It’s February 1st! Meaning … that’s a wrap on Sugar Free January! WHAT WHAT WHATTTTT! We seriously did it.
I don’t know about you guys, but I actually really enjoyed stepping away from refined sugar for a month, and I’m totally being serious. Admittedly, there were moments, especially breakfast-related moments, where all I wanted was a fat stack of pancakes soaked in maple syrup… + fruit… + pastry… + mocha. But last night while Bjork and I were watching Netflix, I snacked on an orange and made myself a peppermint tea and I pinkie swear I was not missing an-y-thing. I mean, that’s basically HEALTH GOALS all-around, right?! I think what makes me so happy isn’t just that I was following all the sugar free rules, but that I was actually enjoying it.
Today I put together a few thoughts about what it was like for me to take a balanced and flexible approach to being sugar free for the month of January.
And of course, I would love to hear from you in the comments. OBVIOUSLY TELL ME EVERYTHING.
- Did you do sugar free January?
- Did you like it or hate it?
- Was it harder or easier than you thought?
- What changes did you notice?
- Which recipes were your favorite?
- What are you going to do moving forward?
Okay, I’ll go first.
What’s Been Good
There are three main things I’ve feel good about during sugar free January:
Saying no to pop aka soda (I live in Minnesota – we say pop – I know, I know). I don’t normally drink a lot of pop, so it wasn’t like I was breaking a huge habit here. But I do like pop, under normal circumstances, and to be honest, the few sips I had mid-month during our Hawaii trip were just loads sweeter than I wanted them to be. It felt good to find my tastebuds not wanting something so sweet.
No coffee drinks. Pop wasn’t so hard. This one was hard. But now that I’ve been without a mocha or a royal tea latte for a month, I feel like I’m better able to calibrate for sugar in general. My tastes aren’t so adjusted to these super-sweet drinks. Usually it goes something like this: Ugh, I really want a mocha. // But I think I’ll just get a tea. // Wow, this tea is actually really good and I love it.
No mega-desserts. I feel REALLY good about this one. I almost always crave something sweet right after I eat, or maybe an hour or two after dinner when we’re watching TV in the evening. But other than splitting one dessert with Bjork in Hawaii, I really didn’t have any major desserts throughout the month of January and, um, not to get braggy, but that feels awesome. I feel like I proved to myself that a really good, fresh, juicy winter orange or a date smeared with peanut butter is just as enjoyable as a brownie. I KNOW! Who am I right now. But this is what happens to me when I give up sugar, and I like it. My tastebuds have readjusted themselves.
What’s Been Hard
My two problem areas were persistent throughout the month:
I craved refined grains. Like white rice, white bread, white flour, flour tortillas, etc. For example, I always found myself wanting battered and fried chicken over regular chicken, or a white bread sandwich over wheat. That is strange for me because normally I don’t mind the whole grains. But for whatever reason, I kept finding myself making more exceptions in this category than I had planned. Not a huge deal – just something I was aware of and found interesting.
I craved sweet breakfasts. There’s probably some science behind this, but even as a savory breakfast lover, I’d always wake up craving something sweet. Towards the end of the month, I started to get a little loose and giving myself a glass of orange juice in the morning, which was not necessarily in the plan, but I felt like it was a good in-between of savory breakfast and straight-up sugar cereal. I found that the most effective way to handle this breakfast mega-craving was to either have some kind of carb + fat combo (whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter, toast with butter, etc.) or wait an hour or two to eat until my savory cravings kicked in. Usually once I had been awake for a while, I was more excited about a quick hash with an egg on top, but dang, getting around that morning sugar craving was tough.
Here are some of the effects I experienced going sugar free for a month:
Food just tasted better! Things that were supposed to be sweet actually tasted sweet – imagine that. This made me really happy because that was the big goal for me in going sugar free for a month. There were a few times I ate a piece of fruit and was just blown away by the natural flavor and sweetness. Yay for food!
I trained (or started training) my brain to find alternatives to a sweet craving. Thought 1: I want cake. Thought 2: A piece of fruit with a little wedge of cheese also sounds pretty good. Sometimes all it takes is paving a new path. Once you find alternatives that you can confidently say are just as good as the thing you’re missing, it becomes so much easier.
I felt just generally more stable and balanced. Truthfully, I didn’t have a huge energy boost, and I actually slept worse in January for reasons probably unrelated to sugar. Go figure. But on a day-to-day level, I did feel more grounded. As a person that is highly sensitive to all-around stimuli (caffeine, noise, weather, etc.), what I am realizing is that sugar may have contributed to my pre-sugar-free-January ups and downs more than I realized. So, I guess it’s not all that surprising that January felt much better. I was making better decisions and not feeling so much overwhelm.
What Happens Next
My plan moving forward is to stay “Sugar Aware” and try to keep refined sugar to special occasions (vacation, birthdays, a weekend treat). Here are some practical ways I have done this in the past:
- Saving wine, cocktails, soda, and/or desserts for weekends.
- Ordering coffee drinks “half-sweet” or with half the amount of syrup…. OR just reminded myself that I actually do enjoy an unsweetened decaf Americano with cream, or an unsweetened orangey-cinnamony hot tea.
- Drinking sparkling water with a few berries or a wedge of lime while I make dinner so I don’t miss the glass of wine.
- Drinking hot tea in the evening. New routine!
- Using dates or bananas instead of refined sugar in recipes.
- Adding an additional pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness in a recipe (for example, these homemade almond butter cups).
- Mastering savory breakfasts. I really do feel like having the right breakfast helped set the tone for the day when I was able to start with eggs, toast, avocado, cheese, greens, roasted vegetables, etc. instead of sugary foods. Even oatmeal or chia pudding with a natural sweetener didn’t leave me feeling as balanced as something with some protein, healthy fat, carbs, and maybe even a hit of spice. Maybe I need to investigate some savory meal prep options. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to drop a comment.
- Really savoring the sweet things. If I’m having dinner with my friends and someone makes dessert, I want to really, fully commit to that. I want to be aware of every delicious, warm, gooey, melty, ice-creamy bite. What I don’t want is to absentmindedly eat the leftover dessert the next day while scrolling through Instagram before lunch. If and when I opt in to sugar, I want to really be present to that. I want to fully enjoy it.
Okay, my favorite recipe from Sugar Free January is… OMG, I could never pick. I legitimately adore them all and worked really hard to make sure I was only posting recipes I truly loved. But if I had to pick?
I think I would say, for me, at the moment, it’s the Kale Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato Fries. It’s just everything I want from a veg lunch. The flavor of the dressing is just right – definitely punchy and bold without being overbearing, and because it’s an avocado-based dressing, I actually feel okay about smothering my kale in it. The side of sweet potato fries adds warmth, crunch, carb-ature, and a little sweetness… gah. It’s just my perfect combo.
YOUR favorite recipes this month? Here are some recipe wins:
Hey You – Good Work!
Congratulations to everyone who did Sugar Free January with us! Whether you went all-out in removing sugar from your diet or just casually tried to be aware of your sugar intake, I am so, so happy for you! You’ve taken a manageable, practical, and friendly step in the direction of food enjoyment and food health. I have LOVED creating these recipes and you guys have just (literally) eaten them up. The amount of screenshots of your recipes in my camera roll is just… it’s scary. Scary awesome.
I’m so thankful for your energy this month, and I can’t wait to share more really tasty sugar-aware food with you!
In case no one has told you today: you’re awesome. And that’s unrelated to sugar. You’re just awesome.
Now – tell me about it! How did it go for you?