Why a Sugar Free Diet is Hard – But Worth the Struggle




If you’ve ever tried to give up sugar and other unhealthy refined carbs, you know that a sugar free diet isn’t easy.

It seems like it should be easy to give up sugar — after all, what’s so hard about giving up the morning muffin at Starbucks, or staying away from the candy machine during your break at work?

And it should definitely be easy to keep your kids away from sugar. Just don’t bring any sugary treats home with you, and they won’t have any choice but to eat a sugar free diet.

Yeah, right.

A sugar free diet should be easy, but it’s not.

Getting the sugar out of your own diet is a sensible, healthy choice; and getting the sugar out of your kid’s diets is the responsible choice. It ain’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the struggle.

Sugar and other highly-refined carbohydrates, like the kind found in white flour and almost all processed foods, have been linked to a number of chronic, debilitating illnesses — including obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, gum disease, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Even if that list doesn’t scare you, you will be happy to note that you can begin losing weight almost immediately just by going on a sugar free diet, even if you don’t make any other changes to the way you eat. (One of the reasons why gastric bypass patients lose weight so fast is that they have to eat a sugar free diet after their surgery to avoid getting miserably sick).

Sugar doesn’t just pack on the calories – research has shown that binging on high-calorie foods makes your body put on special fat cells that are highly resistant to your weight loss efforts, even years after you ate that bag of chocolate chip cookies all by yourself. And even if you don’t eat enough sugary foods at one time to constitute a “binge,” the insulin resistance caused by sugar almost forces your body to store fat.

OK, so you already know that sugar isn’t good for you (who doesn’t know that?) but you can’t seem to give it up. Why not?

There are several reasons why a sugar free diet isn’t as easy as one would like:

  • Sugar is everywhere, and it’s often hidden.

If you eat any packaged foods at all, you’re probably eating sugar without knowing it. Read the labels on the packages, and you’ll often find sugar, corn syrup, or a word ending in “ose.” These are all forms of sugar, and they’ll start to be drawn into your bloodstream almost as soon as you take the first bite.

If it comes in a can, a bottle, or a box, there’s a good chance it has some form of sugar. And while we’re on the subject of healthy eating, remember that white flour affects the blood sugar almost as quickly as sugar does, and is implicated in all the same illnesses. That means that you should also be looking for “wheat” on the label – and it’s amazing how often you’ll find it.

Non-fat and low-fat products like salad dressings usually make up for the lack of fat by adding sugar. That healthy salad you buy at the local restaurant may be loaded with sugar, without you knowing it.

And if you eat out, either at fast food joints or a nice restaurant, many of the breads and sauces (and even meats) will be flavored by sugar or corn syrup.

If you have a small child (or a teenager, for that matter), keeping them on a sugar free diet is especially hard. My daughter has a 3-year old son who already knows that supermarkets keep the candy at toddler-eye level right next to the cash register. Kid’s snacks are made in cute little shapes, like stars or fish, and nice bright colors that appeal to a child’s natural tastes. Kid’s cereals are filled with sugar.

And soft drinks are now sold in the hallways of public school buildings. Soft drinks are one of the world’s most profitable inventions — cheap sugar or corn syrup plus a little bit of flavoring in a bottle or can of water, sold at many times it’s cost. No wonder the soft drink manufacturers can afford to share some of their profits with cash-strapped school systems.

  • Sugar is addictive.

The manufacturers of packaged foods, and the managers of restaurants all know that sugar is addictive, and addictive products sell. (That’s why coffee shops and coffee huts have popped up everywhere in the last decade – you can get two addictive fixes in one – both caffeine and sugar – in a nice, expensive latte. It’s a marketer’s dream come true).

When we feel the effects of low blood sugar, (something that naturally happens shortly after the blood sugar spike caused by eating sugar or most kinds of bread), we instinctively know that we can “fix” the way we feel by eating something sweet.

If we stay strong and stay on a sugar free diet for a day or so, the real withdrawal symptoms start to kick in – headache, fatigue, and all the rest. We feel bad, and the only way to make ourselves better is to go back to our old way of eating — or stick it out for a few more days until our body can recover. Most people opt for the fast fix, and give up the idea of eating a sugar free diet.

I overheard a conversation the other day between a grocery store checkout clerk and the customer in the line ahead of me. The customer was telling the clerk, (obviously a friend of hers), that she gave up on the diet she started because it made her feel sick. I looked at the foods in her cart, and there were the chips and white bread and muffins that were guaranteed to make her feel better – for a while. She didn’t know that she would have felt fine – possibly even better than she had in years – if she’d just stuck to her sugar free diet for a few more days.

So what’s the answer? How can we stay on a sugar free diet in spite of all the obstacles?

The best answer is to go back to the old-fashioned way of eating. If it was invented in a lab, and if it comes in a box, there’s almost always a home-cooked version of the same food that would  taste better and be much better for you.

Make a commitment to give up sugar, in all its forms, and give your body a few days to get over the withdrawal symptoms. Start filling up on the high-nutrient veggies that will help you body start to heal from years of sugar consumption. Get acquainted with the farmers at your local farmer’s market.

A sugar free diet isn’t just about the meals you eat – it’s a new way of living that can open up your life to a whole new vision of health.

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14 thoughts on “Why a Sugar Free Diet is Hard – But Worth the Struggle

  1. That is the best info i have seen on giving up sugar, i am struggling at the moment,
    i gave up sugar a year ago and lost nearly a stone, but now i really want to give it up again, it is also the affect it has your health that worries me, so i am going to print this off and refer to it thankyou. Sue

      • Karlene, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “sugar-free.” To me, it means not eating industrially-produced concentrated sucrose – made from sugar cane and sugar beets. People medical problems like diabetes might need to be careful about eating any food with a high glycemic index, or perhaps learn to combine foods to slow down the absorption of natural sugars. For most people, though, fruit is healthy food, and I wouldn’t want to give it up.

        • Jonni,
          Do you have any samples of sugar free diets?

          I have recently learned I have high colesterol and am starting to watch what I eat. I am into day 3 of giving up sodas (which I drank way to much of) and have switched to wheat bread. I have had headaches and feeling achy all over.

          • Hi Phyllis. I don’t have any particular diet, since it’s really about leaving out the sugar, not what particular kinds of foods you do eat. I guess the easy way to do it is just look at labels, and if it contains sugar as an ingredient, don’t buy it. That pretty much moves us to using non-processed foods, whole grains, real oatmeal instead of instant, veggies from the produce section, etc. Italian, French and all Asian cookbooks will have tons of good recipes that don’t contain sugar.

            Giving up the soda is a fantastic idea. Did you get a chance to see the video I posted that talks about the connection between sugar and heart disease? It’s a long video, but it’s worth watching – but you might want to wait a few days until your head feels better. 🙂

  2. This is excellent. I’ve been eating sugar free (or nearly so) for almost three months now. Yes, there’s a headache the first week or two. But then food tastes better, the cravings go away, and non-sugar loaded food tastes sweet!

    I love eating sugar free ( and things that turn to sugar quickly). But it’s hard to eat out. Be creative at the restaurant. Find a place that will custom make your meal and leave out the sugar.

  3. I have been drinking mountian dew for 29 years since i was a teenager. the last few years i have been eatting healthier & making improvements to my health. the problem that i have had is giving up soda? do u have any idea’s that could help me? thanks

    • Vicky, giving up Mountain Dew won’t be easy, since it’s so loaded with sugar. Does it have caffeine, too? I would suggest that you stay as far as you can get from any soda vending machine and the soda aisle of the grocery store. Then stock up on healthy drinks that don’t contain sugar. That would be water and some herbal teas, I suppose, since fruit juice has a lot of sugar. Then allow for a few days or a week when you don’t feel quite yourself. It’s worth the struggle – I promise.

  4. I am on the fifth day without sugar. I’e had some horrible withdraw symptoms. Ive had nightmares and woke up shaking last night. My anxiety had been through the roof and I’ve been craving sweets, but right now I feel okay. Did anyone go thru intense sugar withdraw. I know in a week or two I will feel so much better.

  5. I have been on a sugar carb free eating plan for 6 days— three days into the sugar/carb free eating plan I went out witht he girls and had a normal meal probably loaded with carbs in main meal and definetely loaded with sugar in the dessert being PAVLOVA
    since that day I have been sugar/carb free. I feel anxious, sick in tummy, light headed,shaky, the plan I am on is 3 days Protein only, then Protein and Veggies but no sugar/carbs I work as a sub contract cleaner am 63 yrs of age I am wondering if I should visit the doctor to see if everything is ok. I have a strange taste in my mouth, my heart feels like it is beating a bit fast, vision, if I look suddenly to the left or right I become dizzy. At the moment I am putting it down to the High Protein diet, but it certainly isn’t a good feeling.

    • Hi Charmaine. I don’t know much about the no-carb diet, but I did try it once and it didn’t feel good. I think we do need carbohydrates (healthy ones), although I know there are many people who claim otherwise. And I think that any time you make such a drastic change to your diet, your doctor should be consulted right from the start. If you feel the kinds of symptoms you describe, it’s definitely time to make that appointment.

  6. I work out on the highway and I leave about 5 in the morning and don’t get home until about 8 at night. I send about 3 1/2 to 4 hrs. a day driving to and from the job’s and this is 6 day’s a wk.About 7month’s a yr. So I st0p in the morning and get junk to eat and get something that will keep out in the heat for dinner(like chips) and same at night, micky-d’s,etc. and get what is the cheepest so when I get home I can get cleaned up,do laundry,take care of our cat’s,and dog’s etc.and get ready to go the next day again. On my one day off we go to church and get our grandbaby’s. so i don’t have time to fix nice meal’s.Up until I was around 40 I never got over 97pd.after I had both my daughter’s I got back to 97pd.in 6wk. Im53yr.now and i’m at 135pd.now,and i’m 4’11 and small bone’s.I get up at night after my husband is asleep,and go to my stash of sweet’s:( Im not proud to tell this,2yrs.ago I was doing the same thing and my oldest daughter live with us and we started dance every night and I was eating so much better (no sugar)but when she moved back home after 2 1/2 yr.I’m right back where I started.have you any sugestions?Please help!sugar run’s in my family. I have a sister that died from it at 46yr.,mom and I have a brother that got it at11yr.and my 84yr.dad has it.It’s like I cant stop myself when it come’s to sugar(HELP PLEASE)

    • Karen, I assume that you meant that diabetes runs in your family. I would suggest that you get a doctor’s appointment, and have yourself checked out. Watch the video by Dr. Lustig, so you can understand the physiological effect that sugar has on us. Then, if at all possible, start eating better. Find a way to pack lunches (and breakfast and dinner) so you don’t eat all the junk food. And if you really can’t give up sugar, you might try calling someone who counsels people for addiction. They may not take you seriously, but if you mention diabetes, they might be able to help with the psychological steps you need to take.

      Throw out all sugar and processed foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup, throw away any beverages that contain either sugar or chemical substitutes for sugar, and talk to your family about your health fears. Ask them for their help. Good luck!

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