22 October 2015

What to expect when giving up sugar

Mindbodygreen posted a fantastic recount of what to expect when you go give up sugar. I felt compelled to build upon this based on my experience living #paleo and the #PrimalBlueprint.

With so much variation in diets. nutrition plans and healthy living philosophies out there, there’s at least one idea that is unanimous across the board - sugar is bad. Sparked in the mainstream perhaps by Sarah Wilson’s Sweet Poison, but preached about by every medical, health, fitness and nutrition professional under the sun, dropping sugar is thankfully becoming the norm for most concerned with their health and well-being.

It’s not easy though, at least not at first. Dropping sugar takes time, and your body will need a lot of it to adjust to quite a few things, so keep the long-term in mind. A one month ban may help you slim down a bit for the party at the end of the month, but if you’re not thinking about sustainability for the long haul, you’ll end up taking 2 steps forward and 5 steps back when it’s all said and done.

Here’s what I’ve come to expect when making hard reductions in my sugar intake over a couple months. For the record, I go primal which means I moderate carbohydrates as well, though not nearly to the same extent as sugar). For me this means using fruit sparingly as light snack, maybe having bread or rice once a week, with pasta, pizza, and cereal filing under “once in a blue moon”.

Week One: This is weird, what do I eat?
The beginning is a bit bizarre. It’s not particularly difficult as long as you’ve prepared a bit by organising delicious high protein and good fat filled meals you love, but snacking is definitely the biggest challenge. Make sure to have nuts, seeds, some chopped up vegetables on hand at work. If you’re anything like me, you may want to purge your house of all things sweet as well. Healthy looking foods like granola bars and fruit juices are often just as bad as the obvious worst enemies.

Week Two: This is great!
By now your body would be adjusting to the positive response to no longer having poison overwhelming its liver. I feel lighter, more calm and less hungry. Things are especially encouraging if you’re becoming accustomed to the change in menu items you’re allowing yourself. A staple snack for me is a weird one, a spoonful of nut butter (peanut is good, but almond or macadamia options are better). It always seemed weird to me, given I love the taste of peanut butter, having it without bread wasn’t really a big deal. I remember being surprised at how full I felt after a tablespoon. It was always enough to last a couple hours until the next proper meal.

Weeks Three and Four: Here comes the cravings.
Around this time I would start feeling the craving kick in - both deliberately for sugary foods, but also for a wider array of foods. Fatigue and irritability weren’t much of a problem for me, it was more just a matter of missing the foods I wasn't able to eat any more. I’d start to think about ice cream and pizza. It’s also around this time I would feel like I’m bored with what I’ve been eating. Feeling like you are eating the same 3 meals over and over is a common challenge. It takes some deliberate effort, but try to take this as an opportunity to try new recipes and even new foods. Expanding your table options by trying out new vegetables, spices or meats can isn’t easy, but is often incredibly rewarding. I’ve discovered some of my favourite things (coconut oil, broccolini, and sweet potato during these phases).

Week Five: I feel fuller longer
After a month of success, the strongest dividends start to take shape. While I already would’ve lost weight, slept better and stabilised my energy and mood levels over the previous weeks, these have start to become commonplace by now. Even further, the realisation of the absence of the problems that existed before sets in, and there’s a distinct consistency of fullness or satiety. I always try to be conscious and appreciative of the times I look at my watch and notice I haven’t eaten or felt hungry in 2-3 hours and am still full of energy and focus for the jobs at hand. To go a little into the science behind this, you would have reached ketosis, where your body has adapted to no longer being flooded with sugar and carbohydrates. Instead it looks to a much better source of fuel, fat, which is slower burning and won’t lead to crashes, and leads to looking better in a mirror, amongst a million other benefits as well.  

Week Six: Full awareness no guilt
Around this time I can usually start easing up a bit partially to find the right, longer term balance I’m hoping to strike, but more to test and experiment with how what I eat affects how I feel. I like the idea of a dynamic presence of mind based on what I’m eating and being conscious of what happens after. Starting to work more fruit or honey into my snacks or add a touch of sweetness coffee (I never add sugar, but sometimes use stevia), is completely fine for me as it doesn’t lead to any bloating or crashes. This is also when I gauge harsher foods ranging from light sandwiches to pizza. It’s important to be aware of how you feel after you eat certain foods. If you’re weight, energy, skin, mood, or overall wellness doesn’t change, all the power in the world to you, enjoy it guilt free. If you feel like there’s a brick in your stomach, or you feel a bit of haziness the next couple of days, or your lower back starts to stiffen up, be mindful of this as well. In this latter case, still enjoy it and definitely don’t beat yourself up about it, but know what you’re doing and be honest with yourself about it. This is as important knowledge as there is and keeping stock of this is crucial for your long-term motivation.

That pretty much sums up my experiences when dropping sugar. I’ve become quite familiar with this cycle over the last couple of years. There are still ups and downs where I’m eating better and worse depending on what’s going on around me and how I’m feeling at the time, but the ride is much more stable than before. The metaphorical roller coaster is now akin to gentle tides. Full awareness, no guilt.

How is giving up sugar going for you? Are you a seasoned veteran or are you embarking on this journey for the first time? What personal differences are you experiencing? I’d love to hear your story. Find me Google+ or Twitter