You’d be hard-pressed to find a sweeter tooth than mine. Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, sugary snacks have been my go-to foods. Even when I ditched the pre-packaged rubbish a year or two ago and started to make my own healthier treats, I was still putting sugar into my body every hour or so.
Because sugar is sugar. Whether it’s the nasty refined white stuff or a juicy medjool date, you’re still consuming fructose with every mouthful. And fructose is not your friend, my friend. Unlike sugar’s other molecule, glucose, fructose is not used to provide energy but rather is stored as fat. To make matters worse, it’s a tad addictive and makes you want more more more. Relate?
Me too. So I decided to take action. I signed up for Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program, full of excitement. OK mostly anxiety, but excitement too.
I thought about my goals for the coming weeks. My primary one was to recalibrate my taste buds. I just wanted to stop wanting sugar all the time. I also wanted to cut down on my snacking in general (so many snaccidents when you work from home) and boost my general health in the short and long term.
I signed up for the online program, but you can also do a DIY version using the first I Quit Sugar cookbook. For me, having meal plans, recipes and online support was going to massively increase my chance of success (read zero willpower).
The program is really well put-together; each week you get an email with links to meal plans, shopping lists, recipes, weekend reading and tips. The first week of the program reduces but doesn’t eliminate sugar, so you are still eating fruit (there’s Raspberry Chia Pots on the menu for example, and very yummy they are too).
Then in weeks 2-5 there is No. Sugar. Whatsoever. No fruit, no honey, no maple syrup, no dates, no fruit juice. No white wine! At first, those sugar cravings hit me hard, and I found myself (sugar-free) snacking a LOT. Maybe even a little teary a couple of times, but hey, thank goodness for coffee, red wine and sugar-free peanut butter fudge (yes, an IQS recipe that they provide, thank you Sarah). Oh, and cheese. Cheese features big on the IQS program.
After that, sugar (in the form of fruit and a little rice malt syrup here and there) is reintroduced slowly for the last few weeks. There’s not much in the meal plans – a little fruit in a salad, for example – and you have to be careful here that you don’t go crazy. I did lose traction a bit at this stage and lost the sugar plot for a week or so. It was Easter. Need I say more? But I just dusted myself down, got prepping in the kitchen and went back, started week 7 again and completed the last fortnight sticking to the plan and leaving the lollies alone.
The food on the program is mostly delicious. Some real stand-out super-yum dishes that I will continue to make again and again week in week out, they’re that good (The Israeli Halloumi Bowl and The Ultimate Tuna Salad… hello tastebuds!). One dish (the Slow Cooked Pulled Pork) was soooooooo good that it’s now my family’s absolute favourite dish. A few of the recipes were a bit ‘meh’ and one or two we really didn’t like. But all in all, I’d give the meal plans a big thumbs up.
So, have I achieved my goals?
Well yes! I am actually surprised to tell you that some of my fave treats now taste too sweet. And whilst I still eat chocolate (like that was ever going to change) I am now happy with 85% dark which I couldn’t stand previously. And instead of loading my breakie with a cup of fruit added to everything, I now limit it to a quarter of an apple, maybe. When I’m out and craving juice, I go for veggie not fruit (carrot, ginger and coconut water = super yum). If I am making treats at home, I tend to use rice malt syrup (which is low fructose) if something needs sweetening.
So whilst I haven’t completely eliminated sugar from my diet (where’s the fun in that?), I have significantly cut down and hopefully am near the recommended 6 teaspoons a day (for women) rather than the average Aussie consumption of 24.
My long term health, well, we’ll have to wait and see, but some short term benefits include more energy, brighter skin and dropping a few cm off my waist, hips and thighs.
So if you’re thinking about quitting sugar, I say go for it. I’ll leave you with three pieces of advice.
First of all, commit to spending time in the kitchen every day – the only way to eat well (unless you have a private chef) is to cook from scratch and some of the meals take a while to prepare, but they’re deliciously worth it.
You also have to be prepared – as soon as I missed a prep day or two, I lost my way, reaching for sugary snacks and eating out.
And finally - be kind to yourself ; if you find yourself flailing, take a breather, move on and get back on track when you’re ready without beating yourself up about it.
Not many things that are worthwhile in life are easy. There will be tricky times, but actually, quitting sugar, even for a total sugar addict like me, is not as hard as you might think.