How To Break Up With Sugar – One Woman’s Journey Through A Detox

Zoe Davis ditched sugar for the first time 10 years ago for an article about addiction, and after accidentally watching That Sugar Film recently when channel-surfing, she decided it was high time to try again.

Break ups suck. I’ve gone through this a few times and despite the mood swings, weight gain, lack of energy and bad skin, I just can’t seem to stay away. The feelings creep back in and before I know it, I can’t stop thinking about it. But this time it’s for real. We’re breaking up for good.

Sugar, it’s not me. It’s you.

The cold white truth

In 2014, Aussie actor Damon Gameau ditched his healthy ways to uncover the effects of a high sugar diet for That Sugar Film.

While eating food that is commonly perceived as ‘healthy’ – low fat but packed with hidden sugars – Gameau’s weight ballooned and his health declined. He explored the endless list of complications caused by sugar and the world health crisis that we are hurtling towards.

Two years after it’s release, on a channel-surfing Thursday night, I accidentally watch the film and it scares the crap out of me. I have a dark realisation that if I’m not careful, my sweet obsession could kill me.

But it’s not a real addiction, right?

I ditched sugar for the first time 10 years ago for an article about addiction. At the time it seemed a little extreme to lump sugar in with ‘real’ addictions like smoking and drinking, but it was all a bit of fun, so I played guinea pig.

I cut sugar from my diet for a month – it wasn’t easy but the results blew me away. I shed kilos, my skin glowed, mood swings disappeared and my energy levels were through the roof. I felt invincible. But once the month was over I went back to normal. Sugar + me = 4eva.

Therein lies the catch. Unlike our smoker friends who frequent dark alleys to feed their addiction, sugar is normal, socially acceptable and abundantly available. There aren’t warning signs on chocolate bars, no age limits for purchase and for most, it’s something we share with loved ones. Eating sugar is so ingrained in our culture that giving up makes you feel like a fringe dweller.

But when your first waking thought is about sugar, you have to acknowledge you have an addiction. So to commemorate my first attempt 10 years ago I’m dumping my (refined) sweet tooth, aware that what I’m about to go through will be as hard as any break up.

Here’s my journey from Cadbury connoisseur to sugar-free supporter:

Stage 1: Denial

The first day of separation is actually pretty easy. I walk around feeling a little bit smug. I post on social media (otherwise it isn’t really happening) and a coy statement of ‘I don’t eat sugar’ accompanies most interactions. People are impressed and I’m certain this time I’m quitting for good.

Denial is my best friend… It doesn’t last long.

Stage 2: Uncontrollable anger 

Two days in and the cravings have taken hold. The gremlins in my brain are screaming for sugar.

I’m angry that I even have to do this. Why has everything got sugar added to it? There’s nothing left to eat but kale! Pasta sauce is packed with the stuff. We’ve been set up to fail! This is dumb. I’m not doing it. I’d rather just be unhealthy than have to go through this. I tear my hair out.

I remember this anger phase from the first time around, so I decide to seek help. Unlike my first attempt, my comrades in the sugar-free crusade are now plentiful in their advice and recipes. While weighing up the value of pitted dates as a sugar substitute (it tastes like the real thing, right?) I’m hurtled into the next stage.

Stage 3: The sweaty/drunk/insane bit

Day five and I’m suffering night sweats and a constant headache. This is the reality check of addiction – real physiological withdrawals. Akin to suffering a bad fever, I wake up cold and soaked with my own sweat, which is delightful. I can only assume that it’s my hormones reacting to a massive change. This is intense.

Dragging myself into Friday after a working week of no sugar and drenched bed sheets, my resolve is low and I fall upon the accidental sugar binge that is After Work Drinks. Filled with gin and tonic (yep, tonic is packed with sugar), I’m not only drunk, but stupidly hyper. I dance like I’m on drugs, before falling into an emotional hole.

In the back of a taxi, I pine for my ex. If I could drunk dial sugar right now, I totally would.

The next day I wake up feeling physically and mentally broken. The effects of a sugar/alcohol hangover are epic. I delete sugar’s metaphorical number from my phone – a.k.a. I throw the contents of my food cupboard in the bin and cry fresh tears into my juicer.

Stage 4: Isolation

The realisation that I’ll never enjoy a sugar binge with my friends the way I used to, has set in. Late night runs to Gelato Messina no longer exist. Chocolate is dead to me.

Right now, it’s all about avoidance. Seeing the happy faces of my normal, sugar-loving friends is just too depressing. The only option is to hide in my apartment clutching a bag of almonds whilst chanting “good fats, clean eating!” to the addiction gods.

Stage 5: The light

Day 10 and just when I’m feeling like I can’t take another second of this woo-woo healthy crap, things take a turn. The fog of desperation lifts and I get my first glimpse of life on the other side. I’ve lost two kilos. Happy dance!

I see future me, in an angel-like state; glowing, full of energy, vibrant. I’m no convert yet – the lolly aisle is still to be avoided – but it’s enough to keep me going.

My friends re-enter my life without fear of losing a finger.

Stage 6: Acceptance 

Three weeks into sugar free and I’ve accepted my fate. The experts say it takes around 21 days to break a habit, and I’d agree. 

The rewards of my new lifestyle are apparent. As expected it’s all dewy skin, weight loss and consistent moods. No more swings for me.

I found love in a hopeless place – the health food section of the supermarket – and have fully embraced a sugar-free existence where a cheese platter is a totally kosher treat.

I’m so overwhelmed by how easy it all is (no cravings makes you feel totally in control), that the old me would add in a sweet treat or two. But I know better, a little sweetness too soon and I’ll fall back in love. Just like an ex, I’ll be staying clear of sugar until I know we can truly just be friends.

Zoe Davis is a Sydney-based freelance writer, consultant and lecturer specialising in partnerships, marketing and music.  Find her on Twitter and Instagram @agirlcalledzoe