Have you ever struggled to change your eating habits? Have you tried quitting sugar as well?
I’m going through some experiments and food discovery, so this time I am not posting a recipe, but I thought I’d share some learning points.
In the past my #1 struggle had been to switch from a normal diet to eating gluten-free. I was forced to do it. Quitting sugar is my new challenge, and this time I wasn't forced, it was all voluntary. But I have to admit that this detox (from sugar and carbs in general) is proving to be a much more challenging transformation than expected.
THE SUGAR-FREE CHALLENGE
For the last 2 months I’ve been experiencing what it really means to stick to a low-carb diet. While it might seem not too difficult on paper, I really struggled with 2 things mainly:
ACCEPTING. Accepting that I cannot eat certain things that are part of my habits (no grains, legumes or root-vegetables).
SATISFACTION. Being satisfied with the foods I am allowed to eat.
Have you experienced something like that before?
For the part of accepting, I did it gradually. I am following a program called WildFit. I find it very interesting because it is not merely about a diet, or what recipes to use.
“WildFit goes beyond that. It is a 90 days challenge that teaches you how to permanently change how you think about food, and what you eat.”
Removing refined sugar from my cooking (or drinking) wasn’t the main challenge personally, because I rarely use it and I don't consume soft drinks. BUT IT'S EVERYWHERE. The "funniest challenge" is to detect sugar in places that we normally don't think about.
A clue? Processed foods. I was shocked reading some of the labels and I have to admit that doing groceries became a bit challenging at first.
Some surprising examples?
In the supermarket where I usually go to there is only 1 brand of TOMATO SAUCE without sugar in the ingredients list. All the other 8 types contain added sugar. 1 vs 8.
All types of industrially made MAYONNAISE sauce have sugar as 3rd or 4th ingredient. More shockingly, I found one which even has it as the 2nd ingredient. Seriously, more sugar than eggs? What mayo is that? The natural one is supposed to be 3 ingredients only: olive oil, eggs and lemon or vinegar. So I couldn't buy it. I decided to do it myself.
Sugar can also be found in some types of CHEESE. Really. It is really not needed there.
PEANUT BUTTER can be a keto friendly food, but again, 4 out of 6 of the options I found are made with sugar and other additional favouring. The real one should have maximum 2 ingredients: peanuts, salt.
Did you know that LOW FAT foods like YOGURT and COCONUT MILK in most cases contain more sugar than their FULL FAT version? So in a low carb diet don’t be fooled by the amount of calories or the “Light” label.
In the Wildfit challenge at some point I also had to remove sweet vegetables, and even fruit.
“Why should I give up fruit?” I kept telling myself. “It’s so healthy!”. It is, but it’s also true that I was slightly addicted to big plates of tropical fruits since I moved to Malaysia. So it was a moment for me to find some balance and be able to limit my dependence on fruit. Often it is a necessary change to make your body start burning fat instead of sugar for fuel.
The first week without fruit was, ehm, terrible. I felt hungry often, I was low in energy and my weight didn’t even go down. “What’s the point of this sacrifice?”
But after 7-10 days things changed. Finally. I started losing some weight. And my energy got better and better. Yes, I felt on an all-time high mood! “I’m eating healthy and I can control my cravings, this is so cool!”.
But then I hit a new rock. That's when the challenge of SATISFACTION came in. What I mean is that I felt frustrated with what I was eating.
Am I eating always the same stuff?
What about all the delicious food that it’s around me?
And to make it all worse, I live in Malaysia now. There’s so much delicious food around! I’ve only been here for a few months, so I still feel like there are so many new ingredients, recipes, types of food and combinations that excite my brain and tongue too much! How can I resist?
THE 4 TRICKS
Now you can see why these months have been quite a psychological test as well. I still haven’t finished the challenge, but I can share the 4 tricks and practices that I am applying as much as possible every day:
1. TRY 1 NEW VEGETABLE EVERY WEEK
All green vegetables are generally permitted in Wildfit, just like in a keto friendly diet. Trying a new ingredient at least once a week it’s a fun and tasty solution. For example I tried:
Turning the usual “green leaves stir fry” into a soup with stir fried mushrooms, or use spinach for a quick baked Egg Muffin;
Spicing up my morning green smoothie with fresh ginger, fresh mint leaves and a few drops of lemon;
Buying new veggies! I ate water gourd for the first time and loved the “greek salad” version. You can just cut the gourd in cubes, mix it with romain lettuce and thin onion rings, and season with a vinaigrette of olive oil, apple cider vinegar and oregano.
2. SAVOUR THE TASTY FOOD. SLOWLY.
During a diet, or a program with limitations, you might feel hungry more often. Some of it might be a lack of nutrients, but for me that isn’t the problem. In the last 2 months I’ve been eating plenty of greens everyday, so I had enough macro and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins).
Hunger was mostly an emotional need, or a habit need. Eating slower, and savouring the things I am eating, really helps me to feel fuller when I finish my meal. And it satisfies me for longer.
3. ALLOW YOURSELF 1 HAPPINESS FOOD
I learned to dedicate at least 1 happy food moment everyday to myself. I am in love with my NUTS TIME! Most nuts are allowed in Wildfit, and in a keto diet in general. Of course it shouldn't be an endless amount of it, so yes I had to learn to eat in nuts in moderation. Lol.
But at least I had my go-to-happy-food every day. A moment of happiness. And I am making it a ritual to feel good about what I eat.
The seeds porridge I discovered from @getwildfit also quickly became a happiness food and a ritual at least 2 times per week. I tweaked the recipe a little bit and I’ll share it soon (4 Seeds and 4 Spices Porridge).
If you’re used to eating bread, you can try this recipe to bake Cauliflower Buns, they’re filling and grain-free!
Have you ever thought about food journaling? I heard multiple times that journaling can 3x your chances of positive results, especially in implementing new habits (including eating), so I tried it.
It is really making a difference, especially to connect dots and understand some patterns.
What food, combination, quantity or nutrient gives me more energy? What makes me lose weight?
THE SUGAR CHALLENGE - IS IT WORTH IT?
Absolutely! Resisting cravings is much easier now. I got my energy back and feel better than before. I was also able to release body fat like never before, and without feeling hungry. For me it's better than a traditional diet, because at least I can eat freely the things that I am allowed to.
This period also made me realise how much non-food we are surrounded by. As humans we don't need all this sugar. But it's in everything. And not just in sweet things, but in a lot of savoury food. Everything with a sauce has sugar. Even Thai curry. Eggs Benedict. Or a Lasagna, if you don't pay attention.
On one hand I find it scary - we're surrounded! But at the same time, this means that with a little education and awareness we can change our habits in only a few steps.
How can we turn part of this into a permanent lifestyle, and not stopping at the challenge?
I think I will, I'll definitely go back to eating fruits but I will limit the amount of baking and dessert I eat. Hard to do it when social media and Instagram are so full of temptations! Scrolling through the endless food creations and world recipes is probably the hardest thing for me to resist! But I’m learning from it.
I am still on my journey.
If you have any other suggestions to “survive”, or you found these tips useful, I’d be happy to see your comment, and get in touch!