How to quit sugar

Giving up sugar might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it’s worth it. You’ll be a lean, energetic, cravings-free inspiration to all who know you! So, huge congratulations to you for even considering it.

Also, if this doesn’t sound too pushy, I just want to say that if I can do my crazy no-added-sweeteners-not-even-in-vitamins thing, you should be able to give up the more obvious forms of added sweetener.

(1) Choose which sugars you want to give up

Of course, I want you to give up all of them. ALL of them. Addictive, metabolism-deranging white powders must GO!

You don’t have to be as extreme as I am, but be aware that all the following are still sugars and will still try and control you with their evil cravings: Honey, agave, rice bran syrup, maple syrup, etc. (see the full list). If you only give up table sugar, but keep eating honey or whatever, you’ll never be free of cravings.

  • Best option: Give up all added sweeteners
  • Next best (perhaps as a transition): Give them all up except stevia. I find it to be less addictive, and it may even help control blood sugars.

(2) Now, go cold turkey

You know what you want to do. Now, just rip the bandaid off – it’s less painful in the long run. Look at the list of sweeteners you’ve decided to avoid (hopefully all of them), and start avoiding. I always tell people it’s way easier to have none, than to just have a little.

Imagine an alcoholic who had a monthly cheat day, or who had a drink on special occasions. If they were anything like the beloved, exasperating alcoholic I grew up with, they’d be slurring their words and hiding the Smirnoff in the linen cupboard before you could say, “Pass the Antabuse.” Having “just a taste” or “just one” switches all your cravings back on again.

If you continue to eat just a little sweetener, you’ll be feeding your addiction, and your cravings will never die.

It can take 2 – 10 days for the cravings to pass, but hang in there – once this part is over, everything gets much, much easier.

Tips for getting through the transition:

  • Make sure your environment (at home and at work) is free of sugary temptations (see Step 6 below)
  • Make sure you’re not actually hungry. It can be hard to separate sugar cravings from true hunger. If you’re hungry, have a satisfying meal with ample fat and protein.
  • If you’re not hungry, but you’re still feeling sugar cravings, eat something non-sugary that you love. Some ideas:
    • A few slices of your favourite cheese – add an apple for extra satisfaction
    • A handful of delicious salty, crunchy nuts or seeds
    • Anything involving avocados
    • Some unsweetened peanut butter spread on a banana
    • A hot drink with extra cream or coconut milk
  • Make a plan for what you’re going to do when the cravings hit — go for a walk, read a book, call a friend
  • Remember that you can wait out your cravings; they will pass, like clouds moving across the sky

(3) Channel Yoda

In the words of Yoda, “There is no try – there is only do and not do.”  Never tell people you’re trying to give up sugar, because that opens the door to not trying (also known as failing). Just say, “I don’t eat sugar.”

(4) Tell the world

I strongly suggest starting a blog – no joke (it worked for me!). Telling the whole WORLD you’re going to do something has a way of making it stick.

Failing that, tell everybody in your life – your family, friends (Facebook and otherwise), coworkers, acquaintances. Put a sticker like this one outside your door at work:

Keep calm

(5) Reduce carbohydrates in general

This makes quitting sugar easier. Why? Because carbs cause insulin surges, which cause hunger and cravings

When complex carbohydrates are digested, they break down into … what? Simple carbohydrates. And what is a simple carbohydrate? A sugar, that’s what.

(6) Remove all temptation

Go through your house and throw away/donate/hide everything that contains sugar. I did a combination, mostly getting rid of stuff, but hiding a few things in a tucked-away basement pantry where they’re not staring me in the face every day. Don’t forget the bathroom! (Antacids, toothpaste, etc.)

  • Getting rid of antacids and toothpaste? Seriously?
    • Yup. But, you should do what works for you, while being aware that the sweeteners in these products can trigger cravings. I didn’t get rid of them, but moved them to my basement pantry in case anyone else might need them.
  • Why do I still keep sugar around?
    • I bought some of it before I embarked on this venture, and I’m a cheapskate.
    • Hummingbird food
    • Once or twice a year, I cook with small amounts of coconut sugar or stevia for other people
    • Some of the sugar-containing things are toothpaste, vitamins, etc. that I plan to use after my insanely-extreme-if-I-can-do-this-then-you-can-too year.
  • Why did I donate sugary food I think it’s so unhealthy?
    • I know, I struggled with this too. It’s like “This doesn’t meet the standards for the sacred temple that is my body. Here, food bank people, you have it.” Reasons:
      • The stuff I gave to my local food bank wasn’t actual sugar (I had no trouble tossing that). It was food containing small amounts of sugar: Bacon and other some processed meats, smoked salmon (sob!), and Thai coconut soup (also sob).
      • I knew I wasn’t going to change everyone’s mind
      • And again, as a cheapskate who finds it hard to waste food, it was hard for me to just throw food away that others might need and appreciate.

(7) Plan your rebuttals

Some people might disagree with your plan to quit sugar. Have your arguments ready to go:

  • “Your brain needs sugar.” Nope.
    • It’s true that glucose (a type of sugar) is one of the fuels your brain can use, but your brain definitely doesn’t need *added* sugars. Do you ever eat fruit or vegetables? If you do, then you’re covered — your body can make all the glucose it needs from them. (Other carbs, like grains – ideally whole grains — work too, although as a low-carb person, I don’t often eat them.)
    • But even if you ate a very low carb “ketogenic” diet – basically just fat and protein – your smart, wonderful body would step up and make glucose out of the protein. This happens in your liver, and it’s called gluconeogenesis. It’s something all human bodies are designed to do. Your body would also create ketones (hence the name of the diet) from all the body fat that would be breaking down as a result of the diet (body fat breaking down — woo!). Brains and bodies are perfectly happy to run on ketones – some studies even suggest they run better on ketones than on glucose.
  • “Sugar gives you energy.” You bet it does! You’ll get a rush, followed by a crash, followed by a craving for more sugar, followed by one more slow, inexorable step on the road to becoming an overweight person with diabetes. Sound worth it?
  • Some variation on “Just have a taste!” “One won’t hurt you!” “But Grandma made this especially for you!” This is just not fair. People should support us in our brave sugar-free ventures. We are Bravey McBraveFace! So, don’t be afraid to push back. YOU have the final say over what goes into your mouth. Nobody can make you eat something without your permission. Plus, people offering sugary treats are really offering love, the care they took in choosing/making said treat, and wishes for your happiness. So, genuinely react to that. Stuff that’s worked for me:
    • Oooh and aahh over the sugary treat: “Ohhh, it looks so good! Wow, you/Grandma/whoever really took a lot of trouble over this, thank you! I would love to, but I don’t eat sugar any more. I know it’s kind of crazy, but I really want to stick to that.” Then hug them and take pictures of the beautiful delicacy.
    • It also helps to say (if you feel strong enough to withstand) “Can I just smell it?” Then take a deep, appreciative sniff and go “Mmmmmm!” (Closing your eyes in bliss is optional). I always hope that this is almost as good for the person, as if I’d actually taken a bite. On the other hand, maybe they hate me for breathing all over their cupcakes. Hmmm.
  • “Everything in moderation.” Oh, really? So, heroin in moderation? Trans-fats in moderation? High-fructose corn syrup in moderation? Food dyes in moderation? Gluten in moderation, for celiacs? Alcohol in moderation, for alcoholics? I say, “No!” If we know something doesn’t work for our own body, we can and should draw a line.

I salute you for your courage

Giving up sugar is not easy, so huge congratulations to you for even considering it.

PS – Cooking

Giving up sugar will take a lot of label-reading, and if you don’t know how to cook, you might have to learn. Thankfully, basic cooking is not that hard – slap some meat in a pan, boil some veggies, and you have the makings of a healthy meal. There are hundreds of delicious sugar-free meals on sites like Mark’s Daily Apple and Diet Doctor (and I’m adding more to this site as often as I can).

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Anne Scott

Hi, I'm Anne! I'm passionate about sugar-free living, healthy aging, reading, writing, books, and libraries.

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