Michele Promaulayko is an award-winning print and digital editor and author of Sugar 3: The Simple 21-Day Plan for Clear Skin, More Energy, and Healthy Weight Loss. She is currently the Editorial-Director-at-Large for THE WELL and has previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Cosmo, Women's Health and Yahoo Health. Ahead, she shares an excerpt from her sugar-free journey.
As a long-time health and wellness editor, I know that sugar has no nutritional value—it is just empty calories. But, real talk: It tastes impossibly delicious. And for good reason. Food scientists engineer products to have just the right amount of sweetness to make us crave more and more.
Not only that, but eating the sweet stuff taps the pleasure centers of our brains, releasing feel-good chemicals within our body’s “reward center.” When the neurotransmitter dopamine is released while you’re eating something like a piece of chocolate, it leads to that seductive voice inside your head telling you to start breaking off the next bite. As a result, a lot of us have developed a sugar dependence. The more we have, the more we want. And the more we have, the harder it is to get that same buzz. It’s not our fault!
But this dependence can lead to host of health issues—from weight gain, to brain fog to shitty sleep, lackluster skin and more. Which is why I developed this program to loosen sugar’s grip on me—and you. Sugar Free 3 is a simple three-week plan to help you kick added sugars, artificial sweeteners and refined carbs for better overall health and, yeah, easier weight loss.
What happened when I embarked on my sugar-free journey:
Though the first few days were challenging, it wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be—mostly because I built this program to be very doable and not super restrictive. I just can’t hack living on 12 almonds a day. There is no calorie counting or portion control, so you are never hungry.
Within the first few days, I starting noticing the benefits, like:
Better sleep: It makes sense—without added sugars sparking a short-term “energy” boost before bedtime, I was able to drift off naturally, leading to steadier energy levels during the day.
Less puffiness: This was a revelation: The consumption of too many added sugars or refined carbs may cause low-grade inflammation—irritation and swelling throughout the body. It is that silent, but deadly, factor. It plays a part in most health problems. It also plays a part in how 'puffy' and, well, inflamed, we look and feel. Cutting sugars visibly takes inflammation down as well as doing good things below the surface.
Less poundage: Crazy, when you ditch the empty calories and fill up on satisfying foods with the healthy fats, nutrients, protein and fiber your body needs, you end up eating fewer calories and dropping excess weight.
Healthier skin: My excessive sugar consumption was derailing efforts to have glowy, taut skin. When you have too much glucose and fructose in your diet, your skin becomes less elastic and appears to age more rapidly. Derms tell me it’s called “sugar sag.” Not cute! I definitely noticed that my complexion got brighter and better when I avoided sugar and its evil twins—refined carbs and artificial sweeteners.
Fewer cravings: Giving up sugar for a few weeks helped me reset my palette, so I craved less sugar. Also, naturally sweet things—like fruit—began to taste so much sweeter and satisfying and super-sweet things now taste kind of gross to me (exception: gummy bears). One of my new favorite snacks is a sliced apple with cinnamon.
Smarter choices: The scary truth is, many of us don’t even know when we’re eating added sugars because they are slipped into food that we don’t even think of as sweet—even savory things such as ketchup, pasta sauce and salad dressings. As I began to pay closer attention to nutrition labels and ingredients lists, I was shocked by all of the places sugar hides. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calculated that there are over 60 sneaky names for sugar. But once you have your eyes peeled, you can easily avoid consuming sugar when you don’t intend to.
Overall, eating less sugar just makes me feel better—happier, healthier and most thrilling of all, in control.
My Top 8 Tips for Overcoming Your Sugar Habit
1. Tasty Hydration: Thirst can masquerade as hunger or cravings, so it’s important to stay well hydrated. I like to flavor water—fizzy or flat— with herbs and citrus. Or I drink a hydrating beverage such as Halo Sport that doesn’t have any added sugars.
2. Stevia in Coffee: I can’t drink it black. Plant-based sweeteners, such as stevia and monk fruit, are approved on Sugar Free 3 because they are natural, don’t impact blood sugar, or disrupt your microbiome the way artificial sweeteners do.
3. Sweet Tea After Dinner: Not the sugary iced variety. I’m talking about hot herbal teas with sweet notes such as cinnamon or vanilla. They can really thwart a pantry or freezer raid.
4. Alterna-Treats: Fruit really is nature’s candy, so while it has naturally occurring sugar, the fiber in a whole fruit helps slow down its absorption into your bloodstream. Try eating 10 frozen grapes or a clementine when cravings strike. In a pinch, stevia-sweetened chocolate does the trick.
5. Designate a Sugar Sponsor: If all else fails, this is someone you can call or send an SOS text to in so they can talk you off the sugar temptation ledge!
6. Get Physical: Though some people experience some temporary lethargy when withdrawing from sugar, I actually had more energy. So when cravings would hit, I would try to do something physical—whether it was to hop on the Peleton in my building’s gym for 20 minutes, do a short foam-filling session on the floor or just go for a walk. The idea is to distract yourself from the craving, but also, after I have done something physical—even if it’s not an intense workout—the last thing I want is to counteract the work with sweets.
7. Breathe easy: listening to a guided meditation or do a few rounds of a simple breathing exercise of inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts and exhaling for 8 counts to trigger the parasympathetic (relaxing) nervous system.
8. Try Aromatherapy: I am headache-prone in general, so I did have some throbbers in the early days of quitting sugar. To deal with those, I made sure to hydrate even more, and I turned to aromatherapy. Peppermint essential oil is great for mitigating headaches. There’s a whole section in the Sugar Free 3 about how to curb cravings with aromatherapy because scent and appetite are so closely linked.
To learn more about how you can overcome your sugar habit, pick up a copy of Michele's book, Sugar Free 3: The Simple 21-Day Plan for Clear Skin, More Energy, and Healthy Weight Loss.