If you had told me even a few months ago that I could stop eating sugar for a week, let alone 27-days, I wouldn’t have believed you. My love for sugar began at a young age. Growing up in South Korea, I was given an allowance every day (today’s equivalent of 3 USD), which was enough to buy a small bite-sized “choco-pie,” a popsicle, a bag of chips, or 10 sticks of gum. And everyday, I would choose the sugary snack without fail.
When my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 10, I discovered chocolate chip cookies, which have been my go-to dessert ever since. My love affair with these sweets only grew stronger as I went through my young adult and adult life stressing over grades, jobs, and career decisions. In my 30’s, I felt legitimately addicted to sugar, and was never completely at my best because I always felt tired after eating, and would suffer from headaches and withdrawal symptoms without it.
Then, in my late 30’s, I reconnected with the love of my life and wanted to start a family. I learned from a fertility doctor that I had two fibroids the size of a softball and grapefruit in my uterus. On top of that, I was admitted to the ER due to diverticulitis, an inflammation of the intestines. At the turn of 2020, I was eager to get the fibroids removed. But, as I was on the operating table and waiting for the doctors to arrive, I was told that I was pregnant and they couldn’t perform the surgery. As quickly as the excitement came about this incredible news, my dream vanished almost as fast, when at week 10, there was no heartbeat during the first ultrasound.
After going through that rollercoaster of emotions, I realized that the time was now to get my body in check if I didn’t want to face these issues again.
I consider myself a relatively healthy person. I exercise; I try to eat right. This year, my husband and I began to eat a more plant-based diet because we learned about the devastating effect that red meat can have on our bodies. But sugar was something that I thought I could never get rid of. I had tried on several occasions to go “sugar-free” but I could never last more than three days. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that sugar had a lot to do with my body’s “abnormal” reactions: creating fibroids, inflaming the intestines, and creating the lethargic energy I’ve had all my life. So, after my surgery to remove the fibroids in June of 2020, I felt this was my chance to have a second chance at restoring my body and helping it be what it was supposed to be.
But I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own. I had resisted changing my diet all my life. I needed accountability and someone more experienced in health and nutrition to help me on my journey. So, I began by hiring a health coach.
I decided that July would be a sugar-free month. Although I was nervous about the vacation I planned on taking at the end of the month, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer to get my body on track.
From week one, I felt more energized than I had in years! I didn’t have any sugar crashes or tiredness in the middle of the day. I woke up feeling fully rested. As a night person, I usually feel tired most mornings and it takes me a long time to get out of bed. But during the detox, I woke up at 7 a.m. refreshed and ready to start my day. After a week, I started having migraines, but as time went by, I didn’t even crave sugar! There were some occasional moments of an, “I want something” feeling, but I drinking more water and eating some nuts would stifle the craving.
And I’m proud to say that I was sugar-free for 27 whole days! While I did opt to share a slice of Maine’s famous blueberry pie with my husband on our vacation, I’m still very proud and shocked at my ability to abstain from something that I thought I was addicted to.
So, I’m here to say that it’s absolutely possible to quit your sugar addiction. If I can, you can too! Here are 10 tips and lessons I learned along the way:
Lesson #1: I ate hearty meals
During the sugar detox, I ate meals that made me full, faster. I ate grains like wild rice and couscous. I ate roasted vegetables and potatoes. When I got full, I didn’t need to eat any sugary snacks afterward.
Lesson #2: I ate satisfying meals
Instead of eating salads and leftovers, I opted for food that would satisfy my cravings. I ate grass-fed burgers because they made me full and satisfied. Who doesn’t love a good burger? I ate avocado with everything, and cooked octopus and squid, some of my favorites that I don’t cook enough. When it was a party in my mouth, I knew I didn’t need more sweets afterward.
Lesson #3: I treated sugar like it was the plague (or COVID-19)
I decided to think that I am deathly allergic to sugar and all desserts. This helped to shift my mindset from feeling like I was missing out, to feeling thankful that I was avoiding food that I would have an allergic reaction to.
Lesson #4: I focused on my motivational factor
I had a physical representation (a puppy stuffed animal) of the purpose for deciding to go sugar-free; I really wanted to re-balance my energy level, restore my body, and get pregnant so my husband and I could have a chance to start a family. When it got tough some days and I had recurring migraines, I remembered my motivation and reminded myself of why I was doing this.
Lesson #5: I created a tiny habit-forming mantra
When I was on vacation, we passed by several ice cream shops. Each restaurant I visited served blueberry pie. It was difficult to resist. My health coach and I came up with a “tiny habit” mantra that I would act upon whenever faced with such a challenge. It was “I love my body and I’m doing this for my future baby” and I jumped up with a “yahoo!” (which was a “celebratory” action) I repeated this several times during my vacation and it helped me to center myself and celebrate the wins whenever the temptation arose.
Lesson #6: I got my partner on board
Accountability is critical here, especially from the ones you spend the most time with. My husband has been my number one advocate on this journey, so it was easy for me. He kept me away from sweets and reminded me why I was doing it each time I had a craving. He also decided to forgo his own desserts so that I would have fewer temptations.
Lesson #7: I brushed my teeth after each meal
I discovered that if I waited too long to brush my teeth after breakfast or dinner, my cravings would creep up. And, while I typically don’t brush my teeth after lunch, I realized how powerful a deterrent it was to have my teeth minty clean after lunch to keep me from craving sweets.
Lesson #8: I read the labels
I started out the month by writing down everything I was eating, but it became a chore very quickly. Instead, I decided I would focus on reading the labels if my food came in a box or a container. I learned so much about what different ingredients mean, especially the many names for sugar. I tried my best not to eat processed things in packaging and opted for food that came in its natural form.
Lesson #9: I ate fruit in moderation
To compensate for my sugar craving, I ate a lot of fruit at the beginning of this journey. But I eventually learned to dial it down to one cup of fruit for the whole day. Instead, I found alternative snacks like tomatoes, celery with nut butter, and gluten-free chips with hummus. I also found that when I have these pieces cut and ready to eat at the center of my fridge, I’m more likely to eat them.
Lesson #10: I wrote a letter to my body
Perhaps one of the most powerful things I did was this: I wrote a letter in an attempt to forgive myself for how I’ve treated my body all these years. I apologized to my body, like it was another person, for neglecting it and mistreating it for so long. I affirmed how important my body is to me and how much I appreciate it serving me all these years. I made a new promise to cherish it for as long as I live. Once I wrote these words, I began to feel a sense of relief, reconciliation and compassion. I felt I was given a second chance to really treat my body well.
Now, I truly feel that I have a new chapter in my life where I have a different relationship with my body, one that is more loving, kind, and compassionate. Writing this letter kicked off my sugar-free challenge and made me feel renewed and more powerful. In fact, I believe it was the single-most important factor in sustaining my 27-day sugar detox.
I’m happy to say that I’ve been consistently omitting refined sugar even now, three weeks into August.
Change is never easy, but if I can kick my lifelong sugar habit and instead feed my body healthy, nutritious food, then I know that anyone can do it too. What’s something about your life, food-related or not, that you thought you could never change but are trying to? And what are you willing to do this week to kick start moving towards your long-term goal?