Why I Stopped Eating Refined Sugar

So it’s HALLOWEEN, which means that it’s time for me to write about how I stopped eating refined sugar.

Before I get into this, I want to clarify that everyone is doing their own food thing for their own reasons and I don’t mean to imply that you should also get off the sugar train. There was an article in The Atlantic just this morning about how refined sugar is one of the best ways to stay fueled during a marathon, for example.

Also, there are about a bazillion articles reminding parents that it’s okay to let their kids eat sugar tonight, even A LOT OF SUGAR, and perhaps we should not be so worried about every bite of food we put into our mouths and just ENJOY LIFE AND ITS CULTURAL TRADITIONS, OKAY?

Which is why my “no refined sugar” diet includes exceptions for holidays. 😉

That said, when my parents took me out to a birthday dinner last week (because they will be out of town on my actual birthday next Monday) and I had a culturally traditional birthday dessert, I could feel the sugar. In my heartrate and in the way I slept and all the rest of it.

It’s sort of like… okay, so when I started drinking alcohol, a single drink would get me all WOOOHOOOOOOOOO THIS IS WEIRD WHAT IS GOING ON, and then eventually it took three drinks to get to that same point, but after I took a break from alcohol for a while my tolerance went away and, the next time I had just one drink for culturally traditional reasons, it was back to spinning-head-maybe-puking-times.

So at this point it’s easier for me to just not do sugar. (Or alcohol.)

Or, at least, to ask myself: is the experience I will have now worth the experience I will have later?


Three big reasons.

First, because a few people close to me have had serious health issues in the past few years (and I’m not going to share much more than that to respect their privacy), which meant that I started reading a lot of books about cancer and dementia.

There are a few common themes in those books, one of them being “look, both cancer and dementia are multifaceted diseases and there’s no magic pill to prevent them—but if you’re looking for controllable action items to lower your risk, we suggest avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, getting more sleep, exercising regularly, and eating less sugar.”

However, I was reading these books during a point in my life when I was eating more sugar than ever. I live across the street from a candy shop, so it would be, like, go to the emergency room, then go to the candy shop. Have a difficult conversation about shutting down The Billfold, then go to the candy shop. Anxiety-related insomnia? SOLVE THE NEXT DAY’S BRAIN FOG WITH CANDY.

So I started playing this game with myself where I would “reduce my sugar intake” by not purchasing any groceries that included refined sugar (which meant I was eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, etc. plus Huel) while still making my regular candy runs. I did the math and calculated that one pile of candy per week still averaged out to fewer grams of sugar than the average American eats during the week, so I was winning!

Until I started checking my Exist app. My weekly sugar binge—and it was often more than once per week, let me tell you—made all of my other metrics worse. Heartrate went up, sleep got more restless, I became less productive, I did less physical activity, and even my mood ratings plummeted (probably because I knew I’d just done this thing that had only made me feel good for a few minutes).

So I decided to give it up. No refined sugar, at all, except for holidays.

Here’s what changed:

I stopped peeing all the time. I used to joke that there was never a moment when I didn’t have to pee, at least a little. I would spend all day using the toilet every hour, and all night waking up every 90 minutes or so to pee, and I always thought that was just how I was, like as a human?


(Right now, it’s been three hours since I last went to the toilet and I do not currently need to use it.)

I started sleeping better. This is correlated to “not waking up every 90 minutes to pee” (these days, I wake up only once) but also, my sleep is less tossy-turny altogether.

My weight remained constant but my body fat dropped one percentage point. I didn’t get off sugar to lose weight, but I was curious whether I’d see any changes there.

I had to up the amount of healthy fat in my diet to prevent SUPER CONSTIPATION. When you go read stories from people who’ve done Whole 30, they’re all “but the constipation,” and one of the reasons I occasionally went to the candy store more than once per week (when I was trying to cut down on my candy visits) was because eating candy was a sure-fire way to, like, make sure I pooped the next day?

And then I remembered that a chocolate truffle was just cocoa and sugar mixed with a bunch of fat, and I asked myself whether I could solve this problem with olive oil instead.


Anyway, that is the long story of how I got myself off refined sugar. It is not a recommendation for you to do the same, unless you want to—because, ultimately, I think a little sugar is fine. But, like Gretchen Rubin (who also went sugar-free), I’m more of the abstainer type and it’s a lot easier for me to say “no sugar except for holidays” than to continually ask myself “is this a little, is this too much, will eating two chocolate truffles make me spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about whether I can justify four more truffles,” you get the idea.

And no, I won’t be eating any candy this Halloween even though it is a holiday. I had a sugary dessert last Saturday, and that’s enough to last until Thanksgiving. ❤️

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