The 6 stages of quitting sugar

Quitting sugar can be a rollercoaster.
Quitting sugar can be a rollercoaster. Photo: Shutterstock

Have we all quit sugar yet? We know it's bad for us: sugar is addictive, bad for our gut health, and a contributing factor in all sorts of diseases from diabetes to mental illness. Why wouldn't you give it up?

Quitting sugar started out as a fad that we were all suspicious of. But the idea has gone in the exact direction that Sarah Wilson said it would; it's no longer a food craze, but a health measure that makes sense. Our tastebuds, however, aren't always logical. I have a very strong sweet tooth, and have tried giving up the sweet stuff multiple times, only to find it's quite the rollercoaster ride.

It goes a bit like this:

1. Jumping on the bandwagon

You've read it on the internet (so it must be true): sugar is bad and needs to be done away with. Now. You face up to the fact that, yes, you DO eat more cake than the amount generally considered acceptable. And maybe you'd feel better if you changed something in your diet. You decide it's worth a try. It'll only take eight weeks and, really, how hard can it be?

2. Showing off on social media

You can't take a big step like this without telling everyone. I mean, did it even happen if it wasn't plastered all over your Facebook wall? At this stage of giving up sugar, it's time to tell everyone how well you're doing. You share photos of a massive green smoothie (which, let's face it, you didn't actually drink), the big pile of kale on your plate (don't worry, everyone agrees it tastes like grass), and your sugar-free, home-baked cookies (which prove that baking cardboard is actually possible).

You preach to everyone around you that sugar is the devil itself, and you feel SO much better now that you've wrenched yourself free from its evil grasp. People respond by looking at you like you're crazy, but who cares? You feel shiny and happy and like the world is your oyster. It's almost like you're the fully functioning, responsible adult you always imagined being.

What you don't tell people is that there are side effects, like tiredness. You're really tired by 8pm, which must be because you're: (a) no longer eating sugar, and (b) you had to give up your coffee habit too, because it tastes awful without a couple of sugars in it. Without those stimulants, you can't keep your eyes open long enough to go out for dinner and show off your newly found resolve to resist sticky date pudding.

3. Stuff it 

Whether you've lasted two weeks or six months, there comes a point where a thought starts seeping into your brain: "Surely it can't hurt to just eat a little bit of sugar?" At about the same time, you're starting to feel actual grief for the sweets you used to love so much. The idea of never eating them again feels genuinely sad. The memories of you and sugar appear as romantic thought bubbles. Remember the time you ate a whole packet of jelly beans and discovered that, while the white ones used to seem the best, the red ones are actually your favourite now? And that time you ate two serves of leftover chocolate pudding, covered in ice-cream, for morning tea? Good times.

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So you buy that old favourite chocolate block. And the world doesn't end. And then you're at the shops treating the kids to ice-creams, and you grab yourself a Magnum too. And it's so good. Maybe a little bit of sugar in moderation isn't so bad after all.

4. You're back, baby

On the sugar, that is. If you were an ad slogan you'd be, "Life's short, eat the damn cake". If you were a teenager you'd write "I ❤ sugar 4EVA" on your pencil case, and do a love quiz to find your percentage of loving it, even though you know in your heart that it's 100 per cent. If you were a scientist, your next research project would be to prove that sweet potato and cauliflower cause cancer.

5. The truth sucks

You try telling people – you know, all the people you preached to about how great it is to quit sugar – that moderation is actually the key. But, in reality, there's nothing 'moderate' about the way you're eating. You've missed sugar, and it feels so good to be reunited with your lifelong love. Yes, you've fallen back into your sweet, sticky love affair so hard that you're eating more crap than ever. It's not too long before you're feeling crap again. And it dawns on you.

6. It's time to quit

You've read it on the internet (so it must be true): sugar is bad and needs to be done away with. Now. Maybe this time it'll last. Who knows?