Seven Lessons Learned Attempting a Sugar-Free Month

Posted on 15 May, 2014 at 3:30

You're not alone if that month felt rather long.

The first week and a half of eating sugar and refined carbohydrate free was easy. As with any new venture, the motivation was high, the inspiration fresh. And then life happened.............

While we didn't quite achieve a pure sugar-free eating pattern, we definitely achieved a low sugar diet. And, we're thankful for what trying taught us! Below are seven lessons we learned/observations made while attempting sugar-free:

1. Eating less sugar improves your sleep!

We were in bed earlier and fell asleep faster. That's got to be a good thing!!

2. Removing the 'white death' from your diet opens up a new world of glorious and nutrient rich, real foods.

Marshmallows simply not being an option at night, allowed my mind to explore other avenues. And when I really checked in with my body, I found it didn't even want the marshmallows when it came to 7pm at all, a piece of fruit and handful of nuts were much more enticing.  It was the association I had created. At around 5pm, when feeling tired and still having to bath, feed and put to bed a fiercely independent 2-year old before getting some time to myself - the thought of marshmallows and a hot chocolate at 7pm kept me going. I see a lot of people in clinic doing this with alcohol. They begin anticipating that freshly poured glass of white wine at about 3pm when feeling stressed at work - which sets them up for drinking it at 5pm on arrival home, whether they still truly feel like it then or not.

3. Going sugar-free causes a mental shift to revamp your entire diet for the better.

I found this myself and so did others on the same journey. People told me that all of a sudden they were adding more colourful vegetables to their lunches and dinners, even though this challenge wasn't about increasing non-starchy vegetable intake - it lead to a desire to do so. Some research shows that those with a higher consumption of green vegetables have lower cravings for sugar, and backs this observation.

4. Sugar is everywhere.

If anything this exercise really opened our eyes to all the hidden places sugar is! We all know tomato sauce has sugar added to it - but did you know to what extent?! 1 teaspoon of sugar per 15g - i.e. one dollop. This has really rearranged my fish and chip eating style! Perhaps it’s not the deep fried chips that cause me to feel so nauseous afterwards......

5. With behaviour change, comes pain. But pain doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong.

We all know that sugar is addictive. With some studies showing it to be just as addictive as cocaine. This exercise reminded me that any behaviour change is going to come with feelings of discomfort, pain and even feelings of grief! All very real feelings, but it doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong. This is when 'sitting in the space', 'distraction' and having 'substitutes' can really come in handy.

6. Sometimes making something 'banned', can reinforce the dangerous 'black and white' mentality.

After years of work, I consider myself to have a healthy relationship with food. I'm at a point that I can have a piece of chocolate and feel satisfied at that one piece. Something I envied people for in my earlier years. During sugar-free, I did find that not 'allowing' myself to have something sweet when I really felt like it, lead to me over eating it when I did have it. Not hugely - but I felt a sense of 'this is more than I would have had'. Research supports that those people that allow themselves to have a little of some 'treat' when they feel like it, are more likely to eat less of it overall. Which I do agree with, and this exercise reinforced it even more. But, on the other hand, sometimes it takes a cold blanket/wipe out approach to bring the level of 'treat' down to a healthier normal.

7. Don't attempt sugar-free over Easter

This was James first observation when I asked him to reflect :). But also one that brings to mind the old saying:

 "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.



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