'How I broke my sugar habit'

Lena Buckingham thought about sweet treats all the time – to the point where she felt sugar was controlling her life and affecting her health

Here, the mother-of-two from London – a keen runner – describes how she managed to break her taste for the sweet stuff once and for all. 

Why did you cut down on sugar?

I decided to cut down on sugar two years ago because I realised I had developed a habit, and I didn't like the way it controlled my life. I thought about sweet treats all the time, yet when I ate some I quickly felt physically unwell (stomach aches, bloating) so I regretted it straight away. The emotional rollercoaster was exhausting me.

How much sugar were you having?

I wasn't constantly snacking on chocolate bars, but I was eating something sweet like cake, biscuits, chocolate or ice cream after every meal – and usually more than a little bit at a time. Sometimes I skipped dinner and just had dessert instead.

Did you feel sugar was affecting your health?

I often felt low on energy. When exercising, I sometimes experienced a sudden drop in energy, and felt dizzy and had hot-cold sweats. Sugar was also affecting my mood because I could not moderate the amount I was eating. I could never stop after just one biscuit, and the constant failure to eat something in moderation was emotionally difficult to deal with.

What kind of sugar did you cut down on?

I stopped eating most things with added sugar: cakes, biscuits, ice cream, yoghurt, chocolate, etc. In the beginning, I still sometimes snacked on sweetened breakfast cereal with milk if I really wanted something sweet. I've never added sugar to my tea or coffee, or drank any soft drinks, so that was not an issue.

Did you go cold turkey or did you do it gradually?

I cut down gradually by quitting foods with lots of added sugar, such as confectionary. I didn't really pay attention to the sugar content in food items that were not obviously sweets, like pasta sauces and cereals. Now, I'm much more aware that lots of savoury food items also have added sugar, and I always read food labels.

Did you have sugar cravings?

I did have sugar cravings in the beginning, but usually either cereal or something sweetened with dates or raisins would get me through the episode.

Describe the different ways you cut down on sugar

The one thing that has helped me the most was to quit sugar not with the mindset of "all the things I cannot eat now", but "what are the sweet things I can eat instead of added sugar". I use stevia and xylitol in baking, and also make my own sweet snacks and treats using dates or raisins as the sweet ingredient. Ripe bananas and cooked sweet potatoes are also amazing for baking. They are so sweet that no added sugar is needed.

Was cutting down on sugar hard?

I'd tried to cut down on sugar numerous times in the past, but always with the strategy of just eating less of something at one time. I always failed. I could never stop after just a small amount, so this time, about two years ago, I decided to stop trying to do this with the same strategy. I made a decision to not touch anything that had lots of added sugar in it.

Have you noticed any changes to your health since cutting down on sugar?

I was surprised at how well I felt after reducing my sugar intake. I never get sleepy in the afternoons anymore, which is great when you have long afternoon meetings at work! I'm able to exercise without drastic drops in my blood sugar levels. I am no longer bloated, and my stomach is flatter than it's been in years. I am able to enjoy my main meals without thinking about dessert. I no longer constantly think about sweets. I don't get overwhelming cravings. I feel like I am in control of my life, and in general I feel healthier than I did in my 20s.

Page last reviewed: 15/02/2015

Next review due: 15/02/2017

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