Giving up on Sugar and Grains

For the past four weeks, I’ve been giving up on sugar and grains from my diet and since I share most things here on this blog…I figured I should share this!  I say “giving up on” because I want to give up on being dependent on certain foods (physically and psychologically). Before I get into details, you must know a few things:

  • I am not following the Paleo diet
  • I’m not doing this to lose weight (although I have experienced weight loss)
  • Since Adam is following the 4 Hour Body diet, I tend to eat a lot of the same things he does to make it easier
  • On the weekends, I tend to loosen up a bit on what I eat because – in my opinion – socializing and relationships are just as important

With those things being out and in the open, I’d love to share my experiences while giving up on sugar + grains. Please know that when I write posts about my own personal health, decisions and diet…I am in no way saying that my way is the best way. I’m just sharing what is best for ME! A lot of these changes were sparked by these excerpts:

“All that literature says is to replace something bad, white enriched products with something less bad, whole grains, and there’s an apparent health benefit – ‘Let’s eat a whole bunch of less bad things.’ So I take…unfiltered cigarettes and replace with Salem filtered cigarettes, you should smoke the Salems. That’s the logic of nutrition, it’s a deeply flawed logic. What if I take it to the next level, and we say, ‘Let’s eliminate all grains,’ what happens then? That’s when you see, not improvements in health, that’s when you see transformations in health.Dr. William Davis (via CBS News)

As you know, I went gluten-free seven months ago for health reasons. Since going gluten-free, I don’t experience headaches, fatigue, bloating and various other symptoms. Since eliminating gluten, I’ve felt a freedom that is hard to explain. In our culture (and especially throughout my childhood) food tends to become an addition. Don’t get me wrong: I love food. I appreciate good, quality (and local!) food but I believe that there’s a thin line between it being a focal point and an addiction. I’m not going to get into the science of food (because that’s not really my place) but rather what I’m eating now and how I feel because of it!

SUGAR, FIRST.

I have started to eliminate all sugar that isn’t naturally occurring. I still eat fruits, stevia, and small amounts of raw honey. I also will bake with agave nectar for special occasions. To learn more about the glycemic index and how we rate/categorize sugars, check out this article. It estimates how much each gram of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate minus fiber) in a food raises a person’s blood glucose level following consumption of the food, relative to consumption of pure glucose. Things like maltodextrin, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, refined honey, and refined table sugar are at the top of this list and are things that I avoid.

SO WHY GRAINS? ISN’T THAT KIND OF EXTREME?

Extreme? Depends on the context. For me, the jump from eliminating gluten to grains wasn’t that difficult. Finding grain substitutes really isn’t so tough. Now instead of a corn/rice flour, I used coconut and almond flour. Instead of cornstartch, I use arrowroot. Instead of rice, I can use quinoa (which is a fruit). I also blend and cook cauliflower to make a delicious rice substitute. With a gluten-free diet, I found myself eating lots of corn chips and white rice and – in my opinion – that doesn’t cut it. If you’re curious about going grain-free, I would check out Megan and Nourished Kitchen’s posts.

THE GREAT, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

So how has all of this been going? The first week was ugly. UGLY. I didn’t have much energy in the morning because I had eliminated all those tablespoons of sugar in my coffee and I had no motivation to go to the gym. I lost 4 pounds in a week without working out (jeez) and probably wasn’t drinking enough water. I also wasn’t used to increasing my portion sizes in order to make up for all those missed simple carbs. I had to remind myself to add beans or lentils to my dinner and to snack often on nuts or seeds.

The second week wasn’t ugly but I still felt bad. I was gaining my energy back but I was annoyed at my options. I wasn’t exploring new recipes or substitues. I wanted to gag at the thought of eating any meat. I needed to regroup and everything changed when I found Elena’s Pantry and all her amazing grain-free recipes.

The past two weeks have been great. I’ve been baking and cooking a lot more and have figured out my “groove.” I don’t rely on food as a motivator but I’ve begun to enjoy it again. I tend to relax on the weekends and can sometimes revert back to just a gluten-free diet while allowing myself to eat a hot dog from Dirty Franks or a Udi’s bagel for breakfast. After a month of “relaxed” weekends, I did realize that re-introducing refined sugar as a “treat” isn’t worth it. My heart tends to beat fast, I get overheated and tend to nap a lot after the crash.

FAVORITE RECIPES + BRANDS

Here is a list of all my favorite recipes + resources:

Like I said a few times, I will never tell anyone that they should go gluten, grain or sugar free. This is something that I’ve decided to do personally and love the way that I feel after having made these choices. Let me know if you have any recommendations or suggestions below in the comment section! 

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  • I love this post! I use agave nectar for EVERYTHING. It’s such a yummy alternative to processed sugars, and I love the way it tastes from baked goods to coffee or oatmeal. Before getting pregnant, I was on a vegan, gluten and sugar free diet for health reasons as well. I actually discovered the health reasons by doing a 21 day cleanse of no sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten or animal products…and while the weight loss was great I realized quickly all the other negative symptoms go away! I stayed with the program for much longer than 21 days and I loved it. I attempted to stay with it for the first few weeks of my pregnancy, but the small calorie intake was not enough with my hunger cravings and thankfully my health issues went away during the pregnancy. I can’t wait to get back to this diet post baby – it was such a natural transition for me and the energy you feel is unreal! It’s crazy how much processed foods can damage your body in ways you had no idea existed. Anyways, loved this post :)

    • That’s awesome, Erinn! And yes I could understand how that kind of diet is too low cal! Are you back to eating pretty much anything you want? In a way, it’s probably fun right? I’ll be the first to admit that I definitely miss oreos, doughnuts and all that sugary, fried goodness but I feel absolutely awful when I eat it. I think it’s crazy that most people just put up with heartburn, weight gain, fatigue and migraines and never address diet!

    • If I’m remembering correctly, I believe Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar ebook actually talks about how agave is NOT better for you than sugar….

      I could be mistaken, but definitely something to look into.

      • Hi Amy!

        Through research I’ve come to believe that no sugar substitute is good for you. Stevia is the only 100% natural sweetener. Our body reacts to all sugar substitutes or variations. Agave nectar rates at a 15-30 on the glycemic index. Obviously a lot lower than something like refined table sugar…but still sugar!

  • Great article Allie! We tend to not eat much sugar as well, even in the form of carbs. Too much sugar makes me feel like crap. I’ve also noticed that if I eat a bunch of carbs it also makes me feel like crap. It definitely affected my runs too! Carb loading is not something I do, I function better with protein.

    • That’s good to know about carbs vs protein. Do you think some people just do well with carb loading or do you think it’s somewhat of a myth? Obviously carbs don’t only come in the form of pasta and white bread too. I actually really enjoy my morning cup of coffee with coconut creamer/stevia/cinnamon now. I tried a regular latte the other day and thought I was going to die my heart was pounding so hard!

  • I just started the 21-Day Sugar Detox cleanse this week and went into it basically looking like this: 8-| I am ADDICTED to sweets and have been “dieting” (I hate the word “diet” because it sounds so short-term when really it’s about making a lifestyle change) and working out with no improvements because of my sugar addiction. I love that you posted this just as I’m getting started and were so honest. Going into this knowing that it will be a struggle but that the struggle is worth the end result is giving me so much more confidence! And thank you for the suggested resources, too!

    • YAY Emily! But yes, it is tough. I felt so, so awful the first week. Literally would come home and just lay on the couch because I had no energy but definitely push through it. I feel SO good and within 4 weeks I’m also down to my normal weight (those few pounds would NOT come off over the past three years). I also can do a full circuit/cross fit workout now which I never thought would happen. Just eat a lot of protein and don’t count calories. Keep me posted on how it goes!

  • When I was 16 it was discovered that I was reactive hypoglycemic, so I cut out sugar for the most part. I did have a dependency on diet soda for a long time, but even now that is getting kicked which I’m really happy about. I allow myself a few times to cheat a week, because life without M&Ms is pretty hard. :)

    Also growing up I was never really a “grain” fan. So the switch to gluten free wasn’t all that hard. Glad things are working for you. My eliminations have always been health and body related and necessary. But simple things can sure make you feel better!

    • I’ve definitely realized that I don’t have issues with making dietary changes. I can understand, though, how it would be really difficult. Maybe it’s because I’m working all the time :) No time to think about food all day!

  • Great Post! I just started a Whole30 which also eliminates grains and sugar (plus some others things). You are correct, that little tablespoon of sugar in your morning coffee really makes a difference! But i’m in the second week and I feel really great! Congratulations on doing this, It means the world to your body and your mind!

  • Ahhhh…thanks so much for posting the pull quote from CBS! I did a detox last year that involved giving up gluten, sugar, dairy, etc. It turns out I really loved going gluten free, and while I was told plenty about why gluten was bad, no one ever explained to me why there was such a push to eat whole grains.