With summer cocktails and al fresco dinner parties behind us, it's safe to assume that nutrition over the last few months hasn’t been perfect. One of the biggest complaints that I head after summer is that people are a little jacked up on sugar - whether it be from holiday desserts, those extra iced creams on hot summer days or too much wine. Unfortunately it doesn't take much to throw your blood sugar off balance - even 6 weeks of indulgence can take quite a long time to rebound from. But there’s no point in dwelling (or worse - continuing bad habits out of guilt or anxiety).
30 days without sugar is the perfect time to actually feel the benefits, but not too long that it feels like an impossible task. People always gush about the wonderful effects of giving up sugar, and that's because they’re pretty much all true – better skin, concentration, mood, energy, weight loss, more motivation… you name it, and it’s waiting for you on the other side. BUT, what a lot of people don’t talk about are the strange, uncomfortable and potentially sabotaging effects of sugar withdrawal that you need to get through first. By acknowledging them it’s actually far easier to cope with them, so here goes.
These are pretty easy actually. We generally store enough glycogen in our muscles & liver that if sugar isn’t readily available, we just tap into these reserves. If you have loads of sugar, you’ll still have cravings for the post lunch chocolate square (bar), however nothing too dramatic that a little dedication can’t override.
"This is normal and means it's working. Be strong!"
This is when it could get a little spicy and is when you should expect the main bulk of discomfort. Headaches, mood swings (think angry one minute, crying the next), foggy head, insomnia, body aches, cravings that occupy your mind for hours at a time, agitation….I'm not going to lie - it’s all possible, and you need to be prepared for this. But here’s the important part – this is normal and means it's working. Be Strong! What’s important here is how you set yourself up to beat this phase.
Depending on your normal sugar intake, this is when you’ll get a surge of the good stuff. You’ll start to sleep better, energy improves, concentration will get a boost and your skin will have an unusual glow. You’ve definitely made it through the hardest part!
Ok, you’re through the hard part but usually you have a little rebound effect in week 3 – it’s nowhere near as strong as the first low, but you can get a little grumpy and cravings can come back a bit. This is less likely to happen if you’re still on top of your nutrition, so do a little check in and make sure you’re still getting those fibre rich carbs, good protein and fat.
"A better use of your time and energy would be to focus on what changes you are going to commit to keeping."
Once you’ve made it to hear it’s usually smooth sailing…. Enjoy the rest of the month and feel proud of your strength, discipline and new sense of balance!
You’ve made it! Two very important things need to happen now.
Take some time to actually feel proud and acknowledge what you have done. Be aware of the positive effects you’ve seen, and take note of the hard times too so that you can cultivate a stronger awareness of what sugar actually does to your body. If you’ve lost a lot of weight, it means you were eating way too much sugar. If you feel any dramatic shift towards something more positive, you were eating too much sugar.
Most people get to the end of the challenge and spend hours or even days obsessing about what their first treat will be once they’re free. But, a better use of your time and energy would be to focus on what changes you are going to commit to keeping. Write them down and keep yourself accountable. You don’t need to be as strict, but it’s important to set yourself some guidelines. Then, enjoy your first treat within those guidelines.
Not all sugar is created equal, and eating an apple should by no means be synonymous with eating a bowl of ice cream. Yes fruit has sugar, and a lot of it is – gasp – fructose, but fruit also has some of the best profiles of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and phytonutrients. The hype around fruit has gone a little crazy to be honest. True - 500g of grapes is probably not the best choice. False - fruit should be avoided full stop.
I’ve prioritised cutting out white and refined flours as a part of this plan as their effects can be just as detrimental on blood sugar fluctuations. I’ve also put skimmed milk on the list, as it’s high in sugar and better to swap to semi skimmed if you’re a milk drinker for the duration of the challenge. This plan has 3 levels, depending on how you want to play it.
Level one is your intro level, and is for anyone who wants to make a change but isn’t up for a full a banishment. This is good for people who are quite sugar heavy but have never really tried a plan before so still allows a fair amount of leeway on fruits.
Level two is starting to get more serious, and is a good challenge for anyone wanting to take their health to the next level. Great for people who eat sugar multiple times per week and probably rely on foods with hidden sugar quite a lot.
Level three is the full monty, and is good for people who want to make a big change, lose weight and see the effects of a full banishment.
There you have it. 30 days sans sugary indulgences….looks like you’ll have to get your sweetness from loved ones instead.