Health

I Quit Sugar and Lost a Crazy Amount of Weight. Yes, It's Possible.

Published On 08/09/2016 Published On 08/09/2016
I quit sugar
Rich Williams/Oren Aks/Thrillist

Scientifically speaking, I lost a shitload of weight.

There are lots of variables that helped me drop 120lbs, but the biggest factor has been the significant reduction of added sugar from my diet. See, I'm addicted to sugar -- big time. Quitting it is like having a crazy ex, only if that ex showed up everywhere, all the time. Hell, your friends bring it to parties, and it hides where you wouldn't think, like, spaghetti sauce.

I'm no doctor, so my advice is anecdotal, but I fought obesity for decades and overcame it by simply removing added sugar and unnecessary processed foods from my diet. I'm not perfect, and I still fight the sugar beast. Now, however, I make far better decisions, and I continually educate myself and apply what I've learned. Sugar is a tough monster to battle, so it's best to go in with a strategy. Setting simple goals will provide a framework for a healthier you! I feel like the Mr. Rogers of the formerly fat... come with me, won't you?

How I got a taste of life with less sugar

As 340lbs of overweight, jolly ginger in the fall of 2009, I decided to make small changes to my diet. I limited my soda consumption to parties or eating out, and didn't eat four hours before bed. Tired of hangovers, I wasn't drinking alcohol as often as I used to. Lastly, I made halfhearted attempts at limiting my serving size.

I faltered a lot, but by summer of 2010 I weighed 300lbs. At my best friend's wedding that October, I weighed 285lbs. It was the lightest I had been since ninth grade, and I felt great! This showed me a glimpse of what was possible, the importance of meal timing, and how small cuts in sugar intake make an impact.

All that said, sugar is delicious, and slowly my weight crept back up to 300lbs. That's where it stayed for some time. No one said it would be easy, but you can make a few simple changes to set yourself up for success.

Get smart about food marketing

Processed foods are typically imbalanced energy sources, designed to appeal to your fat-obsessed and sugar-loving brain. Even packages marked or sold as "healthy" options may not be, which is why it's so important to be an informed consumer.

The American Heart Association recommends men limit themselves to 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily, 6 for women. That's actually... still a lot! There are about 4 grams of sugar in every teaspoon, and anywhere between 20 and 36 grams gives you a pretty wide range of acceptable intake -- but if you consider that a can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar, it's pretty easy to blow past those limits if you're not paying attention.

The keen sugar warrior will train his eye for the forest and the trees. Clearly sugar is in ice cream, but it's added to things you may not automatically think of, like cole slaw and peanut butter.

Beware: "low fat" often means higher sugar. Compare the low fat and regular version of your favorite brand of crackers, salad dressing, or potato chips. Which one has more sugar? Processed food without fat doesn't taste good, but sugar tastes great and has no fat! Excess sugar is turned to fat by our liver. Therefore, low fat is anything but; like if Jamie Kennedy called himself Funny Guy.

Have a discussion with whomever does the food purchasing in your household so you're on the same page about what you both feel is an acceptable amount of processed foods kept in the house. If you know you're not going to be able to resist candy, don't buy it. Finally, incorporating whole foods -- you know, fruits and veggies, that old refrain -- will help keep those packaged delights to a minimum.

Why I got more aggressive with my weight loss

Between early 2011 and 2014, my weight never exceeded 305lbs. I was happy, sort of. As a tall guy, I carried the weight well, but I knew I could lose more. So I read up on sugar and its effects.

Never before in human history have we ingested refined sugar in the quantities we do today. While the full ramifications of this consumption aren't totally understood, I learned that excessive sugar intake is linked to type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, dementia, and even yeast infections! Though alarming, it wasn't so easy to implement what I was reading because of my raging sweet tooth, but I wanted a real change. I wasn't perfect, but I began, in earnest, to limit simple carbs and sugar. Soda tasted too sweet to me at this point; I stopped drinking it and never looked back. Gone were the days of eating as much free bread at restaurants as I could get. I still ate plenty of junk food, but I told myself I was doing a good job because I was trying somewhat. My weight stayed consistently in the 290s.

The sugar-reduction strategies that actually work for me

There are plenty of techniques out there to reduce your reliance on sugar, but I've found these to be useful. Planning ahead is crucial for me. Now, I can often be found traveling with snacks! When I won't be around healthy food options I carry homemade trail mix or fruit. The times I'm feeling spiffy, I even bring veggies and hummus.

I refuse to buy the candy at the register, no matter how badly I want it. At brunch, I substitute fruit for the toast. They're seemingly small changes, but in totality they make a huge difference.

Because I grew up eating dessert after dinner, it was strange, at first, to avoid sweets so much. But the more I did it, the better I felt. I use that as motivation when sugar cravings are strongest.

I'm a simple man who wants a simple plan. I just decided to break the cycle. Breakfast became an apple rather than a donut. Quinoa replaced rice during lunch or dinner. Fruit is a natural source of sugar and comes with a full spectrum of nutrients, like fiber, which helps your body process sugar. Sugar from a strawberry is not the potent, distilled version found in, say, strawberry Skittles.

Reach out to a friend when you're struggling. Being open and honest with my girlfriend throughout the process was a huge help for me.  

Know that there will be setbacks, but they don't doom you to failure

In March 2014, I quit nicotine. I had tried before and knew it would be hard. Nervous to fail, I gave myself some pep by eating any junk food I wanted. I was gluttonous. I knew I was gaining weight, knew I had gone back over 300lbs, but told myself it was all to save willpower for nicotine.

One day in May, I hopped on the scale after a large meal. 320lbs. Shit. No, Fuck! I was so frustrated with myself. Being below 300lbs made me happy, and here I was. In the mirror I saw myself going back to being 340lbs or more.

Enough was enough; I refocused my willpower on making healthy food choices. I dropped the added sugar and processed foods from my daily diet. The needle on the scale couldn't have fallen any faster.

Within a year of May 2014, I was down to 250lbs. Seventy pounds lighter with a lot more energy. People on the street kept asking me if I "liked to party?" I found out later that means "do loads of cocaine." Which must be a compliment!

By September 2015 I was down to 230, and I've been there ever since. From my heaviest of 360lbs to a maintained weight of 230lbs was a slow process, at first, but the majority of the bulk was lost in a little over one year. Almost entirely due to my removal of excess sugar.

Yeah, but what about those sugar cravings?

They're the worst! Everyone else at the party is talking about who'll be president, or whatever people talk about, but I'm just staring at the dessert table. Thinking about how that incredible lemon bar is just sitting there, not being eaten by me.

This is a perfect example of a time when I just have to battle my way through the craving. Maybe take a deep breath or remind myself that the Blackhawks are really good. I wish there were one weird trick that would make sugar cravings go away, but like most things that require effort, after years of practice I've become better at it. I have a better understanding of what will happen if I let myself go on a sugar binge.

For me, sugar was a vicious cycle of confidence issues being soothed by sugars, which led to more issues, and on and on. It's possible to break that cycle and replace it with a more positive one.

Resisting the siren song of sugar is possible without strapping yourself down when confronted with maple-bacon cupcakes or those smiley face cookies. Overcoming cravings becomes empowering as it gets easier. Cravings strike whenever for whatever reason, and sugar is in pretty much everything. Learning to be comfortable despite the craving and saying no anyway is essential.

Give yourself time, and remember that it's not going to be easy

Ultimately, the timeline will be determined by you and your life. For me, at least, sugar was a big stress reliever (and causer!). So the decision to give it up wasn't easy, and one I reversed or slowed down at times through denial or reticence or laziness or fear.

I didn't think I could give up sugar or assimilate healthy food. I was so wrong. Now when I see my crazy ex-bae I can be all "Whatever! Gimme that sexy green pepper! Nom nom nom!"

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Rich Williams is a health-conscious freelance author at Thrillist and feared by salads worldwide. Learn how to lose weight and follow his journey: @richmwilliams

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