This has been a long time coming for me. Like 50 years long time coming.
Growing up, and through my adult life, I’ve had a sweet tooth. But not in a normal, “oh I like cake” kind of way. In a “once when I was about 6, I dug a box of cereal out of the trash in the middle of the night to eat it” kind of way. In an “I will eat this pan/box of sweets in its entirety in one sitting” kind of way. And once, I bought a box of Girl Scout cookies (aka the Devil’s treat) outside a grocery store, took out a handful, threw the rest in the trash, ate them in my car, and tried to figure out how I could go back and get the rest out of the trash.
Basically, my relationship with sweets has never been normal nor healthy.
And up until now, I was ok trying to “cut back” on sweets, even though it never worked for long.
In the last 2-3 years, I started noticing something I didn’t like. After I would eat sweets, I would get irritable. Well, maybe more than irritable. Any. Little. Thing…and I was blown way out of proportion upset.
Example: I’m working on the fence and keep dropping the pliers = a complete breakdown in tears.
I’d been trying to talk myself out of what was happening and why. Could it really be sugar causing my emotional breakdowns? It’s never been a problem before? I’ve ALWAYS eaten lots of sweets. But I couldn’t keep denying it any longer. NOW, it was a problem.
A few years ago, I had already dropped my sugar consumption waaaaay below the American average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day. I’d maybe have a few teaspoons of maple syrup or honey a day in yogurt, a smoothie, or tea. And when I did make a baked treat, I always cut the sugar in half. So what was I really giving up? Would it really make a difference?
After my 50th birthday, I ate my birthday brownies and decided that was it. I didn’t want to have these HUGE emotional swings and breakdowns anymore. I wanted to give my body a real break and see what happened.
What was the no sugar “rule”? No maple syrup, coconut sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, honey, sucanat, palm sugar, etc. Basically, no added sugars. The only sweet treat was from whole foods. So when I got a sugar craving, it was a pear, grapes, banana, mango, etc. If I made a smoothie, I added in a date.
Eating whole foods high in natural sugar is better because the fiber and other nutrients create a balance when the sugar is absorbed into your system and slows the process down. aka less of a sugar rush.
In the past, I’ve tried all the sugar substitutes, including sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol, and don’t like the taste. Same for Stevia. Blah!
Up to day 30, I would repeatedly, throughout most of the day, think about having a slice of cake, a handful of chocolate chips, ice cream, anything and everything sweet. I wanted it. I craved it.
Between day 30-60, I was still thinking about sweets daily and regularly and had 1 breakdown. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I’d been so careful reading labels making sure there was no added sugar. I thought about it for 3 days and wondered if it wasn’t the sugar, what was it?
Well, it was sugar. Fred had made dinner for us and his parents and used their pasta sauce–with sugar added; 8 grams per serving. BINGO! Any hope of going back to syrup on my pancakes, pie at Thanksgiving, or cookies at Christmas were squashed.
After 60 days, it got easier, but I still had daily cravings for sweets.
But now at 5 months sugar-free, well, I still have daily sweet cravings. BUT…I have found some real food sweet treats with no side effects.
Dates have been a huge blessing. I use them in smoothies, pudding, and even a date-sweetened pumpkin pie. Dates have a lot of natural sugar BUT they also have a lot of fiber and minerals.
I use a half cup milk and a half cup plain full-fat yogurt; add more cocoa powder to taste. For Pudding, add 1 Tbsp chia seeds, blend on high, pour in bowls, 10 minutes in the fridge to set.
Sweet Potato/Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
Use cooked sweet potato or pumpkin and I add 2-3 dates. Tweak it to your taste.
Date Sweetened Pumpkin Pie
I like this recipe, but use more dates and omit the maple syrup.
The advice that moderation is key, let me assure you, is not the answer for me.
I remember when I was in my mid-20s, I told my dad I was afraid I was an alcoholic. He told me just because I drank, even though it was a lot at the time, that didn’t make me an alcoholic. That if I couldn’t stop or if I did stop, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, then come talk to him.
Well, I never went back for that talk, but my reaction to cutting out sugar has made me think more about its addictive nature. I’ve read the articles comparing the addictiveness of sugar to cocaine and I get it.
Sugar hides in so many foods that line the grocery store shelves, is added to foods just so we eat and buy more of it, and contributes to more health problems than we care to admit.
What are my health benefits five months into this? I don’t have less brain-fog or any more energy and haven’t lost any weight like some people have. Know what I haven’t had? Major breakdown crying fits over simple set-backs or problems. So mental health benefits for the win!
I have a reason for my upsets now. I’m sad, frustrated, or angry because something happened and I’m having a reasonable reaction. I can say X is causing my reaction, not sugar surging through my system. I didn’t have that before.
As I write this, I’d LOVE a lemon bar. But my bowl of plain full-fat yogurt with blueberries and pecans satisfies my sweet craving now. I have no doubt I will breakdown one day and stuff myself with something my digestive tract and brain will hate me for later. And when I do, I will pick up where I left off. No blame, guilt, or shame for myself, just renewing my commitment and moving forward.
This is not something I think everyone should or needs to do. However, if you are struggling with emotional breakdowns in the form of sadness, anger, depression, or anxiety, you may want to consider giving this a try.
If you don’t want to go full no-sugar, try:
- switching to honey, dates, or maple syrup
- limit added sugar to no more than 4 grams/serving or meal or day (that’s 1 tsp)
- eat only sweet treats you make at home (better ingredients and you can use less sugar)
- increase your real food sugar intake like fruit (not juices)
If this is something you want to try and need some support, or just have questions, you can email me and I will help as much as I can. There are also tons of resources online for sugar addiction and support to help reduce/stop sugar consumption.