In our monthly series, GIVING UP, newsroom staffers deprive themselves of a beloved habit and track how it went. In March, Lifestyle Editor Suzy Strutner, 26, gave up added sugar.
What made you decide to give it up? I love sugar in a way that sometimes makes me feel like it’s ruling me instead of the other way around. When a habit starts invading my life ― like when I miss out on an hour of sleep because I “need” a fresh-baked midnight cookie or “can’t get through the day” without spending $6 on frozen yogurt ― I know it’s one I need to kick. Plus, I tried to give up sugar last year and failed without realizing why, so I wanted to prove I could do it, and do my body a favor at the same time.
How did your friends and family react? People either 1) tell me they’re impressed by my efforts (I started an email newsletter with updates on how the challenge is going), 2) ask if I’m STILL not eating sugar, then inquire when I’ll be available for dessert dates again, or 3) tell me they’ve given up sugar too! That’s my favorite reaction, for sure. Two of my friends ditched sugar last month because I was doing it, which makes me feel like a positive influence.
Did you do any research before you started? Yes, because I didn’t do enough research last year and wanted to make sure I gave up added sugar “correctly” this time around. My colleagues and I have written a number of articles about added sugar over the years, so by now I know that added sugar is never, ever a good thing for your brain or body. That’s major motivation.
Did you slip up? Not yet! Well, it depends on how technical you get. Added sugar is in all kinds of foods, from store-bought bread to mayonnaise to pasta sauce. I’ve avoided buying those items for myself, but I haven’t stopped eating at restaurants. I’m sure there’s been sugar snuck into a few dishes there. I’ve also been eating dried fruit and other forms of naturally occurring sugar, which I learned is not entirely accepted in the anti-sugar community.
When did you first feel deprived? Two days in, when a giant sundae appeared on the table at my mom’s birthday dinner. It was tough not to deem it a “special occasion” and cave in. Most of the time, though, this challenge has been strangely easy. I’ve found enough other treats to look forward to ― like nut butters, banana bites and a granola-dark-chocolate-date-coconut melange that I concoct myself to guarantee sugar-freeness ― which taste indulgent enough to do the trick. I can’t say I haven’t daydreamed about deep-dish cookie pie, though.
Any awkward social encounters? I’m afraid of being a buzzkill when I don’t indulge at group get-togethers. Today at lunch, my colleagues didn’t order dessert because I wouldn’t be sharing it with them. It was a nice sentiment, but I felt like I was holding them back from sugary fun! Another time, at Taco Tuesday with some new friends, I felt awkward passing up margaritas in favor of a tequila soda. (This is NOT a real hardship, I am aware. But still.) I was pleasantly surprised, though, when my friends noticed the move and changed their orders to sugar-free drinks, too.
Notice any changes to your mood? I still get cranky when I’m craving something sweet, but my new naturally sweet treats usually do the trick. Overall, I feel like a more capable human. I tend to doubt my level of discipline, but this challenge has shown me I can do anything ― even deny myself of favorite sugary snacks ― if I decide to commit.
Changes to your body? I used to sometimes feel sick after eating too much sugar, especially if I mixed it with alcohol. Now, I don’t need to worry about my heart racing from a bunch of cookie dough. However, the lack of added sugar has caused me to start indulging in other unhealthy foods like pizza and fries more often, so I can’t say I look or feel more fit.
Changes to your productivity? Yes, majorly. I struggle with prioritizing activities and would often spend a night baking sugary goods or venturing off to get ice cream instead of practicing healthier self-care habits like calling a friend or going to yoga. Now that I don’t have to track down my sugar fix every day, I have one less “chore” to complete and therefore feel less guilty about how I spend my time.
Changes to your relationships? Surprisingly, yes. Posting on social media about the challenge has gotten me in touch with friends I wouldn’t talk to as often otherwise. One friend, for example, read my newsletter and sent me amazing sugar-free recipe recommendations. And my former roommate, who now lives in Germany, gave up added sugar too. We text about how it’s going on two different continents.
I’m also more present in-person: During our weekly hangouts, my sister and I used to fight the chaotic L.A. traffic for our favorite frozen yogurt. Now, we sit and drink wine. Maybe wine isn’t any better than froyo, but quality time out of traffic certainly is. And at parties, I can focus more on humans because I’m not beelining to the snack table. These small changes truly result in more quality conversation!
What does an expert say about doing this? Is there any benefit? There’s no question that quitting added sugar could extend your life, prevent dementia, curb anxiety and decrease risks of anxiety and heart disease, all while making you a more vibrant person overall. No expert ever promotes the consumption of added sugar, so eliminating it can only help your body.
Would you do it again? Yes. This is a simplification of my life ― and diet ― that I’d like to continue, so I’m thinking of making it a weekday habit. If not, I’ll definitely be back for more next year!