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Could you ever imagine going a week, let alone months without sugar? Daunting, I know. I honestly couldn’t really fathom going a few days without my daily chocolate fix, but here I am… over 2 months later without any added sugar in my diet and I have so much to say about what this experiment taught me.

While I do want to share why I did this and how I’ll go about adding moderation back into my life, in this article, I mainly want to give you the top tips I learned about curbing sugar cravings – and where they’re really coming from!

Now, to clarify, I am most definitely still consuming natural sugars like those found in fruit. In fact, I’m eating a lot of fruit (way more than before) and a ton of protein to keep my body satiated. I’ve just been steering clear of what science is now calling “hyper-palatable” aka processed foods that combine added sugar with salt, fat, and flavor… which brings me to why I began this journey.

WHY I DECIDED TO TRY “QUITTING SUGAR”

As you may know, in April of this year I decided to stop using caffeine for the first time in 10 years. I figured out that it was contributing to my anxiety, making my nervous system feel flighty (aka counteracting all those beautiful, calming herbs I take haha) – and more than anything, I simply realized that I was dependent on it. My goal this year was to not allow any external substance to have *that* much power over me where I felt like I “needed” it, and I would be the first to admit that I absolutely “needed” my coffee to function or have the desire to get anything done in the morning.

Soon after quitting coffee, I found that my body switched right over to reaching for sugar in its place. I wanted a piece of chocolate after every meal or a “pick me up” from something sweet when I was tired instead of caffeine. So, I started thinking about the concept of transference… and how often, when the body is relying on something to fill a need and we stop it, the body transfers and seeks something else that achieves the same response in the brain. And I realized the ‘root’ of WHY I relied on caffeine was apparently still there. My brain was still seeking something!

As I continued to examine my relationship with sweets, I found that they were kind of always on my mind. I wasn’t binging on them like I used to, but every night I felt that same “need” to have something sweet. I was waiting all day to have a treat or thinking about how much I could have without going overboard. While I try to practice self control 90% of the time, that one piece of chocolate or one cookie never felt like enough.

THE DOPAMINE + REWARD CONNECTION

I started to ask myself why it never felt like enough, and why my body wasn’t enjoying or being present with sweets, but rather seeking more even while I was consuming them. All of a sudden it hit me: dopamine! 

My love for coffee and sweets was driven by my brain trying to get more dopamine. But why did I want so much of it? I thought of how much my mood was affected when I stopped coffee, and thought hey – maybe the sweets I’m now eating in coffee’s place have just been keeping my dopamine at the level I’m used to essentially being “addicted” to… because in the fast paced, instant gratification, constant-phone-notification world we live in, I think we’re all addicted to (or rather, desensitized to!) dopamine on some level. And boy, was I right. Without my hits of sugary treats throughout the day, my mood was 10x worse than when I quit coffee. I had no motivation, no desire, and was deriving no pleasure from the things I usually enjoyed for the first few weeks.

As the days went on, I reflected on how “dull” I felt. How dull my beautiful life felt, without the continuous intake of things that kept my dopamine artificially elevated. It showed me how much I wasn’t present or appreciating so many of the little things in life that don’t release huge squirts of dopamine, simply because my brain was used to such a high threshold of stimulation and desensitized to life’s tiny pleasures. It was almost like I was numb to anything that wasn’t hyper stimulating. No wonder I wasn’t enjoying ‘simple’ foods – I wasn’t enjoying the simple things in life either. I began to connect how the dopamine I get from sugar ties into the dopamine I get from being on my phone, or from online shopping… because without the consistent intake of sugar and thus stimulating foods, I actually didn’t WANT to be on my phone or shop and browse as much!

SUGAR’S NOT THE PROBLEM, IT’S THE “HYPERPALATABLE FOODS” SATURATING OUR PALATES AND BRAINS

So now, I’ve been reading all about “hyperpalatable” foods, and how whenever there’s a processed combo of refined sugar + fat + stimulating flavor (throw salt into the mix and wow!) our brains can absolutely get ‘addicted’ to them and crave more and more, eventually messing with our dopamine levels… which absolutely can mess with our life and ability to focus, feel pleasure and be present. “Sugar” itself isn’t the problem (no one’s going to sit there and eat a whole bowl of white sugar), it’s actually the combination of the above that hijacks our primal, evolutionary brain’s quest to seek out the most rewarding, fat-and-carbohydrate dense foods in nature for survival!

I thought I was cutting out “sugar,” but realized what I really wanted was to stop over consuming foods that were hyper-stimulating and hyperpalatable, which meant enjoying whole foods (and my life) exactly as is, no modifications. By doing this and eating whole foods only for the past 2 months, I retrained myself to enjoy regular, plain foods from nature in their true form. The fruit that used to taste “meh” to me in comparison to cookies, now tasted like a pure gift. I experienced it with pleasure and gratitude like never before. And as it turns out, this is spilling over into my life and relationships, helping my mood and my ability to be content and present in the moment at hand without *seeking something* additional (grabbing my phone, thinking about sugar, craving stimulation or chaos) more than it’s helped anything else.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? + WHAT I LEARNED

I ended at the 2 month mark because my goal was to not consume anything hyperpalatable until I could really feel what my brain is like at baseline, without so much externally lighting it up. After a month or so, my mood stabilized and the world felt a hell of a lot brighter without me being so obsessed with food, or my phone, or any of my other vices. I was just happier and more content as a human! 

And as I approached 2 months, I felt that my relationship with food as a whole was completely transformed. I understood that I absolutely didn’t “need” the chocolate or cookies that I used to have every night, but that I could have them in moderation if I wanted to. And the best part is, I actually feel like I *can* moderate now, because I’ve learned how much protein I actually need to feel satiated and no longer have that drive or desire to overdo it with sweets because I’m truly nourished and satisfied. 

Eating whole foods only these past 2 months and keeping it as simple as possible with my food, vs. getting a huge reward from what I’m eating and eating solely for pleasure, helped me not reset my palate and appreciation for food – but also helped me simplify other parts of my life and experience a lot more peace. Now I know that it’s not my fault that I used to binge and I understand why that one cookie never felt like enough: those foods are addictive because they’re made to be so palatable and hijack our evolutionary wiring. 

I’m so happy that I did this and allowed my taste buds to readjust, and also learned how to better cope with my emotions without the crutch of sweets. This is of course not something that I will be doing permanently since it can be limiting, and I think a healthy brain is able to moderate. I’m not here to tell you that you should micromanage your sugar intake for the rest of your life, but I think an experiment like this can be highly valuable to reset your dopamine levels, taste buds, and learn about what your body actually needs. This has been a really eye-opening experience and I am feeling such a difference in my overall mental clarity, energy levels, mood, body composition, and so much more. 

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