How I kicked my sugar addiction

My name is Danielle and I’m a reformed sugar-addict. It’s been two months and twelve days since I last had serious amounts of sugar and starchy carbohydrates.

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Back when I ate bread. And sugar. And gluten.

I normally hate it when people refer to someone being addicted to food and/or drinks, like You’re addicted to coffee/Coca Cola/Pepsi/Tea/Starbucks, etc., (which I’ve been accused of), however after reading the books and internet articles I’ve read, and learning about the body’s physiological response to sugar and carbohydrates, I now know that I was dependant – ahem, addicted – to sugar. And because of that, I was through and through a sugar burner, (by the way, I just did that quiz again, and I’m a fat burner without having to go into ketosis!).

Before literally going through sugar withdrawal and detox, I was that girl that everyone said ate healthily. I ate a rainbow of fruit and veg, lean protein, complex carbs, and a diet low in fat. On the weekend, I would allow myself a Pepsi or two as a treat, maybe a piece of cake or pie, a burger and fries, but always felt guilty for it. Everything in moderation, 80/20. I didn’t eat packaged food, I made everything myself, and even used brown or cane sugar instead of white sugar in my baking, sometimes even honey. I also had started cooking with vegetable oil as my fat rather than butter. Last June, I upped the running intensity and distance, and as a result, apparently lost a bit of weight, but by November, after my first half marathon and 10 mile race, I was 80kg (176lbs), and the heaviest I’d ever been. I would eat every three hours, thinking it was good for my metabolism, whatever that is, and also because I thought I was experiencing runger from the more intense and longer distance running I was doing. I usually ate five times a day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, after-school snack and dinner. I also drank 3 Litres of water a day, had skim milk in my morning latter,  avoided alcohol and my bowels moved regularly if you know what I mean. Sounds pretty healthy, right? But why was I gaining weight rather than losing it? Clearly, the low-fat approach wasn’t working, and I honestly thought if I wanted to lose weight, I would have to start going to the gym on top of running, and counting calories. Both of which I didn’t want to do, but I also didn’t know what else to do.

OMG RW cookbook goat cheese, fig and walnut pizza with rocket, so healthy! NOT.

OMG RW cookbook goat cheese, fig and walnut pizza with rocket, so healthy! NOT.

Does my experience sound a bit like how you’re feeling right now? Or how you’ve felt in the past?

I found Maria Emmerich’s blog and her books, and devoured them. I made changes. I learned about nutrition from information I sought out, NOT information packaged from the media, (I won’t go into it in this post, but take all nutrition/health tips from the media with a grain of salt). I learned so much more than I thought I would, and now I can’t stop. Perhaps my addiction to sugar has turned into an addiction to seek more information about proper nutrition.

And now, after many friends have asked about what I’ve done and the changes I’ve made, I’m sharing with you.

But first, some science to deepen your understanding! (As you know, I believe understanding the science behind weight loss and gain is so important, and makes abstract concepts more real).

I’m not a dietician or nutrition specialist, I’m simply someone who was banging her head against the wall, wondering why my weight was continuing to go up despite how ‘healthy’ I was eating. I did my research and now I know so much more.

*please keep in mind, when I write ‘fat’ I’m not singling anyone out or trying to use it in a malicious way.

Leptin aka, the  satiety hormone, also responsible for cravings. Leptin is stored in our fat cells and tells our brain when we feel satisfied and can stop eating. The more fat cells you have, the more leptin you have, therefore your communication to your brain is strong. Then, the fatter we are, the more our brains are able to tell us we’re full, right? Makes sense, seems logical. So why are fat people fat, and everyone else is continuing to get fat? If you remember from the my post 40 Days and 40 Nights,  I shared the video on why we really get fat: the more sugar we have in our bloodstream (high blood sugar), through sugary foods and carbs, the more insulin our body releases to bring our blood sugar levels back to normal (because high blood sugar is toxic). When our blood sugar is high, our bodies work to use the sugar as energy, preventing our body from accessing fat cells. If your insulin levels are high on a regular basis, your body will always convert sugar to fat, the primary job of insulin. Did you know insulin is actually known as the fat storing hormone?   With a high-carb, high sugar diet, you can get to the point where you actually become insulin resistant. When you have elevated levels of insulin in your body, it actually blocks the leptin signals to your brain, (what a pest!), preventing your brain from receiving signals your fat cells are satiated and satisfied; instead, your brain keeps thinking your body is starving and needs food. So we continue to eat.  This is known as leptin-resistance. The old adage ‘You should eat slower because it takes your brain 20 minutes to receive signals from your stomach,’ goes out the window. Rather, you should eat foods that won’t consistently elevate your blood sugar levels to allow leptin and insulin to do their jobs properly.

Watch this video, featuring Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist who studied this extensively.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the stomach, known as the hunger hormone. When our stomach’s are empty, its level in the body increase, sending a signal to the brain that the stomach needs to be fed. We know this as feeling hungry. When we eat, ghrelin levels decrease because we are getting full. Ghrelin stimulates the same cells on the same brain recpetors as leptin.  Ghrelin reacts to different macronutrients in different ways: protein suppresses ghrelin production, and ghrelin suppression leads to people losing weight. Fats don’t suppress ghrelin, and carbs initially suppress ghrelin, but later on, raise ghrelin levels again and make you want to eat more. You will eventually be hungrier than you were initially, before the meal you ate to get rid of the initial hunger pangs. I experienced this with pasta: I would initially feel full and satisfied, but within an hour, I was starving again. Luckily, I’m not a big pasta fan, so wouldn’t eat much of it anyway. Fructose also stimulates ghrelin, and we eat so much food that contains fructose: pop, applesauce, cereal, honey, ketchup, tinned fruit, raisins, strawberries, etc. For a detailed list, click here. Ghrelin also affects the pleasure centres in our brain; the same pleasure centres that are stimulated by recreational drugs, sex, delicious food, and sugar. Yes, that’s right. Our brains think sugar = sex = drugs!

Leptin and ghrelin are also both affected by sleep. If we consistently get 8 or more hours a night, our levels should be normal, therefore having a positive affect on leptin and ghrelin levels, keeping them normal. If you get less than 8 hours, that can also play with your levels, and cause the more frequent hunger, cravings, and suppressed feelings of fullness. Disturbed sleep due to sleep apnea, common amongst obese individuals, can also affect these hormones. A fact of adult life is that we don’t get enough sleep. And most of us continue to gain weight. Carbs and sugar aside, maybe your sleep is also needing an overhaul. I know I’m guilty of not getting enough sometimes.

You may be one of those extremely active people who exercises everyday, or frequently, to very high intensity, doing some major calorie burning, all in the name of losing weight. If your leptin and ghrelin levels are out of wack, no amount of exercise, no matter how intense or long it is, will matter. People who switch to a ‘well-formulated’ ketogenic diet, as Maria says, lose weight without exercising at all. Just a walk in the evening, if anything. I’ve lost 7kg (15 lbs, or 1 stone 1) without changing my running.

Basically,when you eat a diet that is high in carbs and high in sugar (natural or processed), you’re actively contributing to your hormones getting all messed up! Remember, carbs are just chains of sugar at a molecular level, whether simple or complex. Weight gain isn’t simply an issue of not exercising and not using discipline. When your body is in a perpetual/ hungry-fed state, and you  are  actively contributing to it multiple times a day, you are literally creating a physical dependence on carbs and sugar. It literally is a drug. And I was addicted to it.

So what’s a girl to do? Get rid of the sugar sources, and replace them, not with natural sugars, but fat. And lots of it. Here’s what I did.

*hint: for recipes, click on the hyperlinks!

Breakfast:

Before: my coffee was a skim milk latte with a bit of Starbucks vanilla syrup. Clearly, the vanilla syrup is sugar, so that had to go. Skim milk is choc full of carbs; it’s the most loaded of the milks and does absolutely nothing for us.

After: I initially changed my latte to coconut milk and honey, but have since adopted the #lchf coffee go-to: the #bulletproof coffee. 1 tbsp butter (grass-fed) + 1 tbsp coconut oil = the best coffee you’ll ever have. I use espresso instead of filtered coffee, but if you prefer filtered, you should blend everything together to get a nice foamy texture. I also add 1 tsp xylitol, which I will tell you about soon, for sweetness. Everyone that’s never had a bulletproof coffee thinks it’s totally disgusting; all I have to say is don’t knock it until you try it!

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Before: my food was a smoothie made with a banana, an orange, pineapple, melon, berries, Greek-style yoghurt, muesli and juice. Keep in mind that all fruit contains fructose, and the sweeter the fruit, the more fructose and carbs it contains. The yoghurt was also loaded with carbs, as was the muesli, and let’s face it, juice is liquid sugar.

After: still a smoothie, but with 1 cup of the fattiest coconut milk I can get, 1/3 cup berries, a thin slice of melon OR banana if I’m running that day. Add a tsp of psyllium husk powder for more fiber and a pinch of sea salt. I also take a potassium supplement, magnesium supplement and CoEnzyme Q10. I will go into this in more detail in another post.

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* I also drink a pint of cold water before I eat anything because a hydrated cell is an energised cell. Remember this after a long run when you’re exhausted and think you need to eat to feel more energised. You’re more likely to be thirsty instead. In general, we often confuse hunger with thirst. Try water first, then see how you feel.

Morning snack:

Before: banana #2 + almond seed bars, made with honey, nuts, nut butter, and seeds. And a cup of semi-skimmed (or 1%) milk. Too much sugar and carbs.

After: nothing. I’m not hungry for a morning snack anymore. I do take glutamine at this time, as you’re not supposed to take it with food. Glutamine helps with muscle recovery, and an important building block in maintaining cellular health and tissue repair. It’s also good for endurance athletes as it greatly decreases muscle cramping.

Lunch:

Before: a baked potato with tuna salad and cheese + side salad, OR salad with coleslaw, hard-boiled egg, ham, OR leftover soup, stew, lasagna, etc. It usually left me feeling bloated, like I had a brick in my stomach. I would also sometimes have a tray bake or sweet for dessert.

After: again, a variety. Usually, leftovers like Keto moussaka or chicken lasagna, with a side of sliced cucumber and tomato, topped with natural Ranch dressing. Sometimes I have gravadlax or leftover brisket, a hard-boiled egg (yolk and all), avocado, full-fat philadelphia, and red lettuce leaves. I’ve also had Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil), with hard-boiled egg and avocado. I also take another magnesium supplement.

And a Caveman Keto Fat Bomb for dessert.

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Afternoon snack:

Before: Graze boxes of nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, crackers, mini-cakes. Sometimes yoghurt and fruit. Always something though. And if I was running, I’d have a nibble again before I went out!

After: Nothing. Because I’m not hungry for it.

Dinner:

Before: lean meat or fish, vegetables (steamed or salad) and a complex carb of some kind, like sweet potato, quinoa or brown rice. If we had pasta, it was with tomato-based sauces. On the weekends, I’d make something more special, like slow cooked brisket with mashed potato, or a roast dinner.

I would also bake something sweet on the weekends too.

After: again, keto moussaka, chicken lasagna, keto Mexican lasagna, steak with cream sauce, burgers (no bun) with cream sauce, chicken wings baked in butter, salmon with avocado sauce, huevos rancheros, omelette, beef chili without beans, topped with avocado, a fried egg and bacon – I could go on. Sometimes, I go vegetarian and have a Caprese salad with avocado.

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Burger stuffed with blue-cheese and cream cheese, with a mushroom cream sauce

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My go-to sides are asparagus, salad with the most natural Ranch dressing I can find or Olive oil/salt/pepper/lemon juice, avocado, or sliced cucumber and tomato. When I’m running longer or with higher intensity, I have roasted butternut squash, quinoa or roasted sweet potato.

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I also have another fat bomb at night.

I still bake on the weekends too.

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IMG_20140330_191335  IMG_20140511_121734

This way of eating is called Ketogenic, and when you breakdown your macronutrients, looks like: high fat, moderate protein, low carb. I always make sure that what I eat is mostly fat with some protein, and a little carb. That’s how I look at it. It is similar to Paleo, but allows dairy. It’s completely sugar-free, grain-free and gluten-free.

Natural, saturated fats to include:    *saturated fat = healthy fat, despite what we’ve been told

  • coconut oil
  • butter
  • grass-fed beef
  • eggs
  • salmon and other oily fishes
  • all dairy except milk and yoghurt
  • eggs, the entire thing!
  • avocado

Now going low-carb, high-fat wasn’t a seemless transition. I had to do a lot of research. I used Maria’s book ‘Keto-Adapted’ and the recipes that came with it, along with the recipes on her blog and subsequent books I bought. I would also just google recipes; I’m the type of person that believes if there’s a will, there’s a way. If I wanted a smoothie, I was going to find a keto smoothie! And I did. As long as you put ‘keto’ in front of your favourite meal, chances are Google will find it for you.

I also had to get rid of a lot of carbs and sugar in my larder. I donated the following items to the Home Economics teacher at my school:

  • table salt
  • all forms of sugar, even brown and cane
  • flour, white and wholegrain
  • pasta, all kinds
  • vegetable oil –> any polyunsaturated fat = so BAD!!!!!!

Luckily, we don’t buy a lot of premade food from tins or jars, so I didn’t have to throw away much. I also stopped buying carbonated water (bad for your bone density), Pepsi (obviously!), bread, juice, beans and any legumes, tortilla chips, milk chocolate chips, tofu, soy sauce (soy is so BAD!!!!) and honey. You’ll have to do a cleanse of your food cupboards, and get rid of anything with sugar, both obvious and hidden, in it. When you’re reading labels, look for the following ingredients; they’re all a form of sugar: source

Agave nectar
Agave syrup
Barley malt
Beet sugar
Brown rice syrup
Brown sugar
Buttered syrup
Cane sugar
Cane juice
Cane juice crystals
Carob syrup
Confectioner’s sugar
Corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup
Corn sugar
Corn sweetener
Corn syrup solids
Crystalized fructose
Date sugar
Dextran
Dextrose
Diatase
Diastatic malt
Evaporated cane juice
Fructose
Fruit juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Glucose
Glucose solids
Golden sugar
Golden syrup
Grape sugar
Grape juice concentrate
Honey
Invert sugar
Lactose
Malt
Maltodextrain
Maltose
Maple syrup
Molasses
Raw sugar
Refiner’s syrup
Sorghum syrup
Sucanat
Sucrose
Sugar
Turbinado sugar
Yellow sugar

I’ve also reintroduced many foods: butter, cream, full-fat cream cheese, cheese of all kinds, sour cream, whipped cream, double cream, and grass-fed beef. We’re so lucky in Scotland: all our beef is grass-fed. It is one of the best sources of Omega 3’s we can get. I also invested heavily in coconut oil, and bulk bought tamari, a fermented soy sauce, for some keto Asian dishes. Naturally fermented products are keto-friendly. And I’ve started eating dark chocolate for the first time ever, (85% to 90% cocoa).

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Coconut flour, xylitol, psyllium husk powder

I’ve replace table salt with sea salt. Wheat flour with almond flour (aka ground almonds in the UK) or coconut flour.

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Sugar  was replaced with xylitol, a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in fruit and vegetables; mine is a birch tree extract. Unlike sugar, xylitol is good for your teeth (it’s found in gum) and is a 7 on the glycemic index, so doesn’t spike your blood like sugar does. Sugar is a 54 on the glycemic index.  The only downside to xylitol is that it’s toxic to dogs, so keep it away from them!

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Some shopping items to begin your #lchf journey:

  • coconut oil
  • butter from grass-fed cows
  • grass-fed beef
  • coconut flour
  • almond flour (aka ground almonds)
  • natural nut butters
  • eggs, and lots of them!
  • berries, fresh or frozen
  • unsweetened almond milk
  • salmon
  • xylitol, erythritol (another natural sugar alcohol) or Swerve for baking
  • Stevia glycerite, a concentrated stevia syrup for baking
  • sea salt
  • lemons
  • limes
  • gluten-free baking powder (there’s gluten in some!)
  • psyllium husk powder, for baking and keto bread
  • coconut milk, the fattiest you can get
  • not-so-sweet fruit like melon, berries, rhubarb
  • lower carb veg, like cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, aubergine/eggplant,courgette/zucchini, onions, mushrooms, peppers
  • LOTS of avocado
  • sugar-free tomato or pasta sauce
  • sugar-free stock cubes (these are the bain of my existence. For the life of me, I can’t find sugar-free stock cubes. I also can’t believe they put sugar in stock cubes).

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If you’re lucky and live in a city, you should have no problem finding all of these foods at your local grocery store, Costco, bulk food stores and health food stores. If  you’re like me and live rurally, get very familiar with the grocery section of Amazon. I buy my coconut oil, coconut flour, psyllium husk powder, protein powder, and supplements all from Amazon. I’m too lazy to drive up to Aberdeen to search around for things, and too cheap to pay for parking 😀

Finally, when you decide to start cutting out sugar and carbs – I’m going to warn you – you’ll go through withdrawal for a few days. I got intense Pepsi cravings, and I so wanted to give in, but stayed strong because a change was necessary. I made my change gradually, meal by meal. I started with an lchf dinner, then onto lunch and finally got rid of my very sugary breakfast and morning snack. You could make the switch and do it all at once, but be prepared ingredient-wise and recipe-wise. Once the sugar is out of your system, you will start to notice a big, positive difference.

This will only work if:

  • you cut out gluten, (but don’t replace with store-bought gluten-free products)
  • you cut out all sugar. Don’t replace processed sugar for honey, maple syrup or agave of any kind. They’re still sugar and loaded with fructose, and won’t make a difference to you body.
  • you avoid alcohol.
  • you drink lots of water.
  • you look at it from the point of view of what you CAN eat, not what you can’t. You’ll be surprised to see how much more variety you’ll have in your diet. And you will be able to have sweet things.
  • you stick to it.

You should also notice your sugar cravings will disappear. I also noticed most meals would leave a sweet after-taste in my mouth, and remember my teeth feeling a lot more diritier and hairy by the end of the day. Now, neither happens. This way of eating works because you’re filling up on fat and protein, with some carb. It takes longer, and more calories, for your body to digest fat and protein than it does carbs. Fat and protein also fill you up a lot quicker, and because of this, you will notice you won’t eat as much as before, and that’s okay, as long as you feel satisfied. If you’re like me, and you may have messed up your hormones a bit with all the sugar and carbs (so much in looking back!), the bloating from gluten and sugar will greatly diminish, and your weight will drop too. If you’re doing everything correctly that is.

I will write a follow-up post with more tips, recommended videos and literature, because let’s face it, I’ve written quite a bit! Some parting advice: do your own research. Don’t take what I say as the ultimate in nutritional guidance. I’m not certified, nor a specialist, but I’m hoping to do a masters in Nutrition, so watch out world!

Tweet me or comment on this post if you have questions. And you can always find me on Instagram. I’m an IG slut! I won’t leave any questions for you because this post could elicit so many already. Good luck!

7kg down and counting, and a new loop on my belt has been made….

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20 thoughts on “How I kicked my sugar addiction

  1. Whew- that’s a lot of interesting information. I have to say, i’ve never read up on this type of diet, so it’s all very new to me!
    i’m really glad it’s working for you. It does sound like a definite adjustment! What did you find the hardest? Does Pat eat like this, too?
    Please do follow up with videos and books, as I’d love to learn more!
    Lastly, when do you hope to do a Masters in Nutrition? In Scotland, or an online degree?
    Thanks for this informative post!

    • I know, it’s a lot to take in. Perhaps, in retrospect, I should’ve cut it down into many posts, but I wanted to get it all done with.

      I didn’t find changing to this way of eating hard, it was actually more convincing Pat, who learned everything he knows (which isn’t much) from muscle magazines. The moment I stopped trying to convince him, he actually started becoming more interested and he’s now totally on board. He’s made his first batch of fat bombs and is my sous-chef for weekend meal prep. I think dealing with people’s perceptions of nutrition is the most difficult part for me.
      I will continue to do more posts, I’ve already got another one brewing in my head!
      I don’t know when I’m going to get the Masters done. It would have to be online and over the course of up to 5 years; that’s what I’d be able to handle full time. I’ve done a bit of research for possible programmes, and found one at the Leeds Trinity University. Looked into some CDN universities, but none were distance learning, and Athabasca didn’t offer a programme! If you know of any, please let me know.

  2. Hi: I just saw your post on Maria’s web site saying you wanted to go back to school. Look at IIN (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) . I am enrolled right now and it is amazing. Its all on line too. You study to be a health coach. They will teach you the business side plus the nutrition. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. Amy Anderson aapple31@yahoo.com

    • Thank you for information, I looked into bits and pieces of it. I’m not sure what I ultimately want to do with this education yet, but I’m leaning more towards writing and possibly restaurant /catering rather than coaching. I will let you know if I need more info. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  3. I am so glad to read this is working for you!! Love that you can get the word out about keto. I just love it. You’re right look at what you CAN have to eat. This food is so yummy!! Best of luck
    to you. 🙂

  4. Great article, very complete! I’ve been eating like this, basically, for about two weeks now and absolutely love it! 😀 you’ve encouraged me that it’s the right way for me to go!

    • You could say ‘complete;’ it’s very long, I tend to go on.

      I definitely think a low-carb, high-fat approach is the way to go: I’ve noticed so many positive changes to the way I feel, and while you’re enjoying all these foods, you get to lose weight too! 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Call me crazy, but I came back to re read this post a second time 😛 Thanks once again 🙂

        I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from SIBO at the moment, so keto is great for healing that. I’ll also be supplementing with garlic and probiotics, as well as cutting all fruit (I’ll slowly reintroduce fruit after things get better).

        I’m spending all my free time reading everything I can get my hands on about SIBO, keto, GAPS and SCD 😛

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  7. Full-fat coconut milk and avocado and the entire egg FOR THE WIN! Awesome info… thanks for sharing! While I’m 100 percent on the lchf train, I do follow it about 85 percent of the time. I can’t give up my GF toast or oats all the time because it sits well with my stomach before training 🙂

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