My name is the Running Man and I am a sugarholic.
For as long as I can remember I have LOVED sweets. Cookies. Sodas. Brownies. Ice Cream. Dairy Queen!
It is this addiction that has been at the heart of my professional hypocrisy.
A trainer/nutrition coach who can polish off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in a single setting= Authentic.
My wife was the first one to stop eating sugar for a month. She was unhappy with the fit of her clothing, so she tried cutting out sugar for a month. Before the month was over her clothes fit great.
This isn’t us pictured below, but it is. And it’s probably you and your significant other as well.
I saw her results and was thinking the same thing you’re probably thinking right now: No sugar? No way I could do that! But she kept insisting it wasn’t that hard.
And she kept talking about it; challenging me to try. It was kind of like that joke about the atheist, the cross fitter, and the vegan who walk into a bar.
I only know because they all told me within :30 seconds.
ba dum bum.
She kept saying, ‘go without sugar. Go without sugar’. So after a few weeks of her ‘gentle prodding’ I undertook a 2 week no sugar challenge. In hindsight I could have picked a better 2 weeks. There were 2 birthday parties crammed into that 2 week period, but somehow I managed. I stuck it out. And I lost some weight.
I noticed increased energy.
My clothing fit better.
My skin looked really good.
My sleep was like a coma.
I had a huge ice cream Sunday after the final day and passed out with a headache.
It made me feel more authentic as a trainer and nutrition coach; the same way that only people who have done drugs are drug counselors.
I suffer from all the same problems as my clients. I over eat . I eat crap. I love sugar.
So if I can do this, so can you.
I missed sugar when I was at those birthday parties, but that was all.
And to tell you the truth… I liked the feeling of being on a quest. Of noticing little improvements every week.
And then slowly I started to relapse. A donut here. A sugar in my coffee. Next thing you know I’m drinking Coke out of a twizzler straw with a DQ Blizzard in my other hand.
So I challenged myself to do it again. This time for a month. I weighed in. And I decided to bring a few clients along for the ride. I posted every day on FB. The outpouring of support was amazing. So many people offered up words of encouragement, and then, as I neared my completion date people were reaching out to me asking how I did it. What are the rules?
The No processed sugar challenge rules:
- Limit processed sugar. It’s impossible nowadays to completely eliminate it. But cut it close to zero. (Question Running Man: what does processed mean? A: If it doesn’t come from nature then it is probably processed)
- Natural sugars (fruit) are ok. Plain yogurt is OK too.
- 1 splenda in 1 coffee is ok.
- If you mess up once then clean slate. Get it going again. 27 or 28 good days beats 5 perfect ones followed by a shut down.
- I’ll add a fifth rule here- and that is post about it on social media. It keeps you accountable.
- If you can summon the strength… cut out booze at the same time.
So there. The rules.
Number 6 is a stickler for most people.
I’ve dropped sugar for over a month 3 times now. I’ve lost up to 8 lbs doing it, and that is off a fairly lean frame. On one go around I caliper tested my body fat and lost 3%. I weighed in at 185. So losing 3% is 5 lbs. Here’s what that looks like:
And here’s my before and after from my most recent No sugar challenge where I lost 5 lbs:
I know what you’re thinking.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about fitness and nutrition it’s this: Nothing is simple.
So now we should look at some key questions.
- Why did this work for me?
- Will this work for you?
- Is sugar as bad as we’re led to believe?
- Should I stay away from processed sugar?
Let’s take it from the top.
Why it worked for me:
- I am a sugar addict. Left to my own devices I eat a lot of it.
- I was incredibly active during every challenge. Running, yoga and lifting every day.
- I wasn’t starving myself. I nourished my body in the absence of sugar. I cut out empty calories and replaced them (mostly) with more nourishing ones. Because I was more nourished by less food it meant…
- Cutting sugar meant cutting total calories.
- Much of my processed sugar consumption was motivated by boredom (i.e. I have an hour to kill before my next client, I think I’ll treat myself to an ice cream).
- The challenge caused me to pay attention to everything I ate. Not just sugar. And as a result…
- I ate less processed crap.
There is research out now that suggests some people are genetically pre disposed to LOVE sugar, some not so much.
I am in the first camp. I can never get enough, but if I’m to believe some of the research then it’s the genetics handed down from my parents. Thanks a lot Steve I and Diane.
I think it is important to mention this because in the past I’ve been hard on myself for wanting sugar so often. I’d look at people who would never eat it and ask myself ‘Why can’t I just be more like them.’ Turns out there may be a reason. Knowing that makes me feel a little better.
Will cutting out processed sugar work for you?
Everyone has a different response to different kinds of food (see my inherited sugar addiction above). I’ve found that in diet and exercise everything works for about 6 weeks. Then you may plateau.
Sub question: Do you consume too much processed sugar already?
If you don’t then you probably won’t see much of a change. But if you do, then yes, this could work for you but…
Is sugar as bad as we think?
Natural sugar: no.
Processed sugar: Yes and no.
Processed sugar consumption isn’t the sole reason so many people are gaining weight and suffering from diabetes. Sugar consumption has actually dropped in the past few years. If sugar were the sole cause of obesity and diabetes then rates of those two disease also would have dropped, right?
But they have not. As I said: Nothing is simple.
There is no one single food that will cause everyone to put on weight.
In my case: I love the taste of sugar. It’s sweet and addictive.
But by itself it is just a carb.
A carb that makes me crave more sugary carbs.
And the foods that are loaded up with extra sugar are often highly processed. Lots of chemical crap. So in the process of cutting out sugar I cut out a ton of processed crap.
And when we eat minimally processed foods we are sated quicker, receive more nutrition and digest fewer calories from them.
Again, sugar is just a carb. But for me it is a gateway carb that leads to eating processed crap. And processed crap is what sticks to me.
Should I stay away from all processed sugar?
There are so many conflicting ideas out there about what you should eat, how much, when. It is very confusing. Everyone is saying something different.
There’s low carb, high carb, low calorie, high calorie… yada yada yada
What everyone seems to agree on:
- Eat less processed food.
- Eat mostly plant based.
Cutting out sugar helped me cross #1 off my list. And because eating added sugar leads to eating more processed foods I would advocate you dropping as much processed sugar as possible. Someone like me is well served by an all or nothing approach because once that bag of M&M’s gets opened it’s getting emptied.
I can’t trust myself to moderate. I am an addict.
But lets face it. We’re all going to have good days and bad days when it comes to eating well. The all or nothing approach doesn’t work if you get discouraged by the bad days. You’ll 4 or 5 really great days, get some momentum, and then because you’re human, you slip up and you have some processed sugar.
And then you lose hope.
I’ll never be able to keep this up.
I suck. I’ll always be a slave to sugar.
You give up.
Or… you can just say ‘one bad day won’t kill me.’
If you eat clean for 9 days out of 10 that is a huge win.
If you get 1% better every day you’ll be so much better at the end of a week, end of a month.
I went to a dinner party on 6/4 and had some cherry pie. It was one of those occasions where I would have felt rude to refuse. The next day I started again at day 1 but then rethought it. Imperfect action beats perfect inaction 10 times out of 10.
There will be slip ups. Keep moving forward.
I didn’t start over. I just gave myself a clean slate and kept moving forward. Perfection is unattainable.
There are articles like this one which warn against quitting sugar, but remember I’m talking about PROCESSED SUGAR. Added sugar. This is the stuff they add to our foods to make them more addictive, not the natural stuff we get from a healthy diet.
Can you stay away from all processed sugar?
It takes a lot of will power and preparation. Will power that honestly, I don’t think I possess. I love ice cream. I love sweets.
But I also know I can go without them.
1 month at a time.
But I’m hardly alone.
And if I can do this. So can you.
Some further reading for you: