With so many people hooked on sugar, and so many people deciding enough is enough, I thought I’d put together a definitive guide to help you quit sugar for good and put you back in control of your eating habits.
This extensive blog post takes some of the ideas from my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program and covers all of the aspects of getting rid of your sugar addiction.
So if you think you might need to cut down on your sugar, or maybe you would like to quit sugar for good, then in a nutshell this is the process:
How to stop eating sugar:
Admit and understand you have an addiction.
Pick a date to quit.
Prepare by noting down when you get cravings.
Detox your house and get rid of all sugar products.
Tell your friends and family.
Learn where sugar hides.
Understand there are lots of names for sugar.
Make sure you have plenty of savoury snacks.
Never allow yourself to get hungry.
Drink plenty of water.
Fill up on healthy fats, fibre and proteins.
Get plenty of rest.
Make sure you exercise.
Take supplements to curb cravings.
Take every day at a time.
Read on for a full breakdown of the process and how you can free yourself from a sugar addiction and I have also included an FAQ section at the end of this blog for quick answers to your most common questions.
There are so many health issues associated with excessive sugar consumption, and so many benefits to quitting, so it really doesn’t make sense not to give sugar the heave ho.
It’s so very easy to try and ignore how much sugar we consume on a daily basis, but it really is becoming a global health issue, getting worse year on year, so maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and kick the sugar habit!
The Vicious Cycle
I used to be hooked on sugar. I loved the stuff. And although I have always enjoyed cooking and love experimenting with food, I never really understood just how much of a grip sugar had on me and my food choices.
Cravings would make me eat biscuits and cake, and I’d end up snacking on chocolate and always have desserts after meals.
And you know what, all of that junk just saps your energy and your desire to live a healthy life. Sitting on the sofa watching a movie with a tub of ice cream is far easier than going to the gym!
Lacking in energy reduces the desire to cook and eat healthily as well as reducing the desire to exercise. We get fatter, and lazier, and so the cycle goes on, and even though subconsciously we know what we are doing isn’t good for us, another six chocolate cookies can mask that feeling - temporarily of course!
Sugar And Emotional Eating
The main problem with eating sugary treats is that we don’t eat them as a source of nutrition (and I suppose that’s a good job since biscuits and cake aren’t renowned for their nutritional content!)
We often eat these things either to satisfy a craving, or we eat them as an emotional crutch. How many times have you turned to sweet treats when you are feeling down in an attempt to try to make yourself feel better?
Many people will eat junk foods because they are lonely, sad or even just bored - this has nothing to do with our bodies requiring nutrition at all. And then, once we have eaten that whole tub of ice cream, or the whole chocolate bar, we can end up feeling even worse, both physically and mentally.
The problem with emotional eating is that it is just a very thin plaster, and whatever triggered those poor food choices is still going to be there.
And Then There Are The Cravings!
If you are hooked on sugar, you no doubt get cravings for the stuff. They can come mid morning, mid afternoon, before you go to bed or after every meal.
Either way, this is a straightforward chemical reaction going on inside you, and again, it has nothing to do with hunger or nutrition.
Sugar stimulates the ‘reward’ centre of the brain, releasing dopamine, which is the ‘happy hormone’. That’s why it feels good to eat sweet treats. But the more we eat the more we end up needing, hence the ability to eat a whole packet of biscuits!
All types of sugars are made up of glucose and fructose, and when it hits the digestive system it’s either used up as energy or turned into fat.
The glucose can be processes by any cell in the human body and basically provides us with the energy we need to survive. Fructose on the other hand can only be processed by the liver, and if the liver gets overloaded, it turns the excess in to fat.
Why You Might Be Addicted?
In tests done with lab rats, it was shown to be even more addictive than the class A drug cocaine, with rats becoming more hooked on sugar water than water with cocaine diluted in it.
Just look at how many people glug down millions of gallons on sugar water all over the world, every single day? The fizzy drink industry is worth hundreds of millions because so many people are hooked on sugar!
So once you throw in the millions spent on marketing junk foods and the way it’s either thrust into our faces, or hiding inside some processed food every time we go shopping, it’s no wonder so many people are addicted.
And just because you aren’t diving into a plate of doughnuts every morning and eating a large bar of chocolate every night doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem with sugar (of course, there are plenty of people who do eat a large bar of chocolate every night!)
Sugar is hidden in so many foods these days that we may well be consuming many times our daily recommended amount without even knowing it.
How Do I Know Where Sugar Hides?
By learning to read food labels, you’ll easily be able to find out how much sugar a product contains. If sugar, or any of it’s many aliases is listed in the top five ingredients on a food label then that usually means that’s high in sugar content.
You can find out the exact percentage of sugar that a product contains by looking at the ‘Carbohydrate of which sugars’. Look at the per 100g column, and see how many grams there are. That will show you the percentage of sugar - so if it’s 13g per 100g then that product is 13% sugar, if it’s 38g per 100g then that product is 38% sugar.
And don’t be fooled by all of the different names that sugar hides under. There are over 60 different names for all of the various types of sugar, but they are all sugar none the less.
Of course it’s not just sweet foods, white flour is just as bad! Unless you are eating wholegrain flour, any products like breads, pastries and pastas made with white flour convert to blood sugar very quickly after eating them.
What Does A Sugar Free Diet Actually Mean?
If you are buying a drink or food product in the supermarket and it is branded as being sugar free, what you will find is that the sugar has been replaced with some kind of artificial sweetener. No added sugar can also mean that it still has a lot of sugar, maybe just less than a competitor.
So although buying products labelled like this is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s not going to help you break an addiction to sugar.
When I talk about a sugar free diet, I mean one that contains no sugar at all. This is also called a sugar detox.
By going cold turkey and cutting all types of sugar from your diet you can recalibrate your entire body and in the process, you can break any addiction you may have along with resetting your tastebuds.
This means that you simply won’t crave sugar, and even if you do fancy the odd sweet treat, you will need far less than you might now.
Some people decide to stay on a completely sugar free diet once they have completed a detox, whereas other may want to bring a little sweetness back into their lives.
Either way, by cutting it out completely for even a relatively short period of time, you can break free from addiction.
So What Are The Short Term Effects Of Too Much Sugar?
When you consume foods with a high sugar content you will get an immediate spike in your blood sugar followed by a crash.
This means you end up with peaks and troughs of energy throughout your day, never feeling on an even keel. And if you don’t get your sugar fix you can feel lethargic and irritable.
And How Will It Affect Me Long Term?
Obesity is on the rise all over the world, mainly due to the increases in sugar consumption. The health risks associated with obesity are heart conditions and type 2 diabetes, which can even lead to blindness and loss of limbs.
By overloading your liver with sugar, you are also likely to get non alcoholic fatty liver disease as well as visceral fat around your organs.
Below is a list of all of the ways that sugar can affect your health:
Bad teeth and gums.
Diabetes, hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.
A trigger for overeating.
Increased PMS symptoms.
Increased anxiety and irritability.
Increased chronic fatigue.
Damage to the adrenal glands, liver and pancreas.
A significant or contributory cause of heart disease, arteriosclerosis, depression, senility, mental illness,hypertension and even cancer.
The Benefits Of A Low Or No Sugar Diet
There are so many benefits of a low or no sugar diet. I have written about many of the ways your body will thank you for cutting sugar out of your diet in my blog here: 17 Amazing Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar
From having more energy, to clearer skin, to better sleep and increased weigh loss, you’d be surprised just how much cutting sugar from your diet can change your life for the positive!
So How Do You Go Sugar Free?
There are two schools of thought regarding a sugar detox, with some people suggesting that you go cold turkey and others suggest that you cut down slowly.
I truly believe that if you are intent on changing your eating patterns for good an want to cut sugar out of your diet then cold turkey is the way to go.
Gently cutting down can work for some people, maybe starting by switching fizzy drinks and sodas for water or reducing the amount of sugar you have in your tea and coffee.
By going on a total detox and completely cutting sugar from your diet, you can retrain your brain as well as your tastebuds in as little as three weeks, meaning that you can totally break the addictive cycle and regain control over what you want to eat.
This technique might take more discipline but once you break though to the other side, you really will feel back in control and happy in the knowledge that it was all worth it!
After all, you wouldn’t ask an alcoholic to carry on going to the bar but just try to drink less? You need to cut out the alcohol all together!
What About Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms?
Depending on how much sugar you would normally eat, you may suffer some side effects when you quit sugar completely. These include
I have written an extensive blog post here going into much more detail: Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms - Everything You Ever Need To Know.
Beware The Sugar Free Sweeteners!
Another shortcut you might consider is going down the route of swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners. There are all sorts of sugar free products available, many of which contain artificial sweeteners, but by switching to any of these simply isn’t going to get rid of your sweet tooth.
The only reason people drink sodas and fizzy drinks is because they crave something sweet and there are is now mounting evidence that drinking diet sodas are linked to serious health issues, including type 2 diabetes.
The top and bottom of it is this - if you want to break free of an addiction to ‘sweetness’ and get back in control of your eating habits, a sugar detox is really the only way to do it.
Cooking Sugar Free
The best thing you can do to cut sugar out of your life is to start cooking your own meals. This may sound daunting if you are new to cooking or have little experience, or may sound like the greatest fun in the world if you happen to love cooking!
But what you really need to understand, is that if you want to live a happy, healthy life, cutting corners and eating processed food is not the way forward.
We always seem to make excuses about not having time because we are too busy - but answer this simple question - are you too busy to be healthy? It seems insane to me to think that nutrition is put so far down the daily list of priorities. Without your health you have nothing. And I mean nothing.
I totally understand that for some people this may sound daunting, but cooking really can be fun and far easier than you might ever imagine.
For example, instead of using a jar of pasta sauce that might be loaded with added sugar, you can make you own in no time at all with some chopped garlic, chopped chilli and a jar of passata or a tin of tomatoes - so simple!
Throw in a few a few prawns and by making this with wholemeal pasta you’ve got yourself a great, easy meal.
So How Do I Quit Sugar?
If you want to go on a sugar detox in order to stop eating sugar and break your addiction you need to do several things:
Accept that you have an issue and decide to do something about it.
Prepare for the detox.
Get stuck in and do it!!
Enjoy your new life free from sugar addiction!
Accepting You Have A Problem With Sugar
Like any addiction, the first and most important step towards recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem in the first place. I refused to admit that I had a problem for year and years - I think maybe I was just scared at the thought of not being able to enjoy all of those sweet treats ever again.
In reality, my life is much sweeter without them! And I’m guessing that just by reading this far, you may already have completed this step - so well done you!
Different people have different levels of addiction, and it's likely that you only have a mild addiction to sugar, but even so, it might still be driving you to make poor food choices.
Preparation Is Everything
To get yourself ready for your detox you’ll need to get rid of all of the sugar and treats in your house. Trust me, if there is any kind of sweet treat, be it a biscuit or bar of chocolate hiding in the cupboard, you might find it difficult to resist going and grabbing it if a craving kicks in.
It will literally call out to you from the cupboard! The simple rule is if it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it, period.
Next, talk to your friends, family and even co workers and let them know what you are going to do. Ask them for support and understanding - you might get a bit irritable for a few hours during your sugar withdrawal.
Then during the week leading up to the start of your detox you should make a note of all the junk you eat and when you eat it. You should also write down all of the times that you get sugar cravings so that you’ll be ready for them when they strike.
If you get the strongest cravings at 11am, then you’ll now that you need handy snacks to replace your normal fix.
Finally, you should weigh yourself and measure your waist. If you have fancy scales that show you your BMI, jot that down too. Although you aren’t going to lose huge amounts of weight in three weeks, you might be surprised, and it will be the start of something that will motivate you to continue after your detox!
Excessive sugar really does make you pile on the weight - you can read about it in my blog here: Does Sugar Make You Fat?
You need to pick your day and stick to it. You might find your first cravings start mid morning, but you will be prepared because you noted all of this stuff down in your prep week.
Make sure that you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand as hunger can be one of your biggest challenges - you’ll need things like a handful of almonds or some savoury popcorn or crunchy chickpeas at hand to munch on when the cravings hit.
Of course, this bit takes some willpower - I have a blog post to help you here: How To Cope With Sugar Cravings
You may also get a little irritable, and possibly get a mild headache as part of sugar withdrawal symptoms, but these will be short lived - and they also act as a great reminder of just how much damage all that sugar was doing in the first place and how much better off you will be without it!
And make sure you drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. You'd be surprised how often we can confuse thirst with hunger, feeling that we need something to eat when our body is actually in need of hydration.
And by getting plenty of rest and maybe a few early nights, you will give your body extra time to adjust to your no sugar diet.
So What Do I Eat?
Cooking sugar free meals will make sure that you keep on track - I have plenty in the recipes section of this site and if you struggle for time then batch cooking in advance can make life so much easier.
Having a few meals stocked up in the freezer that you can rely on is great if you don’t feel like cooking.
Bear in mind that some of the recipes are 'no added sugar' and therefore contain ingredients like dates to sweeten some of the desserts and treats, so you'll need to avoid those too during your detox.
Meals need to contain a good combination of protein, fibre and healthy fats and eating a balanced meal will result in your blood sugars becoming regulated, with no spikes and crashes.
Never make the mistake of trying to cut sugar from your diet whilst also going on a low fat diet. It has been proven that fat doesn't make you fat, it's actually sugar that makes you fat. You need good quality fats to help your body absorb vitamins and minerals.
Good sources of protein are chicken, beef, cheese and eggs. Healthy fats can be found in oily fish, almonds, flax seeds, avocados, coconut oil and good quality butter and fibre is in vegetables and also nuts and seeds.
Cooking meals containing a good mix of these will ensure that your cravings are kept in check because your blood sugar levels are steady.
And you need to need to make sure that you are eating clean foods that don’t contain any type of sugar whatsoever - so no honey, agave syrup etc. Here’s the list of 62 different names that sugar can be called, so it’s handy to know where it is hiding.
Finally, you need to cut out all white flour products like bread, pastries and pasta. Refined white flour creates blood sugar cravings in exactly the same way sugar does, so treat white flour and sugar as the same thing during your detox.
You’ll need to detox for a full three weeks, which is enough time to allow your tastebuds to reset and for your body to break it’s dependence on sugar.
After the 21 days, you can start to introduce some fruits such as raspberry’s and oranges, but you’ll notice just how ‘sweet’ they actually are!
Get A Little Extra Help
During your detox I recommend you take a good quality B complex vitamin supplement as they will help any cravings by giving your adrenal system a boost. Stresses on our body also create cravings and by taking B vitamins you can level out the stress.
Chromium is also a great supplement to take. Although this is naturally occurs in foods like beef and chicken as well as vegetables such as broccoli and green beans, increased levels during a detox can help to level out cravings.
It does this by lowering blood sugar levels and increasing the effect of insulin, which carries the glucose to our cells to provede energy.
I have written a more detailed post here on the 7 Super Supplements to Help You Quit Sugar.
If you are still struggling to quit sugar on your own, my sugar detox program outlines a full 21 days of meals and provides daily email support and video tutorials to help you through the entire process, ensuring you break your addiction as smoothly as possible.
And finally, don’t panic if you fall off the wagon. It's something that happens to the best of us.
If you do struggle and end up eating something sweet, just start again the next day, and use that moment to understand how much of a hold sugar might still have over you?
I have you covered with another blog post here: What If I Fall Off The Sugar Free Wagon?
Living A Life Free From Addiction
Once you have managed to break free of a dependance on sugar, you will be free to make your own food choices.
When cravings kick in, you would have often defaulted to a habit purchase of food that really isn’t so good for you. But once you are free from those cravings, you will have a natural hunger driving your decisions to eat far healthier foods, which will lead to a far healthier life!
You’ll find that you don’t desire or crave junk foods anymore, but fortunately that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the odd bit of chocolate or ice cream. Because you have reset yourself, you will now have a ‘normal’ sugar appetite, and things should now be easy to control.
I can have a couple or squares of chocolate and just really enjoy them - not so long ago I would have had to eaten the whole bar!
And don’t forget, once you break your sugar addiction, you’ll get into a brand new cycle. You’ll have more energy and generally feel better about yourself, which means you’ll enjoy cooking and exercising more, with leads to all of the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle!
How To Stop Eating Sugar FAQ
How do I know if I need to stop eating sugar?
Chances are you already know you might have an issue with eating too much sugar because you are reading this blog. A lot of people already know deep down that they has an addiction, however many people choose to ignore it.
Classic signs you are hooked on sugar include, cravings for sweet things after meals, energy slumps mid morning and/or mid afternoon, an inability to eat just one or two biscuits. You can read my blog here that goes more into detail here.
How much sugar should I be eating?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) state that the recommended daily amount of sugar should not excess 7 tsp (25g) for a woman and 9tsp (35g) for a man. A regular can of coke contains around 39g of sugar.
What will happen when I stop eating sugar?
Initially you will get cravings, along with other possible symptoms of sugar withdrawal, depending on how much sugar you regularly eat and for how long you have been doing so.
Any symptoms are usually very mild and won't last long. You can read more about sugar withdrawal here.
However, once you get over the initial symptoms, there are a whole host of health benefits that you are likely to experience including better skin (within a couple of days), more energy, weight loss, better sleep and a clearer head.
Will I lose weight when I quit sugar?
Many people experience weight loss when they cut sugar from their diet. There is a commonly held myth that fat makes us fat, when it it more often than not excess sugar that makes us pile on the pounds.
How hard is it to quit sugar?
Depending on how strong your addiction is it can be very easy for some people, and much harder for others. Some people can quit in a matter of days, for others it can take several weeks.
Cravings can be strong due to the addictive properties of sugar, plus there may well be emotional reasons for eating sugar along with bad habits that have formed along the way.
Can I ever eat sugar again?
Yes you can. Quitting sugar by going on a sugar detox is intended to recalibrate your metabolism and your taste buds. By breaking the cycle of addiction you will make food choices based on what you want, rather than as a reaction to a desire to satisfy a craving, so if you want a biscuit or a piece of chocolate it's on your terms.
By resetting your palate you will also find that things taste much sweeter, meaning the you will eat far less.
If you would like to quit sugar and regain control of your food choices you can transform your life with my 21 Day Sugar Detox Program.