And Why You Should Try It Too
I’m a self-confessed sugar addict. Sweets are my go-to and a dessert after a meal is just a must.
If you are anything like me, you really know deep down you are consuming too much sugar, but it’s just so tasty and irresistible that you just don’t want to give it up.
I am certainly always about promoting a life of balance, I don’t like to make anything completely out of bounds, because we know psychologically that being all or nothing can make your cravings for it intensify. But as a health coach I also know how bad it can be for your body, and not to mention your waistline.
Changes in how food is produced we are now eating more sugar than ever before and so it’s no surprise that with that are epidemic levels of obesity, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Foods that are high in sugar not only taste good, they also tend to be higher in calories but can also affect your body’s ability to regulate and suppress hunger according to Dr Jade Theta, creator of Metabolic Effect, explaining why some people struggle to feel full enough, or why one is just never enough.
I read a lot of work on nutrition and lifestyle and know the benefits of reducing sugar, but I had still been putting off actually being intentional about making some changes. I finally got to the stage of enough is enough. It was time to break the sugar habit.
As far as most of my nutrition goes, I eat what you would consider a healthy diet. My main meals of breakfast lunch and dinner are foods that I will make from scratch and are made up of lean proteins and lots of veggies. I rarely eat pre-packaged meals, I eat lots of fruit and vegetables and I don’t drink fizzy pop, though I enjoy eating out and having a little tipple at the weekend.
I try to focus less on what my body looks like and more on how it feels. Lately, I had noticed that my ‘balanced’ lifestyle wasn’t feeling all that great.
I have been finding it increasingly hard to lose weight. I hold all of my extra fat around my belly, my energy levels just seemed to be on the floor all of the time and I had a feeling this was based around some level of insulin resistance beginning to occur. I would experience constant bloating after meals, always craving sweet things after dinner or lunch, and literally zero willpower when it comes to saying no to anything sweet.
So yes I eat a fairly healthy diet 80% of the time, but my crutch is and always has been the snacking that goes on in between those meals and choosing to get my sweetie fix. That sugar fix usually starts with the need for something sweet after lunch. This then causes a dip in energy by afternoon, and ultimately to more sweet food snacking with chewy sweets or chocolate being my normal go-to.
You know the one when you say you are buying it in for the kids, but then secretly it was me who was always in the sweetie cupboard.
I took a double check on the daily recommended daily allowance of added sugar which according to a Harvard article is:
No more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.
So looking at one of my favourite sweets which would be something like a Haribo Maoam. There is 6g of sugar in a 7g sweet. My daily allowance would be just over 3 of those. And there would be no way I would be stopping after just 3 sweets.
So ok, it was very clear my daily intake was far exceeding the recommendations. I decided to take a break for just 5 days. Because let’s face it, 5 days is nothing, it was the low barrier to entry. We can all do most things for at least 5 days, I was hyped and I was going for it.
My aim, as with most of the things that I do, was to keep it simple. When you simplify, you keep yourself out of that wonderful space of overwhelm and procrastination.
As I mentioned above, I was already eating healthy, home-cooked meals from natural foods. I didn’t have to change too much here.
When doing a sugar detox, (though I liked to just call it a no added sugar challenge) there can often be the recommendation of cutting out fruits too. Of course, there is sugar in fruits, though they do have the added bonus of getting vitamins and minerals.
Not like theadded sugar like you get in my Maoams, that have no other nutritional value rather than the short-lived energy you get from the glucose. Because of this, I decided not to ban fruit, I didn’t want to add multiple rules.
Remember simplicity is key.
I don’t drink fruit juice or pop, and so continued to just drink water and herbal teas for fluid. Again another commonplace for sugar consumption is drinking sugary drinks or even natural fruit juices. I like to stick to the general rule of thumb, don’t drink your calories.
So I was basically ditching the in-between sugary snacks and after dinner sweet fix dessert. I didn’t cut the snacks completely but did opt for better quality snacks or fruit and as I will talk about in the results section what actually happened is that the snacking naturally reduced as a result of the challenge.
One of the first things I noticed was an improved mood. The week previous to the challenge I had been facing a lower mood, just feeling mentally fatigued, struggling to concentrate, especially in the afternoons and feelings of anxiousness just with the weight of everything that we are all dealing with amidst a global pandemic.
During the week of the challenge, I didn’t suffer from any headaches or normal detox effects and my energy levels just felt on fire.
Bouncing with energy, no mid-afternoon dip and I felt like I had been even more productive as I busted through my to-do lists each day. I had all the energy I needed for my workouts and even added on some additional movement this week.
And the research seems to back up the my experience. Studies have shown that diets high in sugar are indeed linked to cognitive function and memory. It’s thought that the elevated levels of insulin mess with the receptors in the brain that are responsible for memory.
Whilst the exact cause is yet to be nailed down, numerous studies show that the link between sugar and mental function is a significant one.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning the sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and initiates the release of insulin. But as sugar has literally no nutritional value, no protein, no fat, no vitamins or minerals it will never actually leave the body feeling satisfied. It’s also why one is just never enough!!
The result is that as soon as insulin levels drop, your blood sugar levels take a crash and you are only left wanting/craving more to get that same sugar hit again.
Switching my snacking to foods that contained more protein, fat and nutrients also meant a much slower release of insulin and no blood sugar crash. The result was fewer cravings for sweet things.
I literally didn’t physiologically crave sugar, I didn’t even feel the need to exercise any willpower, the feeling just didn’t arise.
Sugar is often a habitual go to and it’s also known to be addictive, not only physiologically does it give us that initial and quick energy boost (though we know it’s not long-lasting, it just tastes good) it’s also psychologically rewarding and comforting. We have probably all seen the headline “Oreos More Addictive Than Cocaine” clinicians actually believe though sugar addiction is a real thing it’s more closely likened to nicotine or caffeine addiction, both of which can totally take back control of.
So now I am a couple of weeks past the initial 5 days, I have eased up my eating at the weekends and had a few alcoholic drinks or a little bit of what I like at the weekends and I have noticed at times the cravings creep back in, but I am linking that being back to a habitual or psychological craving rather than an actual physiological one.
So the short 5-day experiment was a great way to bring light to that. The first step to any level of change comes from awareness first.
This was one that I actually wasn’t expecting and surprised me. So I have already mentioned above having more energy to coincide with the mental clarity that I had been feeling. But when I checked the status on my smartwatch and in particular my sleep stats, I noticed that whilst I hadn’t had any more sleep than usual (in fact there was less overall time asleep) I had shifted from having deeper or better quality sleep. See image below for how my sleep from day 1–5.
Again there is some research to support my own personal findings. Though the exact cause is still unknown, studies have found that people with higher glucose levels are likely to have poorer sleep.
Having better quality sleep can have such a huge impact on overall hunger levels and I felt contributed to overall levels of feeling better during my no added sugar week.
It was pretty eye-opening to experience how different I felt after just 5 days of reducing my sugar intake. Having more energy and clarity just massively helped all other areas of my life, especially as I had been experiencing feelings of stress and overwhelm with all of the things that currently feel pretty big in our lives right now.
One thing I didn’t experience (which I was kind of hoping for) was weight loss. But having worked harder on my workouts this week, the weight loss is something that I know will come with time and as I carried this on have now started seeing the results on the scale too. As I mentioned at the beginning, I want to focus on how my body feels rather than just what the number on a scale says. I had also noticed less bloating on a day to day basis too. Sugar is also known to cause gas and bloating due to disruptions in the gut microbiome and the enzymes needed to digest the sugar being available in the gut. I certainly noticed a difference as bloating has been a common occurrence for me.
So whilst I’m never going to completely give up sugar for life, I am going to continue with my no sugar during the week. It helps me to stay in shape mentally during the week, I LOVE the feeling of having more energy, and I have also noticed that I am actually also having less at the weekends too now as a natural response of knowing it will cause a dip in my energy levels.
Looking at the data and the science I think most people could benefit from reducing the amount of sugar they are consuming. Let me know if you too try a 5 day no added sugar challenge and take note of the changes that occur for you.
Want some help and support on feeling better in your body, check out my FREE 7 day Better Body Kickstart challenge HERE