Taming the Sweet Tooth: A 30-Day No Sugar Challenge Experience

Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet. – World Health Organization

I noticed my chocolate and sugar habits were getting out of hand, and I wanted to cut back. Since my “Dry January” experience went so well, I thought, “I should try cutting sugar out of my diet for a month.” I wanted to reboot and reset my relationship with sugar, so I put a message out to my contacts to see if anyone else was up for if. I ended up getting five other ladies who were also interested in the challenge. Cutting sugar and sweets out of our diet for one month can’t be that hard, right? I created a group chat on Messenger and then made a private Facebook group so we could put our links to videos and other messages there for ease of sharing and reference.

Prep Week

The first few days was “Prep week.” We educated ourselves about added sugar (or “free” sugar), natural sugar (“good” sugar), artificial sweeteners, the dangers and problems with sugars, learning all the different names for sugar (maltodextrin, sucrose, etc.). We read labels, watched videos, read articles, and shared our experiences and thoughts with each other. Each of us had some choices to make. Did we want to avoid artificial sweeteners too? Did we want to allow small amounts of natural sugar sources such as honey and maple syrup? Did we want to count natural sugar grams (because sugar occurs naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables, and milk products)?

Once we decided on our goals and reasons for wanting this sugar break (“Know our why”), and determined our individual “rules” and game plan, we had one last weekend to enjoy our sweets. I designed the challenge to start at the beginning of the week. For us, it was Monday, March 27, 2023.

Sweet tooth: A craving or fondness for sweet food. – Merriam-Webster

We Learned A Lot

The first few days were great! Swapping recipes, food item ideas, reading labels, supporting each other during this sugar fast was easy. We learned that certain wines have more sugar than others. We quickly realized that MOST packaged food has added sugar. Sometimes sugar is added for flavour, sometimes as a browning agent, and other times as a stabilizer or preservative. Sugar in bread helps feed the yeast, so it’s hard to find bread without sugar! Sourdough or pumpernickel can have no sugar, but it’s always good to check the labels if you are trying to avoid the sweet stuff.

I ran into a difficult situation the first week when my daughter and her boyfriend came over. We were celebrating Brayden’s birthday and Simone had brought over an Oreo Dairy Queen ice cream cake. Oh my gosh! It looked so good. As they were cutting it I could smell the sweetness and chocolate. I was encouraged to “cheat” and have a bit. It took all the willpower I could muster and I politely declined even a small piece. I had mixed feelings though. Not having a piece of birthday cake to celebrate a birthday felt wrong. I felt it was rude to not partake in the celebration. Was I rejecting the idea of celebrating a person? Was I saying “No” to him and “Yes” to me? Was it worth being “selfish”? How much did Brayden care that I didn’t have a piece of cake? I have no idea. But I know looking back, I feel that I should have cheated. I regretted not having that cake. Not for the sake of the taste, but for the social aspects of it. I learned a hard lesson that day. It is socially expected, encouraged, and polite to partake in having a piece of celebratory cake. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or some other happy occasion. In hindsight, I decided that I should have taken a small piece of cake in order to appease my manners. If the tables were reversed, I would have felt honoured if a person decided to “break the rules” for my birthday by having a small piece of cake to celebrate me.

The next challenge for me was trying to enjoy my porridge and finding sweets that would satisfy my growing craving for chocolate. I started putting a little cinnamon on my porridge hoping it would switch it up. My blueberries were starting to taste sweeter than I remember. Dried apple crisps were very sweet! Applesauce was hitting the spot (it has some “puree” in it so I am not sure if it had added sugar or not).

I was enjoying unsweetened Greek yogurt with strawberries and a small amount of honey. I found out that honey and maple syrup, although technically not “white sugar”, was still sugar but in a natural form.

My ladies were sharing stories about how they passed on certain pleasures like muffins and iced sugary drinks. I decided to avoid alcohol as well, so I enjoyed my SodaStream fizzy drinks enhanced with flavoured Bubly drops. We were doing great.

How do I know if I have a sweet tooth? A sweet tooth is a regular or consistent craving for sweets, like candy, chocolate, cookies, and cakes. If you would rather reach for a handful of gummy bears than some chips for a snack, you have a sweet tooth. If you feel that any meal without dessert just is not complete, you have a sweet tooth. Source

I Hit A Wall and Changed Course

At the two-week mark, I hit a wall. Easter was coming, and we had a big family gathering planned. There was going to be lots of food and I am sure desserts. I was finding it too difficult to continue with the challenge the way I had been doing it. I decided I wanted to switch gears and integrate what I had learned about sugar, so I decided to try sticking to the 25g or less of added sugars daily (or 175g weekly). That way I was still being very mindful of my sugar intake and keeping it at a healthy level according to the leading world experts such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

I was able to enjoy eating at Easter and have a small piece of, again, Dairy Queen ice cream cake! I had a small piece and I estimated it was about 25g worth of sugar. I enjoyed it immensely and I felt like I could have eaten the whole cake!

My Recommendation

I would suggest moving forward that if you are interested in doing a 30-Day No Sugar Challenge, start with a Prep Week (7 days) then consume no added sugars (according to your own rules) for two weeks (14 days). Then take the next nine days incorporating what you learned into your everyday habits to see how you can change your eating habits for the better.

I am so glad I joined this group thank you Angela for being such a good leader.  This group gave me the motivation and more awareness of all the hidden sugars.  And I have overcome many challenges.  I think going forward I will be carrying this forward and sugar will not control me.  I also will educate others around me.  I have lost some weight also.  Sugar also affects the heart and since I have heart disease is more important that I stay off.  Thank you again Angela it was fun and you made it supportive and informative. – Francesca

It Was Worth It

I am so glad I did this challenge. It has rebooted my relationship with chocolate and sugar and I feel much better for it. I am sleeping better. I have less aches and pains, I lost four pounds, and I know my heart and brain thank me for it. When I have a sugary treat like dark chocolate I will enjoy it and think about how much I will have and why. I think I have lost interest in sweet sugar-loaded drinks like Pepsi. Just like alcohol, I will have the cake on special occasions. Sugar and alcohol are not necessary in our diets, so for me, learning how to enjoy these “treats” in a healthy way was the main goal.

A few sugary items that I would normally have – such as the occasional can of pop at work – I tried a little bit of root beer & right away it tasted like pure sugar! I looked on the label & it contained 42g of sugar so that’s something I will be staying away from going forward. – Lori

A special thank you goes out to my No Sugar Gals who went along with me on this challenge.

On to the Next Adventure – Yoga

My next adventure is going to be a 30-Day Yoga Challenge. If you are interested in joining me, please let me know. I have created a private Facebook group and you are welcome to come along. It is based on Yoga With Adriene’s Center program and it’s completely free. We start Monday, May 1, 2023.

Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW

You may also like: 30-Day No Sugar Challenge Prep Week

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