Sugar Free January Q&A
What do you mean by Sugar Free?
Sugar Free January means 30 days without refined sugar.
Here’s what that looks like for me:
You can click here to download the POY Sugar Free January Plan.
Why are you going sugar free?
There are a few reasons:
- I feel better when I’m sugar free.
- I eat better. (Honestly, I eat REALLY yummy food when I’m going sugar free.)
- There are loads of major health benefits to consuming less sugar.
- Ultimate goal: I want to recalibrate my palate so I can really taste and appreciate food found in nature.
Is Sugar Free January about cutting out only refined sugars, or does it include natural sweeteners like honey too?
Ideally each person should make their own Sugar Free Plan that defines what sugar free living means to them. For me, sugar free living does include natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. That is my personal choice. You can read more about that on this post.
If you include maple syrup and honey, do they need to be raw?
You can decide for yourself, but I would recommend raw. I choose both raw honey (has more nutrients) and real maple syrup (not made with corn syrup like some “maple” pancake syrup).
Can you have coconut sugar? Is that a refined sugar?
Again, totally up to you. ♡ I choose not to have coconut sugar because a) it’s not a pantry staple for me, and b) I feel like I can get the natural sweetness I’m looking for through maple syrup, honey, and fruits.
What about artificial sugars?
I don’t include artificial sugars or sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, or aspartame. Mostly because I don’t like the way they taste, and I don’t feel like they help me with my ultimate goal which is to recalibrate my palate to enjoy food found in nature.
What are some examples of “sugar free” foods?
For me, “sugar free” foods are foods without refined sugars added to them. For example:
- Whole Grains
- Unsweetened Dairy
- Healthy Fats
Do you do any cheat days?
Yes/no. I don’t call them “cheat days” – I just leave room on my Sugar Free January for foods that technically have sugar. I pick foods that I know aren’t going to totally derail me (sushi, wine, a piece of dark chocolate here and there) but will help me continue pushing forward in the overall big picture quest to eat less sugar.
How did your body/mind feel after doing sugar free last time?
I felt great. I think going sugar free had an “upward spiral” effect for me – you feel good about what you’re eating, so then your body feels good, so then your mind feels good. You can read about our first experience with going sugar free on this post.
What are the benefits for your body?
There are so many! They are outlined in this post. Also – I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I would highly recommend doing a Google search to read through the TONS of amazing benefits you can see from reducing sugar in your diet.
How do you handle the sugar cravings the first few days?
The most helpful thing for me was to have snacks or sweet alternatives at the ready – I find that a naturally sweet snack + a little healthy fat can help satisfy my sugar craving AND keep me from wanting more. One of my favorites is a medjool date with a smear of peanut or almond butter. Yum, yum, yum.
How do you handle sugar cravings Overall?
Healthy fats like peanut butter or other nuts, roasted vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli, and nutrient-dense carbs like quinoa, beans, and sweet potatoes are go-to foods that provide some of that sweetness I’m craving.
Whether it’s for dinner or for dessert, finding a new routine to replace your old one is also helpful. For example, instead of a dessert after dinner, I will make a tea and light a candle and treat myself to a little Netflix time. Just removing one “good” thing (like dessert) is hard, but it’s much easier if you can put something else that’s also good (like tea, candles, and watching your favorite TV show) in its place.
Do you make pseudo-desserts, or do you try to come off of sweet things altogether?
For me, the whole point of going sugar free is to try to re-train my palate not to need quite as much sugar. So if I just always eat pseudo desserts, whether that’s a fruit-based dessert or something using artificial sugar, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m working towards my ultimate goal. I try to avoid the habit of dessert regardless, but if I feel like I need something, or I’m going to a party and I know everyone will be eating dessert, I will make a pseudo-dessert that fits in my Sugar Free Plan and I will enjoy it and not feel guilty about it at all.
What about inbetween items, like crackers?
SUPER good question. For packaged foods, I find it helpful to just look at labels. It might be helpful to set a limit, like 2 grams of sugar, or 5 grams of sugar. Or it might be helpful to just say, “I’ll only eat packaged foods with no added refined sugars.” I usually try for the second option.
What about refined grains, rice, etc.?
In my Sugar Free Plan, I’m cutting out refined sugar AND refined grains. For me, that includes white rice, white bread, white flour, and regular pasta. You can read more about the effects of refined grains from a food and nutrition perspective here, and from a medical perspective here.
How long do you go sugar free for?
This time, I’ll be doing Sugar Free January for 30 days – January 2nd to January 31st. In the past I’ve done it for 60 days.
How many recipes will you share?
I’m shooting for 3 new recipes per week.
Will all of the recipes be for the Instant Pot?
Nope! But I’ll try to make them Instant Pot friendly.
Are you doing meal plans?
Well, I won’t be making a meal plan for you, but I will make a menu of meal planning options for you so you can pick and choose the meals and snacks that best fit your Sugar Free Plan. We have a PDF template for meal planning that you can get here: My Sugar Free Meal Plan.
What about traveling?
Traveling is tough. You’re probably going to get some sugar even in the savory things that you eat because so much is made with sugar.
That being said, these are the things I have done:
- Look for packable, refined sugar free snacks that you can bring with you – Larabars, nut packets, and whole fruit like apples or oranges are great.
- Drink lots of water, or “special water” like water with lemon or mint, or hot tea if you wanna feel fancy.
- Order vegetable-heavy dishes: salads with olive oil dressing, simple stir fries with brown rice, and grilled foods like chicken or fish.
- Avoid the obvious: sweet sauces, condiments, and desserts.
- Don’t freak out. You have to make this sustainable, so if you’re not sure, and you didn’t ask, and you think there might have been a tiny bit of sugar in your curry with brown rice? In my opinion, that’s okay. Not a big deal. Just do the best you can.
What about cocktails?
I won’t be drinking cocktails during Sugar Free January, but I keep “weekend red wine” on my Sugar Free January Plan because it has some redeeming nutritional value.
What sugar free products do you recommend?
Working on a product guide! Stay tuned.
How do you stay accountable?
When I’ve done this before, I’ve used a program called Go Sugar Free (affiliate link). There is a great support group that is a built-in part of that program. If you want to do this, and you feel like you are going to need a high level of accountability, I highly recommend the course and its community. This time around? I guess having a blog about it will keep me accountable. It also helps me if I tell a few close family and friends. That way they know that when we get together, I might be eating differently than normal.
How does it affect your habits beyond the 30 days?
I find that for the few weeks after going sugar free, I actually don’t want a lot of sweet things. Usually, with time that starts to slide and I start eating regular desserts and donuts and making monkey bread for Christmas without thinking twice about it. And that’s okay. But that’s why I like to revisit a more formal commitment to limit sugar once in a while – just to remind myself that real food, without sugar, actually does taste really good.
What’s your reasoning for allowing yourself to still have maple syrup and honey? Do you have limits as to how much when you consume those this January?
I’m not all that interested in *never* eating anything sweet. That’s not practical or sustainable for me at this point in my life. I have a lot of respect for people like Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar who say no not only to refined sugars but to natural ones as well (I have her book, actually – it’s beautiful). But for me personally? I want to enjoy the occasional sweet thing. I just want those sweet things to be quality foods that I really savor, and I feel like honey and maple syrup help me achieve that without resorting to refined sugar.
Sugar can hide in SO many things. Any tips for navigating that?
Read labels. It’s tedious at first. But read labels, find what works for you (i.e. brands of pasta sauce, crackers, etc. with little to no added sugar), and continue using those things. The hardest part is getting the system in place, but once you do, it becomes much easier.
Any tips for making this challenge work for a whole family?
That’s tough. I can’t speak to that since I don’t have a family. Well, not in the traditional sense, anyway. I’m hoping that if there’s anyone who has gone sugar free with a family, they will leave a comment here to answer this question. I’d also point you to Jacqueline’s course called Go Sugar Free (affiliate link) which has a wide variety of members and an active Facebook group where lots of questions like this are asked.
If you live with a partner, how do you get your other half to commit?
I wouldn’t push them to commit. I would just explain your goals to them, show them your Sugar Free Plan, and if they don’t have interest, they don’t have interest. That’s totally fine. Each person should be ready to do this out of his or her own interest. The one thing I would suggest is that you just ask your partner to help support you by not eating giant bowls of ice cream sitting next to you on the couch, or not storing all his or her sweet snacks in a place where you’ll have to look at them every time you’re in the kitchen.
How do you make it work when you go to a party or to a friend’s house for dinner and can’t control what’s served?
This was the single most difficult thing for me about going sugar free. The dreaded social element. I think this might be worse for us Midwesterners because we have this social norm that says that it’s really rude to have dietary preferences or restrictions. I specifically remember telling my Grandma “no thanks” for a slice of her apple pie, and the look she gave me, like – but Lindsay, why? how could you? And I felt so, so guilty.
This will be different for everyone. But things that have been most helpful for me in the past are:
- Telling people in advance so they don’t make a special dessert for you.
- Describing it as “an experiment” (for example, “I’ve haven’t been feeling the best lately, so I’m doing an experiment during the month of January to see how I feel without sugar.” – in my experience, people have an easier time supporting you and not feeling judged when you explain that you’re trying to figure out your own health).
- Making exceptions when it’s out of your control.
- Making exceptions when it’s a small part of the meal (for example, a sweet sauce on chicken).
- Making exceptions when it’s a 2-3 person gathering (for example, at a friend’s house for dinner and they made a dessert specifically for you).
- Politely declining when it’s a group of 4-6 or more (for example, at a dinner party with 6 people, it’s not too hard to pass on dessert because 5/6 people will still eat it).
I love my morning coffee and tea with milk and sugar – any suggestions for alternatives?
Yes! Try a higher fat dairy. I found that after a week or two, my coffee with half and half (or even a tiny bit of heavy whipping cream now and then) would actually taste sweet to me! It was one of the craziest parts of going sugar free and a really good example of how your palate can be recalibrated to taste the natural sweetness in the dairy – without adding sugar.
How hard will it be?
Honestly, this is my favorite part: it doesn’t need to be super hard. I will acknowledge that I may not have struggled with sugar as intensely as others, but let it be known: I eat my fair share of sweet things, and whenever I go sugar free I always find myself so surprised at how GOOD THE FOOD IS. We’re talking about creamy curries, spicy taco bowls, tangy salads, and velvety soups. Things you would want to make even if you were not going sugar free.
If you need wiggle room, leave yourself a few weekend treats (mine is sushi and wine!) or bite-size pieces of dark chocolate.
But my number one goal with Sugar Free January is to make this REALLY DELICIOUS for you.
That’s it! If you have more questions, feel free to add them to the post and I’ll do my best to jump in and answer.
And with that, we are officially T-12 days to #POYsugarfreejanuary! Let the countdown begin.