What I Learned About Myself When I Stopped Eating Sugar




First confession: I went back to eating sugar (you’ll see why at the end of this post). Second confession: I have a legitimate sugar addiction.

Food is a notoriously tough topic for me to talk about openly. I feel a lot of shame around my overeating. A lot. I had a moment recently that’s stuck with me for weeks. I found a diary of mine from 1996 (I was in middle school) and in between the poems about my undying love for various boys (hey, I was a teenager!) was something even more startling. Pages upon pages about feeling out of control with food, wishing I could just not eat so much and hating my stomach (I even drew a picture of what I felt was the perfect looking stomach).

Unfortunately, not much has changed 18 years later. I dabble in journal writing every now and then and in every single beautifully bound notepad is the same story – my deep, unending struggle with food. So much self-loathing. So much embarrassment.

I’ve suspected that I’m extremely sugar sensitive for quite some time. It’s always sugary foods that I go for, that I overeat. When I’m in the throes of my sugar addiction (as I admittedly currently am), I hide what I’ve eaten out of shame, I’m uncomfortable eating in front of others, I feel completely out of control with food. I can’t even eat just a little bit of sugar because it ALWAYS starts me down a path of overeating.

But it wasn’t until about 8 months ago that I decided to experiment with actually removing sugar from my diet. I stopped eating all sugars except those that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables  and in no way restricted myself otherwise (although I also removed all artificial sweeteners too). No calorie counting, no watching my portions. I just wanted to see what would happen if I removed what I believed to be my biggest food trigger. And I did it out of love for myself, not out of desperation or pity. That was key.

And for 6 full months I remained sugar free. And this is what I learnt about myself.

1. I am a sugar addict. I know some people don’t really think sugar addiction is an actual thing. But science is starting to show that for some people, addiction to sugar is absolutely real. Like I said earlier, I kind of thought I might have a problem with sugar but I wasn’t 100% sure. Removing it from my diet showed me, very clearly, that I’m extremely sensitive to it and that my body responds to it like a drug. When it was no longer in the picture I didn’t struggle with food anymore. For the first time in a very, very long time (clearly at least 18 years) I felt free. I didn’t obsess about what I was going to eat next and my body started to naturally regulate itself. I didn’t need to purposefully control my portions because I started to recognize when I was full (which rarely ever happens when I’m consuming sugar).

2. My body is much happier when I’m not eating sugar. I noticed pretty quickly after I stopped eating sugar that my skin cleared up (hello, why doesn’t anyone tell you that you can still get acne in your 30’s?). I started sleeping much better. I had boundless energy (I really did). I remember telling my husband that if I ever decided to start eating sugar again that I wanted him to remind me of all the positive things my body experiences by not consuming it. I felt really good. More emotionally stable. Just really, really fantastic.

And I actually got to a point where I didn’t crave sugar anymore. I could actually sit and watch my daughter enjoy frozen yogurt with yummy toppings and not wish I was eating it too. That is huge for me, huge.

 3. Overusing sugar impacts how I treat others. This became really clear to me. When I’m overeating sugar I become really grumpy. It impacts my mood and it makes it harder for me to be the kind, compassionate person that I strive to be. When sugar isn’t in the picture, I feel much more like my true self. When I’m not in a sugar struggle, I’m a much better wife (because honestly, most of my grumpiness gets directed at my husband).

So, with all these positive conclusions, you might be wondering why I’m back to eating sugar? It’s because, after 6 months I thought maybe, just maybe, I could eat a little sugar and it would be OK. I was very wrong. A little sugar, as always, turned into a lot of sugar and now I’m back to the starting point again. I’m working on not feeling like crap about myself for messing up a wonderful 6 months of feeling better.

Knowing that my struggle with food is not fully psychological, that it’s in most part biological, helps me feel better and lets me see much more clearly that removing sugar from my diet is something I have to come to terms with. Learning from those 6 months is what’s necessary for me to truly, finally, honor my body.

If you think you might have a sugar addiction too, one of my favorite resources is Growing Human(kind)ness. Also, check out Sugar Addiction 101.

Photo credit: Vox Efx, Flickr Creative Commons

12 comments on “What I Learned About Myself When I Stopped Eating Sugar”

  1. I’m excited for you. So this means you are cutting grains too? You know that I have attempted and re-attempted that, but wasn’t able to keep it up. I think the carb-cutting led me to relapse with a sugar (refined sugar) binge. Right now I am trying to limit grains by only eating them in moderation, and I’m not sure how I am going to address the onslaught of holiday sweets.

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Ah, I can relate to beautifully bound journals full of pain and remorse and shame about overeating and food. I have many of those! (I remember one day looking through 6 years worth of old journals in a coffee shop and laughing out loud as I realized they all said the same damn thing, over and over!)

    I’m so glad that you are finding compassion for yourself and understanding about how you best thrive and how to love and care for the precious being that you are. I am in your corner, believing that sugar can become a non-issue in your life….

    And thank you for the kind words and link to my website!

    In love and care, Karly

    1. Karly it means so much to me that you came here and commented on my piece. I’ve found lots of comfort in YOUR website, so it thrills me that you popped over here.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I admire how strong you are not only in cutting the sugar out of your diet, but for not beating yourself up over going back. I am a firm believer that food not only affects my health, but my mood as well. I know I want to cut sugars from my diet too, i just haven’t been brave enough. Maybe I will after the holidays 🙂

  4. Sugar addiction is such a real thing. There are withdrawl symptoms, for crying out loud! I could relate to every single one of these points that you brought up. I joke about my love for snack cakes, but kicking the sugar is TOUGH for me. I loved reading this, but it puts a mirror in my face.

    1. Thanks for your comment Tara. Kicking sugar is REALLY hard, especially in a culture that uses it in pretty much everything.

  5. I suspect the same of myself. And as a baker, that is a very scary thought. Congratulations and kudos to you! I hope to one day find the courage to take that step for myself.

    1. Melissa I really understand. I absolutely LOVE baking too and was recently thinking to myself that even though I love it maybe I need to step back from it because I find it really hard to not try what I’ve baked. I’ve done that before, during those 6 months that I wasn’t eating sugar, but it’s a weird thing to make a cake for an event and not make sure it tastes OK! I did find though that you can use dates to bake and dates seriously saved me during those sugar free months. I was still able to make banana bread and some other baked goods that used them instead of sugar. It’s kind of hard to find sugar-free recipes that aren’t also gluten free so at one point I thought about creating my own little website with recipes I’ve tried that are sugar free for folks but alas, I have no extra time for that. Thank you for commenting here – I wish you peace with your food struggles too. xo

  6. All I could do would be to scream ditto, and offer a pat on the back and a reminder to be gentle with yourself. I am looking for a little motivation to get back on the wagon myself. Life without it seems much more… free. Ironic, right?

    1. Thank you so much Sharlene. And yes, it’s quite ironic that life feels much more free when not consuming sugar! Seriously, during those 6 months I remember thinking how incredible it was that I no longer felt that obsession and struggle with food that I always have.

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