I Quit Sugar For 30 Days And This Is What Happened
2. Hi! I’m Arielle, and I’m addicted to sugar.
I honestly wish the above statement were a joke, but it's not. For me, sugar IS a drug. When faced with my food demon, it's as if I lose all control and rationality and can only focus on eating a cookie, or brownie, a chocolate babka from Bread's Bakery (pictured above), or whatever sugar vessel is on my mind.
3. Upon clicking this article, you are here, I imagine, because of one of two things:
1. You too are interested in a sugar detox and want to know if it really helps with weight management, increased energy, fewer cravings, improved skin, etc.
2. You don't understand how a human can do such a thing, so you're curious to see how intense this form of self-torture is.
4. First, here’s the lowdown on added sugar and why consuming beyond the recommended daily limit might not be the best.
I think many people associate sugar with cookies and cakes and whatnot, but what people might not realize is sugar is hidden in 74% of packaged foods. This includes breads, pasta sauces, dressings, etc.
Added sugars contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Women are advised by the American Heart Association to consume a max of 24 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Do you know how much sugar is in one 12-ounce can of Coke? Ten teaspoons. TEN! This is beyond the daily recommended limit — and it's just a drink. If you've never calculated the amount of added sugar you consume in one day, you should try it. The results might surprise you. If you're interested in learning how to cut down your sugar intake, click here.
5. So, besides the obvious, why did I decide to do this?
To give you some background here: I eat a lot of whole foods, cook most of my own meals, exercise six days a week, don't drink, and am generally conscious about being my healthiest self — healthiest for me personally, that is. For about two years now, I've been doing Weight Watchers and have lost 100-plus pounds in the process.
However, being on the WW program, I tend to go for low-point foods and sugar-free substitutes. Just to give some clarity, everyone on WW fills out a personal assessment, and each individual is allotted points based on their activity level, goals, weight, and more. I am given 30 points per day, and every food has a point value. Anything with high calories, high sugar, or high saturated fat is more points. Any foods with high protein make the point value go down. It's a good system for me, and it does encourage a lighter sugar intake, but it is also flawed.
Example: One blueberry RX Bar is 7 points (ingredients: 3 egg whites, 9 almonds, 7 blueberries, and 2 dates), and one blueberry muffin Quest Bar is 5 points (ingredients: protein blend, soluble corn fiber, almonds, water, erythritol, dried blueberries, palm kernel oil, natural flavors, cocoa butter, sea salt, cinnamon, sucralose, baking soda, cellulose gum, xanthan gum, steviol glycosides/stevia). So typically I would go for the Quest Bar because it has lower points, even though the RX Bar clearly has better ingredients. So I'm essentially flooding my body with mystery ingredients for the sake of saving points.
On top of that, I recently ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon and disrupted my routine: I loaded my buffet plate with Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles, jumbo cinnamon buns, pancakes, muffins, cookies, and a long list of other sugar bombs. When I got back home, I went on a weeklong binge, resulting in unwanted weight gain, killer migraines, low energy levels, and even a cold. I figured this was a good opportunity to do a true sugar detox and train myself to stop putting so much sugar in my body, including added sugar, artificial sweeteners, fake sugars, hidden sugars, and any other random chemicals I can't pronounce.
I also want to improve my overall relationship with sugar; as of now, I avoid it as much as I can, because I perceive it as "bad." I think the key in this experiment will be to learn how it affects my body, and making it a point to consume sugar moderately as opposed to depriving and then bingeing.
6. I was hoping to learn a few things from this experiment and adopt habits that I’ll actually stick with.
9. Leading up to the days of the sugar detox, I behaved like what can only be described as a bear preparing for hibernation.
I knew this was not a good choice for me, and it only confirmed my toxic relationship with sugar. Because I knew I would not be able to eat the majority of everyday pantry items and treats from my local bakeries, I essentially inhaled every carb-heavy, sugar-loaded food available to me within a 10-block radius. I like to think of it as bar-hopping, but for baked goods.
10. The day before the challenge:
I took this opportunity to clean out my pantry and fridge and actually take a look at the ingredients. I learned that PB2 — my personal lord and savior — has added sugar, despite the packaging saying "no additives" and "all natural." This was confusing to me because I assumed that if a food product is "natural," it doesn't contain additives.
I hadn't even gone shopping yet and I trusted no one.
11. Grocery shopping:
I thought the best way to tackle this was to research recipes on Pinterest and make a detailed meal plan of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners. This ended up being a brilliant idea, and I learned that I desperately need structure to be successful.
Grocery shopping at Trader Joe's on a Sunday night was the worst decision I'd ever made — and I once fell for an internet scam and gave away my personal information (I don't want to talk about it). Anyway, trying to navigate my way around the store — while a bunch of hangry New Yorkers shoved and shoulder-checked your ass with no regrets — was next to impossible. AND I spent even more time at the store because I was diligently reading the nutritional labels as well as the ingredients list.
*Long, deep sigh*
The amount of packages that said "0g" of sugar but then literally had "sugar" in the ingredients list was alarming. According to registered dietitian Abby Langer, if a serving has less than 0.5g of added sugar (or fat), they don't have to disclose in the nutrition label. BUT they do have to put it in the ingredients list. Basically sugar is in almost EVERYTHING — including turkey bacon, crackers, mustard, dressings, canned fruit and vegetables, canned soups, frozen foods, and just about anything processed.
12. So, want to see what I actually ate? You can read my entire meal plan here and see my favorite recipes used here.
13. And now, I give you some highlights from my detox diary, in an attempt to show what it really feels like to eliminate all added sugar for 30 days.
Enjoy the roller coaster that is my life.
15. 6 a.m.: “Welcome to hell, Arielle!” —my body and mind
Have you ever been to a bottomless brunch, downed too many mimosas, taken a nap, and then woke up the same day with a killer hangover? That is my current state. I have a bloody, stuffy nose — which is something I haven't experienced in a VERY long time, and I feel like no amount of Advil will give me freedom from this pain. I don't want to get out of bed, but because I feel so shitty, I am also pumped to get hydrated, burn off some calories, and nourish my system with the nutrients it is so desperate for.
16. 7:30 a.m.: I am mid-workout, and just realized I am chewing gum, which has sugar alcohol in it.
Lol I've been awake an hour and I already broke a rule. When I say I am addicted to gum, I am not exaggerating. I chew that shit as much as a smoker lights a cigarette. I buy in bulk, pop a piece before and after every meal, and basically just chew until my jaws are tired. I am the living, breathing version of Violet from Willy Wonka. This will be far be the hardest habit for me to break.
17. 12:15 p.m.: Basically every salad dressing known to man has added sugar in it, so I am eating a sad lunch with lemon juice as dressing.
Pictured: kale, quinoa, grilled chicken, chickpeas, and lemon.
19. 11:15 a.m.: I feel like I’ve had a continuous headache for the past couple days and I hate everything.
20. 1 p.m.: I went to make lunch after noticing I was literally shaking. I don’t know if it’s because I needed food or because of sugar. Maybe both.
Pictured: cilantro lime cauliflower rice (riced cauliflower, olive oil, garlic, green onions, shallots, lime juice, salt and pepper) with black beans, corn, red peppers, avocado, and lime crema sauce (plain nonfat Greek yogurt with lime zest, lime juice, salt and pepper).
21. 3:05 p.m.: 😩
Honestly, this is aggressive AF. Every month, the office does birthday treats, and on DAY 2 of my detox, they do it — with Dough doughnuts. 😭
23. 3:30 a.m.: I just had a dream about brownies. I am not joking.
And instead of going back to bed, I am researching hashtags on Instagram to find no-added-sugar dessert recipes. If this isn't peak "you have a problem" syndrome, I don't know what is.
Pictured: One cut-up apple heated in the microwave for two minutes with cinnamon.
24. 12:30 p.m.: I am sad because our catered lunch looks amazing, but because I have absolutely no idea what is in the food, I am going with the safe option (salad).
Pictured: Salad with romaine lettuce, apple slices, shredded carrots, yellow peppers, chickpeas, avocado, grilled chicken, and lime yogurt sauce.
25. 5:05 p.m.: Sugar is the second ingredient in Wheat Thins. I am not surprised, but I am also dead inside.
27. 9:30 a.m.: I’m actually feeling really good right now. My bloating has gone WAY down and I feel like I dropped some of the weight I gained from my bingeing episodes.
Also, TMI, but I am 95% less gassy. I don't know if it's from the sugar or the gum, but I feel so much better. However, I do still feel the need to finish every meal/snack/workout/living, breathing moment with a piece of gum or something sweet, so I am interested to see if this craving goes away by the end of the challenge.
29. 6:45 a.m.: SoulCycle, a supposed safe space, has an entire spread of bagels, muffins, cookies, brownies, and other sugary shit.
I finally woke up feeling energized, I was really pumped during spin class, and then this happens. Like, I came here to sweat and get my mind off sugar, and you come up in here, on a Friday morning, with my archnemesis. 😩
30. 10:05 a.m.: As if the spread at SoulCycle weren’t enough, it is also “bagel Friday” at BuzzFeed. I don’t have super-strong cravings right now — which is nice — but I still want a French toast bagel, because obviously.
31. 5:30 p.m.: I am being trolled at an end-of-the-week meeting.
Every Friday, the video team has a meeting to go over shout-outs and standout pieces of content. When Tasty was up (a BuzzFeed brand that makes recipe videos optimized for Facebook), they showed a video for how to make a French-style apple tart, and one of the directions was to pour 100g of sugar into a bowl. I literally gasped out loud, and two people who know about my sugar detox started laughing. I was screaming.
33. 10:30 a.m.: I went to see Logan, and my friend was eating candy. Even Hugh Jackman’s bulging muscles couldn’t distract me from the smell of Sour Patch Kids.
34. 1 p.m.: When I went to brunch with my friends, to feel less ashamed about being on a sugar detox I told the server I had a bunch of dietary restrictions from my doctor.
Apparently I have to justify eating healthier so I don't sound like a weirdo.
36. 11:15 a.m.: My energy is actually really good right now. I don’t know if it’s because I had a large amount of protein or what, but after HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or strength training, I usually crash around two or three hours later.
38. 10:35 a.m.: My coworkers are currently talking in excruciating detail about various types of pie. Particularly Key lime pie, and how it is severely underrated.
40. 3 p.m.: Now we are back to pie. BuzzFeed sent an email saying there is free pie in the canteen in honor of “belated Pi Day!”
42. 2:18 p.m.: I’ve been noticing in general that my hunger levels have subsided pretty dramatically.
I am definitely feeling more full throughout the day, which is perhaps due to the fact that I've been eating a lot more healthy fats. I think limiting the amount of processed foods I eat is forcing me to be more creative with food and eat things I wouldn't normally go for (like real peanut butter or a whole avocado; they are high in WW points, so I typically avoid them).
44. 5 p.m.: BuzzFeed is officially taunting me.
Today they had a Tasty happy hour with Bailey's drinks, ice cream, and French toast. I didn't feel like a ravenous beast ready to annihilate my prey, but those French toast sticks with whipped cream looked pretty damn good.
46. My will to live is getting stronger and I am craving less and less sugar.
It's more so when it's directly in my face and the aroma pulls me in and makes my mind go a little haywire. But otherwise, I don't have the desire to go up to the snack room at BuzzFeed or inhale a pint of ice cream.
48. So weird, but some foods actually taste sweeter to me now.
I never detected a sweetness in red bell peppers or cooked onions, but all of a sudden, I am. And I had an apple last night and it tasted like candy.
50. I’ve realized that I’m definitely not sleeping better, but I’m much more energized during my morning workouts.
I was even able to complete more rounds in a circuit of BBG (Bikini Body Guide) than I was last week.
51. I honestly haven’t craved much sugar at all the past couple days, but today I was personally victimized by challah bread.
It was at a morning meeting I went to, and I could actually taste the eggy sweetness of the bread in my mouth. I kept longingly looking back at it during my meeting and getting distracted.
53. 11:15 a.m.: I kind of overloaded on fruit this morning and now I have a headache and an upset stomach.
I also felt guilty about it, because I knew I was consuming more sugar (regardless of it being natural) than normal. But this also had me thinking about my relationship with sugar again, and even though I ate a little too much ("too much" meaning eating regardless of feeling full), I'm going to move on and just make an effort to be more mindful.
55. Okay, it’s been 20 days and my skin is not any better.
I'm still breaking out, which makes me sad considering what torture I've been putting myself through. Like, at least give me something out of it!
57. I’m noticing that every week I’m buying fewer processed foods and more whole foods — while also saving money!
Because sugar is in most packaged foods, I'm being forced to be more creative with cooking, using mostly whole foods. And because I'm planning out my meals, I'm saving way more money and buying fewer groceries throughout the week. I basically buy everything on Sunday for the week and I'm set. (I usually spend $100 per week on food, and now I'm averaging about $60.)
59. 2:20 p.m.: There are currently Milk Bar birthday truffles on the free table and everyone around me is eating them and I want to die a little.
60. 6:30 p.m.: Today we went bowling for a team outing and I swear I have never wanted a piece of pizza more in my life. Whyyyyy did I do this??
61. 10:27 p.m.: Apparently I am a masochist because I am scrolling through Instagram, saw a cookie, and then decided to browse the tagged location, and look at 5 million other gooey circles of chocolate and sugar.
63. It’s getting easier to live without added sugar and I legitimately feel so much better.
Today I made two-ingredient pancakes, with one banana and two eggs, and it was actually pretty good?? Obviously it didn't compare to a real, fluffy pancake, but it was a decent substitute that satisfied my craving.
64. 4:46 p.m.: Everything was going swell, and then Alvin (our Tasty chef) went and personally attacked me. Exhibit A:
66. 2:45 p.m.: Currently at brunch and the table next to us got the most bomb-looking French toast I’ve ever seen in my life. I am on the edge of grabbing a piece once they turn away.
According to the menu, it is "stuffed brioche with maple infused mascarpone & ricotta, crusted in frosted flakes, maple syrup." It literally looks like a fluffy pillow that unicorns sleep on. My cravings have almost subsided completely, but this came and fucked my day up. I keep eyeing it in between conversation.
68. 10:49 a.m.: Alvin is ruining my day again.
I have never had a slutty brownie (brownies with Oreos and cookie dough) before and have always wanted to try one. And the fact that it's made by our Tasty chef just makes me more sad that I can't eat it. But honestly, I'm not craving it at all — it just sounds lovely.
70. I am at the finish line! But now I have extreme anxiety about reintroducing sugar.
I honestly can't believe I've gone an entire month without sugar. It was hard as hell in the beginning, but now it's become second nature, which is amazing.
That said, I am seriously afraid to go back to sugar. I truly am not craving it and I feel so much better. But I also know that it is very unrealistic for me to live a life without sugar, and the minute I have a little, I will have a lot — I know myself too well.
71. 3:30 p.m.: In true BuzzFeed fashion, they decided to torment me and laugh in my face by having birthday treat celebrations on my last day of this detox.
Laid out in a lineup is a beautiful assortment of Insomnia Cookies and I'm just like, 😭😭😭.
73. I’m done! I’m finished! I feel like a rock star! Honestly I want to try to keep this up and see what happens.
It's probably best to slowly reintroduce sugar and not overload with pastries and cake, as I imagine it would upset my stomach. A Levain cookie would be pretty nice, though.
75. 7:30 p.m.: Lol, I ate sugar today and now I am in the fetal position, feeling like I have literally been poisoned.
Today I went to Avocaderia and had some avocado toast. While it wasn't super sugary, the bread was amazing and it made me crave carby things. When I got back to the BuzzFeed office, I broke down and raided the snack closet. I had peanut-butter filled pretzels and dark chocolate–covered almonds. To be fair, I had WAY too many, but it seriously gave me a RAGING MIGRAINE. I had a spin class an hour ago and almost didn't go because I felt physically ill. I wanted to throw up and I feel so full and bloated. This is why we can't have nice things.
76. The Results
- Have more energy: Yes
- Clearer skin: Not really
- Fewer headaches: Yes (but I had some the first few days of the detox)
- Improve my workouts: Yes
- Fewer cravings: Yes
- Improve my health: Yes (basing this on the fact that I felt so much better)
- Lose weight: Yes, lost 3 inches from my waist and hips
- Save money: Yes, an average of $50 per week on groceries
- Focus more on real ingredients: Absolutely
- Improve my relationship with sugar: This will be a work in progress
Doing a sugar detox is seriously hard work, and it is definitely not for everyone. I think I went overboard in limiting some types of foods in the 30 days (like mints and vitamins), but beyond anything else, this experience taught me to read the ingredients list. Here are some other notable takeaways:
- Planning ahead and meal-prepping was key to my success. Making the majority of my own food is the best way to guarantee no added sugar, and preparing saved me both time and money.
- Loading up on protein and healthy fats means using more of my Weight Watchers points, but it also kept me full longer, and I snacked way less than I normally do during the workday.
- Cooking with more whole foods and experimenting with a ton of new recipes was actually really fun, and I now have some food staples I didn't before this process (like sun-dried tomatoes).
- Reintroducing sugar was an eye-opener, and seeing the effects it had on my body is encouraging me to be more aware of ingredients and my sugar intake. Will I continue to eat sugar? Yes — it's not realistic in my lifestyle to never have it. However, in order to improve my relationship with sugar, I need to stop depriving myself and avoiding it entirely and instead be more mindful of my consumption. I'm also going to stop buying anything "sugar-free" and use honey as a sweetener if needed.
Side note: I haven't had a piece of gum since this detox, and for me, that is ONE GIANT WIN.