We all know that we should have less processed sugar in our diet, but knowing that and doing something about it are two very different things. So when a post from local nutritionist Sarah Gale popped up on our co-founder Tracey's screen inviting her to sign up for a 5-Day Sugar Free Challenge, she decided to give it a go.
From hangry moments and shopping revelations to sweet potato toast, Tracey shares some of the surprises she encountered along the way - read on to find out how it went!
My reasons for taking on this challenge - which represents a significant shift in my eating habits - were many. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the need to reset my diet. I’m at an age where it’s time to start listening to my body and stop taking my health for granted. Lifestyle changes have resulted in me being a lot less active than I once was. Combine that with a job that involves a lot of screen time and the effects of the menopause and well, let’s just say it’s definitely time for a reboot!
I had some ideas about the physical challenges that going sugar free would throw my way but some of the emotional, practical and financial side effects took me by surprise... and who knew sweet potato toast was a thing!
There was a lot of information that came with this challenge, from meal plans and recipe suggestions to food prep guides and online alerts. It would have been easy to feel overwhelmed, but Sarah was clear from the start that you should take what you need from the challenge to make it work for you, which is exactly what I did. When you think about it, everyone has different family circumstances, work arrangements and dietary backgrounds. On top of that we all have different food likes and dislikes, so there really couldn’t be a one size fits all schedule. By simply focusing on reducing refined sugar and taking the bits I needed from the plan, I was able to make it work for me.
When you buy sweet snacks you expect to find sugar in there, but I was surprised by just how much hidden sugar there is in so many of our everyday food items. Bread, cereal (including ‘healthy’ granola), soup, pasta sauce and pretty much everything that is low fat - when fat is taken out of food, it seems that sugar is put in to give it flavour! And it’s not always clear whether there’s sugar added from a quick scan of the food label - refined sugar has many names! Basically, if an ingredient ends in -ose, such as sucrose or fructose, then it’s a refined sugar derivative. Beware, it really is everywhere!
Image: Sarah Gale Nutrition
Yes, that’s right, it’s a thing! Avocado Sweet Potato Toast topped with Poached Egg was one of the breakfast suggestions that came with the menu planner and it was easy, filling, and best of all, delicious. By simply trimming off the pointy ends of the sweet potato and slicing it lengthwise into ¼ inch slices it was ready to pop into the toaster. It needs a few goes in the toaster to brown and soften but it’s an easy alternative to bread and it’s one of the recipes I’ll be using time and time again. Go on, try it!
It’s the refined, processed sugar that this challenge was focused on, not the natural sugar found in fruits, honey and maple syrup. That was a lifesaver for me. Snacking on natural yoghurt and fresh fruit, or Sarah’s Coconut Brownie Bites with dates and honey, helped me through when the sugar cravings hit… and they hit hard, especially during the first few days. So why are natural sugars better than refined sugars? We digest natural sugars more slowly and that prevents our blood sugar spiking and then dropping rapidly, and also natural sugars tend to be found in foods such as fruits, which are packed full of fibre and healthy nutrients. Put simply, natural sugar is good, refined sugar is bad!
I went shopping before I started this challenge and stocked up on many of the ingredients I needed, but with only a vague plan of what I would eat (and feed my family) on day one, I almost fell at the first hurdle - those mid afternoon cravings! I had not prepped any of the healthy snacks and I realised just how tempting it was to reach for a sugary snack. Thankfully I work from home with a flexible schedule, so I was able to make some healthy snacks there and then, but if I was out and about or had a busy shift to get through I think I might have fallen completely off the wagon. Prep is everything when you start a new regime like this. Note to self - listen to Sarah Gale!
I was expecting to experience physical withdrawal symptoms from sugar, but to be honest, after the first few days they weren't actually all that bad. Yes, I had a slight headache and I felt a bit tired at times in the first few days, but I thought I was doing ok… until my son asked me “Does less sugar mean more grumpy?” Yes, it seems that it does! But that too passes, much to my family’s relief! As my blood sugar evened out and my cravings lessened, my mood also balanced out and I am back to my old, sweet natured self… or something like that!
Choose wisely if you tell people you’re doing this challenge. I announced it to my family, and they were all really supportive… until they realised it might affect them! ‘What are we having for dinner?’ is an everyday question in my house, and suddenly it was loaded with suspicion. They survived, and probably didn’t even notice anything different half the time, but the suspicion remains and it might have been easier to just get on with it without telling the world.
I did a big food shop before I started this challenge because there were quite a few ingredients on the list that I didn’t have… and also a few I hadn’t even heard of! That was quite an expensive trip, but many of the ingredients I bought - the spices, pulses and grains - will last a long time. And I realised that I shopped less throughout the week. I would often delude myself that I was popping into the shop for milk, when really I was looking for a quick sugar hit or a ‘treat’ for later in the day. Once the biscuits and junk food were off limits, I found I didn’t need to stock up on milk after all!
I didn’t feel drastically different after five days without sugar, but I did feel better! I can’t say that I noticed a big difference in my skin, my clothes weren’t suddenly loose around the waist and I’m not bouncing around like Joe Wicks in the morning… BUT I could definitely feel that there was a shift, both physically and emotionally. The afternoon slump was the first thing to go, and I slowly but surely realised that I wasn’t craving sugar anymore and actually wasn’t as hungry as before. And we are all our own harshest critics, so maybe the visible changes are there and I'm just not seeing them... yet!
Five days was a manageable timeframe for me to take on this challenge. The end was always in sight so it really didn’t seem too big an ask. It definitely helped that it ran from Monday to Friday so I had my usual structure and routine to base it around, without the temptation of a weekend treat. After five days I was into the swing of things, so much so that I have no plans to stop this sugar free journey. I’m 17 days in as I write this, and yes, a bit of sugar has crept in - who doesn’t want a slice of cake on their birthday? - but most days are sugar free and I’m loving it!
Would I recommend this to my friends? Absolutely! I feel more positive, my energy levels are higher already, especially now that the 'afternoon slump' is behind me, and most importantly I feel like I'm taking back control of my health and wellbeing.
Thank you Sarah x
*This is not sponsored content
Sarah Gale is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Clinical Nutritionist DipION mBANT and hormone expert and helps women who just can’t lose weight break free of the diet cycle, rebalance their hormones and feel confident in their own skin again.
After a lifetime a hating her body and chronic yo-yo dieting, Sarah realised that yo-yo diets didn’t have the answers and by balancing her hormones, fixing her metabolism and working on her mindset she could finally lose the weight and get her self-confidence back.