GRETCHEN TRIES STUFF EPISODE 4: The one with no sugar
Cutting out sugar seems to be a very popular 'fad' (diet?) this year. I've heard of loads of people doing it, seen posts on social media about it, and have had multiple friends talk about their own attempts to cut out sugar. Everyone I talked to seem to have slightly different approaches for going sugar free—"Nothing with fructose," "Only during the work week," "Natural sugar's okay," etc. I decided to give it a go myself and stopped eating sugar for the entire month of July. The experience was interesting.I decided to take on the experiment only a couple days before I started, with an idea in my head that this would be a fairly easy "challenge." (I don't mean to brag, but when it come to food, I have exceptional impulse control.) When people asked why I was not eating sugar, there are two main reasons I would give: 1) I don't think I eat a lot of sugar to begin with and cutting out sugar is a good way test that. 2) I was curious how much it would change my lifestyle. To preface, I personally don't believe in dieting. I believe what you do and don't eat is part of your lifestyle, and while you can make lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, diets — especially fad diets — are neither effective or healthy for losing weight or improving health long-term. When going sugar-free, I didn't expect to lose weight or experience sugar withdrawal or even crave sugary foods. I honestly expected to feel very little effect at all.
My Rules for Sugar-free Eating: When taking on a project of this nature, I believe it's necessary to establish some guidelines. Most importantly, what type of sugars are being cut and if any form of sugar is okay. After a little consideration, I decided to only cut out added and processed sugars, allowing myself to eat only naturally occurring sugars. So basically, I could still eat fruit and honey (and real maple syrup but I never ended up eating that in July). I also considered the sugar in alcohol to be naturally occurring, as long as it was not some sort of cocktail with sugar, soda pop, or simple syrup in it. To play it safe, I pretty stuck to beer or wine when consuming alcohol.
I am happy to report that cutting out sugar wasn't very difficult for me at all. I feel relieve to know that I'm not naive about my sugar consumption and really had to make very little adjustments to my normal day-to-day life. That being said, some adjustments were still made:
- Planning ahead for breakfast on the weekend. I grew up in a household that often cooked pancakes, or waffles, or french toast, or pretty much anything that can be served with maple syrup (my dad's specialty) on Saturday mornings. This is a tradition I've carried into adulthood, so on Friday and Saturday nights, I would not prepare my normal overnight-oats for breakfast the following morning. The first Saturday of July (literally the first day I went sugar-free), I was drastically under prepared for eating breakfast in the morning. For the rest of the month, I made sure to plan out a healthy breakfasts for the weekend as well as the weekdays.
- No baking. Technically yes, I could have baked and just not partaken in the eating of what I made, but I found it difficult to justify the money on ingredients or the time it takes to bake a three-layered cake if I wasn't going to eat any of it (however, I would have been all over baking if someone had specially requested I make a French dessert or cake). I love baking. I think it's a fun activity. I actually prefer the baking aspect of baking more than the eating (I really am not a huge sweets person). About a week in, I got a strong urge to bake that I ended up suppressing (sort of... I did pin quite a lot of dessert recipes during that week on my Pinterest page). Baking was what I missed the most.
- Double checking the labels of everything just incase it had sugar. Excluding such a common ingredient from my diet definitely meant being even more mindful of food labels. There are a few items I commonly consume that I was surprised to learn had sugar in them—mainly Sriracha and salsa. I happen to be a fan of making quite a lot of my food spicy and frequently use these two foods. I ended up just subbing in sugar-free hot sauces (such as Tapatío) and decided to make a few batched of my own salsa, in which I used just a dash of honey instead of sugar. I like my homemade salsa and I do enjoy a range of hot sauces, but Sriracha has a specific flavor that is hard to substitute when you want it.
- Shopping hungover is so much more complicated sugar free. Wakeup on a Saturday or Sunday morning after a night where I've had just a little too much fun (Can you really have too much fun? Sometime, yes), all I wanted was something super easy on my stomach. My go-to food for a questionable stomach? Cheerios or Corn Flake, straight from the box. Both of these have sugar in them, so I had to settle for plain greek yogurt (a favorite of mine actually) and Melba Toast crackers.
- Eating out. I had a minor slip up on my second day of going sugar free, and it occurred because I wasn't mindful enough about ordering at a restaurant. I opted for a balsamic vinaigrette on my salad and could tell with the first bite, they put sugar in the dressing. Sadly, I couldn't eat the rest of my salad and decided to be more diligent about inquiring about ingredients going forward. Inevitably I avoided eating out as much as I could for the rest of the month. Navigating restaurant is one of the trickier parts of going sugar free.
Now my experience going sugar free is probably different than other people's experiences. For someone who consumes a lot of sugar and is trying to eliminate or reduce sugar consumption, this could be a much more difficult task; after all, sugar is more addicting than cocaine (according to a study done on rats). A friend of mine who has more of a sweet tooth than me pointed out that I might feel so good sugar free, I won't want to go back to eating it. A very good point but not something I see happening to me since cutting sugar out had a small effect on my day-to-day eating habits. I apologize to anyone who read this hoping for some agonizing account of resisting sugar or tips to stay strong in the face of sugar cravings. I can't pass on any specific tips for resisting cravings, though I suggest eating something else you enjoy and drinking plenty of water if you are avoiding a specific food you crave. And just remind yourself that the cravings do go away with time (that's kind of a specific tip for all my friends who have asked for advice on kicking a soda pop addiction.)Will I eat sugar again? Most definitely. (I had a donut for breakfast August 1st, and posted all about it on my Instagram.) I don't believe cane sugar is bad for you and subscribe to the "everything in moderation" philosophy... for the exception of coffee, which I drink in excess. I will, as I always have, continue to not eat "fake" sugars or high fructose corn syrup, etc. I do believe that the real thing is much better for your health (and tastier) than their man-made, low-cal counter parts.Do you have any experience going sugar free? Please share your experience in the comments section below. I'd love to hear them. Additionally, if there is anything you'd like see me try on "Gretchen Tries Stuff," leave suggestions in the comments section or reach out to me on my Twitter.