Diet & Nutrition

How I’ve stayed sugar-free for three years

Weight loss wasn’t the goal but dropping the kilos was only the start of the benefits.

When I first heard about people giving up sugar, I thought it sounded ridiculous. How could anyone quit sugar? What a crock! I hadn’t really thought much about it until someone at work brought in a copy of Sarah Wilson’s book I Quit Sugar and I read it from cover to cover. I was so drawn in by it and it all made so much sense to me.

I looked at the labels on the food in my pantry and thought, ‘This stuff is in everything!’ So I opened the cupboards and got rid of everything – my sons were horrified! I put it all in a big box and gave it to family.

The I Quit Sugar book has an eight- week detox programme, and I went through it step by step. A major change for me was switching my mindset around the low-fat concept.

I’d been led to believe that low fat was the way to go, so I’d been avoiding butter and eating pottles of low-fat yoghurt thinking it was healthy; I now know they’re full of sugar. I was stuck in a bit of a health rut, and it was all about making little changes that started to add up.

Transitioning to being sugar-free

It was difficult at the beginning, but quitting sugar hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. At the start l’d go somewhere and think, ‘Uh-oh, there’s cake and ice cream here’, or my kids would want pudding, and it was challenging watching everyone eat ice cream while I was just sitting there. But it wasn’t the end of the world.

My biggest issue was going to a barbecue – there would be all these salads there, and every single one would be covered in some sort of flavoured dressing. Those I’ve found to be one of the biggest culprits for sugar, outside the obvious sweets and desserts.

After cleaning out the cupboards, having to start again from scratch was difficult, and of course there was the cost involved as well. When I started three years ago, a lot of the ingredients that I needed were hard to find, and I had to hunt things out at health food shops.

But the huge amount of interest in health and wellness over the past few years has meant that a lot of these products are now readily available at supermarkets, which makes it a lot easier.

Once I got into the swing of shopping for this lifestyle, I found my grocery bill was pretty similar to what it was before – I’m just not buying the junk anymore.

When I’m reading labels at the supermarket, I look at how much sugar is in something per 100g. If it’s less than 5g, it’s usually pretty good, although I tend to avoid pre-packaged food now.

It’s disconcerting when something has ‘no added sugar’ on the front, and then you turn it over and one of the ingredients is ‘apple juice concentrate’ – which is basically sugar. Believe it or not, I saw that on a packet of baked beans.

Benefits of quitting sugar

After about a month of cutting back on sugar, I’d lost a couple of kilos, and about five months after quitting the sweet stuff, I was 10kg down. I didn’t expect it, I didn’t quit sugar to lose as much weight as what dropped off at first, and I started to look too slim. Eventually, my body seemed to regulate itself and I’ve stayed at a weight range that suits me.

It’s made a huge difference to my skin – although I still have the odd breakout, it’s a lot better than what it was before. My hair is nicer as well; it just feels thicker and stronger.

Having more energy was a huge bonus. I don’t get that 3pm slump anymore, I don’t get lethargic in the afternoons, and I’m not looking for a snack that comes out of a wrapper. I’ve noticed that I have a more sustained, slow-burning energy, unlike the whole up-and-down spiral of the sugar train. You don’t realise the extent of this until you’re not eating sugar – I used to think the energy highs and lows were normal.

I’ve also noticed that going off sugar changes your taste buds. If my sons have ice creams, I might have a try but all I can taste now is artificial sweeteners. I believe in moderation, so if it’s a birthday party and there’s cake, I’ll have a small piece. Generally, if I feel like a treat it will be some dark chocolate, a raw slice, or something I’ve made myself.

People say to me, ‘Are you still doing the no sugar thing?’, but it’s not even about that anymore, it’s just about fuelling your body with what you need to feel good throughout the day. I don’t even think about avoiding sugar now, it’s just become a habit

Sam’s tips for a low-sugar life

Healthy fats are your friend

Start by investing in a decent olive oil, and use it for drizzling on salads.

Change your mindset

Instead of seeing it as ‘Oh no, I can’t eat that’, say to yourself, ‘I don’t want to eat it.’ That’s a far more positive way of looking at it than only thinking ‘I can’t’, and one of the biggest things that helps me to stay off sugar.

Bulk up on veges

I’m a big spaghetti fan, and although I still enjoy it once a week, I focus on upping my vegetable intake, rather than filling up on carbs. Mix up your veges according to what’s in season.

Scope out the supermarket

You don’t have to spend top dollar at specialty stores to find healthy products anymore. Most major supermarkets stock a range of ingredients for sugar-free cooking, and the Pams brand now has cacao nibs and cacao powder, which is cheaper than many health store versions. I also find a lot of useful products at Bin Inn.

Educate yourself

I found the I Quit Sugar range of books really helpful, and I also recommend watching That Sugar Film – it’s a brilliant movie for anyone who wants to cut back on the sweet stuff.

Make your own treats

I love bliss balls as a snack, but it pays to make them yourself as many store versions are filled with sugar-laden dried fruit. I’ve found that with most recipes you can halve the amount of dried fruit and add a little extra coconut oil to bind the mixture together. Or experiment with your own fruit-free versions.

I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, published by Pan Macmillan Australia, $40.

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