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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Sugar, Cancer and the Link


Cookies from the CancerCare Manitoba treat trolley

There are a few simple pleasures in life that we all take for granted. For example, a sweet treat like a cookie or a piece of pie can make us feel happy due to the sugar high (dopamine) we get when that sweet goodness hits our taste buds. Some people say sugar is much like an addictive drug.

However these sweet treats are not good for some of us. Especially if we indulge. Especially if we have an illness or condition that requires us to restrict the consumption of simple carbohydrates and too much sugar. For example, those who are diabetic are required to reduce the consumption of sweets and simple carbohydrates in order to keep their bodies running optimally.

One area that has caused a lot of debate is the consumption of sugar and how it relates to causing or feeding cancer. Some people believe that a diet including too much sugar causes cancer. Just do a Google search on “sugar feeds cancer” and you will find sensational articles such as this or this which don’t necessarily have all the correct information.  There have been many reliable scientific studies on this subject, and so far there is no conclusive evidence that eating more sugar leads to more cancer. However, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, we do know that being overweight or obese can cause an increased risk for developing cancer.

News agencies are always reporting on this topic, as people are desperately wanting to know how to prevent and treat cancer. CNN reported on “Sugar and cancer: Is there a link?” and it provides an overview of some of the research that has been done on the subject. The bottom line is that Thevelein, the researcher, does not believe that eating more sugar leads to more cancer. He goes on to say that eating a lot of sugar can cause one to become obese, and obesity is linked to a higher risk of cancer.

If anything, Thevelein suggests cancer patients eat less simple sugars and more complex sugars as those found in starch and whole grains. He recommends looking for alternative ways of providing sugar and energy to cancer patients rather than rapidly metabolized simple sugars.

My experience with cancer and sugar

This brings me to my own experience with cancer and my relationship to sugar. When I was diagnosed with anal cancer, my body and perhaps my mind, started to reject simple sugars. I avoided eating sweets, and I think my body was somehow rejecting the simple sugars. Intuitively my body and mind decided what my body needed was protein and complex sugars. I had read or heard over the years that sugar can cause cancer (true or not), so I guess this message was internalized.

I remember I used to love “Fibre One” bars. These are snack bars made with granola and chocolate chips. When I found out I had cancer, I couldn’t enjoy them anymore due to the extreme sweetness that I didn’t notice before. Other sweet treats I used to enjoy like chocolate were off my shopping list (for the time being).

To my surprise, as I was going through cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation), the volunteers would come around with cookies and drinks like coffee, tea and juice. It was a nice little treat to have while us cancer patients and sometimes our family or friends were with us. But it made me wonder, why, with all the fear of the link between sugar and cancer, would this be a refreshment of choice? I guess this was NOT an issue with the CancerCare Manitoba dieticians, doctors and other health care professionals. So at that point, I thought it must be okay to eat sweets like cookies during cancer treatment. Maybe everything I’d heard was hogwash.

Cancer risks include obesity and aging

As research progresses regarding the link between simple sugars and cancer, I will be curious to see what recommendations come out from leading cancer treatment centres. Will they still be serving cookies? Is this in the best interests of their patients? Are they encouraging the obesity epidemic, therefore increasing the risks for cancer? Perhaps there is a healthier alternative, such as some naturally sweet options or those made with natural sugars (i.e. fruit or applesauce)? For now, I will cut back on sugary sweets and have them in moderation.

“Getting older” is on the top of most lists regarding who is at risk for developing cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that nearly 9/10 cancers are diagnosed in people aged 50 and older. About half of men will be diagnosed and a third of women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.

If you have cancer and you are concerned about your diet and how sugar affects your treatment and recovery, I would suggest you talk to a dietician who specializes in oncology. Your medical team can help direct you. If you don’t have cancer and you’d like to reduce your risk, please talk to your healthcare professional.

Be well.

Angela G. Gentile


Additional info:

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre (top-ranked cancer hospital in the USA in 2016) – Does sugar cause cancer?

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – Does sugar feed cancer?

Mayo Clinic – Cancer causes: Popular myths about the causes of cancer

Oncology Nutrition – Sugar and Cancer


Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com