Are you addicted to sugar without knowing it?
Before longtime journalist and author of I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson, well, quit sugar, she didn’t think she had a problem with the sweet stuff. She wasn’t eating all that much, and what she was seemed healthy—granola, dried fruit, dark chocolate, a little honey here, a little maple syrup there. But her body disagreed.
Three years ago the Aussie—who’s also a TV host (MasterChef Australia, for starters)—was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, the auto-immune disorder. “Every nutritionist I spoke to told me why I should eliminate sugar, but no one could give me good advice about how to do it,” she says. So she launched her own investigation. “At the time, I had a column in a newspaper and I needed a topic. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and give up sugar for a couple weeks.”
Her sugar-free shift
Physically, the changes she felt were huge. “I felt instantly better. My moods stabilized. That sort of foggy-head thing disappeared,” she says. “My skin changed. Over time I lost weight, but it was more about getting back to a really balanced place with my appetite.”
Career-wise, it was a big move as well: Readers flooded her with their own questions, which Wilson took to wellness experts around the world, from nutritionists to addiction theorists. Then came the book—an eight-week action plan that went crazy in Australia and was just published in the U.S. It isn’t just for people with autoimmune issues, Wilson says. It’s for anyone struggling with bloating, energy slumps, or just feeling “baseline crappy.”
Bad and better options
According to Wilson, brown rice syrup and Stevia are the safest sweeteners, not maple syrup or agave, despite their hype. (She notes that Gwyneth Paltrow, who provided a recipe used in I Quit Sugar, once was a maple syrup fan. But in the star’s second book, Paltrow consciously uncoupled herself from it. “I could flatter myself to think she was influenced by my work, but I haven’t asked.”)
Wilson’s number-one villain is the fructose in sugar—and in honey, fruit, and most sweeteners, even healthy-sounding ones like evaporated cane juice. It messes up metabolism and blood sugar, spikes stress hormones like cortisol, and encourages the liver to convert it straight to fat, she says. Human bodies are designed to eat only about four to six teaspoons of sugar a day—an amount our cavemen ancestors got from the occasional piece of foraged fruit. Most of us, however, can easily get quintuple that at breakfast alone.
Wilson believes that going sugar-free is do-able and doesn’t mean depriving yourself—on her plan, you get to order the cheese plate for your dessert course when eating out, and can bake at home, but just have to bake smart. (I Quit Sugar has separate recipe sections for “sweets” and “desserts.”)
The transition will likely suck, Wilson admits—weeks three and four, when you temporarily cut out all fruit and anything remotely sweet, tend to be the hardest—but other parts of the eight-week program are pretty enjoyable, like week two, or the “eat more fat” stage (and yes, she allows wine). Plus, you can get extra hand-holding and ask specific questions on her site iquitsugar.com. “Sugar is a gnarly habit,” she says. —Ann Abel