I’m betting you’ve probably heard a lot of the hype and fanfare recently about eating less sugar. It might even be why you’re here, specifically on this blog. Whilst there is no doubt that we are all likely consuming too much sugar, it is also getting increasingly more difficult to avoid sugar with it being added to practically everything, oftentimes even where you least expect it
This in turn makes it way too easy for us to eat more sugar than we realize.
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Reducing the amount of sugar in my diet, to the point where I eat almost no refined sugars has been something that I am passionate about and have been doing for around 10 years. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, or that it’s an inconvenience, or a problem to be solved. It has just become my way of life and “just what I do”.
During this time, I’ve realized that there are definitely some guidelines that I follow that help to keep me on the straight and narrow. It’s these guide posts that have helped to provide the boundaries of healthy eating for me so that I can enjoy food, cook pretty much what I want and avoid things that really weren’t making me feel good anyway.
When you cut out refined sugars from your diet, and you stop eating processed food, and instead replace it with good fats, lean protein and fresh fruits and veges, you’ll notice that not only does your appetite change, but so do your cravings.
Removing refined sugars from your diet, changes your taste buds. In a good way. Suddenly, things you used to crave, no longer seem appealing, and where you used to eat the whole packet of something, that also doesn’t seem as attractive, or necessary.
Saying no to refined sugars rewires your brain and changes your taste buds.
It puts you in control of your food and empowers you to make better food choices, instead of mindlessly eating just for the sake of it, even when you’re not really hungry, or because you’re board.
You stop being controlled by your cravings.
The less sugar you eat, the less cravings you have.
What Does It Mean to Stop Eating Refined Sugars?
With quitting sugar and sugar free being such buzzwords, it’s easy to be confused about what it even means. One of the things to understand though is that your decision to stop eating refined sugars doesn’t involve being on a diet. Hooray!
Being on a diet would imply it has a start and an end. But this isn’t really the case when you make the shift to sugar free. There is no start and end date because it becomes an intrinsic part of your life and something that becomes as automatic as tying your shoelaces.
Making the lifestyle choice to eat less sugar, that is, to remove refined sugars is a transition from how you currently think about what you eat and the choices you make, to making better, more informed food choices that fuel your body, giving you more energy, resilience and recovery.
It’s as much about removing unwanted sugars, as working out healthy alternatives that still allow us to enjoy a sweet treat now and then, without the sugar high. It’s about identifying the foods that give you the biggest bank for your buck in terms of nutritional value and your hip pocket.
You’d be surprised that when you stop eating so much processed food, how much money you can save on your weekly grocery shop.
Stepping out of the sugar haze and transitioning into a cleaner, more sugar free way of eating is about developing new habits. Developing a breakfast routine that will give you the energy to start the day, creating a lunch routine that doesn’t make you fall asleep or leave you craving something from the vending machine, and nailing a dinner routine that is easy, manageable and tastes good. Flexible routines that you’ll want to do over and over again because they make you feel awesome.
Making small changes over time to the way you eat brings you one step closer to better health, improved sleep, more energy and motivation, clearer skin, and undoubtedly the ability to feel more in control of your cravings and to be happy with just one slice.
For me, my transition to sugar free, has often had its challenges, especially in the early years. But as we grow up and gain more life experiences, our priorities also shift and I’m so grateful to be able to share my knowledge and tips that I’ve learnt along my journey to maybe (hopefully) inspire you in some small way to make a change of your own.
Here are what I consider to be the 8 Fundamental Principles for getting started on the road to eliminating refined sugars.
If you know you’re ready for a bit more help with cutting out all the added sugars check out the Sugar Free 3 Day Meal Plan.
Cutting Out Refined Sugar For Beginners: 8 Simple Steps
These guidelines are not meant to overwhelm you, and it’s not my intention that you should stop everything you are doing to immediately follow these. Instead, consider these as benchmarks for making better food choices. You don’t have to implement them all at once, just start with one, and start today.
1. Clean out your Pantry and Fridge
If you’re anything like me you need to remove temptation otherwise you’ll eat it. There is only one remedy for this. Don’t keep anything in your house that a) is sugar, b) is loaded with sugar, c) is a convenience or snack food or d) emergency treats – but isn’t that covered by b?
It will be tough, but it is necessary. You need to detox your pantry and your fridge and remove all the sugary stuff, including sweets, sodas, chocolates, cookies, sugar laden breakfast cereals, even all your bottled sauces because they too contain a ridiculous amount of sugar. Ok, you can keep one, but only one if you must.
Things that can stay include: milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, fruits and veges, peanut butter, oils, nuts, oats, rice, noodles, lentils and other canned bean items.
If throwing it out gives you pangs of guilt, give your stuff to a neighbor or the little old lady who lives down the street.
2. Write a shopping list and stick to it
I’ve realized over the years that as simple as writing a shopping list sounds, it can be a challenge for a lot of people.
How many times have you found yourself writing grocery lists on the backs of envelopes, sticky notes or scraps of paper you tear off of something else. Not to mention the number of trips to the supermarket this adds up to. I know I’ve been guilty of this and at times going to the supermarket 4, 5 or 6 times per week. It’s exhausting, and who has the time for that!
You might not want to hear it, but the key to writing a good shopping list, and completing an organized shopping mission, is planning.
Knowing in advance what you’re going to eat for the week ahead, working out what ingredients you will need, making sure you’re not going to be buying stuff you already have in the fridge or pantry, yet making sure you have enough of the right stuff to make the meal properly and not realize at the last minute you forgot to buy an essential ingredient that brings everything together.
Pick a day of the week that will be your shopping day. Before you go, spend 10 minutes working out what you’re going to eat and write it down on an a piece of paper and stick it to the fridge.
On another piece of paper write your ingredients and then cross check your fridge and pantry for things you already have. If you have it cross them off your list.
On your designated day, go to the shop, once, and buy what is on the list. Nothing more. No treats, no boxes of things you can hide away in the back of the pantry. Just the stuff on your list.
3. Start reading nutrition labels on things you are buying
These days it’s far too easy to rely upon snazzy advertising slogans and cool graphics that tell us this product is low sugar, that product is sugar free, something else is low gi, low carb, reduced sugar, healthy, hi fiber, gluten free, blah , blah blah…. the list could go on and on.
The reality is the competition for your dollar has never been greater and sometimes all the marketing that is splashed across the products we buy everyday is just plain confusing, and dare I say misleading in some cases..
Where does this leave you, and me. The customers of these products?
It leaves us with only one option. To start reading the labels and to understand what is in the things we are buying and to make a decision for ourselves. Do we put it in our shopping cart, or do we put it back on the shelf? Let us be the judge of whether something is good enough to take home, to share with the people who are important to us.
Next time you go grocery shopping, I challenge you to look at the label of the food item you are picking up. If sugar is listed as the first, second or third ingredient, then, sugar is a large component of that product. Don’t see sugar listed? Perhaps it is there in disguise….
Check out my post on Smart Food Swaps to help you identify where you can get some quick wins with cutting back on sugar
4. Spend an hour on Sundays preparing for the week ahead
Skipping the prep when you do have time to do it (for me it’s a Sunday afternoon), will mean prepping when you really don’t have time to do it (eeek, weeknight when I’m getting home after 6.30pm).
Not taking a little bit of time for meal prep has the potential to sabotage your healthy eating and send things downhill rapidly.
In the form of ringing up the nearest takeout place for a home delivery, stopping at the drive through on the way home from work, or getting home and eating breakfast for dinner, or something I confess I have done on more than one occasion, have toast for dinner.
Whilst all these options might temporarily fill your belly, you’ll soon find you’re hungry again not long after, and those cravings will set in, taking over your mind causing you to become some crazy sweet obsessed addict in a frenzy trying to get a quick sugar hit to take the edge off. You don’t want that and to undo all the good work you’ve done up to now.
Avoid the cravings, and the unavoidable regret and spend an hour prepping your meals:
- Cut your meat up in advance in portion controlled servings and store in ziplock bags in the freezer. Write the day of the week and what it is on the packet.
- Chop your veges for each meal/recipe in advance and put each lot into a separate ziplock bag/or meal container. Label with recipe and day you plan to eat it.
That’s it. Prep your meat. Prep your veg. You’ll now be two steps closer to homecooked meals during the week.
5. Make your own takeout
I love to treat myself with takeout. Some of my weaknesses are Thai, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese. Thinking back to when I used to buy these, I was often left disappointed after eating it, mostly because I didn’t really think I had gotten value for money. It always ended up being average food, for more than average prices, and it left me feeling bloated, tired, weighed down and if I’m honest, a little regretful.
The takeout that used to make me happy, wasn’t making me happy anymore. I’d changed, and my taste buds had changed.
What was a girl to do? This girl started making her own healthy takeout, recreating store bought favorites with a healthy spin and without all the refined sugars and bad fats.
It’s easy once you know how. To help you get started, here are a few of my favorites:
- Easy Pocket Bread Pizza
- Spicy Grown up Pizza
- Garlic prawn (Shrimp) Pizza
- Chilli Chicken Stirfry
- Cashew Nut Chicken
- Fish Panang Curry
6. Eat more protein
Eating more protein each day will make you crave less sweet things. Protein keeps you fuller for longer, making you feel less hungry. Have ever heard this before: “The More Sugar You Eat, The More Sugar You Crave”. This is why it can often be hard to stop, to give up sugar because it can become addictive, and it can rule your life if you let it.
An easy way to slow sugar down, is to incorporate more protein into your day. Try eating eggs, or a high protein smoothie or high protein cereal (without the sugar) for breakfast.
For lunch make sure to include protein such as chicken or ham with a salad or on a sandwich, or even boiled eggs, cheese, lentil, and beans in your salad.
For snacks, I’m a big fan of almonds, full fat yoghurt, cheese and water crackers, or some cooked skinless chicken. And sometimes I have protein balls which are great portable snacks for on the go.
For dinner, it’s generally chicken, salmon, beef, fish, or turkey, along with an assortment of colorful veges and occasionally rice or pasta
7. Drink more water
Drinking water sounds simple, and we all do it. But do we drink enough water? Probably not. It can be hard sometimes. We get busy, we forget, we might not have access, or we’re just sick of going to the bathroom all the time so we stop.
Here’s what I’ve discovered. Drinking water helps me to stay full and eat less. Not to mention the benefits of clearer skin and less brain fog. Most days I drink on average 2 liters. I constantly have water on me, no matter where I am. I almost feel naked without it.
When you feel hungry, or touch wood, a craving coming on, have a full glass of water. That’s 250 mls of water, and then see how you feel. You might still want something to munch on, but I’ll bet you eat less because the water has started to fill you up.
7. Make a commitment
It can be easy to try out a fad and then quickly move onto the next one if you’re not feeling the love. But deciding to stop eating refined sugars, or at least significantly reduce them, is not a decision to take lightly. To make a true change, you can’t just be interested in it, you need to have a deep commitment to it. It needs to become something that is part of your life on a daily basis and it becomes “just what you do”.
People don’t need to ask “Do you want sugar in that?”. They know it’s not who you are anymore.
Leaving something behind that has been with you for a long time is no small ask, and for many it has become their source of comfort in times of stress, uncertainty and unhappiness. But, once you move past the initial shock of your body not getting the sugar hits it’s been relying on for years, your mind will catch up, the fog will lift and you have more energy, vitality and motivation than you’ve felt in years.
So my question to you is “Are you interested in cutting out refined sugars, or are you committed to cutting out refined sugars?”
This is the million dollar question and when you are ready there will be no stopping you.
How To Make The Change To Eating Less Sugar
Every great change starts with one small step forward. Today. Tomorrow and the next day. Momentum will build change over time. Consistency will bring results. Commitment will bring the biggest transformation of all.
Eliminating refined sugars will become your new norm. It will be “just what you do”. Want to know where to start?Start by having one less sugar in your coffee.
If you already drink your coffee or tea sugar free, try skipping the sugary breakfast cereals and toast, and fuel up on a bowl of natural oats with full fat milk. Not the flavored oats, or the ones with added sugar, the plain big oats that provide a nutritional powerhouse of good stuff that will set you up for the best possible start to your day.
If oats aren’t your thing, make some eggs on toast and eat it all before you head off to work.
Think about what you eat and whether or not you are actually physically hungry. Take time to enjoy what you eat and importantly don’t get caught out because you forgot your meal prep!
In terms of drinks, steer clear of fruit flavoured drinks, sodas, fruit juices, skim milk and instead have full fat milk, tomato juice, green smoothies, water, tea and coffee
I would avoid honey and jams you buy from the supermarkets, chocolate spreads, milk chocolate and instead choose bananas, apples, dark chocolate and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to flavour things.
Say no to low fat granolas, cereals with dried fruits, and sugary processed cereals and instead go for oats, or if you’re in Australia – Weetbix is a good option.
As for biscuits, breads, buns and cakes, I wouldn’t eat the sponge, chocolate chip cookies, the bagel, the French stick or the sliced white bread. Instead I’d choose wholemeal pita bread, or low carb wraps, plain crackers, frozen puff pastry and rye bread.
Fat free yoghurt and fat free mayonnaise are no go’s for me as the removal of fat has been replaced with added sugar. Opt for the full fat versions of yoghurts instead. They will taste better and keep you fuller for longer.
Sauces. Where do I start. Store bought BBQ sauce and Tomato sauce contain heaps of sugar, as do things like pre made sweet and sour sources, instead opt for passata, canned tomatoes, soy sauce, and mustard.
Sugar Free For Beginners
I encourage to take the opportunity to join the free 7 Day Sugar Reduction Challenge. No Pressure. It's just a starting point and where you take after that is up to you.
Best wishes and welcome to the Sugar free community.
Leave a comment below with any questions on sugar free eating as you get started on your new and exciting adventure!