A Guide to Ditching Sugar and Feeling Your Best
- Written By:Alexandra Perron, Managing Editor
We eat a lot of sugar. Too much sugar. It’s in everything, not just in cakes, cookies and chocolates. You’ll find it in salad dressings, yogurt and peanut butter too. The average American consumes close to 152 pounds of sugar annually. And it’s taking a toll when it comes to our health. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are all linked to increased sugar intake.
So, what are we to do? How can we cut sugar out of our diets without it feeling like the world is ending? This is where Michele Promaulayko’s new book, SUGAR FREE 3, comes in. The former editor-in-chief of Women’s Health and Cosmopolitan has created the blueprint for cutting out sugar. Her three week guide helps you hit the reset button (without feeling overly restricted) and includes recipes, instructions for how to properly read a food label and even a guide for what to order when you’re out for dinner.
Following the holiday season where sugar more often than not ends up being the star of the party spread, this book (out December 31) could not have come at a better time. We caught up with the author, and recovering sugar addict, to learn more about her strategy and tips for staying far away from the cookie aisle.
Tell us about your personal relationship with sugar? At what point did you realize you wanted to make a change and how did that lead you to this book?
Most of the time I eat healthfully. But there are certain times throughout the year when the balance I normally achieve goes completely off the rails. Summer is one of those times (as I say in the book, when the sun comes out, so does the sauvignon blanc, the rosé and some nice chilled reds).
Another one of those times is the holidays! Like so many other people, I lose control around the mountains of cookies and other goodies. More social events automatically mean more eating and drinking—and that’s okay. I love that gluttonous time spent with family and friends. I truly believe that when you attach guilt and negative feelings to food, it becomes even more unhealthy. When you do indulge, you should do it consciously and enjoy it thoroughly.
But after over-indulging I feel (and look) kinda crappy, and I need to reboot. I’m experienced enough to know that for me, recalibrating takes more than a torturous weekend cleanse. I don’t do well on super-restrictive plans, so I developed SUGAR FREE 3 with help from nutritionists and other wellness-expert friends.
When I think about cutting out sugar, the task seems impossible. Sugar is in everything. How does Sugar Free 3 make the impossible, possible?
You nailed it. Sugar is everywhere, even hiding in foods we don’t even think of as “sweet,” like spaghetti sauce, ketchup, bread, crackers, salad dressings, and yogurt—to name a few of the sneaky sources. So even if you aren’t into candy or sweets, it’s probable that you eat too many refined carbs or artificial sweeteners—which are sugar’s evil twins.
SUGAR FREE 3 exposes all the sneaky places sugar is hiding, tells you how to outsmart tricky marketing language on food packages that confuse you and cause you to eat sugar unintentionally, teaches you how to properly read a food label and most important—helps you simply figure out what to eat with a long list of ALLOWED foods and super easy recipes. On top of that, there are tips on how to crush cravings, dine out, order in, deal with sugar pushers and more.
We know that sugar has an impact on weight, but what other aspects of our health does it impact? What do you find people are also surprised to find out about what sugar does to the body?
Yes, ditching sugar—even just for three weeks—can be incredibly beneficial to overall health. And the longer you stay with it, the healthier you get, obviously. You’ll have more stable blood sugar (which controls hunger and energy), sleep more soundly and have better digestion. All of those benefits kick in pretty quickly. Longer term, you’ll be at reduced risk for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.
What some people find surprising and what I find really alarming is that there’s plenty of research out there backing up the deteriorative impact sugar can have on brain health. And cognitive impairment doesn’t don’t just kick in with old age.
Sugar is not harmless, and cutting back is certainly not just about shedding pounds, although weight loss is a happy side effect for a lot of people.
When it comes to sugar, there are added sugars, refined carbs and artificial sweeteners. Is one worse than the other?
Well, artificial sweeteners are pretty heinous because they are chemical concoctions with zero nutritional value. And they trigger you to crave more sweet things. But they all have a negative impact on your health. The thing to know is that food companies add sugar to food to make it more “palatable” so that you eat (and buy) more of it. It is sinister engineering. These foods don’t adequately satisfy hunger—they are just empty calories— so you end up eating more.
In putting together your list of allowed and not allowed foods, what are people most surprised to see on each list? Any food you really had to debate over where it belonged?
Great question! People are surprised —and stoked! —to see that whole grains are allowed, so whole grain pastas and breads are permitted. Also, dairy, like yogurt and cheese (for those who don’t have an intolerance) are satisfying and delicious and allowed in moderation. I advocate low-and-full fat versions because the trouble comes in when the fat is removed and sugar is added. Starchy veggies and whole fruits are also okay. There was debate about whether to include fattier meats such as bacon, ribs, salami and sausage. Ultimately, we decided to include them because they are technically sugar free. But I encourage people to limit them, which is why they are in the barely allowed category of foods.
What do you find is the biggest hurdle when getting started? And how can people get over it?
Just breaking habits and getting through the first few days. It’s critical to carve out just a little time to get rid of tempting foods around the house and to meal prep by shopping for the foods you’ll be eating. It doesn’t take long. Honestly, within days I slept better, had more energy, and my cravings decreased tremendously. Also, my palate adjusted — fruit began to taste much sweeter.
Also, getting someone to do the program with you helps because then you have an accountability partner. I also recommend designating what I call a sugar sponsor—someone you can text or call to talk you off the sugar temptation ledge.
Once you start feeling better—and that happens quickly—you’re motivated to stick to it.
All of the recipes sound so delicious — do you have a favorite or a go-to for a certain meal?
We worked really hard on the development of recipes. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love food—all kinds—so it was important to me that the recipes were varied, creative and delicious. I love so many of them, but a few of my favorites are:
The sweet potato “toast” with crispy egg, pumpkin ricotta pancakes, Greek salad with shrimp, vegan curried cauli-rice, spiced chicken kebab and the Vietnamese turkey lettuce wraps. Yum!
For me, the desire for something sweet usually comes after dinner. What’s your advice for crushing that craving?
Same! I suggest drinking an herbal tea with a sweet note (like vanilla), eating berries or a sliced apple with cinnamon—again, whole fruit is allowed on the plan. There are also some Sugar Free 3-approved dessert recipes in the book.
What can people expect at the end of the three weeks? And how can they keep up a sugar free lifestyle?
They can expect to feel great because they will have been sleeping better, feel de-puffed from the reduction of inflammatory foods and loss of unhealthy weight, have healthier skin, more stable moods and energy and clearer mental focus. I created three maintenance routes that are specifically outlined in the book. They are customizable to people’s lifestyles—and you can switch between the plans depending on what’s going on. I wanted to make it super easy for people to sustain the healthy changes they make—and the longer you maintain it, the more beneficial it is. As I say on the cover, cutting back on sugar can supercharge your health.