So, you want to kick your sugar habit? Good for you! I am living proof that you can do it!! I’m two years sugar-free and I have never felt better! Once upon a time I was a carboholic and a slave to Coca-Cola. I had embraced the mindset that I would never have enough self-discipline or self-will to make any lasting changes…and I was right. On my own, I couldn’t do it. My sugar addiction had to be given to the Lord before freedom could come.
Not only has freedom come, I have since been called to help set other captives free. The Lord has beautifully intertwined my struggle with food bondage with my love for pointing women to the Lord and has called me to a platform where I get to use both. This former carboholic and soda slave now teaches nutrition and healthy living (body, mind, and spirit) classes to the women at my church and within my circle of influence. I'm proof that God can qualify anyone!
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Kay Arthur. It wasn’t the Bible that she and I bonded over (which I’m sure we could have easily done) but rather sugar. She is just as passionate about this issue as I am! During our conversation she said something that has stuck with me and stoked my fire. As I was telling her about our nutrition Bible study, she gasped and said, “Oh, dear one! The church needs this SO bad!”
Why does the church need this? Because we are just as sick as the rest of the world. We consume the same 150-170 pounds of sugar per year that everyone else consumes…and our kids aren't far behind us. This sugar is depleted of any life forces, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It promotes inflammation and disease while feeding cancer and candida. A sugar-laden diet is nutrient-void meaning it is stripped of any nutritional value and forces our bodies to take the needed nutrients from some other place – like our bones. Sugar suppresses the immune system within 30 minutes of consumption. It spikes blood sugar which in turn causes hormones to surge and dip in roller coaster like fashion. And, all this happens meal after meal after meal.
Does the church need this knowledge? Yes. We need our bodies healthy just as much as we need our minds and our spirits healthy. Our ability to minister to the world, showing them Jesus, depends on a healthy church.
So, how do you get started? First, let me say, getting started is the hardest part. But, that’s where I can help. I have compiled a list of the top 20 things that has helped me and kept me on track:
1. Tell yourself, “I CAN DO THIS!”
Without fail, whenever I talk to someone about going sugar-free the very first thing that rolls off their tongue is, “I could never do that.” Umm, yes you can!! Nursing a spirit of defeat will only cause you to throw in the towel before you even begin. Take any negative thinking captive and tell it who's boss. Say it again and again until you believe it. This is the first and most critical step in escaping the clutches of those sweet white crystals.
2. Find an accountability partner
This person will be the one who comes alongside you while you walk this thing out. He or she will remind you why you want this on the hard days, cheer on your progress, and share your chocolate. My first attempt at sugar-free living was done alone over a span of ten months and I was only 50% successful. I quickly jumped to 100% successful as soon as I partnered up.
3. Educate yourself
Read books such as Trim Healthy Table and Sugar Blues or watch documentaries such as That Sugar Film. Knowledge is powerful. When reading Sugar Blues, I was undone by the obvious and detrimental effects of sugar. The rising consumption of sugar over the past few centuries perfectly correlates to the onset and rapid rise of sugar-related health issues such as diabetes (which is expected to increase 54% over the next 15 years). The link is undeniable. This knowledge birthed a fight in me. I vowed to reverse these statistics, starting with me!
4. Focus on yourself first
Don’t plan on converting your entire family on day #1. You need to be healthy and your whole family will benefit from it. The truth is, if you are physically or mentally suffering from the effects of a sugar-rich, nutrient-void diet, then your family is also suffering. When I was taking multiple naps per day due to complete adrenal burnout, my family bore those consequences, too. I had to enter this sugar thing with a mindset that I was worth getting in the kitchen for. As I began to change and try new things, my family naturally followed. However, it would not have gone over well had I demanded that they change along with me.
5. Break any food or drink addictions first
Fast from any food or drink addiction for two weeks before changing anything else in your diet. Pray through cravings, meditate on Scripture, and find a healthy replacement. I swapped out my Cokes for Mountain Zevia and it has satisfied my soda craving. This was key for me and I tell my story in detail here.
6. Start slowly and give your taste buds time to adapt
Don’t worry about changing your entire diet overnight. If you do, you will most likely crash and burn by day three. Instead, implement changes slowly. Start with breakfast. Then, move to lunch after 5-10 days. Then, move to snacks and so forth. Most people who I teach take at least one month to fully convert to sugar-free living. Also, expect detox symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, malaise, sinus flare-ups, and possibly flu-like symptoms. That’s your body withdrawing from its dependency on sugar. While it’s no fun, it should pass within 7-14 days and then you’ll experience a fresh burst of health! This is why it’s important to go slowly, finding healthy replacements with each meal.
7. Get to know the names of sugar and read ingredient labels…even those on seemingly harmless foods
Sugar wears many masks and goes under many names (see graphic at the bottom of the page). No matter the name, the effect on your blood sugar is exactly the same. Get to know these names and flip bottles and packages over to investigate.
8. Replace unhealthy foods & drinks with healthy foods & drinks
You will find that most processed foods contain at least one (sometimes five or six) forms of sugar! Even innocent foods such as applesauce, organic yogurt, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and peanut butter are LOADED with sugar! All of these foods can be replaced with no-sugar added options or made from scratch. Jif peanut butter can be swapped for Smucker’s All-Natural peanut butter. Yoplait yogurt can be swapped for Oikos Triple Zero yogurt. Juice boxes or sports drinks can be swapped for Bai drinks. It really isn’t difficult to make these changes! Also, starchy foods such as white potatoes, white rice, white flour, and corn are blood-sugar spikers so limit your consumption or find replacements for them as well.
9. Throw away the scales
Scales tend to be fickle and often dictate our moods. Instead of scales, measure your success (if weight loss is desired) by the way your clothes fit, how many inches you have lost, the complexion of your skin, the thickening of your hair, the lessening of your headaches, the boost in your energy level, etc. The very first change that I see in the women who I teach is not a smaller waistline but the unmistakable glow on their faces. All of these things shout to the world, “I am healthy!” and should be the indicators of success that you use instead of digital neon numbers.
10. Set small goals that will help you reach your bigger overarching goal
We have all fallen into the trap of making one gigantic goal before we start a diet (which, by the way, is a word that I do not allow my class to use). Let’s say you want to lose 100 pounds (good for you!). If this is your only goal, you will not feel successful until that last pound is shed. This may take two years! Instead, under that gigantic goal, write at least ten smaller goals that will help you reach your biggest goal. Smaller goals can be anything from “Fit into that red dress hanging in the back of my closet,” to “Lose five inches around my belly,” to “Go on vacation without eating sweets,” to “Walk around the neighborhood three times this week.” Smaller goals allow you to celebrate all the multiple smaller successes that will get you to where you ultimately want to be. They are fun to set and more fun to check off!
11. Use sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol or the plant-based sweetener stevia as a sugar replacement
These sweeteners can easily substitute for sugar and are gentle on your blood sugar. Because of the many known health complications attributed to artificial sweeteners, I do not recommend them as a sugar substitute. For optimal taste, allow baked goods that use xylitol, erythritol, or stevia to refrigerator overnight.
12. Have chocolate or a dessert on hand at all times to help with sweet tooth cravings
Let me repeat…have chocolate on hand at all times! Ha! But seriously, having a sweet within arm’s reach is another key to sugar-free success. Ready-to-go sweets keep me from rummaging around in Halloween buckets or grabbing a donut in the church lobby. As I type this, I have a homemade cinnamon bundt cake sitting in my refrigerator (I ate some for breakfast!) and Lily’s chocolate (which is sweetened with stevia) in my cabinet. No words can describe how amazing both of these treats are!
13. Create a meal plan
I know, this is a tough one for me. I am terribly inconsistent with my own advice here. But, let me just say, whenever I make a meal plan, we sail effortlessly through the week. I do not scramble at 5pm, my meat is always thawed, my pantry is well stocked, my family enjoys dinner around the table together, and life is easier.
14. Grill in bulk
My husband is our grill master and he often grills more than enough meat and chicken to last us throughout the week. This one tip alone helps out so much!! His usual line-up is chicken breasts, hamburger, tenderloin and/or Italian sausage. I can take all of these foods and turn them into a number of yummy entrees.
15. Eat every three hours and always include a protein
Your body needs a steady supply of fuel either in the form of glucose (carbohydrates) or fat. Denying yourself fuel for long periods of time or inconsistently fueling your body wrecks havoc on your metabolism and leads to overeating or mindless munching. Fueling your body properly requires a steady, dependable supply of fuel. Because of this, I never go longer than 3½ hours without food. And, since protein is vital for cell and brain functioning along with anchoring your blood sugar, I make sure to include a source of protein with every single meal, snacks included.
16. Organize your kitchen
This tip may not seem important or necessary, but, for me, it was huge!! By nature, I do not like to cook. I was queen of clipping Box Tops in my former life because I wanted it quick and easy. While there are some quick and easy sugar-free options, most foods will have to be prepared. For me, this meant learning the ropes of cooking, stocking my cabinets, dusting off the spice rack that I never used, and finding my groove in the kitchen. Two weeks in, I realized that organization was going to be key for saving my sanity! My kitchen is TINY and I needed to utilize every square inch to avoid piles of countertop clutter. I invested in Better Homes and Gardens flip top containers from Walmart for all my dry ingredients, created pretty labels for them, hung my measuring spoons, organized my cupboards and drawers, and made the space my own. Now, I (somewhat) enjoy food prep while listening to my favorite podcasts or music. It has become my happy place!!
17. Teach your children about nutrition and help them set healthy limits
This is an ongoing and important step. I could really devote an entire blog post to this. I do not advise stripping all sugar out of your children’s lives (unless they have focusing or other cognitive, emotional, or health issues) but I do strongly advise moderation. One of my kiddos cannot have sugar (or gluten). My other two can tolerate sugar. While we do not bring any sugar into our house, I do allow them to enjoy it outside of our house. I like to follow what I call the 80/20 rule with these two. I feed them the absolute best that I can 80% of the time and turn the other way (and secretly cringe…ha!) the other 20% of the time. Or, I may tell them one sweet per day. I do this because sugar is unavoidable at times. After soccer game snacks, birthday parties, church treats, and holidays all revolve around sugar. We cannot get past it. For my sugar-free kid, he knows that mama will give him chocolate or a special dessert when we get home.
Also, I teach them in small doses about nutrition. They know about the importance of protein. They can even pick out the protein on their plates. When eating a certain vegetable or fruit, I may point out the vitamins they are eating and tell them why they need it. By doing this, I’m slowly building up food awareness and nutritional knowledge that will one day be important whenever they make their own food choices.
Lastly, I never, ever reward with food. This is something that is so easy to slip into. After several years of teaching nutrition classes, a common mindset hurdle that my ladies have had to jump over time and time again is turning to food as a reward or comfort. Instead of rewarding with food, reward with five more minutes of snuggle time, read aloud books, ten more minutes off bedtime, a sticker, or a high-five. Rethink your rewards. (See I told you I could write an entire blog post on this!)
18. Know your limits and your triggers
Can you eat a piece of birthday cake and hop right back on the sugar-free train during the next meal? Or, will that one sweet completely derail you? For me, it completely derails me. One treat is followed by ten more. So, I have to tell myself, “No sugar ever.” You may not struggle with this and can enjoy the best of both worlds. I cannot. Also, I have discovered certain triggers that hinder me. I cannot eat Halo Top ice cream because something in my brain makes me think I need the whole pint instead of the recommended serving size. So, I have to watch myself extra closely on the foods that I have a proven track record of veering off course with.
19. Give yourself grace (lots of it)
With all of #18 being said, the most freeing thing you can do whenever you find yourself halfway into a bag of popcorn or scraping the bottom of a Halo Top tub is give yourself a beautiful gift called grace. I’ve become well-acquainted with it. When the birthday cake proved to be too tempting or the funnel cake called your name, don’t beat yourself up. There is no reason to wear guilt or shame. Learn from it, give yourself a heaping dose of grace, and go on. I would not have gotten this far had it not been for grace.
20. Don’t get discouraged and quit
Never quit! You can always start again three hours later.
I hope these tips have been helpful, and, most importantly, filled you with hope. If so, please let us know by leaving a comment, asking questions, pinning it to Pinterest, or sharing with your friends.
P.S. I'm rooting you on!!
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First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural, an even 50/50 split of introvert/extrovert, and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.