Sometimes just one change in habits can change your life. I was thinking about this as I was gearing up for a sugar detox, and I was reminded of an interview I did a few years ago with a woman named Jennifer who turned her life around simply by removing sugar from her diet. Her journey is inspirational, and it may help you if you're thinking about cutting out sugar and don't know what to expect.
Q: You cut refined sugar from your diet three years ago. What led you to make that decision?
A: Basically, I was sick of feeling like crap about myself. I was tired all the time, I was 30 pounds heavier, I never worked out because I just didn't have the drive for it. I was eating what I thought was "healthy" — granola bars, protein bars, bagels. I was always what I would call a "sugar-addict." I was just eating the junk 24-7. I finally decided I would give not eating sugar a try, even for a little while, to see if I felt a difference.
What was the hardest part about giving up sugar?
Pressure. Especially at birthday parties. People will always pressure you; I'm not sure if it's a self-conscious thing that you're doing something so epic? I sometimes feel like a jerk when I'm at a sibling/friend/nephew/niece's birthday party and I don't eat cake. But it's been three years, and most people have given up pressuring me to "just eat a piece already."
How did you feel the first few weeks?
The first week was utter garbage. I wanted cookies and brownies SO badly. Sugar is so far ingrained into our blood streams between the refined sugar/corn syrup/random "extrin"s, as I call them — of course we crave it. It's in basically every single processed food, right down to turkey meat and spaghetti sauces. But I lost 10 pounds within the first couple of weeks just by saying goodbye to dessert. I wasn't even hardcore yet back then — I was still eating processed foods like boxed dinners and frozen meals.
How did you persevere and deal with sugar cravings?
Bananas were and remain my go-to food. Aside from being a fantastic post-workout recovery food, they are high enough in natural sugar to switch my brain off sugar crave over-drive. I also like Lindt's 90 percent Cocoa Supreme Dark chocolate; less than a gram of sugar per square, and a good source of iron. Once you get the sugar out of your system, that super-dark chocolate tastes amazing.
What difference has it made in how you feel?
I feel … great. Much more energy than I used to have. As I said, I started with just nixing dessert. Which branched into not buying frozen meals, and instead cooking my own meals and freezing them. Which branched into shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (produce, meat, dairy), with stops in the center aisles only for pasta and oatmeal. Once my energy levels were so high, and my moods started stabilizing, and my body started responding by shedding the extra weight … I thought, "OK, what next?" So I started training for a 5K. Then a half-marathon. Then a 25K (15.53 miles). Right now I'm a team leader for a run camp here in Michigan, training for the very first Kalamazoo Marathon! I recently started playing with buying/eating all organic food; it's expensive, but worth it to eat chemical/pesticide-free foods! I've noticed that between the foods I buy, the daily multivitamin I take, and the exercise I do … I hardly EVER get sick. You know, it's exciting that a whole world of opportunities has opened up to me, and all I had to do was change the way I eat. I just feel so confident.
What are your favorite sugar-free treats?
Favorites are bananas, pineapple and mango. Of course, those all have natural-occurring sugar, but they also have a host of vital nutrients. I also like SUPER dark chocolate, 85 percent or higher. Lindt and Green & Black are favorites! Just stay away from artificial sweeteners. I used to make the mistake filling up on "sugar-free" candies and ice creams, because they were sugar-free. But they aren't really danger-free; they are full of chemicals, and send a signal to your brain similar to sugar … they'll royally screw your body over.
Any last thoughts for those doing a sugar-free week?
Be prepared for it to suck at first. Be prepared for people to judge you. Be prepared to fall at least once (maybe a few times). But also be prepared to feel great. Be prepared to lose weight. Be prepared to expand your world. Be prepared to finally have a grip on your own life, instead of the food you eat having a grip on it.