Amy Siegal gave up sugar completely, and her life is sweeter for it.
IN MAY 2018, I GAVE UP sugar entirely – all-natural sugars, as well as artificial sweeteners. I did this primarily for weight loss, but also, I didn’t like the idea that I craved it. I don’t want to feel dependent on anything. I had read research explaining the reliance we have on the taste of sweet. I decided that if it’s not good for me, I would try to give it up, completely.
I’ve always eaten fairly healthfully, limiting processed foods for myself and my four children. I didn’t keep sugary drinks, juices or sodas in the house. And baked goods never came from a mix – always from scratch to limit unnatural and processed ingredients. I have experimented with different ways of eating – keto, low-fat, low-carb, vegan. And I’ve always had an eye to keeping us healthy.
Yet sweets have always been the “reward” for me. When I was a kid, I’d get a lollipop at the doctor’s office. My grandmother would say that if we finished our dinner, we’d get dessert. While traveling, I always looked forward to the “treats” – macarons in France, gelato in Italy, truffles in Switzerland and Mexican candies.
However, this no-sugar idea really spoke to me. It seemed straightforward, and the health benefits sounded comprehensive. I also wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could remove this pervasive ingredient from my daily life. I thought, “I’ll just try it.” I didn’t plan to give sugar up entirely and forever. Because THAT sounded like an enormous goal. I went with, “I will just try it.”
A Sugar-Free Life
Now it’s a sugar-free year and a half later. I feel healthier, cleaner, happier. My skin is brighter, my clothes fit better and I don’t get sick as often. Are they related? I don’t know, but I’m going to stick with this way of eating because I like the way I feel.
In addition, eating sugar-free has reset my taste buds. I enjoy my food more because savory flavors are more intense. I no longer feel like I have an ever-present coating of sugar in my mouth. And now, sometimes just the smell of chocolate or cake is satisfying enough.
Without sweets, the other foods that I eat are more satisfying. I don’t eat my entree “on the way to dessert.” Dinner is its own enjoyment, and I find that I do enjoy it more now.
A normal day for me consists of mainly protein and fresh vegetables. I avoid packaged foods as much as I can. In the morning, I’ll have eggs with veggies and some coffee with milk. And then meats and vegetables for lunch and dinner. I find it very satisfying – and since I am satisfied, I don’t go looking for the sweets.
I still keep sugar in my house because I enjoy baking – though I no longer lick the spoon. I make cookies and cakes for my kids and my friends because I do like to treat them – just not as often as before. When I bake, I use regular, not artificial, sugars because I feel those are the lesser of the evils.
Challenges and Temptations
I work in the travel industry. Flights can be hardest, as I don’t have control over the timing or selection of foods. Although snacks and meals are offered, it’s generally foods I won’t eat. Even the protein/granola bars have added sugar. And I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to eat again – either the next in-flight meal or arrival at my destination. As a result, I’ve learned to come prepared, so I’m not dependent on when or what is on offer. And I always make sure to pack snacks when I travel.
Because of my work, I’m often visiting new destinations and being entertained with incredible meals – with menus that are usually prearranged, so I’m unable to choose for myself. There have been times that a dessert will arrive in front of me, and it’s a challenge to not indulge. But I occupy myself with something else, and the urge passes.
I was recently at a dinner with hotel reps one night, chatting with my friend next to me about dieting and exercise, what we eat and our challenges. At the end of the meal, ice cream sundaes arrived in front of us. Our eyes grew wide, and we exchanged “uh oh” looks. I said to her, “8 minutes. If you can resist that sundae for 8 minutes, that’s all it will take. In 8 minutes, it won’t look so great, everyone else will be done enjoying theirs, and it might even be whisked away by a waiter. Can you resist it for 8 minutes?” And she did. We both did.
Is That Cookie Worth It?
There’s also a positive feedback mechanism at work. Each time I resist something I might have eaten before, I feel proud and more determined. I ask myself, “Is this cookie/gelato/candy worth surrendering to after I have been so good for this long?” And when I pose the question that way, the answer is always no. And with each decision to forego a sweet, I feel like my willpower grows stronger: I’m not going to give in NOW, after so many good decisions.
And now it’s rare that I’m tempted. It happens occasionally – but after all this time, I don’t really WANT to see how I feel having sugar. For me, after a year and a half, there is nothing that will taste as good as the pride and determination I have shown. I value my health more than that cookie or chocolate bar.
Admittedly, mine has been a cold-turkey situation – and that’s daunting, for sure. I’m not advocating a complete and permanent avoidance of sugar – that’s hard and might even seem impossible. It’s just what worked for me. My downfall has always been that first bite, it makes me want more. So, if I don’t taste it, that’s usually easier.
If you’d asked me two years ago, I would not have thought it possible that I’d never have a soda again. This sugar-free “experiment” has shown me a lot. First, and most importantly, it’s shown me how strong my determination can be. And that’s been empowering in all areas of my life – work, exercise, family, travel. In general, it’s shown me that I am capable of something I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of. But it’s also made me feel healthier all around – which has been very rewarding.