I have spent the last week or so attempting to avoid almost all sugar in my diet. This first week was more challenging, but in different ways, than I expected. I had images in my head of writhing on the couch in misery with a sugar withdrawals that I ultimately fought off valiantly. The truth is that, even while armored with a bachelor of science plus a post-grad certification both in the nutrition sciences, sugar STILL found ways to sneak into my diet! As for sugar withdrawals, thankfully I only experienced rather mild symptoms. I thought it was would easy enough to identify all sources of sugar and eliminate it from my diet while experiencing withdrawals, yet the opposite turned out to be true.
To be very clear, by “sugar” what I really mean is cane sugar, since I’ve been allowing myself a maximum of 1 tablespoon of only other natural sugars (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, etc.) per day (see below for the ~revised~ rules). But don’t be fooled: 1 tablespoon is an absurdly low amount of sugar compared to the average American diet and is a quota all too easy to meet or exceed.
For more information about my personal battle with psoriasis, leaky gut, and candida yeast, please see my prior writings on the topic here and here.
Now let’s get into what one week being (mostly) sugar free brought me:
Honestly, after the sugar-filled gluttonous holidays but before I started my 30 days sugar-free on January 15, I was already actively cutting down sugar in my life. I was actually happy to do it, as I was miraculously actually getting a little tired of gorging my face with the white stuff. So, by the time I actually began aiming to severely limit my intake of sugars and cut out cane sugar all together, I had some practice in. Reading up on the symptoms of sugar withdrawal that others have experienced (including headaches, body aches and pains, and being tired, moody, anxious, or depressed) it seems that this self-discipline totally paid off, since I had none of those symptoms.
However, I have absolutely been craving sugar and as a result have been eating significantly more food in total. For me, this is most pronounced at night. I’ve been finding myself rummaging through the kitchen after dinner, looking for something to take the edge off. I’ve been satiating the craving with fruit. I’ve been late night snacking it with apple slices topped with peanut butter and cinnamon; an impromptu trail mix of prunes, dates, and walnuts together; or with my homemade low-sugar granola with yogurt (recipe coming soon, after I’ve perfected it!). Although this has caused me to exceed the fruit maximum I had set for myself, I’m actually quite happy with this coping mechanism, since I have enjoyed fruit so much more in the past week than I have for a long time.
I had originally set a limit for myself of 2 servings of fruit per day. I’ve totally exceeded that a few days already, yet I didn’t experience my candida or psoriasis symptoms flaring up. As a result, I think I’ll tweak my rules to include up to 3, instead of 2, servings of fruit per day.
Right before starting my 30 days, I definitely pigged out on some (gluten free) strawberry macarons, cheesecake, and a large pancake breakfast. I immediately regretted it when little patches of psoriasis began popping up on my FACE. Thanks a lot sugar, I hate you so much. Yet, the silver lining is that consequences like this make it waaay easier to cut out sugar. Goodbye, face ruiner!
OOPS! ACCIDENTALLY JUST ATE SOME SUGAR… AGAIN.
This has been by far the most difficult aspect to this 30-day challenge. It started with a large filet of teriyaki wild caught salmon, sitting in my fridge as expensive leftovers. I knew no one else would eat it and I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting fish, sooo I definitely ate those leftovers. Teriyaki is quite the sweet sauce, with the bottle in my fridge boasting a whooping 5 grams of sugar per tablespoon of sauce, which is equivalent to saying that about one third of this teriyaki bottle is pure sugar. Umm gross.
Lately, I’ve been cooking from The Minimalist Baker’s awesome new cookbook, titled Everyday Cooking, and wanted to try out her Thai Quinoa Meatballs. The original recipe called for ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of brown sugar. I substituted with 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar. I similarly significantly reduced the sugar for her peanut sauce that is paired with the dish. What really killed me, though, was Sriracha. Oh, sweet Sriracha -- literally! The second ingredient in Sriracha is sugar -- noooo! Without thinking, I added Sriracha to this meal, and regretted later when my psoriasis grumbled its disapproval by aching for a little bit after eating it. Sigh.
Finally, the worst psoriasis flare-up I’ve had so far since starting my 30 days was after eating Chipotle. I’m not sure if that’s because I chose white rice over brown rice, or if there’s some hidden sugar hanging out in Chipotle’s recipes. Or, I’d say most likely a combination of both. As a result, a ban on white rice is officially going into revised rules. I won’t be going to Chipotle for the new few weeks, and I will be eating out as little as possible.
PSORIASIS, BE GONE!
About one week ago, before starting this experiment, my psoriasis wasn’t doing too hot. I had painful red patches on both elbows, a patch on my left ankle, a little patch inside my belly button (ew, I know), and also the aforementioned pop-up patches on my face. Not pleasant. Now here we are, a little over a week into my sugar-free month, and I’m happy to report significant improvements in my psoriasis. The patch on my ankle has almost completely disappeared (!). Both of my elbows are less red and tender, with much less skin flaking off (called “plaque”). I have one tiny red psoriasis-related scab on my left elbow, while my right elbow and bellybutton are threatening to heal up completely! There is no doubt in my mind that the sugar in my diet is directly related to the amount and severity of psoriasis seen on my body.
The above has prompted me to change the rules of my 30-Day No Sugar Challenge. Here’s the revised version:
30-Day No Sugar Challenge: THE RULES ~REVISED~
New changes are indicated with a *
For one month:
That's where I'm at for now! If you're also trying out a sugar free month, leave a comment below with your experience.
More about the author:
Caylee Clay, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in autoimmune conditions. As a graduate of New York University and Hunter College, Caylee has studied under leaders in the health and nutrition world, including completing an independent study and graduate course with Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics. Caylee has five years experience in community nutrition, working with a wide variety of patients including infants and young children, HIV+ adults, school aged children, expecting and new mothers, and several minority communities. To contact for consulting and counseling, please use the "Contact" link at the top of the page.
eat yer veggies
We’re two Registered Dietitian Nutritionists of kindred spirit, living and working in New York City. We believe that healthy eating and sustainability go hand-in-hand — every bite you take has the power to improve both the world and your health!