I see a lot of hate around sugar, and honestly, it’s not warranted.
No-sugar challenges. No-sugar diets. The ‘I Quit Sugar’ movement.
I feel like the diet and wellness industries have no grey area when it comes to sugar: it’s either quit sugar altogether, or you’re eating too much of it.
But after 21+ years in the nutrition business, I know that most people don’t do well with being told to never eat or do something again. Ever.
I truly live and practice that philosophy: I just don’t think there’s any food in the world that’s worth giving up altogether, forever. But there are a lot of people and companies out there that want you to believe that you’ll be healthier for it.
I’m feeling like nobody is getting any healthier on account of the diet and wellness industries, but maybe that’s just me.
I just don’t get why we have to go straight to extremes with food. You don’t see the same fervour around needing to quit alcohol, which is an actual drug. We’ve normalized alcohol to the point where we joke about it being ‘mommy’s juice,’ and ‘wine o’clock.’
But eating a cupcake is somehow akin to poisoning yourself.
What’s the deal with that?
Sure, sugar isn’t physically nourishing. And ‘natural’ varieties like coconut or agave, are the same to our body as any other added sugar.
Yes, overconsumption of sugar has been implicated in many diseases and conditions. Just like overconsumption of sodium, fat, refined grains, alcohol, or frankly, ANYTHING.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but foods with naturally-occurring sugars – such as fruit, milk, and some vegetables like carrots and beets, are not ‘toxic candy.’ That’s ridiculous, but some diet doctors who will remain nameless literally say this. What’s toxic is them, making people afraid to eat.
And before you write me hate mail, no, I’m not telling everyone to just eat a ton of sugar as though it’s ‘healthy.’
But I don’t think you need to quit sugar. In fact, I don’t think you should.
Here’s why you shouldn’t quit sugar:
Sugar is not the only thing responsible for the state of your health.
We need to stop focusing on making one ingredient the villain. It’s the overall quality of your diet, not your intake of one single food, that determines how physically nourishing your diet is.
Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you eat sugary food occasionally (or gluten, or dairy, or grains, or chickpeas, or whatever else diet gurus tell you to avoid).
A varied diet with tons of plants, proteins, whole grains, and some Oreos, plus regular activity that you enjoy, less stress, some sleep, and a positive outlook on life, are all important.
Sugar is one factor out of so many. Let’s stop drilling everything down to minutia, and look at the big picture.
It feeds the diet industry ghouls.
Avoiding sugar reinforces the common wellness philosophy and negative core belief that we can’t trust ourselves around certain foods.
This is one of the ways the diet and wellness industry changes our relationship with food: they convince us that we won’t be able to ‘control’ ourselves around it. That we need to restrict and have ‘willpower,’ otherwise we’re weak and ‘bad.’
That’s the way they sell product, FYI. By making you believe that you diets and trash like ‘craving control sprays’ (yes, they’re a thing) to help you control yourself around food.
Cravings exist, but they aren’t because of a lack of control. Often, they’re because you’re not letting yourself eat something that you want, which makes you crave it more.
Or, you’re not sleeping enough. Or you’re stressed. Cravings are, a lot of the time, emotional.
The diet industry can’t fix that, and neither can taking sugar out of your diet. Those make everything worse.
Truth: our bodies are equipped to eat all sorts of food, including sugar. And they don’t need to be ‘controlled.’
Not today, patriarchy. Not today.
Also: the whole ‘sugar is as addictive as cocaine’ is completely false (I debunk it here), and willpower has nothing at all to do with eating, or not eating.
Foods with added sugar are delicious.
We need to put emotional nourishment on the scorecard. I find that the focus is usually on what food can do for us physically. But it’s not all about food as fuel; food can be and should be a pleasurable addition to our lives.
There is nothing wrong with deriving emotional happiness from food. Sure, you want your diet to be physically nourishing, but that doesn’t preclude the eating of delicious things.
Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to believe that enjoying our food is wrong and somehow gluttonous. So sad.
Also: it sends a really bad message to your kids, who are watching your every move.
We’re constantly being bombarded by diet companies telling us to remove foods from our diet, that enjoying food and eating is shameful and wrong. That somehow we’re stronger and healthier if we have a focus and a hard motivation to eat only what the industry deems ‘good,’ and ‘clean.’
Like, buck up and choke down that celery juice. It’s HEALTHY. Eat only those ‘clean’ energy balls and enjoy them, dammit!!
Newsflash: there is no medal of righteousness reserved for people who turn down cake in the name of ‘wellness.’ You’re allowed to eat dessert without guilt and shame. (Read more about this in my new book, Good Food, Bad Diet)
Removing certain foods out of your diet can work against you.
Taking food out of your diet altogether can backfire, causing you to crave it more.
Don’t @ me to tell me that you haven’t eaten sugar in 20 years and you don’t crave it. Everyone is different, but for the vast majority of people, not eating sugar for the long-term isn’t feasible.
It’s called the ‘Forbidden Fruit Effect’: you always want what you can’t have, especially if someone else *ahem* diet industry *ahem* tells you that you can’t have it.
Once you take the restrictions off, you’ll probably find that the things you always told yourself you weren’t allowed to eat, aren’t as tempting anymore. Stop thinking so hard about what you eat. Try not to turn food into numbers and macros and servings.
There’s no need to eliminate sugar completely from your diet. Instead, eat less of it, and learn where added sugars lurk.
Eat a varied diet that you enjoy.
And please – reject the diet and wellness industries’ grift. It’s not making anyone healthier.