In 2015 I got challenged: eating 100% all sugar free. So no sugar at all, not even fructose. Main idea was to find out how hooked I was on sugar. I didn’t think this challenge would be a tough one, because if it comes to taste I prefer both sour and salt over sweet. So I accepted and without much preparation Matthias (my husband) and I started this challenge together.
What to eat on 100% all sugar free diet?
Every day we started with a glass of water with pink Himalayan salt and a multivitamin Omnium. The rest of the day we could drink as much water, tea, coffee or coconut water and eat some nuts (Brazil (in Dutch: paranoot), cashew, almonds and hazelnuts) as snack. But not all teabags or coconut water are allowed, so you really have to read the nutrition facts labels first. And at that moment our poor preparation became a huge burden in this challenge. You don’t want to read nutrition facts labels in a grocery store feeling hungry and moody and finding out almost every product contains any form of sugar….
So during this challenge we had to find out what we were allowed to eat. I began researching various bloggers’ journeys to their sugar free lifestyle, but it turned out the majority was allowed fructose. Understandable, as a 10 days all sugar free challenge is a totally different approach than a sugar free lifestyle. We ended up reading the Facebook-post of the personal trainer of Matthias. He had done this challenge before and was the one inspiring my husband to do this challenge as well. One big difference though besides being a personal trainer, he is a top athlete (several Ironman’s, including Hawaii 2015) and he knows much more on nutrition and it’s impact on your body.
Next to some nuts, we found out we could eat: eggs, salmon, arugula (in Dutch: rucola), homemade mayonaise, mushrooms, parsley, sesame seeds, trout, cod and olives. Not much unfortunately…
But we had started and we continued our all sugar free challenge. I kept a diary describing each day what I ate and the impact on my emotions and body. If you are interested in all the details, check this link ‘Diary: my 10 days all sugar free‘. The outcome: I was more hooked on sugar than expected. I even experienced some serious withdrawal symptoms the first days. During the entire challenge I was low on energy. Most likely due to no sugar intake at all. I learned that I mistook my sugar cravings for hunger. Once my blood sugar stabilized, my head was more clear (no brain fog) and my mood swings reduced. One last thing I want to mention is that your body and/or brain needs sugar to function. After a couple of days my short term memory started to falter and I had problems focusing my eyes.
The most important learnings
Overall, my all sugar free week was a great experience. The biggest takeaway I got was I didn’t know my body and it’s functioning at all, let alone the impact of my diet on my health. It opened my eyes and made me take a fresh look at my seemingly ‘healthy’ eating habits. There is plenty of room for improvement. Furthermore I realized almost everything in a grocery store, contains sugar of any kind. Sugar is shown or hidden in ingredients under many different names (look out for: ‘syrup’, ‘malt’, anything ending in ‘-ose’, ‘ fruit juice’ and ‘fruit juice concentrate’). In the Netherlands manufacturers use over 100 different names for sugar on their packaging, spreading the total amount of sugar most of the time under 3 of 4 different names.
The good news is quitting sugar only takes 4 to 5 days! Several weeks after the challenge I even noticed my taste had improved. Most of you probably recall putting at first 1/2 a lump of sugar in your tea/coffee and after a few months you are used to 1 or 2 lumps. Reducing my sugar intake could reverse this. Cookies I used to eat are now ‘too sweat’ for me, but fruit and vegetables are more tasteful.
Would you recommend this challenge to anyone?
Since the first time, I have repeated this challenge now 3 to 4 times. It is a great biohack to reset your blood sugar. (Curious what biohacking is? Read my blog about this topic). After the first challenge I used honey, maple syrup and dried fruit as replacement for white (artificial) sugar. Although these products are natural the impact on your body is the same. So during my second time all sugar free I again experienced withdrawal symptoms, which I really hadn’t expected. Now it’s the other way around. Once I notice my emotions taking the upper hand, caused by blood sugar fluctuations, I go for an all sugar free reset. I found out 7 days is sufficient to reset. So yes, I recommend all sugar free for a week to anyone with the aim to reset your blood sugar and have all the side benefits. But only for 7 days as your body needs sugar to function properly and variation in nutrition is important as well.
How did this challenge affect my diet?
I have cut out added sugars (both artificial and natural) and started cooking with fresh products again. Just like my grandma used to. I work with the 80-20 rule. So on rare occasions I allow myself something with sugar. I do eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, but I always combine my fruit with a meal to avoid a peak in my blood sugar. So no fruit for me as a snack or in between.
Try it yourself?