'I Gave up Sugar for 60 Days. It Changed My Life'

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was dependent on sugar. It was 11.30pm in March, 2022 and I woke up, needing to go to the toilet, but I found myself going down the stairs of my home in Manchester, England, and eating two chocolate cookies. I had thought: "As I'm up, I might as well."

The next day I wondered why I allowed myself to be controlled by my sugar cravings. I would snack throughout the day—on chips, cookies and candy—and then go without main meals because I wasn't hungry. Sometimes I'd just have fries for dinner. I was just grabbing convenient foods without any thought.

My energy levels would fluctuate enormously. I would have extreme highs and then I would have massive afternoon dips where I would struggle to pick my head up off the couch. In those dips, where some people turn to caffeine, I would turn to sugar and go buy some candy from the shop.

When your energy levels are low, you feel unmotivated. I would feel despondent because my energy levels were so up and down. By 5 o'clock, I'd often give up, get into my pajamas and relax on the couch or go to bed, as opposed to fitting in a run in the evening or taking my two young kids to the park.

When my energy levels were low, I'd have pretty negative thoughts. You notice yourself saying, "what's the point" and "I'm not doing great today." So then you think, what can I do to make myself happier? I would turn to sugar—eating candy, cookies or chocolate to try and improve my mood.

Sara Clarke, Who Gave Up Sugar
Sara Clarke smiles in her workout gear. Clarke has found she has more energy than ever following her 60-day sugar detox.

It would would work—but not for very long. You have a mood high and then suddenly your mood dips down again and you feel even worse than before. You're almost filled with shame, too, and you turn on yourself. It becomes a cycle of not being kind to yourself.

So the day after the night-time cookie incident, I realized I was going to have to nip this in the bud. I am a bit of an all-or-nothing person. If I said I was just going to have 100g of sugar, for example, I knew would end up having 120g or 150g. So instead I decided to go cold turkey.

How I gave up sugar

Initially, I decided to give up sugar for 30 days as I knew that's how long it would take to get the sugar out of my system and also to establish new habits of eating fresh food and vegetables as opposed to convenient foods that you would find in the pantry.

My rule for the 30 days was that I wasn't allowed to have anything that had sugar in its ingredients list. That meant cutting out sweets, candy, cookies, even tomato ketchup. I was having healthier meals, too, like a stir fry for dinner.

In the first week, you feel so determined to do it that you don't notice the cravings— you've got an action plan. In the second week, life kicks in. My body was like,"if we're going to survive this crazy day, we're going to need some help from a chocolate bar."

Sugar withdrawal symptoms

I had low energy and headaches, too. It was almost like my body was trying to tell my brain that it needed sugar. I drank more water, which satisfied the craving for a bit. I practiced a technique too, where, when my brain was going, "let's just have some sugar," I said, '"but what if I don't just have it?" Questioning my craving was so powerful because I realized I could choose not to give in to it. Then, as soon as you get a streak going of a number of days you've managed to do without, it's so much easier to battle on.

The headaches and low energy lasted a week. The cravings started to go away, too. In my experience, if you just don't satisfy the cravings, by week three, you really do feel like you're flying. After giving up sugar for 30 days, I decided to go for another 30 because I wanted to see how far I could push myself and to make sure this was definitely a lifestyle change.

The cravings didn't go away completely but I'd learned how to satisfy them and I built a list of foods that I knew I could turn to when I was desperate for the taste of sugar: peppers, apples and particularly grapes.

How quitting changed my life

I found that my taste buds changed. I would have some pepper with hummus and I could almost feel the pepper fizzing on my tongue with how sweet it was. It was such a joy to experience that again, to be able to see what real food can give you, as opposed to the fake taste sensations of processed food. It made me fall in love with food again.

I also noticed my body getting leaner and saw my clothes become looser on my body, although I don't know how much weight I lost as I don't weigh myself.

My mood felt more stable, too. I realized I had been using sugar as a coping mechanism for stress and feeling sad, so I needed to replace that with something better. For me, that was meditation and prayer. For someone else, that might be going for a walk or texting a friend.

After 60 days, I came off my strict detox because I didn't want it to be a limiting thing—I didn't want to continue to say no to sugary things when I went out with friends, for example. But now I make informed decisions. So when I do go out, I typically would look at a menu and I choose the item that's highest in protein because I know that will keep me feeling my best—as opposed to something that's got tons of barbecue sauce all over it that will make me feel like I need to go to sleep in two hours instead of staying out with my friends.

I now feel more satisfied with my energy levels and with myself. I wake up with energy and I have a better mindset—so I'm more patient with my children, I'm more engaged with my clients, and I exercise every day. And, since the detox, my weight seems to have stayed the same. I'm kinder to myself, too, and I notice that my thoughts are more positive. I feel almost invincible.

I see more opportunities in my day, too. I say yes more; like to invites to go out with friends in the evening, instead of staying at home alone in bed. I feel like I can do the things I want to do, and I can look forward to life. Not having sugar helps me be able to do that.

Sara Clarke is a trainer at the energy method™ where she establishes new lifestyle choices for clients wanting more energy, confidence and healthy habits.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Katie Russell