We have been eating a low sugar diet for eight months now!
And when I use the word “diet” I mean in it as a way of describing the kinds of food we regularly eat, not in the “I’m on a diet” restrictive eating kind of definition. I don’t go on diets. I work to eat healthier as a part of my lifestyle.
Anyway! I want to dive deeper into what this looks like for us:
- Why we eat this way and the results we’ve seen because of it
- The “rules” we follow
- When we break our rules
- The foods we avoid
- What foods we eat regularly
- What a normal meal plan looks like for the week
Before I get into it, I wanted to let you know about a FREE meal planning video course I have available! We eat healthy while on a budget because of meal planning and I’d love to share the simple way I meal planning and save money on food with you. Sign up for the 3-day video course below!
Why We Eat a Low Sugar Diet
I had been making an effort to lower my sugar intake for about a year before we got serious about it. I had cut back on drinking soda and rarely ate baked goods.
What really caused us to go more extreme was my health. At 20, I had back surgery for a bulging disc. At 30, I was experiencing the same pain all over again. After meeting with a specialist and getting an MRI, we found that I had another bulging disc and I was likely a candidate for surgery (possibly a much more extreme surgery than last time).
When you’re in significant pain and facing down a possible surgery, you look for anything you can do to make it better. In all of my googling for solutions, I kept reading that sugar is a major cause of inflammation in the body and I knew that if I could lower my inflammation, it could lower my pain.
While I had an interest in eating less sugar before, daily pain was some solid motivation to actually do something about it!
Our Results with Eating a Low Sugar Diet
This is the craziest thing to me. I have had very little pain from my bulging disc since we started eating this way BUT if I eat a ton of sugary foods, I will experience pain within the next 24 hours. No joke. It’s that immediate.
I was not trying to lose weight, but Austin and I have both lost a few pounds and have easily kept it off by continuing to eat this way. I honestly feel like by eating very little sugar, my body has figured out the weight that it is meant to be at. I don’t restrict how much I eat or count calories. I just try to stop eating when I’m full, which is an ongoing process.
When my mom was here last summer, she started eating much less sugar as well and she also experienced weight loss!
Sugar can be a cause of bloating and when I don’t eat sugar, my belly is quite flat! When I do eat sugar, it bloats out huge! I suppose this was just the constant state of things while I was eating the way most people eat. Now that I eat far less sugar, I notice when my belly gets bloated after I’ve eaten either something sugary or with refined grains.
The Rules We Follow
I had a hard time figuring out what eating “less sugar” would truly mean in real life. Some people go extreme and don’t even eat fruit and I knew that wasn’t my style. How could I define “less” in a concrete way, though?
The book Zero Sugar Diet was extremely helpful for me in this! I highly recommend that you read it.
The main rule in the book is that if something has added sugar, it must have an equal amount or more of fiber. So whole wheat bread might have 2 grams of sugar per serving, but it also has 3 grams of fiber, so that’s ok.
Here are the basic rules we follow:
- If something has added sugar, it must have an equal amount or more of fiber.
- We only pay attention to added sugar. The naturally occurring sugar in fruit or milk is ok.
- No juice. Once you juice your fruit, you lose all of the filling fiber of the fruit and are basically just drinking the sugar.
- No sweeteners, even natural ones. The Zero Sugar Diet book explains how your body responds to these, so read it if you’re curious. But we avoid all sweeteners and sugar substitutes: honey, Stevia, syrup, etc.
Breaking the Rules
We follow our low sugar diet rules 95% of the time, but we have no issue with breaking them on occasion. When we do break the rules, it’s usually for one meal or one treat, not the entire week.
This is just how we prefer to eat. I don’t view it as a restrictive diet, so there’s no “I’ll go back on my diet next Monday” kind of thinking. We’re still eating how we want to eat, we just decide when to break the rules and then go back to following them right after, if that makes sense.
Built-in rule breaking:
- Socializing. I am not one to make a fuss about what we’re eating when we’re with friends or family. I’ll try to follow our rules as best as I can, but I’m also not going to not eat someone’s homemade cheesecake y’all. By now I know that I just feel crapy if I eat a ton of sugar, so I do my best not to gorge myself on desserts.
- Celebrating. We’ve each had birthdays since we started eating low sugar and we are totally fine with celebrating how we want to. I actually made Austin a low sugar apple crisp for his birthday “cake” and it was delicious! I had a legit birthday cake on my birthday because I wanted to!
- Pizza. Pizza has sugar in the sauce and the crust, plus the crust is not whole wheat. It may not be super high sugar, but it certainly doesn’t follow the rules. But we love pizza and generally get takeout on Fridays. I’m not giving up my pizza 🙂
- The Donut Rule. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me have a “donut rule day”. My own personal life rule is that if I have any kind of a medical appointment, I get a donut. Honestly, I have a lot of appointments, so I probably eat a few donuts per month. It helps me get through appointments that I usually dread.
Foods We Avoid
In case you think that you don’t eat much sugar because you don’t like candy and baked goods, think again! A huge point of the Zero Sugar Diet book is that we consume far more sugar than is healthy every single day before we ever have dessert.
We’ve learned to avoid these high-sugar foods in general:
- Yogurt (unless you buy plain yogurt, it’s sweetened)
- Barbecue Sauce (sooo much sugar!)
- Many Salad Dressings
- Cereal (even the healthy ones)
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Sports Drinks
- Iced Tea (unless it’s unsweetened)
- Protein Bars and Granola Bars
- Canned Fruit
- Coffee Creamer
I could go on and on, but I’m thinking a few of those might surprise you. Start looking at the added sugar on your nutrition labels and you’ll start to realize that sugar gets added to practically everything we eat!
What Do We Eat?!
Given all of the things I’ve mentioned so far that we don’t eat, you may be starting to wonder what we do eat! So here’s a big list of our regular foods.
Essentially, we try to stick with lean meats, lots fruits and veggies, high quality breads and wraps, and minimally processed foods. However, we do have chicken nuggets and oven fries since they don’t have sugar, but they are definitely quite processed.
- Coffee (I put whole milk in my coffee instead of coffee creamer)
- Whole Wheat Bagels
- Baked Oatmeal (I love this recipe from Budget Bytes, but I put way less sugar in it)
- Turkey Burgers
- Scrambled Eggs with Veggies and Whole Wheat Bagels
- Leftover Grilled Chicken
- Raw Cucumbers, Celery, and Carrots
- Banana Muffins
- Sparkling Water (with no sweeteners at all, like La Croix)
- Apples, Bananas, or Pears
- Unsalted Nuts
- Grilled Chicken
- Salmon Filets
- Salmon Burgers
- Chicken Brats
- Chicken Wraps
- Beef Barley Stew
- Spaghetti (made with Spaghetti Squash for noodles)
- Roasted Chicken
- Chicken Tenders or Nuggets
- Organic Uncured Hot Dogs
- Raw Fruits and Veggies
- Steamed Broccoli
- Garlic Bread (we use ciabatta bread, which does not have sugar)
- Chips (you have to look at the sugar content on each variety)
- Applesauce (unsweetened)
- Unsalted Nuts
- Banana Muffins
- Dark Chocolate! If you look at extremely dark chocolate (85% dark or more) there is very little sugar added and a good amount of fiber, so this can actually follow the rules! It does take some getting used to, but I love it!
A Basic Weekly Meal Plan
I share my weekly meal plans on Instagram each week along with a picture of the groceries we bought and how much we spent.
We budget $70 for groceries each week and I did not have to raise our budget when we started eating a low sugar diet, which just shows me that you do not have to spend a ton to eat healthy!
Below are some photos of our recent weekly meal plans so that you can see what a normal week looks like. We eat the same foods for breakfasts and lunches throughout the week, so I don’t have a ton written down in those sections. I plan five or six dinners for the week and we might repeat some of those multiple times, plus we generally get takeout on Friday night.
This year, I have been in awe of the effects that sugar has on my body. Eating a low sugar diet has made it easy for me to maintain a healthy weight without having to worry much about calories or serving sizes. It’s been shocking to see how quickly I feel back pain after eating sugar because of the inflammation that it causes.
After eight months of eating like this, I continue to see myself wanting sugar less and less. Soda hasn’t tasted good to me in a long time and I used to drink it daily. Even with my beloved donuts, I’ve been wanting ones with less frosting lately.
I am so glad that we have adopted this healthier way of eating! I hope this post was helpful in explain the details in case you are interested in eating less sugar!
By the way, I have to mention the Zero Sugar Diet book again. If you want to eat less sugar, read it. It explains how sugar affects your body in very simple terms and has all kinds of motivating information in it, including lists of what to buy at the grocery store and what low-sugar meals you can get a various restaurants. The book really helped me get started!