Goodbye, sweetie pie
August 13, 2012 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone successfully given up refined sugar (long term)? What were the benefits you noticed?

I've been off refined sugar now for about a week. I'm finding it uncomfortable but not awful. I am also noticing some nice perks- I feel less bloated, my skin feels clearer/less dry, and I feel a little less stiff overall. I'm getting a lot of cravings but dealing with it by eating fruit or cheese or something else yummy. I've added more fruits and veggies in naturally as I look for other things to eat, so that's good too!

I'm not really interested in going completely low-carb - though I do understand the importance of adding good fats and proteins into the diet, while minimizing simple carbs for overall health and to make the transition to not eating sugar easier.

Has anyone successfully given up refined sugar (long term)? What were the benefits you noticed? I am overall in good health; in fact, except for the sugar addiction I eat pretty well. But I do have days I'll eat a pint of ice cream, or 6 homeade cookies, and I'm 30 and I can tell that won't work very much longer. Also, I use sugar a lot to life my moods, and I'd just rather not do that as much.

So I'm sad to see sweets go, but also wondering if it's worth it to just lay off them completely for 3-6 months, at least until the cravings go away, and then maybe just have them like once a week.

Anyone else really cut sugar out? What happened? Did your health improve? What specifically?
posted by Rocket26 to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I gave up most of the refined sugar long ago, and it especially benefits my stomach, no acid reflux any more at all - which used to be a growing problem, especially at night.
I'm using a spoonful of honey or so a day; eat a few squares of 70+% chocolate. Some of these do still contain normal sugar, but not that much overall.
I especially gave up cookies and sugar in my coffee/tea.
posted by Namlit at 1:16 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up sugar comepletely for 18 months once. I noticed no difference other than I was eating less calories and I was not as tired in the late afternoon.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

The change to my mood was striking. I mean, like, I started taking massive amounts of Vitamin D this winter and my seasonal affective disorder evaporated. This was an almost equivalent sea change. The mood swings that were making my work life hellish are almost all gone. When I get anxiety now, it's just regular-people anxiety and not curl-up-in-a-ball anxiety.

(I should note I ate a shitload of candy and drank a lot of soda beforehand. Breakfast was six Oreo cookies.)

For about a month I was steadfast, and it was fine. These days, I'll have a soda now and again, or some sorbet or something, but I'm consuming maybe 10% of the amount of processed sugar I originally was and I'm still good.

Seconding 70%+ chocolate. That stuff (well, I stick to 85% but that's leaving "candy" territory) is the only candy I eat anymore.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2012

Oh, and if one of your vices is soda, I suggest getting a Sodastream or some other seltzer maker.
posted by griphus at 1:27 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I gave up sugar for three months and my mood and energy improved. Your cravings will go away, and other foods will taste sweeter. Most people that give up sugar in their coffee find it tastes far too sweet with it after just a few days. You should have a similar reaction to most foods.
posted by xammerboy at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2012

I've given it up except for the occasional indulgence when I'm out to eat, or stressed out with no time to cook. My mood is more stable, I have more energy, and most noticeably, I don't get any acid reflux when I avoid the refined sugary or starchy carbs. I tend to break out less, too. Supplementing with fish oil 2x per day might have contributed to some of positive changes in my health. Am not super strict about it, but I've kept off 30 lbs by eating low carb 60-70% of the time. It becomes second nature.

I bake at least once a week to satisfy my sweet tooth. Check out the sugar-free treats at this blog if you want to indulge without the sugar! They're naturally sweetened - no Splenda.
posted by sunnychef88 at 1:34 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't eat much refined sugar anymore. Everything vaguely processed tastes incredibly sweet and candy is nigh inedible because it's just too much unless it's really, really good candy. My doesn't spike like it used to, but it's a much more mellow curve and the midrange lasts longer without the crash.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2012

NBA All-Star Steve Nash has:
The difference was instantaneous: I slept better, I recovered from workouts more easily, and I had more energy.
I've been cutting sugar out of my diet as well. Over the last few years, I've started taking my tea and coffee black, skipping dessert... and it's been good. As noted upthread, less acid reflux, less feeling groggy. Recommended!
posted by raihan_ at 1:37 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would assume the benefits vary depending on how much sugar you usually consume. I gave up sugar once, the only change for me was losing the craving for sugary things and that only lasts so long as you keep off the sugar. For me it lasted until the next easter or christmas (can't remember exactly which).
posted by missmagenta at 1:44 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up refined sugar completely for about 30 days, and I have to echo what griphus says about the change in mood. I have never had big issues with anxiety but I can be pretty prone to highs and lows. After about ten days without refined sugar, though, my mood stabilized in a way I couldn't remember ever having happened before. It's not like everything was sunshine and roses all the time, but I felt calmer and more positive in general, and didn't react to things that went wrong as strongly as before. In addition to this bonus, I had a ton of energy, never felt bloated, and my skin cleared up amazingly (acne being one of the reasons that I chose to do what was essentially an elimination diet). Any stomach issues I had before cleared up, and (although I'm not sure if this will apply to you), I had zero, literally zero, menstrual symptoms where as before I would have cramps every month.

Just to be clear - I also gave up grains, dairy, and pretty much all processed food (did the Whole 30), so I can't honestly tell you that it was specifically the sugar that produced this change, although it did seem to have the biggest negative effect on me when I reintroduced it. I can tell you that now, off the regimen, when I eat a lot of sugar I can expect an emotional low (and probably a pimple) to follow. No one else I know really seems to be affected that way, though.
posted by luciernaga at 1:49 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up sugar for a year or so (this was several years back). I recall feeling so much more clear-headed and my emotions and energy being on a more even keel. My skin got better (but not perfect by any stretch), I lost tons of weight and received tons of compliments.

However; I did start eating sugar again which instantly brought back the crazy... and because I missed it so much I binged like a lunatic (and really, isn't that the only way to binge?). The "re-feed" of my beloved sugar packed on the weight in the most horrendous way.

It took a few years but I've finally managed my eating to where I can have sugar and it doesn't cause me to turn into the depressed whirling vortex of madness it once did. In my case, my abstinence from sugar caused me to completely demonize it along with many other "unhealthy" foods (honey! fruits! sweet vegetables! any starch! flour!), making it extremely difficult to eat as well as driving everyone around me crazy because they also couldn't feed me. I was certainly convinced that sugar was the root of all evil, which I've since learned is the rainbows and sunshine beginnings of disordered eating. Yay.

"Everything in moderation, even moderation," yeah, that's really the way to go. Reducing your sugar intake and completely removing sugar from your diet are two totally different things, yet both will net nearly the same results. I only ever have sweets after a protein containing meal, and when I do have it it doesn't trigger the OMG FEED MEEEE mode like it once did (even before my giving-up-sugar experiment).

I realize you didn't ask for any side-effects of removing sugar, but it became such a huge problem in my life I felt it prudent to at least mention it. YMMV and all that. Good luck to you.
posted by french films about trains at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I gave up sugar for a few months at the beginning of the year, and am now on week three of giving it up again. I feel so much better when I'm not eating sugar! I wish I had given it up sooner.

Like other people have said, it has helped my energy be more stable, and my mood too. For the first week or so I craved sugar and carbs, but that has mostly subsided. I also don't get as many headaches. I would get one almost every day, and haven't had one in weeks.

I'm now able to eat something sweet on a special occasion without it triggering major, anxiety-inducing cravings. But now sugary things taste so, so sweet I almost can't stand it, and fruit tastes extra sweet and delicious. Oh, and if I overdo it on a treat I get a sugar hangover the next day. I have to drink tons of water to feel better, just like an alcohol hangover.
posted by apricot at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2012

Response by poster: These are great suggestions. The problem for me is moderation. How much is really moderate? A couple cookies once a week? Just on holidays and birthdays? I'm sure it's different for everyone.
posted by Rocket26 at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2012

I drink maybe two sodas a week, a dessert maybe once a month, and otherwise consume virtually no sugar/hfcs. (There are probably trace amounts here and there, but nothing major.) Other than sometimes a post-soda slump, I can't tell any difference between days with sugar and days without. My guess is that once you are at a low level of consumption, there isn't much difference between a little and none. But there is probably a big difference between a lot and a little.
posted by Forktine at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2012

I use very little added sugar in my diet nowadays, as a part of an eating transition over the years. Just a teaspoon in my coffee in the morning and, yeah, that weekend donut during my long bike ride. I gave up my major sugar intake, orange juice, several years ago, and haven't really missed it. I don't drink soda or diet soda except for a very few times a year. I've switched to mostly plain yogurt, with fruit and cereal. And what sweetened things I do buy, I try to get versions that do not include HFCS, but it's not a hard rule.

I don't really put much stock in all the diet absolutism that is so prevalent. If you want a piece of cake, have a piece of cake. Just don't do it every day.

On preview: moderation means whatever you want it to mean. Once a week? Once a month? Once a fortnight?

Eponysterical, apricot.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:12 PM on August 13, 2012

I basically don't eat sugar or sugary things *at all*, mostly because of taste preference.

So on the odd occasions when I do - half a Coke or a cup of sweet coffee or something - I notice the effects a LOT. There really are only two that matter -- the first is a surge in my ability to concentrate, the second is the post sugar crash if I overdo it. Basically, a muffin or a single granola bar or a couple of cookies is no problem, and I don't feel the crash, but a whole can of Coke or the equivalent, and I'll get it.

I find that I can avoid the crash by eating something 'proper' after the sugar, like a bagel or something.

Most times I end up eating something sweet purely to compensate for having, say, skipped breakfast or another meal, and needing to concentrate intensely on something.

The other time where it has a really significant effect is after about 90 minutes of cardio (depending on your size). If you're not taking in food, you're going to 'bonk' -- ie your performance falls way off, you get supremely 'hangry', and you may even pass out. In those circumstances, sugar is an amazing substance - it can get you BACK in minutes. But again you can reduce the need for it just by eating non-sugary foods in the right proportions at the right times.
posted by unSane at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2012

Re: moderate

I'm now able to eat something sweet on a special occasion without it triggering major, anxiety-inducing cravings

This is my definition of "moderation" as well. Although I do suggest going totally cold turkey until, like apricot says, having a craving for something is just a want and not a psychological battle against yourself. It's sort of like going from a habitual smoker to a social smoker. I smoked a pack a day, quit cold turkey for months, and now I can have a cigarette at a party without ever feeling like I need one. If I do start feeling like I need one, then it's cold turkey time again for a while.
posted by griphus at 2:16 PM on August 13, 2012

Gretchen Rubin had an article a bit ago on abstaining vs. moderation - basically, she suggests that some people can handle doing things in moderation, while for others it's actually easier to give them up completely. I thought this was a useful distinction, because I've always found the latter FAR easier, so the 'all things in moderation' advice never really worked for me.
posted by ella wren at 2:17 PM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've cut back to just holidays and birthdays but try to avoid then as well. It seems like people are celebrating something every other week that involves alcohol/sweets.

The sugar thing is really much easier all-in or all-out though.

Also, I'm very skeptical of anyone who says they don't eat anything with added sugar because it's in everything. You are getting a ton of sugar in everyday foods without consuming sodas/and straight-up sugar products.

Next time you're shopping take a look at the calorie information on everything you purchase. It will shock you. I try to stick to meat/veggies with no processed food, it's really the only way to go sans-sugar but watch out the next time you go out to eat. You're basically fucked if someone else is cooking for you.

On preview, unSane mentions eating a bagel. 9 out of 10 bagel assortments you pickup in the grocery store have up to 10g of sugar added per serving.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:17 PM on August 13, 2012

(and sorry, not saying unSane's bagels do, just a for instance of one of those things you eat that you wouldn't think has sugar added in it)
posted by zephyr_words at 2:18 PM on August 13, 2012

I did a research paper 30 years ago (at age 17) on "functional hypoglycemia". I also completely gave up sugar for a time in my twenties. Cravings eventually faded and my blood sugar became more stable. As I understand it, being off sugar for a few weeks or months allows your body to rebuild the depleted store of "emergency" sugar in your liver and this reduces the cravings by helping your body maintain more stable blood glucose levels.

At the time that I wrote the paper, dietary changes and extra vitamins were the only known effective treatments. I just stopped in to suggest that you might try taking extra vitamins and see if that helps any. It might help cut cravings. And/or it might help you consume sugar in moderation in the future.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:20 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nothing ages you like sugar. You will see the difference.
posted by pakora1 at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pakora1, cite?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:35 PM on August 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

For about a year now I've been using the No S Diet as a template for moderation. I don't follow the rules strictly, but when I deviate from them, I'm conscious of the deviation; it gives me a pretty reasonable, easy-to-remember standard for what a moderate diet looks like. For the most part, I avoid sweets except on weekends, holidays, and special occasions. I could probably cut down further without too much pain, but it's nice to indulge on the weekends because a) I tend to do most of my exercise on the weekends in daylong bursts of outdoor expeditioning, and I think the body is better able to use the sugar energy then than when I'm sitting at a desk during the week; and b) if I do get hit by a mid-week craving, it's a lot easier to tell myself "It will be the weekend soon and I can have some cookies then" than to think "No, I have sworn off sweets forever and ever."
posted by LBS at 4:21 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm very skeptical of anyone who says they don't eat anything with added sugar because it's in everything. You are getting a ton of sugar in everyday foods without consuming sodas/and straight-up sugar products.

I agree that it would be hard, though not impossible, to go to zero, but it's not that hard to keep the level consumed really low. I don't worry if it's way down on the ingredient list of something I only eat a little bit of, but I also read ingredient lists religiously and if sugar/hfsc is in the first few ingredients, I generally don't buy it.

A lot of this hinges on how you eat. If you eat a lot of prepared foods, you are going to be getting at least some sugar and/or HFSC in every meal. If you cook mostly from scratch, there doesn't need to be much at all. I just checked some ingredient lists out of curiosity, and the only thing I use routinely with sugar in it is Sriracha sauce. (It's also in the brand of mayo that I have right now, but I only use that for tuna salad, so I'm not losing any sleep over that.) It's not in the cereal or crackers in my cupboard, for example, or in almost anything else I eat daily.

So most days I really do eat zero or almost zero added sugar, except when I have a soda, and as I said above, other than the normal sugar crash I can't tell any difference either way. And maybe that's another definition of moderation -- a level of consumption that doesn't have a noticeable impact on your life or health.
posted by Forktine at 4:55 PM on August 13, 2012

For me, moderation is effectively 0, just because I have no control. Like if there's snacks in the house, they're going to get eaten, so I just don't buy snacks. That said, I'm not super-difficult about it, I'm sure I get some sugar from the various things I eat over the course of the day. And I'll have a few cookies on holidays and such.

But honestly, if you're anything like me, once you get off the stuff you won't crave it as much anymore. I'll have a Twix or pack of M&Ms or something maybe every 3 months or so and that's more than enough.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:46 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up sugar for a month. (Didn't eat added sugar, also didn't eat fruit.) I didn't notice any cravings, any change in mood, any difference in ability to concentrate, or any effect on digestion or hunger.
posted by escabeche at 5:54 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I gave up sugar for six months. It was relatively easy, and I noticed huge changes (fewer energy spikes and dips, better mood, lost weight - although that wasn't intentional - and everything else tasted so delicious). But at the end of six months, it was my birthday. Someone baked me a delicious cake, and other people gave me chocolate. The first piece of cake I had tasted TERRIBLE. So horribly sweet and cloying and artificial. The chocolate I had after that was okay. The next day I had another piece of cake to see if it still tasted weird. It didn't. It tasted much better. I had another couple of chocolates. The next day after that I swear I finished the whole cake on my own. And then I was back to eating sugar like I had never stopped.

That was a few years ago and I have not been able to give sugar up successfully again since. I think the first time was easiest because of the novelty factor. It was interesting to me to see what would happen. Now I know what would happen so that's not very motivational.
posted by lollusc at 6:22 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up sugar for 2 weeks. I don't think I ever got past the withdrawal and the cravings really started to become an issue instead of an annoyance and I found my anxiety levels skyrocket and I decided enough was enough. (Incidentally I also gave up alcohol at the same time, no problem whatsoever, I literally was like a glass of wine would be nice, but oh well and never gave it a second though, no sugar I was on edge)

I also gave up sugar once before for 2 weeks when I went on atkins and proceeded to have the most vivid dreams of my entire life about eating chocolate cake. At that point I decided I'd taken things too far and my mental health required a brownie.

Nowadays I don't eat sugar most days, but still a couple times a week. Generally, but certainly not always in moderation. I've found taking the extraneous sugar out of my diet has helped with the cravings (i.e. no more mochas when I go get a coffee at work, only a skim latte, don't even miss it anymore). But yeah I've never been able to go cold turkey. Thank god I never took up smoking or drugs.
posted by whoaali at 7:03 PM on August 13, 2012

I gave up refined sugar and corn syrup for 8 or 9 months because my doctor thought it might help with stomach issues. It didn't. I didn't really have sugar cravings, though. Now I enjoy a 4 oz. bag of gummy bears pretty much every week, and the occasional cookie or brownie when I happen to be somewhere that serves gluten-free treats when my stomach isn't already full. I doubt my experience is all that relevant to yours, though, because I was never a big sugar consumer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:25 PM on August 13, 2012

My dental check ups got a lot better.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:53 PM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've eaten paleo or the 4-hr body slow carb diet for a little over a year now, and I've noticed a few changes. however, since neither of those diets include any refined carbohydrates or starches it could be related to that too.

For one thing my skin is way better, just looks smoother and doesn't seem to be as affected by weather changes and such, and my energy is more.. what energy should be. I'm pretty night owlish at all times, but when I stick hard to the diet (especially slow carb which is no sugar at all, but I find it harder to stick to) I feel like I wake up with a decent amount of energy which I maintain through the day, and then start flagging around bedtime. if I eat/drink sugar (coke and candy) I'm up til 2 in the morning every night.

also, you can lose a surprising amount of weight pretty quick for some people. and it is hard to avoid refined sugars if you eat a lot of processed foods, but there's a pretty easy fix to that: cut down or out processed foods.

also, my cellulite went completely away.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:47 PM on August 13, 2012

I've been off concentrated sweeteners (sugar, honey, agave or other syrups, all that) for about fifteen years. I rarely eat processed foods and then only after checking ingredients. I rarely eat out and when I do, I avoid certain cuisines and ask servers if there is sugar or other concentrated sweeteners in what I'm about to order.

I've gone this extreme for this long because I've experimented with having sugary sauces or fruit juice or a dessert here and there, and what it does to me is just not worth it. The three-hour unrestful naps from which I wake up groggy and sluggish, the chronic yeast infections, coming down with a cold a couple of days later, acne breakouts a day later, they're not worth it. I've been trying to get rid of athlete's foot for a couple of decades and at some point I noticed that within an hour of ingesting sugar, it itched like crazy. Not worth it. I still haven't gotten rid of it entirely but cutting sugar out helped so much that the last time I remember it feeling torturously itchy like that was about ten years ago.

I don't miss desserts any more. I prefer having my head clear, being able to wake up easily in the morning and stay awake through the day, and keeping my body happy.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:51 AM on August 14, 2012

I gave up sugar for Lent one year. My skin, which has always been OK, became perfect to the point that everyone was commenting on it. My hair grew faster. I didn't have any tummy problems.

I also gave it up for two months before and decided to have it only when offered in special settings (people's birthdays, holidays) and on weekends.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:35 AM on August 14, 2012

I gave up refined sugar along with alcohol four months ago.

So far I've lost over 20 pounds without any significant amount of exercise. That's like getting rid of two bowling balls that I've been carrying around. I feel fantastic. I haven't entirely denied my sweet tooth, since I eat a lot more fruit now (but no fruit juice, since that's just a gut bomb of fructose). The nice part is the fruit is actually good for me and no matter how much I eat, I still end up losing weight.

Since I gave up booze and sugar at the same time, I'm not sure which was responsible for the weight loss (both?). There's a good chance it was the booze, and the overall improvement in my health was the result of my liver healing. However it's also possible that both were doing damage to my liver, since non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a real thing.
posted by mullingitover at 11:08 AM on August 14, 2012

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