I had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember and usually I wouldn't refuse to have a good portion of sugar . You made muffins? Awesome! You brought brownies to the office? Couldn't be any better! Evening tea? Let's pair it with cheesecake!

I would rarely have a day without putting a few sugary bombs into my body. And the best part? My weight wouldn't go above 70 kg (154 lb)! Additionally, my blood pressure was fine, I had no signs of diabetes and in general, there was no obvious reason to remove sugar from my diet. Nevertheless, I started to feel... weird.

Photo credit Tina Guina

I'm so energetic I need a nap

It was September 2019 when I started to notice how unstable my mood and overall state have become. It felt like I could go from grumpy to friendly, from sleepy to focused and from happy to anxious in just a snap. I'm sure, we all have experienced such episodes and it's fine. But when it started to happen on a daily basis, that's when it felt like I wasn't in control anymore.

The rollercoaster

When I tried to describe to others what this condition felt like, I'd tell that it was like riding a rollercoaster – you have no control of whether you're going up or down, and if the ride lasts longer than you expected the fun ends pretty quickly.

Mood and state rollercoaster
That's how I felt during a regular day

It was a regular evening when I decided to watch a random documentary online. As you might have already guessed it was about sugar. I didn't expect to find out anything new since we all know that sugar does no good for us. And as I was slowly losing my interest in the documentary, I suddenly saw a quite familiar graph on the screen. Reminds you of anything?  

Screen capture
Screen capture from "That Sugar Film" documentary

I couldn't believe it but this exact graph looked like an answer to what was recently happening to my mood and overall state. So, what exactly happens when we eat something high in sugar? (see graph below)

1. In the beginning, the blood sugar level is normal, the brain is happy and functions as usual;

2. Next, blood sugar spikes quickly. We feel energized and even more happy;

3. In response to that sugar spike, our body releases insulin. This way the sugar can be delivered to the cells and used for energy;

4. Right after, blood sugar crashes down, making our brain feel really sad;

5. Because the brain is so sad, our body releases stress hormones that affect our mood and may lead to anxiety and even panic attacks.

6. To reduce the stress levels our brain tells us to eat something sugary again because that's something that made us happy before.

7. The vicious cycle repeats itself.

Blood sugar rollercoaster
The vicious cycle of eating sugary foods

As I've discovered what potentially was causing my symptoms I didn't have any other choice but to put this theory to the test.

Weekly sugar intake

First, I decided to analyze how much sugar I was actually eating during a regular week. What if my eating behavior wasn't that bad after all? Well, here's how my typical weekly sugar menu looked like:

Amount of sugar per week
Photo credits: Marions Kochbuch, Tom Paolini, Anya Diary, Cookidoo, Alena Ganzhela, Tetiana Bykovets, JComp.

With 521 g of sugar per week or 74 g per day, I was consuming twice as much (!) sugar as it is recommended for men. The scariest part was that the sugar amount was actually bigger because I didn't count all the occasional fruits that I'd eat, plus all the added sugar in foods like bread, pasta sauces, etc.

So I came up with a simple plan:

1. Completely remove all the "obvious" sugar bombs like chocolates, cakes, sweets, etc. from my diet;
2. No more jam, honey, syrups, or any other sweeteners of any kind;
3. Always read the labels on other products (like pasta sauce) and choose the ones with the smallest amount of added sugar;
4. Occasional fruits and berries are allowed.

The Challenge Began

The first day was easy. The second one was bearable. But the following two weeks were not fun at all. It felt like my life was empty and something important was missing. Additionally, the mood swings were actually worse, paired with sugar cravings stronger than ever. A few times I have even seen myself in a dream eating eclairs.

Pastry shop
Photo credit – Rebecca Campbell

I have to admit – it was way harder than I expected it to be at the very beginning. But when I almost gave up and was ready to quit... everything changed. I could calmly breathe, work, and sleep again. I could easily pass by a bakery and the smell didn't drive me crazy anymore. I felt in control and it felt great.

Social Pressure

Imagine you haven't seen your family for a year because you live in another country. Eventually, you take a week off, hop on a plane, and decide to pay them a visit. All the family members gather around the table and your mom brings in your favorite cake that she was making half of the night because she wanted to surprise you. That's the exact moment when you realize you forgot to tell your family that you don't eat sugar anymore...

Over the past 11 months, I have experienced situations like the one above multiple times. And I have to admit that every time it was extremely hard for me to say "No" because, well, I hate making others feel bad. Additionally, some people didn't take my decision seriously. They still tried to convince me to try "just a small piece" because it "barely had sugar in it" and "I didn't know what I was missing".

Nevertheless, I had to stay firm on the decision I've made. And trust me, it's impossible to ruin a friendship by skipping on a chocolate muffin.

A sweeter and healthier life

Today marks 11 months since I quit eating "obvious" sugar. And to tell the truth, the idea of not having another cheesecake for the rest of my life doesn't scare me anymore. Here's why.

As you may know, sugary foods tend to damage our taste buds or at least decrease their sensitivity. That's exactly what happened to me. Many healthy food options couldn't satisfy my tongue and my brain anymore, that's why I was rarely including them in my diet. Fortunately, it didn't take long for my taste buds to come back to normal as soon as I stopped eating so much sugar.

It amazes me every single time that so many fruits, vegetables, and other foods can be so damn delicious and rich in taste. And when I find myself at an organic market it feels like a visit to a pastry shop. The best part is that I don't need to force myself to eat healthy anymore. Instead, it became my natural desire.

Food from organic market
My trips to the local organic market

Sugar, you won't be missed

Since I started this challenge, I also became not so dependent on food as I was before, and can easily have only 2 meals per day. Additionally, the meal portions have decreased in size, and that's how I naturally lost 10 kg (22 lb) in weight. My mood is stable for the most of the days, my ability to concentrate is much better (not ideal though), food never tasted more delicious and in the end, I make more healthy food choices. With all of that in mind, I truly don't see any reason why I would want to bring sugar back into my life.

I follow a data-driven approach to live a better life.
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