Quitting sugar completely isn’t realistic (or necessary), but more and more people are taking up the challenge to quit sugar for a month and finding it leads to healthy, meaningful change.
So let’s talk about chocolate. Delicious dark chocolate. Salted chocolate. Chunky chocolate with whole hazelnut or almonds embedded in it. Bitter chocolate with a hint of orange or lemon. Boutique chocolate truffles. KitKats.
When it comes to chocolate, my standards go out of the window. I mean sure, I buy high-percentage cocoa dark chocolate and keep it in the fridge, eating a piece every once in a while. But if there’s a packet of biscuits or chocolates on the table in the studio, I become a chocolate ninja; hoovering up half of them without anyone even noticing. Sometimes you want a quinoa salad. And sometimes you want a mars bar.
But we all know that sugar is bad for us. Medical studies describe sugar as anything from “non-beneficial” to “toxic”. Our body needs glucose, but we get more than enough from starchy foods, potatoes and fruit. So should we cut out excess sugar completely? A lot of people say we should, and more and more people are trying to quit for a month to see for themselves what the impact is.
Cut it out.
Most of us don’t have the time to scrutinise the label of everything we eat. This challenge is about doing the best you can, and trying to form habits that will actually last and reduce the amount of sugar you consume once the month is over.
Here are my top tips for cutting out sugars, ranked from easiest/most obvious through to trickiest (at least for me):
1. Don’t buy sweets, candy or chocolate.
I mean, duh. But seriously, just don’t! Stock up on snacks like fruit and nuts, and be firm.
2. Plan your meals.
Avoiding sugar (like trying to cut down on any food group) means being less spontaneous and more careful about what and when you eat. Think about when you’ll be hungry (and where) and try to plan accordingly. It’s really important to eat regularly throughout the day if you’re avoiding sugar to keep your energy levels up. Many of us grab something sugary or add sugar to coffee to give us a boost when we are feeling low on energy. To avoid this, eat structured meals and snacks every few hours.
3. Find sweetness elsewhere.
Having natural yogurt for breakfast with berries or fruits (natural sugars are fine) is a great way of having a sweet treat that’s guilt free. Same goes for juice. Eating fruit instead of drinking it provides more fibre and actually helps you consume less fruit, so less sugar. A typical glass of orange juice might contain the juice of two or three oranges – all the sugar, none of the fibre! Eating one whole orange wins easily.
4. Become the French film star you always dreamed you’d be.
Smouldering black-and-white icons don’t drink soy lattes or hazelnut mocha frappes. Embrace simple, unsweetened black coffee and feel sophisticated and joyfully sugar free. Then brush your teeth.
5. Always read the label.
You’d be surprised how sugary a lot of things are. Et tu muesli?! Try and buy better, and you’ll find yourself with less packaging in your kitchen. Sourcing good bread, eating more fruit and vegetables instead of processed or packaged food, and avoiding food on-the-go are habits that outlast the one month challenge and make you feel better forever.
What I learned.
After the one month challenge, you automatically fall back at least partly into a few old habits. Which is fine. Living by strict rules isn’t fun for anyone. But there are things you notice that really make you form new habits which last.
1. Fitter, happier.
Thinking more about what you eat tends to automatically lead to some weight loss. It may not be significant, but you certainly notice yourself looking and feeling more svelte when you cut out sugar and eat more proteins, carbs and fats instead. After the first week or two, your body really detoxes from sugar and you feel lighter mentally too.
I found myself feeling more focused and sharp around the end of week 2.
2. No more energy rollercoaster.
Generally with those of us who tend towards sweet treats or caffeine, our day looks a bit like a rollercoaster, with epic highs and terrible slumps caused by fluctuating blood sugar levels. Stabilizing blood sugar levels means energy gets released more regularly and your body burns off fats and carbs instead of sugar.
Cutting out sugar and eating better really helped improve my sleep patterns and gave me more energy throughout the day, with less of the highs and lows.
3. Improved skin.
As you may have noticed, skincare is kind of my thing. I’ve talked a lot about internal factors that influence the state of your skin, like hydration and sleep, and of course food is a vital part of maintaining healthy skin. The state of your skin is a pretty good indicator of what´s going on inside your body, and the better your diet the better your skin is likely to look.
Consuming less sugar reduces oiliness (especially in the T-zone) and reduces the likelihood of wrinkles. Less glucose means less strain on the natural oils in your skin, so it really helps to leave you looking healthier.
One month on.
Having felt really good about the positive changes I made during my month off sugar, I kept up a lot of it up (no more sugar in hot drinks, no more sweets or candy), and it was no hardship at all.
As we are building up to Christmas, I feel extra motivated to hold on to the good habits I’ve developed as the road to festive fun is often paved with delicious temptation.
Having said that, I’ve always believed that pleasure and joy are as vital to looking and feeling great as any health and lifestyle choice. Everything in moderation, as they say. Life is too short to try and control every snack and meal, and sometimes you have to use common sense to decide what’s good and what isn’t.
Now, where’s that Mars cereal bar..?