6 months of total sugar-free-ness!

Whoohoo! Today marks six months since I started my no-added-sweeteners-of-any-kind journey on January 1, 2017. All the details are in this post, but in a nutshell, I’ve been avoiding all added sweeteners, including honey, stevia, maple syrup and more — even in my vitamins, even in my toothpaste.

To mark this milestone, here are some common questions I get:

Do you eat fruit?

This is the most popular question by far, often asked with a look of horror, or phrased as “But you still eat fruit, right?”

Actually, I think our modern fruit is mostly too large and too sweet,  and I think many people eat too much of it. However, I enjoy berries and I’ll eat bananas, especially if I have an upset stomach. I’ve been avoiding dried fruit since January 1, though, because it triggers my sugar cravings.

Does it take a lot of willpower?

Not after the initial adjustment period. For me this was only a couple of days, because I was eating a mostly-low-carb diet anyway, and low-carb makes sugar-free waaaay easier (see Step 5 in my post How to quit sugar).

Also, as I always say, it’s easier to eat none than to just eat a little!

For about the first 6 – 8 weeks, I didn’t consciously crave sugar, but it sometimes featured in my dreams. During those weeks, my mouth would also water when I thought about sugar or smelled something sweet.

Since then, though, neither of these things happen.

I don’t crave sweets – I don’t even think about them, really. This is why I think a one-month “cleanse” is not long enough (at least based on my experience). For me, it took longer for those changes to occur.

When writing this post, I asked myself, “What sweet food do I miss the most?” and what came to mind was …. nothing. A blank. I even forced myself to think about cheesecake to see what would happen, and my reaction was, “Meh.”

Strange…but a powerful indicator that sugar has really lost its hold on me.

Do you feel any different? What changes have you noticed?

I see one big psychological change, and one big physical one:

Psychological: I’m no longer controlled by sugar cravings. I LOVE this, maybe even more than I love the physical changes. As I described in my two-weeks-in update, my evenings after my husband went to bed used to revolve around sugar cravings. I usually found a way to talk myself into giving in to them, and I always woke up puffy and regretful the next day.

Partway through January, I actually sat on the couch one night and thought, “So what do I do now?”

The answer? Lots of things! It’s great to have the mental space and energy freed up for more positive evening activities, such as reading or walking.

Physical: I’ve definitely only hungry when I actually need to eat. I noticed this in 2000 too when I switched to a Paleo diet, but cutting out sugar takes it to a new level.

After a solid meal, the thought of more food of any kind — whether sweet or savoury — is actually repugnant for an hour or two. I remember this from my childhood, and I think this is the way it should be. I think a lot of our “hunger” today in the industrialized world is false hunger triggered by sugar and processed carbs.

Oh, and also: My skin continues in its improved state (much less adult acne, no more bumpy skin on upper arms). Yayyy! My energy also continues to be insanely high.

Weight loss: Weight loss was not a goal. I was lucky enough to be at a normal weight anyway, thanks to being on a low-carb Paleo diet for many years (see My story for the before-and-after pics).

Since the end of January, my weight has gone up by about 2 pounds (1 kg)  but my waist size has decreased 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) – unusual for a fifty-something woman. This is great, because it means I’m losing fat and adding muscle — exactly what I want!

To be fair, this has probably been helped along by the even lower-carb diet (almost ketogenic) that I’ve adopted recently.

Have you been successful so far?

Overall, definitely yes. No cake, no cookies, no ice cream, etc. Not even a bite.

As I said above, it’s easy once you entirely eliminate sweeteners – you end up not wanting them any more. It doesn’t take a lot of willpower. I know, because I definitely don’t have a lot!

There have been two slips, though, one definite, one possible, plus an unknown number of times I probably ate sugar without realizing it, despite my best efforts. The details:

Definite slip: In the spring, I was travelling and had an attack of restless legs (grrr) in the middle of the night. Tylenol (acetaminophen) helps with this. Without turning on the light, I fumbled for my little travel tube of Tylenol and swallowed one. As it was going down, I realized, too late, that it was covered in a red sugary coating ….arghhghg. When packing, I had tossed the tube into my luggage without opening it. Lesson learned. When I got home, I replaced them with the un-coated kind.

Possible slip: The Shrimp Toast Incident (see my One-month update).  Basically, I took one bite of some shrimp toast at a potluck, even though I’d been told it contained Asian fish sauce and Sambal sauce, and I knew some brands of those sauces contain sugar. It didn’t taste at all sweet, but it was a humbling lesson on how susceptible I am to the lure of a new and interesting dish, and the importance of being careful in social situations.

Unknown random sugar consumption: I realized in about February that because regular table salt contains sugar (yes!), pretty much any time I eat at a restaurant, I’m probably eating sugar in the salt (unless, of course, it’s a high-end restaurant that only uses sea salt). Also, meats are often marinated in a sugar-salt solution; for this reason, I avoid restaurant chicken.

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That’s it for the 6-month update.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know if have any other questions!

3-month update: Travel, flu, and more

At the end of March, I’m still sticking to my totally sugar-free plan. I don’t dream about sugar any more and my appetite’s well controlled.

During a recent trip to visit family, I noticed a surprising sense of calm and relaxation, despite crowded airplanes and the anticipation of a potentially tense family situation. Was this related to giving up sugar?

Maybe. In an article entitled “4 Ways Sugar Could Be Harming Your Mental Health,” Psychology Today reports, “Research has established a correlation between sugar intake and anxiety. In a 2008 study, rats that binged on sugar and then fasted displayed anxiety, and in a 2009 study rats fed sucrose compared to high-antioxidant honey were more likely to suffer anxiety.”

Another challenge in March was the flu. It started with nausea and a sore throat, followed by fever, a cough, and general aches. My husband and I lay side by side in bed all day, either sleeping or being forced awake by painful coughing fits. It felt like a huge victory if we were fever-free long enough to to blearily watch an episode of our favourite “Midsomer Murders”. Neither of us had much appetite.

I staggered to the drugstore at one point, looking for something to get rid of the lump of phlegm in my throat (TMI – sorry!). My only sugar-free choice was the expensive “Mucinex” ($25.98 on sale). The store’s house brand was only $10.99, but it contained an artificial sweetener, presumably to make the tablets slide down more easily. Darn. Sometimes this whole sugar-free thing is a nuisance (and expensive). I was glad I was able to stick to my plan, though.

Still on the flu front, I used plain ginger tea for the nausea where I normally would have used Pepto-Bismol, and cobbled together a cold medicine approximating the normal sickly sweet decongestant syrup by combining several unsweetened medicaments that contained the same ingredients.

All in all, a challenging but successful month on the sugar-free front.