how to quit processed sugar / by lee tilghman

People ask me all the time what the single biggest thing I did for my health and hormones was.

When I look back on my health journey, there were many small lifestyle changes I made to get to the place I am now. I went from a tired, imbalanced, depressed, restricted and overexerecised vegan with PCOS in 2015 to a girl who gets her period, maintains a healthy weight, who's PCOS is in remission, sleeps well and has great energy throughout the day in 2017. And if I had to pick the biggest change I made to my diet- it was eliminating all processed sugar and limiting sugar of all kind.

For me personally, removing sugar (even most fruit) was the best thing I could have ever done for hormones, my skin, and my health. Everyone is different, but for me, this is what worked.

reality check

I first awoke to the damage sugar was doing to my body when I realized I was intolerant to bananas and had PCOS. I didn’t realize that sugar was feeding so much bad bacteria in my body, and putting my hormones and body so out of balance that I developed PCOS, lost my period, and had to deal with hormonal acne around my neck and chin. As a vegan, I was supplementing the lack of protein with fruit-heavy breakfasts and that would send my blood sugar on a spiraling rollercoaster throughout the day. This also was the cause of my crazy food cravings- I was stuck in a cycle of low energy and anxiety. Not the most fun thing ever, trust me. Reading Womancode also opened my eyes to all the sugar I was eating and how it definitely was not helping my PCOS. PCOS-ers are known to be insulin resistant, and high sugar diets can be catastrophic for PCOS.

It's important to note that fructose (fruit sugar) in small quantities has been a staple in the human diet for centuries. But with the way us humans consume sugar now (especially if you are a child of the 90's, we were PUMPED with that stuff) you may have an addiction to the stuff.  

sugar + hormones

A lot of people also ask me if I eat fruit, if I eat sweets, and the answer is, I don't eat much fruit, but I do eat things like fat balls and dark chocolate from time to time and treat those as my desserts. I also drink kombucha which has 7g of sugar in it.

I used to have the biggest sweet tooth, but over the course of the past year I have educated myself on the damage of sugar to our health and even felt it first hand. I am very in tune with my body and believe in body wisdom. When I eliminate sugar I feel amazing, calm, light, clear-minded, ready to tackle anything that comes my way. As soon as I eat something with sugar I can immediately feel the negative affects- hyperactivity, anxiety, migraine, bloat, indigestion, constipation, scatter-brained. In general, fruit makes my blood sugar spike, which negatively affects my hormones and thus makes me feel lethargic, scatterbrained, anxious and not myself.

However, if fruit makes you feel good, there is no reason to eliminate in completely. But being aware of the amount of sugar you are eating (even sugar in fruit) is a good idea! I am in no way bashing fruit, I think it works for some people. But for me, fruit makes me feel SOO off. I monitor my fruit intake to only 1/2 - 1 serving per day, and its usually something low glycemic like blueberries. 

I know it seems counterintuitive to limit sugar as it's what we've been told gives us energy, but believe it or not, sugar actually causes us to become more tired and crave it even more! That's why I am such a proponent of healthy fats, proteins, and quality carbohydrates like sweet potatoes which all help to aid our blood sugar levels.

Quitting sugar helped to stabilize my hormones, better my sleep, brighten my skin, have more energy - basically all the things we want in life. Below I have outlined some tips on how to quit the processed white sugar and overall reduce your sugar intake if that's something you are interested in trying. 

changing perspective

The industry tells us sugar is okay, and to avoid fat because fat makes us fat. This is the biggest lie ever. The right fats (avocado, ghee, grass fed butter, coconut) can actually help us stay satisfied for longer and help maintain a healthy weight. 

Monitoring your sugar intake is KEY to living a healthy lifestyle. 

These days, there’s sugar in literally everything. Even some foods that deem to be “healthy” have sugar in them. Kale chips, nut butters, pre-mixed chai teas, yogurts, gluten free breads.

Sugar is everywhere, and its causing a big problem. Make sure you check all ingredients before you buy something - sugar sneaks into SO many things. When possible, make your own protein bars, your own smoothies, your own juices and dressings and dips. That way you have full control and it will likely be lower in sugar. 

how to quit the processed stuff

Clean out your pantry

Plan to spend one morning or afternoon going through everything in your pantry, cabinets, and fridge, reading ingredients. It's gonna take some time, but it will be well worth it! Put some good music on and invite a friend over to help you. Make it fun!

Throw out or donate anything that has added sugar to it- including added agave, cane sugar, Cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup, These are all undercover names for the sweet stuff, and you want them OUT.

curb your cravings

If you find yourself reaching for sugary treats late at night or right after lunch, check your diet. A balanced diet is IMPERATIVE to keeping your blood sugar levels stable, thus reducing the urge to go for that brownie. Upping your fats (ghee, avocado, quality olive oils, salmon, quality bone broth) can help keep us fuller longer and therefore reduce the sugar cravings later down the line. I recommend working with a nutritionist or RD on a meal plan or experimenting yourself. 

substitute with lower sugar snacks:

Fat Balls - I make these every single damn week. They are just so good. 

Keto Bites - A delicious recipe I made with my friend Crosby that are sugar free and oh- so- delicious! (recipe coming soon)

Bulletproof bars - their vanilla flavors are my favorite!

Pressed Juicery Freeze - sadly not available nationwide yet but I know it's in SF, LA and NYC. This is a great low sugar option for when I want something sweet. 

Eating Evolved - their products are legit. 

Educate yourself

Reading books like Womancode and this article from Dr. Mark Hyman are all good places to start if you are interested in learning more about lower sugar diets. Do plenty of research and remember to experiment with yourself. Be open to all possibilities and changes in your diet. One year, fruit may work for you, and then suddenly you may realize it's on the "no" list. Our bodies are ever changing and it's super important to keep this in mind.

have grace

Of course, we can’t be perfect all the time and I do believe that life is to be enjoyed. Birthdays, holidays, they are part of life. The key is not to be perfect all the time but to show up to these occasions prepared and confident in your knowledge and expertise. It’s your body and you are 100% in control of what you eat. If you want to indulge, do so, but do it knowingly! 

Do you eat fruit? How does fruit make you feel?