One day, I woke up, I made myself a coffee, and right then and there, I decided it was over between sugar and me.
At the time, I didn’t know this decision was going to change my life completely.
I just remembered something I’d read somewhere that said getting over sugar only takes three days. Three days. Easy. Three days, and I’d see how it went.
It was the month of September. I’d had house guests all summer, and of course, I’d totally let myself go. I’ve always had a tendency to do that – forget about my body. Live in my head. I’d been eating, drinking and even smoking cigarettes, I hadn’t been exercising, I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was having a great time taking care of others instead.
But then they were gone, and I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well, I felt swollen, I felt dull, I hurt all over. I didn’t feel well.
So, I quit sugar right then. With no guide, no book, no idea of what sugar really was, even. Just a thought, a feeling, and my intuition. I could tell my body was reacting to sugar more and more. Whenever I ate something very sweet like a cookie, a lot of times my heart would race, and I felt something weird, but indescribable.
It was only after I made the decision that I started to do a little research. Read a little bit about it every day. I watched a few documentaries.
I started to understand how sugar functioned in my body. And I started to understand that certain things I thought were totally normal, things I basically considered personality traits, were actually symptoms.
And that came as a shock.
I’m not going to try to explain it all here, because I’m not a doctor and it’s long and tedious. But just to give you an idea, here are some of the symptoms. And here’s how I used to explain them to myself.
My muscles always felt tense, especially around my neck and shoulders. It was painful sometimes, and incredibly bothersome, as if someone were trying to strangle me.
What I told myself: stress, I needed to get rid of stress in my life.
My anxiety attacks were coming back more and more often. They weren’t very intense, but they were happening closer and closer together.
What I told myself: It’s psychological, something’s wrong with you, you have emotional problems.
I had totally irresistible food cravings. Sometimes I’d find myself eating chocolate without even thinking about it. Almost like I was sleep walking – it was completely unconscious.
What I told myself: You have no willpower, all you think about is food (we’re so nice to ourselves, right?)
I was often totally overcome with fatigue. Everyone around me was aware of it. At the Atelier, for example, my team knew if a meeting went on too long and I didn’t have anything to snack on, I’d stop functioning entirely. Sometimes I’d have to lie down while I was waiting for my Seamless delivery to arrive.
What I told myself: It’s not a big deal. That’s just me, it’s the way I am.
And I HAD to have something sweet after every meal. If I didn’t have my square of chocolate, things were not okay. I was still hungry. And a lot of times, I’d feel intensely hungry right after a meal.
What I told myself: This, I didn’t understand at all.
I was sleeping terribly. I would often wake up around 5:00 in the morning, my mind fully alert, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.
What I told myself: I’ve always been a light sleeper in the morning. That’s just me, it’s the way I am.
I was going to the bathroom a million times a day.
What I told myself: That was actually starting to worry me.
And the list goes on, and on, and on.
I’d been dealing with all of that forever. Some symptoms stood out, like my heart racing after I ate sugar. But that’s all. And for someone who wasn’t used to listening to my body, none of it seemed like a big deal. And when I talked about it with people, the response was often: oh, don’t worry about it! You’re just stressed and tired.
The first day was super easy, of course. I’d decided to take it very seriously all three days: no simple sugars, no complex sugars, no fruit, and no coffee, since, like sugar, it can cause insulin spikes. And no alcohol, of course – it’s sugar! Ouch.
The second day was when it all started. First, my mood. Horrible. I felt like yelling at everyone. Fortunately, I was able to laugh about it too, a little bit. I knew quitting sugar wasn’t going to be easy. I felt exhausted, my hands were clammy and a little shaky. I couldn’t believe it.
I was like a real addict going through withdrawals.
It went on like that for several days. A lot more than three days, in fact.
But with everything that was happening in my body, I definitely wanted to continue the experiment.
The days and weeks that followed were difficult, but exciting at the same time.
I was sleeping horribly, even worse than before. I had monstrous sugar cravings, but I resisted them with all my strength, and there were times I felt like I was dying of hunger – even right after I’d eaten a perfectly balanced meal.
During that time, I continued doing research. I read everything I could, watched all the documentaries possible. I’m still doing that now. It’s even become a bit of an obsession, but I figure that’s normal when you’re going through a life change like this.
I learned that almost everything I described above was caused by sugar. No, I wasn’t crazy. I even started to realize some unbelievable things about the effects of sugar on our brains, our emotions, our beauty and our willpower.
And, on fertility. The more I learned, the more shocked I was.
Especially since new things started happening. I started sleeping better, but my muscles were tenser than ever. I could barely even move my neck.
My energy started to be a lot better and lasted all day long, instead of going from super stressed to exhausted every couple of hours.
My body was getting used to not having sugar, but was also resisting at the same time, sending me insane cravings.
I stayed strong and didn’t give in to my sugar cravings, feeding myself with proteins, healthy fats, of course, and lots of vegetables…and probably a little too much almonds.
Little by little, my muscular tension started to dissipate. I wasn’t having blood sugar crashes anymore. I could go entire hours without eating without collapsing from exhaustion. I was able to tell the difference between real hunger and a lack of sugar. I stopped having anxiety attacks. My constant trips to the bathroom calmed down. And I lost weight – or rather, I wasn’t puffy anymore.
People said I looked great.
It was so good, but at the same time, it was horrible.
How had I been living under the control of sugar for so long without even knowing it?
On the other hand, now that I know, it all seems obvious to me.
In my family, there’s been a lot of type 2 diabetes.
And now, three months later, I think I can say I was probably on track to develop diabetes myself.
I had gotten my blood drawn a few months prior and my sugar levels were normal, according to my doctor. But when I did my own research, I finally learned those tests often don’t detect the problem until it’s already too late.
Before that point, you have to look for the signs, open your eyes, and listen to yourself.
Having a little bit of a sweet tooth. Needing to go to the bathroom frequently. Your heart pounding after you eat sugar. Feeling extremely hungry right after eating. Gaining weight around the stomach area, which again, I justified as being a family trait.
But what do we really inherit? Is it our body type…or our lifestyle?
I had never questioned the way I was eating. We eat well in my house – Mediterranean style. We cook, we go to the market, we make salads, soups, grilled fish. It’s healthy and fresh.
But we also love bread. Jam. Wine. Desserts. Chocolate. We don’t even think about it…those things are just part of everyday life, right?
And actually, when I started talking about quitting sugar, my mom was the first to react : “You’re becoming too American.”
But she wasn’t the only one. I wrote a post about it here, where I made fun of myself without going into detail about my diet, and I immediately received super harsh criticism.
“You’re being extreme! You’re becoming so American! This is crazy! Unfollow!!!”
I thought a lot about these reactions and about what they meant. I understand the stigma attached to food and restrictions, especially coming from someone who also talks about fashion.
But I also knew nothing could change my mind. I felt so much better.
What that taught me was not just that harsh comments are still painful, even after eleven years of sharing my life online… What I learned most of all was that rejecting your own culture is a very hard thing for your tribe to accept, whether real or virtual.
Sugar isn’t just something we eat. It’s a whole culture. It signifies happiness, family, celebrations. Bread is a symbol of sharing. Detaching yourself from all of that is, in part, rejecting your family culture. Or your culture itself.
It’s hard, but it’s also incredibly liberating, emotionally.
Finding your own way of eating is kind of the same as finding yourself.
Of course, there were tons of wonderful voices that stood out above the criticism. One person told me quite simply: “I see this new chapter as a big gift you’re giving to your body.” Those words stuck with me and they keep me going every day.
It’s really not easy quitting sugar. There’s sugar everywhere. And besides, the idea isn’t to become paranoid about it. Just, aware.
The hardest part was changing my breakfast. Since I was addicted to toast, switching to eggs was really depressing for the first few days. Especially because I’d also quit coffee. Since the only thing I wanted every morning was my coffee, my bread and my butter, I felt like I was being punished.
But very soon, I started feeling the incredible benefits of eating protein in the morning. I could make it until lunch with no problem, without feeling hungry. I didn’t even think about eating anymore, actually. I started making myself nice little bowls with avocado and salmon, and I started to enjoy them.
The other test was not having something sweet after my meals anymore, a persistent habit I’d had for years. I always carried dark chocolate with me – that’s how afraid I was of going without it. Yes, you heard me right. That’s how addicted I was : I needed to have sugar with me all the time.
I justified it by telling myself dark chocolate was good for your health. But really, it was just another way to get my dose of sugar.
So, no more dark chocolate, and nothing sweet after meals. It was hard psychologically, and even harder physically. I would finish a big meal and feel like I was starving. I’d feel nervous and find myself in the kitchen without knowing why. The answer: my body was looking for sugar. That part was incredibly hard. And I still get that feeling sometimes.
And of course, no more bread, no more cookies, no more treats.
And almost no more grains – very little.
I had to replace all of that with other things. More balanced meals, based on vegetables and proteins. A lot of herbal teas, a little bit of 100% dark chocolate (you get used to it, and it’s very good!), lots of almonds and nuts of all kinds…
I didn’t want to go looking for substitutes for sugar, not right away at least. There are tons of blogs that offer things like that – how to make cookies without sugar, for example, but I wasn’t too interested. I wanted to break my attachment to sugar and my attachment to the sweet taste. It was important for me to make it a real breakup – crystal clear.
Slowly, I started to reintroduce small amounts of fruit and alcohol. And I found a recipe for bread made from almond flour that is delicious and doesn’t raise my blood sugar.
Little by little, I kind of lost my passion for breakfast. As someone who used to wake up totally famished (which I now know was just a sugar withdrawal), breakfast was now kind of annoying to me, and I wasn’t even finishing my food.
I decided to listen to my body and only eat when I really felt hungry.
I reintroduced coffee as well, because without coffee, my life (and okay, let’s be honest, my digestion) was just not as happy. I drink Bulletproof coffee now, which is delicious and works really well for me. I barely eat in the mornings anymore – only if I’m hungry.
It’s as though all the rules I’d been taught my whole life (you have to eat the breakfast of a king!) were melting right in front of me.
And besides, I always told myself: if I really want to, I’ll eat a cookie – a real, delicious, wonderful cookie from Gjusta. And that’s it.
But I never really wanted to, so for the last three months, I never faltered.
I was doing so well that even the idea of a cookie didn’t sound good to me. Crazy.
And it was like that up until Thanksgiving.
For Thanksgiving, I decided I wouldn’t be a health nut. I had just come back from Morocco, where I’d managed to eat rather well, and I was exhausted, and I was with Chris’ family, and they eat healthy and are excellent cooks.
I ate a little bread, pasta, and potatoes, depending on the meal. I didn’t love how it made me feel. Some of my tension and joint pain came back right away, but it was totally manageable and I was super happy to share those moments.
The last day, we all decided to go out for breakfast at a restaurant in town. I had to go straight to the airport afterward, and drive two hours alone with Lulu by my side.
I was so into the ambiance that when the kitchen sent out a huge American-style cake filled with cream, white flour and refined sugar, I told myself, hey, I’m going home tomorrow, I’ll get back into my routine. It’s fine, I’ll have a piece of cake.
Which I did.
At first, of course, it tasted incredibly sweet, like a sugar bomb in my mouth, which I expected.
It was sweet and creamy, but to me, it had no flavor. It was all overpowered by the pang of sugar.
And right away, I started to not feel well. Suddenly, I couldn’t feel my body anymore.
Like if I had smoked a joint. I started to feel completely paranoid (which is why I don’t smoke joints). I couldn’t talk, I felt like I was turning red, like everyone was watching me and thinking I was weird and crazy.
It was like I’d taken a super strong stimulant, I felt a sudden physical and emotional tension that made me feel super uncomfortable.
It was like I was super drunk, and I lost all sense of orientation. I got up to get some air, and it felt like I was in a cloud, the ground was soft, everything was fuzzy.
My brain couldn’t think anymore, but I needed to say goodbye to my beloved family and Chris, and I needed to drive.
And since I was feeling so paranoid, I couldn’t really say I was in no condition to drive.
I didn’t even believe it, myself. I’d just eaten a LITTLE PIECE OF CAKE (OK, I’d also had coffee and eaten potatoes), it’s not like I’d just shot up heroin, jeez!!!
I gave everyone hugs haphazardly because I was seeing double, and I went to sit down in the car, in what was probably one of the worst “bad trips” of my life. It took me fifteen minutes to find Google Maps on my phone. I tried putting on a podcast to calm down, but I couldn’t find it.
I started driving because honestly, I wasn’t clear-headed enough to tell myself to take ten minutes, drink a glass of water, breathe, tell Chris I was really not okay and not leave like this.
I got completely lost, of course, and I could have had twelve accidents.
I finally found the highway, I got on it and prayed I would arrive at the airport in one piece.
I told myself I would feel fine in half an hour.
But it took me an hour and a half to come back to earth.
I drove, terrorized, paranoid, anxious, and tense for a whole hour.
I don’t want to make any big declarations or jump to conclusions.
A lot of people are able to live perfectly well eating reasonable amounts of sugar. I just think that for me, I had gone over my sugar limit for way too long. And my body can’t handle refined sugar at all anymore. That’s it.
So, there you go. For those of you who have been asking me about it for a few months…
That’s my experience, my journey, my story.
It may inspire you or irritate you, but it won’t change anything about what I know now: we have to listen to our bodies and when we do, they tell us absolutely everything.
What is good for us, what isn’t good for us. In what quantity. At what time.
There are no absolute rules or ultimate guides, there’s no perfect diet. And I’ll never stop learning – I know that now and I find it completely fascinating.
Discovering your own ecosystem is a journey of a lifetime. As you told me yourselves, it’s the most beautiful gift you can give your body, and yourself.
Translated by Andrea Perdue