Ready to break up with sugar? Jessica Yox — an educator, runner, cycling enthusiast and overall health nut in Cleveland — was and successfully did it! And today, she’s sharing with us how she eliminated sugar from a place of self-love for Guest Bloggers Week. After suddenly developing severe cystic acne last year, she set out to heal her face from the inside out with the help of Cleveland Clinic’s Functional Medicine Center. No chemical solutions for this FBG! Formerly a strict vegan, she has embraced a paleo-vegan diet hybrid (“pegan”) in the quest for health and wellness. She shares all the details of her unique functional medicine journey at thatpeganlife.com. If you’re interested in how to eliminate sugar from your eats, read on! (Editor’s note: This post first appeared on That Pegan Life and is below with permission.)
Nearly everyone that I’ve shared the details of my current way of eating with has taken exception to the removal of sugar, usually ending the conversation with “I could never do that.” But here’s the thing: You could eliminate sugar, if you really wanted to. I would give up vegan milkshakes (and alcohol and french fries and Oreos) for the rest of my life if my face would be fixed. I don’t have some extraordinary willpower that is assisting me through this process — I have a very clear reason for sticking to the plan. And results to help motivate me to continue.
While I’m not a dietitian/nutritionist/health coach/certified to guide you on an eating plan in any way, I have seen the dramatic impact of eliminating sugar on my overall health and well-being, even beyond my skin. If you’re considering eliminating (or lowering) your sugar intake, consider these 10 tips.
1. Know your why.
This is hands down, by far, the best advice I can give regarding giving up sugar (or making any dietary change). In our quick-fix society, it seems as though every diet change is temporary at best, and usually to drop a few pounds or look better for the summer season. I gave up sugar in the hopes of finding the root cause of my sudden cystic acne. I want to heal my body without using harsh drugs or chemicals. This is my personal “why.” Every time someone questions my food or says they “could never,” I remind myself of this purpose. Every time I really want an Oreo, I remember my purpose. Know yours.
2. Do your research.
Though I originally gave up sugar in the hopes of fixing my face, it has morphed into a larger lifestyle change. Sugar wreaks havoc on the body, and I will follow Dr. Mark Hyman’s advice to “treat sugar as a recreational drug” long after my cystic acne heals. There are quite a few opinions out there on natural sugars v. artificial sugars, honey v. agave, glucose v. fructose, and stevia or dates or bananas as the magic solution. To me, sugar is sugar, but there are certainly gray areas. Do your research and make your own decisions regarding what you’re interested in eliminating (or limiting). Your diet is very personal, and only you get to control it, so if you deem dates acceptable, by all means! Enjoy the dates!
3. Read every label.
Once you make the decision to limit or eliminate sugar, you will become acutely aware of the many, many places it lurks. Canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, vanilla flavoring, tamari, chicken broth, beef broth, salad dressings; you name it, there is sugar in it! When I started this functional medicine journey, I was annoyed and angry by the prevalence of sugar in so many foods. Since, I’ve decided that I should try to stop reading labels altogether, by not purchasing food items that require a label. Not the easiest path, but if I make my own chicken stock, at least know I what is in it!
4. Talk about it — or don’t.
It’s hard to resist sharing all that you learned and are experiencing with family and friends. Personally, the support that I’ve received from my friends and family has been incredible, and a definite motivator in sticking to my plan. My boyfriend, Zack, for example, scours labels like a hawk and makes sure that his family knows my dietary preferences when we go to family dinners. Conversely, I’ve also received a great deal of push-back on my food from others in my life, to the point where I am very careful with what I say. I’ve gotten into battles over the nutritional value of my morning shake versus my co-worker’s peanut butter slathered wheat toast. Not my proudest moment. If people ask, I tell them, but otherwise? My diet is mine alone. If someone else wants to eliminate sugar (or dairy, or meat or whatever), I will support them 100 percent! If they’re interested in my way of eating, I’ll share. If not, I’ll keep to myself.
5. Shift your focus.
When I first started this journey, I would talk about “when I can eat again” all the time. “When I can eat real food again, I’m going to drive to Tremont Scoops immediately for a vegan milkshake,” or “When I can eat real food again, I want to go to Happy Dog and eat all the tater tots.” So, here’s the thing. I am eating real food. All day, every day, nothing but real food! The second that I realized that I am not being deprived, but rather, making stellar choices for my long-term health, I stopped feeling bitter about the no-sugar thing. Sure, I still think about cupcakes and bagels sometimes, but I am no longer counting down the days until I can eat one again. Even when I can, I’m not sure that I will, and it’s all because of my shift in perspective.
6. Cook for yourself.
Believe me. It is very, very difficult to have a meal at a restaurant that does not have sugar added. By cooking for yourself, you get to control every single aspect of your food. And the reality is, food can be delicious without sugar. Whole30, Eat Fat, Get Thin and the 10 Day Detox Diet Cookbook are great places to start exploring new, sugar-free recipes. And if all else fails, fall back on grilling. Everything tastes better on the grill.
Just beware of recipes labeled “sugar-free” on Pinterest; many have alternative, natural sugars added instead of the normal, white stuff. As I mentioned above, I believe that sugar is sugar, so just make sure you know what ingredients you’re okay with before trying a new recipe.
7. Try recipes without the ingredient, and try twice.
When I happen upon a recipe that adds some form of sugar as a sweetener, I usually try to make the meal omitting it altogether the first time. Sometimes it is totally fine; other times it is an epic fail. In the cases where it was an epic fail, I tried the recipe again but made accommodations for the removal of the sugary ingredient (i.e.: if the recipe called for maple syrup, I added full-fat coconut milk to preserve the amount of liquid without adding the sugar). As someone who was scared to break away from a recipe, I’m finding it really fun to make each dish my own!
8. Have a p.m. strategy.
Especially at the beginning, nighttime was by far the most difficult to master. I always wanted a piece of chocolate (or two, or three … #sugaraddict) before I went to bed. It took a while, but I am now content with having quinoa oatmeal, a paleo wrap with cashew butter, or really, just plain cashew butter with pecans dipped in before bed. Perfect sugar-free snack.
9: Increase healthy fats.
The increase of healthy fat is a relatively new concept, partially driven by Dr. Mark Hyman’s new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin. In this book, he explains the demonization of fat, and the role that sugar played in fat-free or reduced-fat products. I now understand that sugar is the real enemy, not fat. As a result, I’ve supplemented my diet with grass-fed ghee, avocado, coconut oil and other healthy fats.
10. Always be prepared.
For me, it is much more difficult to avoid sugar when I’m really hungry. There are very few (if any) fast, grab-and-go options available, and when hanger sets in, look out. Those Oreos are going to literally jump out at you in the hopes that you’ll give in. That’s why preparation is key. If you know you’re going to be away from home for a while, make sure you bring plenty of snacks to get you through. I also keep a stash of Dang Toasted Coconut Chips and Epic Bars in my car, just in case I’m caught off guard.
If you’re interested in limiting or eliminating sugar, I hope these 10 tips help you succeed! I’m rooting for you, and if you have any questions at all, please feel free to write me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay up to date on my latest posts by liking my page on Facebook! —Jessica Yox