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Quitting Sugar Helped Me Cultivate Self Awareness

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The more you have it, the more you want it. It’s socially ingrained to “treat yourself.” Whatever your kryptonite is, know that cookies and cake aren’t the only things with sugar in them. Actually, almost everything has added sugar, if you take a look.

I won’t use this space to describe how bad processed and added sugar are for the human body. Instead, I will use it to document my experience on quitting processed and added sugar (I didn’t quit fruit - learn why here) for 30 days, and what the changes were for me. And they were far more than just physical. Although I set out for this to be a one-month long endeavor, it has quickly become a permanent part of my life because I feel great (goes to show you just have to try things and not think so much about it!).

To start, yes, the first few days were hard. This actually surprised me, because my diet beforehand did not include much added sugar to begin with. I’ve been vegan for almost 4 years now. Granted, sugar is vegan (you can be unhealthy and be vegan, people! Oreos are vegan). I’ve never been much of a sweets person unless I’m out with friends and want to share the eating and tasting experience.

Cutting it all out was a wake-up call. I realized that I was having yogurt with 14g of added sugar in it every other day. I was having 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup in my oatmeal every morning. 1 tbsp of maple syrup has 14g of sugar. Just for breakfast alone, I was having 42g of added sugar. If you’re thinking that maple syrup has added benefits like concentrations of antioxidants and minerals, yes, but it is still very high in sugar. It’s best consumed in moderation, which I was not. Finally, in my weekly eating, I was having a little cookie or treat out at a cafe, if I was in the mood about once or twice a week.

The first week

With all of this in mind, the first 3 days were difficult. Between 2-4pm, I craved a kick of the stuff. I pretty much wanted to drown myself in maple syrup during these few days. But seeing how my reactions would change and shift over the coming weeks motivated me to not succumb to these cravings and distract myself. Sometimes, just drinking water when I craved sugar stopped the craving. After the first few days, the cravings stopped almost entirely.

The coming weeks

Quitting something makes you 10x more aware of it. I was checking the labels of things in the grocery store and it was shocking to me how many items had added sugar. Sugar has many names on products, such as Brown Rice Syrup, Corn Syrup, Dextrin, Agave Nectar, and more (way more). Oh also, agave nectar contains about 70-90% fructose without any of the fiber you’d get in fruit, so it’s actually not a healthy substitute for sugar. Anyway, if you’re wondering if it was hard socially to give up sugar, it wasn’t. Anyone I told that I gave up processed/added sugars was really proud and happy for me and actually wanted to join in.

The physical benefits I have noticed

  • WAY less bloated: This was dramatic. In the first week, I felt significantly lighter and I didn’t even realize I was bloated often until I noticed that I felt different!
  • Clearer skin: Big difference here. Much less random breakouts, pores look less clogged, more even tone, and my skin generally looks healthier.
  • Fruit tastes great: Cutting out all added and processed sugars made eating fruit much more enjoyable. I could taste the flavors of the fruit I was eating much more intensely (this study shows that a reduction in simple sugars heightens the intensity of sweetness).
  • Sustained energy: I used to get a dip in energy between 2-4pm. Now, I wake up and am at the general same energetic level until I’m tired at night, ready for bed.
  • More tired at night: I’ve actually noticed that feeling tired and ready to fall asleep comes more easily now.

The mental benefits I have noticed

I have gained a new respect for my body’s innate wisdom in quitting processed/added sugar. In witnessing the physical shifts, I have become more attentive to my body trying to tell me something. Adding maple syrup to my oatmeal every morning became a habit, and therefore, I stopped listening to how my body/mind felt after I ate it.

Even though I was a health-conscious person to begin with, quitting processed/added sugars made me body/mind conscious. What I mean by this is it made me slow down.

“Do I really want to eat this? How do I feel after I eat something like this?”

It cultivated a sense of awareness throughout my day and how my choices affected my wellbeing. Also, I will frankly say that it felt awesome to know that I’m taking care of myself and making that choice all on my own. It gave me a sense of empowerment. Habits are hard to break and hard to form, but with the right tools and methods and reminding yourself of the bigger picture, it is possible.

A sudden lack of that sweet stuff I realized I’d turn to to fill some kind of void cultivated a sense of gratitude for the food I was eating every day. Each element of my meal has come from a different place, travelled miles through layers of people to get to my plate. Instead of over stimulating my taste buds, I am now realizing the complex layers of flavors of not only my meals but my emotions and how to properly hear them out.