drinking, herbal tea-swilling, and add in indulgence in the form of (take your pick) a massage, a lie-in, a pedicure, or whatever’s fun for you.
It helps to ensure that you aren’t, at any time, ravenous. Eat breakfast, eat lunch, and eat dinner. Just make it good stuff. Eat a snack even. Have hard boiled eggs and hummus to hand, both great sources of protein that won’t cause your blood sugar to dip. Drink green smoothies first thing every morning. When you’ve been eating too much sugar your body’s PH balance gets thrown out of whack, meaning that you are likely acidic and inflamed. Fresh green smoothies (try this one) and lots of dark leafy vegetables at each meal will restore that balance and address all your magnesium, chromium, and calcium needs. Eat protein at every meal. This should go without saying but there should be no sugary goods in the house. No chocolate. No cake. No whatever your Kryptonite is. If it is there, you will eat it in a moment of weakness.
SOOTHE WITH GOOD FAT
I’m going to be adding ghee to my scrambled eggs, almond butter to my smoothies, coconut oil to my garlicky beans. Just have a tablespoon of the stuff for the next few days (ghee or coconut oil, not vegetable oil ack). I’m also going to be adding coconut milk to my fish curry and to my palak for a creamier version of each that feels like an indulgence and that will help me stay full and satiated for longer. The healthy fats in these help support pancreatic functions while simultaneously preventing candida and other sugar-feasting yeasts from flourishing in your gut.
Work out every day. Go to yoga when you’re low and cranky, or to an HIIT class when you’re brittle and energetic. Run if that’s what you like, or do something at home. Just sweat every day to help boost endorphins (and your mood), and to help you coast through the worst of the week.
Sleep enough. This is a good general guideline for life, but this week in particular I am planning to be in bed by 10 with a book so I’m not Jonesing for chocolate at 11pm.
I’m going to be taking my probiotics and digestive enzymes as usual, but if you don’t already take these, this might be a good time to start. Enzymes take a load off your digestive system that is likely going to be working in overdrive this week. I’ve also added a nightly magnesium supplement into my daily rotation so, y’know, let’s see.
Water, and lots and lots of it. Hydrate loads to help your liver and other organs process the sugar in your system and aid in reducing inflammation.
If we make it to the end of the week, we will all have better skin thanks to the lack of blood sugar spiking, a better bum thanks to all the working out, and be well-rested and glow-ey thanks to all the greens and beauty sleep. That is a hard proposition to decline and a nice thing to focus on when it gets sticky, but if you should have a minor wobble, don’t self-flagellate. Just dust yourself off and go again.