I put a lot of effort into eating an extremely clean diet. It’s not only good for keeping the fat percentage low, a clean diet also optimizes your energy levels, you feel better overall and you get sick less. I see my body as a temple that deserves the best, even though I sometimes push it too hard and too far.
But it’s impossible to be disciplined 100 % of time. There are various reasons that dampen your discipline and strong spirit. Sometimes you just slip. Sometimes life forces you to take a step back. And sometimes you must break the rules that you persistently follow to restore the power of iron will. When it comes to a diet, I call breaking the rules a pig-out day.
I have a pig-out day approximately once a month. I don’t put it on a calendar, it’s not something planned. It comes by itself. I feel the inner tension slowly building up, and that’s the first hunch that the blowout is near.
I tried not to listen to myself several times, and ignored the need for a cheat day, but it only caused more damage with all the tension that quickly escalated.
The sugar treat
Not long ago, I had a pig-out day. This time it was a special kind of a pig-out day. It wasn’t based on junk food, fried food or any other highly processed food. It was based on sugar.
It happened at a big birthday party, where everybody brought home-baked sweets. There were so many delicious biscuits, cakes, pastry and other sweets, I simply couldn’t resist.
I don’t remember when was the last time I ate so many sugary foods at once. To find something good in everything bad, a sugar overload represented a great opportunity for me to observe what kind of an effect it had on me.
The moment I realized it was time for a sugary pig‑out day, I also decided to pay special attention to my body, mind and spirit. Well, I didn’t need to eat high amounts of sugar for weeks to note the bad side effects. One day was more than enough.
An extra stomach effect
The birthday celebration didn’t start with sweets. It started with soup, followed by another appetizer and then continued with two main dishes. We haven’t even gotten to the dessert yet when I was completely full.
There was no room in my stomach for any additional food at all; not even a bite. For a second, I naively thought that I might not eat as many sweets as I assumed when I first saw all the delicious stuff that made my mouth water.
Then the sweets were put on the table. I somehow managed to take a small bite of a cupcake; and then some kind of dark sorcery happened. I didn’t feel full anymore. The cravings for sugary food took over and my stomach suddenly felt empty. The room for a sugar fest was made.
Interestingly, that happens to me every single time. The first bite of any sweet food gives me an extra stomach. Even if I feel completely full, the feeling of fullness goes away with the first bite into a sweet course.
Just one more bite
I admire people who eat one small piece of chocolate, foil it back into packaging and put it into the pantry for next time. When I open a bar of chocolate, I need to eat the whole damn thing. Even if it’s extra-large. That’s why I rather don’t eat sweets at all.
If I have to eat the whole chocolate when I open it, imagine how hard it is for me to set limits when I have an unlimited supply of homemade delicious sweets on the table. In two hours, I ate one sweet thing after another. When everything went way too far already , I said to myself “just one more bite”.
And then one more and then one more. I already felt ill from all the sugar, but after 10 minutes, there was one more thing to try. I ate like 1,500 calories of real food before I even touched the sweets.
With all the sweets that I consumed, I easily ate another 1,000 calories or probably more accurately 2,000 or even more. That’s 3,500 calories altogether. You need to run for 6 hours to burn that.
When it comes to sugars, it’s never just one more bite for most people. It’s actually one more bite and one more bite all the way until everything sweet is gone. It’s like having an endless stomach. That’s why you need an extra smart strategy and extremely strict limits in your diet for sugar intake.
A foggy mind and low levels of energy
The next day I felt terrible. My mind was foggy and my energy levels were low. My body felt exhausted. I couldn’t think as clearly as usual. It felt like having a big hangover; and I didn’t drink a droplet of alcohol. Sugar messes with your insulin levels, it causes sugar crashes and over‑stimulates your body.
It feels like pushing the break and gas pedals at the same time. It’s not healthy and it isn’t good for your body or your mind. The next day, that was more than obvious to me.
Your body needs a steady source of fuel without big ups and downs. There is no comparison between how good it feels when a body is fueled with complex carbs or healthy fats and the dreadful energy roller-coaster caused by sugar.
The horrible addiction – sugar is poison
Sugars is a horrible addiction. It’s a drug. Even though I felt bloated, craved even more sugar the next day. I had to eat a few tangerines when I woke up. After I ate fruit, the craving for more cakes and biscuits from yesterday got evoked. While my body was kind of saying no, my stomach and mind already pushed me toward a new portion of sugar.
I immediately stopped the vicious circle. The pig-out day was over and it was time to go back to eating clean. Nevertheless, it was obvious how easily I could go on and on with a bad, sugar‑based diet.
“Just one more day” that never ends and turns into a catastrophically bad diet. All the sweet food, processed food, and the simplest carbs, they’re all so addictive.
There is sugar everywhere, even in plain yogurt
Only when you deliberately try to minimize your sugar intake do you realize that there is sugar basically in almost every food. A glass of apple juice – filled with four tablespoons of sugar. Plain yogurt. There’s sugar in it. Ketchup, tomato sauce, salad dressings, there’s sugar everywhere.
The irony is that there is usually a lot of sugar added to “low fat” foods. You might think that you are eating healthy, because of the “low fat” label, but you’re probably not. People bought the idea that fat makes you fat. That’s a myth. Your body needs healthy fats. Eating too much of anything makes you fat.
And eating too much sugar makes you unhealthy and fat. The main problem with sugar is that even when you’re full, it still causes cravings and you’re quickly hungry again. It’s easy to overeat on sweet foods.
They are packed with empty calories. The math simply doesn’t work out. And on top of that, it’s so easy to reach for sweet foods when you’re bored, stressed out or need to diversify your life. Sugar is an ideal poison for emotional eating. But you are only doing damage to your body and your mind.
Try to avoid sugar for a week, just to get a feeling of how much sugar there is in everything. Read the label before you eat anything and calculate how much sugar you eat in a day. You’ll be surprised. It can add up to 20 tablespoons a day or even more. That’s like 30 kg of sugar consumption per year.
The damage sugar does to your health
Sugar has no real nutritional value. There's no fiber, protein or healthy fats, no vitamins or minerals. Just empty calories that spike your blood sugar and accelerate your appetite; and the effects on your health are devastating.
It has been scientifically proven that too much sugar destroys your health over and over again. Sugar is poison. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to eat a very limited amount of sugar per day, but 20 tablespoons or even more lead straight to several very brutal diseases.
Cavities, diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart diseases, non-alcoholic liver diseases, bad skin, low energy levels (adrenaline fatigue), brain fog, anxiety, addiction, the list goes on and on. There is extremely big long-term health risk for very small short-term pleasure when it comes to sugar.
It’s the definition of a stupid decision. High risk, low reward. Like smoking or drunk-driving. If you want to be fit and healthy, you must limit your sugar intake, there is no other way. Period.
How to win the sugar battle
I know. Life is too short for not eating anything sweet. Nevertheless, you want to have control over the sugar, not vice-versa (except on pig-out days, maybe).
You want to have a smart strategy when you encounter sugar cravings and you want to have strict limits you don’t cross. Actually, there are two ways how to reduce your sugar intake and take it under control.
The first way to reduce your sugar intake is to immediately minimize the level of sugar intake. You educate yourself about macro- and micronutrients of every single food you eat and you eliminate everything that contains too much sugar, especially sweets, cakes and desserts.
Pastry, processed food, junk food, fruit juices, sodas and white flour (and other simple carbs) should also end up on the list. That approach is especially a good fit for people like me, who have a hard time setting limits when it comes to eating sweet food. Go for a 30-day challenge, not eating sugar at all.
The second approach is to slowly reduce the amount of sugar you consume step by step:
- Start by eliminating sodas and fruit juices, and drink only water and herbal tea.
- Make a list of sugary food you don’t even like that much and have no problem excluding from your diet (gummy bears for example) and then permanently exclude them.
- Switch from “low fat” sugary food (or simple carbs) to a healthier version of food with less sugar. Instead of fruit yogurt go for plain Greek yogurt. Instead of white bread go for buckwheat, brown rice or quinoa.
- If you have a habit of eating sweets several times per day, reduce it to one time per day; and make sure you don’t eat the same amount of sweets that one time as you would in the whole day. The idea is to reduce your sugar intake, not to concentrate it.
- Instead of a dessert go for a piece of fruit or a small fruit salad with local, seasonal organic fruits; or maybe eat a small protein bar.
- Don’t have any sweet foods at home. Increase the transaction costs for consuming sugary foods. And the best time to eat sweet food is after a workout.
- Don’t be fooled by “natural” alternatives like honey, agave syrup or brown sugar. They are sugars, nothing else.
- When you get sugar cravings go for a walk, take a bath, brush your teeth, or try to use any other trick for eating less.
Like with every addiction, it’s hard in the beginning. You have to persist a few days. But then a whole new world opens. The brain fog goes away. Your energy levels stabilize. Cravings are gone. You take over control. A few days of internal battle are absolutely worth the benefit you can enjoy later.
Make sure sugar is not bossing you around in your life.
Nevertheless, sometimes cravings can be too strong and you must eat something sweet. There’s nothing wrong with that. Go for a piece of organic, local, seasonal fruit; or even two pieces.
Fruit does contain sugar, but it's in a natural form and it comes with fibers and vitamins. 2 – 3 pieces of fruit per day are a good way to sweeten your life. You can add a piece of dark chocolate (70 %+ cacao) too. Dark chocolate is a brain food that will give additional power to your mind sharpness.
So, what will be your next step in cutting down on the sugar intake?
Don’t blame only sugar for being fat
If you want to lose weight, you have to mind the quality and quantity of your food intake. By limiting the amount of sugar that you eat, you drastically improve the quality of your diet; assuming you replace sweet foods and simple carbs with healthy foods like green veggies, lentils, healthy grains, healthy fats and proteins.
But if you want to lose weight, you must also mind the quantity of the food you eat. You can gain weight, even if you cut out most of the sugar from your diet. That’s because you gain weight when you’re in a caloric surplus.
You can get in the surplusby eating either too many sweets or too much clean food. It’s probably much easier to overeat on sugar, but for being lean you must pay attention to both – the quality and quantity of the food you eat.
So, while you are scanning the label for how much sugar there is in the food you are about to eat, also pay attention to the calories.
- Why sugar is the worst thing ever for you by Nerd Fitness
- Top 9 Reasons to Avoid Sugar as if Your Life Depended on it by Authority Nutrition
- You’ll stop worrying about sugar when you read this by Muscle for Life
- The Sugar Film – A documentary on what sugar does to your health