Life Experiment 11: No Sugar


+ 3lbs of weight lost from 151.9lbs to 148.9lbs.
+ Fat mass went from 13.2% to 13.8%
+ It was surprisingly easy to give up sugar
+ I had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time
+ After eating sugar, my head felt cloudy and ‘hungover’
+  I experienced large spikes in weight loss/gain, especially after eating sugar.


One of my neighbours suggested that I attempt eliminating sugar from my diet for my next 30-day challenge. After hearing about their experience, the improvement in their well-being and the amount of sleep they got, I was intrigued to give it a try myself.

The thought of giving up sugar for 30 days seemed like a daunting prospect, especially as I would be training for my next marathon during this time. Not having any energy drinks or sugary snacks to get me through the dreaded wall, when your glucose reserves have been depleted,  seemed like an impossibility.

I thought to myself: if I could get through the training without my usual sugary crutches, imagine how easy the run would be in comparison when I did have them. You may have heard of altitude training or resistance training. This would be my own form of training: sugar, depletion training!

One reason why I had resisted doing this challenge previously was the fact the parameters seemed obscure. What should I count as sugar? Technically, I could count any carbohydrate as a sugar. If I wanted to be lenient,  I could allow honey and maple syrup. And what about products such as ketchup, granola or yoghurt?

I decided I wanted to be strict on myself, but not too strict that I couldn’t eat anything. I decided to restrict all obvious sugars, such as foods that contain sugar, as well as any sugar like substance such as honey or maple syrup. I allowed myself to eat other carbohydrates and fruits but not fruit juices.

There were many more products than I realised that contained sugar. The sweet potato chips that I bought (and tasted so good) had cane sugar on them and the tinned tangerines that I was using to overcome any sweet cravings ended up being sweetened.  It become difficult to find items to eat which did not contain added sugar.

Normally I eat something sweet after dinner, and I noticed for the first few days I had my usual craving. After the third day, however, the craving quickly wore off, like a crying child realising that his parents weren’t going to give in, my cravings soon learnt to quiet down.

After the first 3 days, I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to not eat sugar. In addition I was noticing the effects it was having on my sleep , I was averaging over 8 hours a night, compared to my usual 6.

During my sugar hiatus, I came across this interesting article on the Washington Post about how food (not lack of exercise) is the cause of weight gain and I wondered how my weight would change over the next 30 days. I was already near an old time low.

I ran a 19-mile run, the penultimate one before my Africam marathon. I noticed that afterwards I had strong sugar cravings. Maybe it was all the glucose that I used during the run or maybe it was the willpower depletion that caused me to slip up for the first time later that evening. It’s useful to be aware, that when you slip up on a personal goal or challenge that you may experience the ‘what-the-hell-effect. This is when we say to ourselves that since we have blown our diet, what’s the point in continuing and we go completely off the rails and binge eat. And this is what happened to me. Maybe it was the combination of drinking cocktails the next day or eating sugar for the first time the previous day, whatever it was, I found that this reduced my willpower and resulted in me having dessert at dinner.

The following week, I went to an event where professor Dan Ariely was giving a talk. All food and drinks were included and as the event was happening at one of my favourite restaurants, I couldn’t help but justify to myself to again eat the dessert that I was offered. Maybe it was the sugar or maybe it was all the drinks, but I felt very unproductive and sluggish the following day.

The next day we had a breakfast potluck with our neighbours. Again there were lots of sugary treats  freely available which I had difficulty saying no to. My head felt cloudy that afternoon as a headache came over me, it was as if I was hungover. It would be really interesting to know for sure if this was from the copious amounts of sugar that I consumed that day, I definitely wouldn’t be surprised.

The next weekend, I again slipped up after a long 21-mile run. I came so close to finishing it but could not help stopping for some lemonade after hitting the wall. That weekend I proceeded to have more sugary delights, including french toast and some amazing pie that a neighbour made. It might sound like I  failed this challenge, but  I learned a great deal from it.

Going forward I will test the effect would of a more strict non-sugar diet, not eating fruit and refined carbs.

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