I have been dabbling with the thought of doing Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar Program for quite some time already, but never took the leap.
Why? Because I was worried I wouldn't be able to stick to it.
Why? Because even though I haven't been bulimic for many years now and consider myself recovered, my journey of recovery (read more about it here, here, here and here) has nevertheless been plagued by many binges and spurts of overeating (mainly on sugary stuff) where I felt completely out of control.
And although I really really badly wanted to kick my sugar addiction in the butt for good, I also knew that I would be setting myself up for failure if I did the program with the wrong mindset.
That's why I had kept my quitting-sugar ambitions on the backburner until recently, when I figured that I was now at a head space where I could attempt going off sugar completely, without feelings of guilt if I did fall off the bandwagon.
But let's take a look at why we'd want to get rid of the white stuff in the first place...
Why is sugar so bad?
- It's linked to high cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease, it inhibits our immune system, spikes our cortisol levels, interferes with mineral absorption, leads to inflammation in the body and even messes with infertility and causes skin aging. That in itself should have us running for dear life.
- But then why don't we, if we know how bad sugar is? Because sugar is addictive. More and more studies are showing how sugar acts like a drug in our body and is actually more addictive than cocaine. Much like cocaine, it increases dopamine levels and leaves you craving for more, more and more. In short: it has a mental and physical hold over is. It's our comfort food, a quick energy fix and "reward" after a long working week. For some people, one cookie can easily turn into 10 without even realising it.
- We don't have an "off" switch for fructose, which means that we are biologically wired to be able to keep eating it. For all other substances our body has a corresponding hormone that eventually tells our appetite control system that we're full, but this doesn't happen with fructose. Therefore, our appetite for fructose is never satisfied and it's incredibly hard to stop once you've started eating it.
Sugar and Bulimia
Because sugar (fructose) is addictive and we don't have an off-switch for it, it plays a huge role in compulsive overeating and bulimia. Have you ever heard anyone overeat on kale and lettuce? Nah, me neither. What about sweet potatoes or honey-glazed carrots? More likely. And what about Ben & Jerries cookie dough ice cream? Ahhh, now we're talking.
And while bulimia is mostly a mental disorder for which a head-first approach should prevail, it also is a biochemical addiction. Your brain is addicted to sugar. Full stop.
Even though I've learnt to replace my cravings for Haribo, Lindt and Twix bars with healthier alternatives and I've ditched the white sugar for good, I deep down knew that I was still eating too much sugar and that I was somewhat addicted. In the end sugar is sugar is sugar. And while dates, maple syrup and dried fruits certainly are better than the processed white crap, too much is still too much.
What's the deal with I Quit Sugar
Sugar is hidden in a million different foods that don’t need to have it – like yoghurt, pasta sauce and food that most of us consider healthy. It is very easy to eat too much sugar in a day, even if you haven’t touched a cookie. The WHO recommends 6-9 tsp of sugar a day, but Aussie's have an average of 24 teaspoons a day and in the States that numbers skyrockets to a horrifying 32 teaspoons a day. That's where I Quit Sugar comes in...
The premise: Follow Sarah Wilson's mantra, break the habit and cut out all sugar with the eight-week I Quit Sugar program
During the program, you cut out all refined sugar, say goodbye to "healthy" sugars like stevia and even farewell fruit in all shape and form for some time. By eliminating sugar completely, you allow your body and taste buds to recalibrate itself and ultimately break the sugar addiction.
What is included:
- An 8-week online program that walks you through everything, week by week
- Meal plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner (you can choose a vegetarian option but dairy is included in both programs, most dishes are gluten-free or give a gluten free alternative
- Weekly shopping list
- "Sweet" sugar-free recipes and healthy snack ideas
- Check-in videos from Sarah herself to help you stay and track and stay motivated
- PDF's with lots of info and sources about why sugar is bad for you, gut health, sustainable cooking and many other interesting topics to educate yourself on
- Forums for support
Roughly, this is how the I Quit Sugar program works:
- The first step is to slowly cut back on sugar, still including small amounts of fruit and natural sweeteners.
- In week 3, sugar is cut entirely, including fruits. But don't fret, fruit will be reintroduced again in the following weeks, it's just necessary in the beginning to reset your taste buds. It's also the time of the program where you really look at why you eat sugar and the emotional reasons behind it. Personally, I loved this part of the program and find it essential that it's included. Because let's face it, we are all emotional eaters and there's a reason for us eating something we know is not good for us. At this point you also up your intake of fats like coconut oil, avocado, nuts and full fat dairy, to keep you feeling full and curb your sugar cravings…
- From week 6 onwards, fruit is slowly reintroduced and you also start playing around with natural sweeteners and healthy sweet treats again to see how your body and mind cope with bringing a little sweetness back into your life.
P.S.: Can we please take a moment to appreciate how freaking AMAZINGLY delicious all these recipes look?!
How did I go?
Week 1 - 3
Up until week 3, I was able to follow the program almost to the dot. After an initial 3-4 days of craving my usual sugary afternoon snack, those urges went away and I was feeling full and satiated every throughout the day. My skin got better, I was snacking less, I started seeing more definition in my abs and felt more focused and clear-minded. The recipes all tasted amazing and I was loving trying out new things in the kitchen. I felt absolutely amazing and couldn't believe I was actually starting to kick my sugar habits!
But then there was one instance that threw me off and escalated into a week long sugar frenzie: I had been out and about all day, it was nearly 4pm and I hadn't had lunch yet. I didn't have any snacks with me and knew I wasn't going to be able to eat for another couple of hours, so I decided to go to the supermarket and see if I could find something remotely sugarfree. I browsed the isles for probably 15 minutes and became increasingly frustrated as I realised there's added sugar in virtually eeeeeverything. In the end, I opted for a snack bar from the health food isle, which obviously still contained a lot of dates etc., so it wasn't optimal.
And let me tell you, I wasn't prepared for how my body was going to react. The moment I had my first bite, my body was screaming "More more more!". It makes sense considering what we know about sugar's addictive traits, but up until now I kind of thought that whenever I couldn't stop eating sugar it was because of my emotional addiction to sugar, not the physical one. And there I was, having had an amazing day, feeling 100% happy and worry-free, not having gone to the supermarket with the slightest intention of eating sugar, and yet still, I couldn't stop. It's probably the first time ever I fully grasped the physical power that sugar holds over you.
Doing The I Quit Sugar program made me realise I wasn't only emotionally addicted to sugar, but also physically"
After a week of falling off the bandwagon, I managed to pick myself back up, go grocery shopping, meal prep and get back on the program. I'd be lying if I said I was able to stick to it as well as the first three weeks, but overall I still ate sooooo much less sugar than I usually do. There's heaps of recipes that I haven't tried yet, so while I'm not following the program to the dot right now, I'm still cooking at least two IQS recipes a week.
Avoiding processed foods, becoming extremely aware of food labels, trying out new delicious recipes, becoming aware of new ingredients, being able to follow a program and not worry about what to cook, actually feeling like I can go without sugar FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE and having a better appreciation for the natural sweetness of whole fruits and vegetables
Is it time-consuming?
If you're new to meal prepping, get ready to spend a fair bit of your Sundays cooking up for the week ahead. But once you get into the habit of it, you realise how time-saving it is down the road.
Broccoli, Pesto + Almond Crumb Pasta, this one is definitely staying in my recipe repertoire. But boy, there were so many other recipes that I loved, like the zucchini fritters or the Middle Eastern quinoa stuffed eggplants or the skillet black bean nachos. Discovering all these new recipes was definitely one of my IQS highlights
Did it work?
Yes. After four days on the program, I already noticed my sugar cravings decrease. I was snacking less, eating three main meals and my energy levels were steady. In the beginning, I didn't even crave anything other than what was on the meal plan because I was so excited about trying all the new stuff. And even though I fell off the bandwagon half way through, I still notice a shift in my tastebuds. I no longer need sugar in my coffee (say what!?), I love my savoury breakfasts and eating too much sugar is actually making me feel sick.
Other take away lessons?
I learnt to appreciate savoury breakfasts (something I never thought would be possible...). I've become so much more creative in the kitchen. I've discovered the wonders of meal prepping, serious time saver people!
P.S.: Because I loved the I Quit Sugar program so much and have been raving on about it to everyone I know, I've become an affiliate partner. This means that if you decide to sign up for the program by clicking on the links above, I will get a small commission from I Quit Sugar. If I managed to convince you: thank you and good luck! x