It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years. What started as a personal reset in 2019 to get my postpartum sleep issues sorted, and with that, my sweet cravings and blood sugar roller coaster, has evolved into one of the most profound improvements to my health and wellbeing. I have made a lot of big changes to my health since 2013 when I first began experiencing the symptoms of what became an auto-immune diagnosis, but none were as great as cutting sugar four years ago. I have not looked back.
I have always said that when you transition the way you eat, your body, brain and taste buds follow along in the transition. You just have to be patient, consistent and trust in the process. I had experienced this in a multitude of ways since I started adjusting my diet to support my health back when I was fifteen years old and dealing with eczema.
When I was 18, I adjusted my diet to support my mental health and reduce anxiety, and in my twenties, I used food to help heal from an auto-immune diagnosis. I’ve done many types of resets since then. The reason being is that sometimes old habits crept back in, new ones are developed or simply that my body was making it clear that it was time for a change.
Don’t wait for a health crisis to make a change
The challenge is that we often don’t tune in until it’s too late. One minor sign or symptom creeps in and we brush it under the rug and just learn to live with it. Then another, then another.
If we went from feeling awesome today to feeling absolutely terrible tomorrow, we’d notice. But if we go from feeling good to a little less than good, to mediocre, to meh, to not so good, you’d likely wake up one day and say, My gosh! How did this happen? I used to feel so great/energized/fit/well/happy/inspired, etc. You’d feel like the degeneration just snuck up on you. This is how most of us operate. And usually, we wait until we hit a crisis point before we take action.
It happens without us even realizing it; reinforcing habits in our lives that day by day, week by week, and eventually, year by year diminish our health and happiness. We suddenly become unrecognizable to ourselves. Our light dims slowly, but suddenly we’re in complete darkness and don’t know how we got there.
my breaking point came in 2019
Bad habits, and with it degenerating health, tend to sneak up on us. Most recently for me, in 2019, I felt it sneaking up on me ever so slightly and it didn’t feel good.
I live what I share here through and through. The challenge for me was that the little indulgences like some dark chocolate, a glass of wine, or a homemade cookie, well, all of it was becoming more frequent than I was happy about, and combined with a lack of regular exercise and inconsistent sleep patterns since having my son, I was starting to feel tired a lot of the time. My son was nearly three and I realized that I no longer had sleep deprivation and breastfeeding as an excuse for my tiredness. So, what was it?
For me, that was all it took. I knew I had to make being sugar-free a priority. In 2006, I learned my big lesson when I got sick with Crohn’s. I knew the path of depletion in my body and didn’t want to land there again. My increase in fatigue increased my sugar cravings, which increased my anxiety, which further impacted my sleep and thus the perfect storm for degeneration.
I was at my breaking point in March of 2019 when I resolved to turn the tide. Yes, I live a healthful life, but I don’t take it for granted. I am never coasting. Quality of life is at the core of all of my decisions and when my health falters, I am unable to experience life at its fullest potential.
I don’t have any dramatic before and after photos for you. I don’t have measurements. You better believe I am not posing in my underwear under overhead lighting and taking pictures from every angle. For me, this has always been about how I feel.
Consistent lifestyle shifts do not require drama – they can’t. Consistency is the opposite of aggressive dramatic results because it’s subtle and it’s ongoing. There is never an after because we just keep evolving and doing our best.
The Simple Change: I Cut Out Sugar And Started Exercising consistently
That was basically it. I cut out sugar. Not just cane sugar (which is mostly a fancy word for white sugar) but also honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and whatever other sugar you may ask me about. I also didn’t replace the sugars with the zero calorie or zero blood sugar effect alternatives like monk fruit, xylitol, erythritol, stevia, or whatever other one you can think of.
I cut it all out, cold turkey. Just. Like. That. And the same day, I committed to starting 30 minutes of exercise a day, minimum 4 days a week. That was it.
For years, long before having my son and after, I struggled with the best ways to stay active as my life got fuller and fuller. Sure, I knew how absolutely vital being active was to my physical health (and I learned to embrace and love my body long ago) – but more so, or more acutely, to my mental health.
When I reached the point of making this decision, I hadn’t been working out regularly for two years since having my son, hadn’t been sleeping well, and the special treats became daily treats. And then vanity kicked in, too. Why is that always what kicks us the hardest? I was starting to do something I hadn’t done in my adult life – I was getting into the habit of picking apart my body in photos: my shoulders, my belly, and the way my face looked from a certain angle. It was rather confronting.
Of course, I also knew but could not separate from the fact that when we don’t feel great on the inside, it’s easier to pick apart the outside than do the harder work of getting to the root of it.
I knew I needed to make some changes and also knew that it couldn’t be some dramatic and complicated process. Exercise and cut the sugar. I decided that being sugar-free was something I needed to do. Done.
And so with my own simple desire to feel well as my cheerleader, I did two things.
- Signed up for a 7-day free trial of OBE which I am still hooked on. (Code MEGHAN50 will get you 50% off your first month if you stay beyond your free trial week)
- Elected to follow my 7-day No Sugar Challenge guidelines – no added sweeteners of any kind, no alcohol, coffee or chocolate, no dried fruit, and limited grain intake.
I started by committing to these two things for a week. That was my only promise to myself. But then something I hadn’t expected happened. I didn’t stop.
I committed to that first week of working out and did five workouts. And then I kept going. I did four or five workouts the next week and the next and the next. I kept the sugar out of my life, my anxiety decreased, my sleep improved and within a couple of weeks, I felt physical and mental changes inside and outside.
being sugar-free: I Lost The Taste For Sugar
Now, this is the craziest thing of all. Prior to going sugar-free, I hadn’t had any refined sugar in a decade or so. It’s unpalatable to me. I tell people this all the time – that as we move towards a more whole and natural diet, our tastes will change. What I hadn’t expected with this shift in my own health was for my tastes to continue to evolve.
I no longer crave sweets of any kind and, more than that, I don’t actually like them like I used to. Now, I am not strict on this. I’ve had some homemade fruit crumble, and will have a small taste of a muffin or ice cream that I make for the boys in my house, but that’s basically it. I have no cravings for dessert, chocolate, or even adding any kind of sweetener to my elixir. I have lowered my set point for sweetness to the point where a few slices of fruit do the trick.
The thing here is that I also don’t feel deprived being sugar-free. If I really wanted it, I’m sure I would have it. But I just don’t. That’s the truth of it.
When You Eliminate The Negotiation With YourSelf, It All Becomes Effortless
Okay, at first it wasn’t easy at all (and I’ve been through a few dietary changes in my life). I was putting in place a lot of new habits. I have long lived by guidelines that ensure healthy living remains effortless. One of the keys is that I make a decision and that is it. I went gluten-free and didn’t waver. And this time, I cut out sugar and that was it. Decision made.
If you take the approach of trying your best to eliminate gluten, or dairy, or sugar, or alcohol, or whatever it is you know you need to kick, you are setting yourself up for ongoing stress and struggle. But if you make the decision that this thing – fill in your blank – is simply no longer an option, you force that negotiation to stop. It’s no longer a question of ‘well, maybe just this once.’ It’s a simple ‘no, thank you.’ No decisions to make, no guilt, no feeling lousy the next day for indulging in something that makes you feel lousy. Maybe most importantly, no energy and stress wasted on self-defeating negotiations.
It’s Hard to Let Go, But It’s Harder To Feel Lousy
I have made a lifetime’s worth of diet and lifestyle modifications over the last 17 years since I first experienced the early symptoms of Crohn’s. Some have been effortless, some have seemed unfathomable. It’s a process.
Let it be a process of learning, experiencing and trying things. Remember – we’re not aiming for the aggressive and dramatic here. We’re certainly not aiming for some perfect version of health. We want it to be easy, consistent and sustainable. Being sugar-free may look different for everyone.
One of the things people will often say is, “But I love ice cream” or “I could never give up wine.” What if consuming those things that gave you really bad indigestion or triggered a migraine or caused body pain, mood instability, or interfered with your optimal quality of life in any way was also building disease in the body? Once? No big deal. Ongoing could easily become a big deal.
being sugar-free has many health benefits
What if you realized that those symptoms, the result of consuming things, doing things, engaging with certain people, whatever it is that excites some part of you in the moment, was ultimately pushing you down the slope of health, and degrading your well-being with repetition? Symptoms are your body’s way of saying something isn’t working right. Repeating the behaviour that triggers that response cultivates the potential for a domino cascade of health problems. This, in essence, is what builds degenerative disease. It’s gradual. Diseases that are preventable by diet and lifestyle are the greatest threat to our longevity and quality of life and, dare I say it, now our freedom. These are the issues plaguing our overwhelmed disease care systems.
The way I’ve felt since 2019, since being sugar-free, has kept me motivated and better able to be present with my family and my work.
This transition for me, the latest of many I have taken on, has invited me to experience many benefits. The most important for me however is the mental and emotional shift. I feel stronger, and more mentally resilient. The fog of lethargy that had plagued me since having my son in 2017 is gone. I am making bigger changes in my life and at work. I have effectively halted and potentially reversed that degeneration process. And what was once an overwhelming undertaking, one more challenge to tackle, has truly become effortless.
19 responses to “Being Sugar-Free: Four Years and Counting”
When I don’t use sugar at all in any kind and reduce my fruits, I noticed that my lips start to ship really badly. Will it go away over time?
Hi Larisa! I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘ship’?
Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m wondering what you’ve found works for you for grain intake. Also continuing with limiting per the No Sugar Challenge?
Hi Erin! I’m still eating grains occasionally, but my diet has been minimal-grain focused for a number of years now so that really hasn’t changed during my no-sugar period. My main focus was eliminating the sweeeteners!
Your recipes do not reflect your no-sugar diet.
I often struggle with snacks that don’t involve sugar in some form. I default to ‘healthy’ muffins made with applesauce or sweet potatoes or maple syrup or bananas. Sometimes it’s homemade nut and dried fruit granola bars. Or sometimes just straight up nuts and a square or two of dark chocolate. My morning smoothies have bananas and blueberries and honey. And I start my day with lemon, honey and cayenne water. Sweeteners are built into my daily routine! I would very much appreciate your suggestions for satiating snacks that don’t add the sugar. Thank you Meghan!
Hi Meghan, Great read, thank you for sharing! Over the past few weeks I have found myself slipping back into old habits like “needing” chocolate in the evenings, having tea just so I can get a sugar fix. I appreciate you sharing this story and inspiring me to refocus once again. Thank you!
Thanks for this great article Meghan! I’m curious to know what you are now doing about your love of chocolate? That’s what gets me snagged up in my no-sugar efforts.
I still like to make hot and cold elixirs, and I’ll just use the raw cacao powder, nut milk, spices, etc. and won’t add the sweetener. That may sound odd, but it still tastes good to me!
Hi Meghan ~ thank you for sharing this. Did you continue to eliminate grains as well? or just sugar? Cheers!
I don’t eat a ton of grains – but I do have them occasionally.
I’d love to hear further how you navigated this change. I myself am in the same position you were in last year. The whole “Treat treats as treats” has now become “Treats are meals” lol. Do you have a superpower (my own mother has it) that once you decide something you never waiver? How did you navigate social events, dinner parties, etc?
Well done, I applaud you!
For me, deciding to do something is certainly a big part of the achievement – when I’m in, I’m all in! There haven’t been social events or dinner parties for us lately, but we’ve been navigating social events with our alternative diet needs for a long time so I don’t anticipate my no-sugar lifestyle will impede our ability to socialize with others. I know you can do it Krissi!
Once I’ve made the decision then I know I can do it but making up my mind is the hardest part.
I have gone sugar free before about 10 years ago and it changed my life. Somehow I slipped back out of it. Also, since I’m a home baker I find it difficult to figure out how to navigate this.
Thanks Meghan! Excellent way to use the frog story! What a great write up about your experience. It’s inspiring!
Thank you for the timely inspiration. I went sugar free five years ago Lost 110 pounds! For the last two years, I have been back sliding. Gained 55 pounds. I am so thankful for your candid words. The picture you painted is so clear. I quit sugar today.
You always inspire me. I feel exactly the way you describe. I have one baby and a toddler. Before them I never craved sweets or bread. Now I’m having them daily. And I’m always tired. My excuse? I moved in a city is hard to find gluten-free flours and I just need them. At home rarely use honey or a date to add sweet BUT I try to go out for a chai and a cookie or so. Bad, because I’m lactose intolerant and there are not vegan options. Worst? My daughter loves muffins, cookies instead a great hummus with veggies. I just have to say “that’s is”.
The question…how do you indulge yourself now? Salty things?
Thank you, Nilu! I genuinely don’t crave sweets anymore, and I haven’t replaced the sweets with another category of foods. I try not to think about food in terms of ‘indulgences’, but more about what is going to nourish and serve me and my overall health.
Thanks Meghan for your honesty and sharing your story. I too have fallen into the ‘sweet’ trap. For me it came with menopause. I have given up sugar in the past and was really good at sticking with it. I gave into the sugar cravings as my hormones changed and my stress levels went up at the same time. This story came at a perfect time for me to remember my old ‘healthy’ habits. I am now going to quit sugar for good. I’m ready to feel great again!