We are currently in the middle of Action on Sugar’s Sugar Awareness Week 2021, which began on 18th January. And I thought what better time to write out some of my experiences on cutting down on sugar to a permanently reduced sugar diet which I’ve been on for almost four years now.
Firstly, let me explain, if you haven’t read my previous blogs where I’ve mentioned this. Diabetes runs in my family and this made me super conscious with sugar after I realised I needed to stop eating so much chocolate. I genuinely felt like I couldn’t even go a day without it and I had put on so much weight. I was at my heaviest yet at almost a dress size 16 but as crap as I felt about that, it still didn’t stop me satisfying this “addiction” that was sugar! So when I finally decided to change my entire diet, knowing that I was doing so much harm to myself and essentially bringing on diabetes and everything else that does with it, my willpower needed to be as strong as ever.
The first thing I changed
To be very fair, it was breakfast. I used to eat two slices of toast with butter on with a cup of Indian tea (with sugar) every day before work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to have tea with no sugar and, despite there being an alternative of a sweetener available that I could very easily have turned to, I decided I didn’t want to drink tea that way. I didn’t want to just turn to a sweetener so easily because it felt like a cop out to me. Instead, I changed my breakfasts to eat a bowl of oats with milk and some fruit. However, it couldn’t be any fruit… it had to be berries. I researched that berries are good for diabetics as they aren’t very sweet compared to some other varieties. So in came the blueberries, raspberries, red currants and blackberries.
The hardest thing
In all honesty, the first steps were the most difficult. Sugar is like a drug and I was eating so much that my cravings for something sweet were literally through the roof. And it didn’t help that, at work, there were always tins of chocolates, sweets or cakes being brought in… and being put right behind me, completely where they were much harder to resist. I was lucky that my stubbornness kicked in – much more than I thought it would. At first, I sometimes used to allow myself a small chocolate (perhaps one from a box of Celebrations or Heroes) every couple of days. You’ve got to remember than going cold turkey isn’t the right answer for everyone. And with sugar, you do get withdrawal symptoms when you give it up in that way. I slowly reduced this sugar intake to Fridays only and then Fridays every other week. I then reduced it again by only having dark chocolate. It became much easier as time went on because I felt the moods change because my body was getting used to not getting or needing its sugar fix.
Tackling social occasions
Many people will be thinking that on a reduced sugar diet, going out with friends and the like will be difficult. I’m not going to sugarcoat (!) it. It is quite difficult. I’ve found myself only eating a little or allowing that day or meal or be the cheat of the week so that I’m officially allowing myself to do that. If you find you’re going out multiple times a week and would likely struggle, then that’s something you could technically balance out. I sometimes have a lighter and healthier lunch if I know I’m out for a meal in the evening. Pre-pandemic, I also used to allow myself to relax a little with the diet on Fridays and that worked for me. Also, when going out, I tend to now make more conscious choices and very rarely order dessert. Before I used to be the first to have my eye on the desserts. It’s all about discipline – and that goes for alcohol too.
Don’t rely on sweeteners
As mentioned, I was quite adamant that I didn’t want my sugar reduction to be replaced by an increase in sweetener consumption. Firstly, sweeteners aren’t particularly good for you either. Secondly, you will be surprised how good you feel not eating sugar and you almost don’t want to ever get into maybe getting “addicted” to another thing that’s even remotely similar. However, I do now – over three years later – eat some things with sweetener. For example, whenever I crave cake, I always make it myself with sweeteners mainly.
The weight will drop off
As I was trying to look after the fact that I could become diabetic earlier than my time, I reduced my carbohydrates at the same time as cutting out sugar. I did so much research on this and realised that carbs turn into sugars inside your body and this makes someone like me at significantly higher risk of diabetes if I eat too many carbs. So I made changes there too which were mostly swapping white carbs to brown and not eating them too much. The weight quite literally dropped off and the fact that I wasn’t addicted to sugar made me feel… on top of the world. I felt myself being more alert and also less lethargic. This meant my energy levels were very different and it was a great feeling – and still is.
Don’t rely on the food companies to reduce sugar in their consumables for you to change our diet
I can’t stress this enough. Action on Sugar has applied the right pressure to get very big companies to give no sugar or no added sugar alternatives of some of their products. The best, in my opinions, have been drinks companies – so many of which now have zero sugar versions. Once again, these contain sweeteners but are a much better alternative to a sugary aerated drink. However, don’t kick your heels for the companies to introduce reduced sugar versions. Firstly, very often, the reduced sugar alternative often can contain a lot of sugar even at a decreased rate. Secondly, do what works for you. If it is allowing yourself a small sugary bar of chocolate every couple of weeks, within the barriers you’ve set for yourself, then do it. But know that it is upto you and not upto anyone else.
Be ready for bad days
This is a very important lesson I’ve learnt, more so in the last year while being at home so much. My cravings for sugary things did heighten during the times I felt stressed. However, 90% of the time, I didn’t give in. Alternatively, I tried to bake a sugar-free cake or something to counteract the craving. It’s worked most of the time and I’m so proud. I could’ve very easily fallen back into the bad habits I had before but instead I’ve been productive in trying out healthier recipes for sweet things which satisfy my craving and that I enjoy baking. Bad days will happen but try not to let yourself make a bad day into a bad week or then into a bad month. Try to have a clean slate after each day and you’ll find it’s easy to pick right back up quickly. Also, cheat meals/days are a great thing if you are confident you will keep to the reduced sugar throughout the other times.
I hope this has given some people some food for thought. My experiences are mine and you might have your own but you will need discipline! I’m still here four years on and if I can do it, you definitely can!