Friday, March 30, 2012

How to quit refined sugar

Over the past couple years I've been working to improve my diet.

This has been a goal for much longer, but only in the last two years have I been successful at making changes.

Following the guidance of Leo Babauta, who blogs at Zen Habits, I've taken a gradual approach, and worked on changing just one habit at a time, rather than trying to change my whole diet at once.

I started two years ago by changing what I eat for breakfast. I used to eat pastries, muffins, bagels - food that would fill me up with a fistful of simple carbohydrates and then leave me hungry two hours later.

I changed my breakfast routine to a bowl of oatmeal every day. Even though I'm often rushed in the morning, it is rare that I can't find the time to have a bowl of oatmeal, because it is so easy to prepare. Just 1/2 cup of oatmeal and 1 cup of milk in the microwave for 5 minutes. I put it in the microwave before my shower and by the time I'm out of the shower, the oatmeal is ready.

The oatmeal coming out of the microwave is boiling hot, so I add frozen blueberries to cool it to eating temperature. I will then add sliced banana, sliced strawberry, ground up flax seeds, or possibly pecans.

Changing to oatmeal was an important keystone habit, because it helped cure me of the bad habit of wanting to snack in the morning. Oatmeal fills you up, but then it seems to keep you feeling satisfied for a much longer period, so I don't feel the urge to eat until lunchtime.

I focused only on changing my breakfast meal for about 3 months. Now it is a habit, and I don't even think about it.

Then I changed what I eat for lunch. I used to eat a slice of pizza, a sandwich, typical lunch fare. I changed that to eat a salad every day, with only oil and vinegar dressing. This is the easiest way that I've found to make sure I get several servings of vegetables every day. Also, like the oatmeal in the morning, the salad fills me up, but keeps me satisfied until dinner. No urge to snack in the afternoon.

My newest dietary habit change was giving up refined sugar two months ago. The idea had been in the back of my mind since reading the NYT magazine piece "Is Sugar Toxic?" in April 2011. I should emphasize that I've had quite a sweet tooth. In the past, my wife could not leave a container of ice cream in the freezer since I would consume it. I had a hard time moderating my intake of sweets, and could easily eat half a dozen freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, or even the whole batch.

I didn't make the decision to quit sugar until we had dinner with a friend. She told us that she and her husband had gone on a 21-day detox, giving up carbs, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.

Giving up whole grains didn't make much sense to me, but her example of giving up sugar inspired me to quit refined sugar the next day. I haven't had refined sugar since: no candy, no desserts, no chocolate, no sugar in my tea. I've probably had some sugar, slipped in to processed foods like pasta sauce at a restaurant, but for the most part it is completely removed from my diet.

I know that one approach to reducing sweets is to allow oneself one treat per week. For me, that would be much more difficult, because it preserves desserts as something appropriate to crave. I have found it far easier to just release refined sugar from my consideration set. I haven't felt any cravings at all, and I've accepted that dessert is just something that I won't eat in the future.

The benefits:
+ Lost five pounds in two months
+ Swings in energy level throughout the day seem of far smaller magnitude, or non-existent
+ Less long-term risk of developing diabetes
+ Greater sense of control over what I put into my body

I'm not sure if I would have been able to quit refined sugar two years ago; probably not. Already, with oatmeal in the morning and salad for lunch, I had much less craving for simple carbohydrates.


  1. Brilliant!! The only thing I could add would be to substitute the instant processed oatmeal with still cut oaths as they are a better source of fiber than processed oats, but take longer to cook.

  2. Will, I too have eliminated sugar, which I no longer crave. It was hard in the beginning, but my naturopath suggested eating protein (like nuts) when ever the sugar urge should strike. That worked very well. Also, I have a leafy green salad before every meal - even breakfast.
    This is good for digestion, added fiber and of course, adds more veggies to your diet. Perhaps you will graduate to juicing next.

  3. giving up grains makes lots of sense. For the vast majority of human evolution we didn't eat grains because the ROI on them is very low. Only when we became agricultural did they become a major part of our diet.

    But when grains came into our diet we became smaller and sicker than out more ancient ancestors.

    Some certainly do better than others with them and fermenting them makes their meager nutritive value more accessable to the human form. But broadly speaking they are high in lectins and phytins (which sop up minerals in our food making them less bioavailable) and those lectins ad phytins are inflammatory and harm our GI tract.

    if you are going to keep grains in your diet you are better off fermenting them...every culture that eats grains (and legumes) has discovered that light or heavy fermentation makes for a more digestible product.

    But my sense is - why try to alter a broadly toxic/inflammatory food group. Why not just eliminate it?

    Eating fat offers much more satiety and is the equivalent of throwing a log on the fire as opposed to twigs (sugar) or sticks (grain)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Flag counter

free counters