I need to tell you something that I’ve only quietly hinted at for the past 10 weeks.

What I Learned Going Sugar Free for 67 Days

For 67 days, I challenged myself to eat a diet free of any refined (non-naturally occurring) sugars and refined (meaning not whole) grains. If you’ve been reading this blog for a hot two seconds, you know that I keep dark chocolate in my desk drawer (and purse), swear that a brownie-a-day is good for the soul, and I have standing nightly ice cream dates on the couch with my husband. I love dessert, and I’m not overweight, so really what was I thinking going 67 days without added sugars and refined grains? Ben didn’t understand it, a lot of my friends didn’t either, but (for reasons I will share) I decided to try a sugar-free life anyway. I couldn’t be happier that I did.

Ben and me on the Fourth of July. My 50ish day Going Sugar Free

While I didn’t originally intend to blog about Go Sugar Free, it had such a positive, meaningful impact on my daily life, health, and confidence, I wanted to share with you an open, honest account of my experience, from how it came about to what it means to me today.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. Easy and healthy recipe

Back in April, I received an unexpected email from a sweet lady in California named Jacqueline, offering me a complimentary seat her online course in which participants Go Sugar Free for 67 days. Her email was warm and friendly, I’d heard a bit about the program, and after reading Jacqueline’s personal story, I was intrigued.

I was also eating a square of Ghiradelli 70% dark chocolate at the time.

My first reaction to this course was that I didn’t need it. I’m not trying to lose weight, I exercise regularly, and I felt that had a fairly healthy diet. Hence, if I wanted to enjoy a little slice of leftover cake after lunch, no big deal. I’d previously read about the negative impacts of added sugars on everything from energy level to belly fat to sleep to complexion, but since I was reasonably happy with my current health, was it really worth giving up the nightly scoops of ice cream I enjoyed over Netflix with Ben? Plus, I had a trip to New York City coming up, and I’d spent weeks rearranging our schedule to squeeze in as many bakeries as possible. This course was not going to work.

My second reaction was skepticism. I’m a big advocate for all things in moderation. Though I’m passionate about healthy eating, I don’t like elimination-style diets, because I don’t believe they are sustainable. I also felt like Go Sugar Free would make me obsess over my food or count calories, a dangerous road I didn’t want to walk. And, oh yes—I’m a food blogger with a series of dessert posts I’d already committed to writing. This course was definitely not going to work.

My third reaction was that I was flattered to be invited. The other bloggers I know who have completed the course—Ali, Lindsay, and Kristin—are three women I admire and respect deeply, both for their talent as bloggers and for their outstanding characters. Each had written an honest, positive report about her Go Sugar Free experience. My close friend Bridget had also completed Go Sugar Free and found it ”life changing.” Maybe, if these ladies whom I esteem all benefited from Go Sugar Free, this course might actually work for me too?

30 Minute Caprese Chicken Pasta. A chicken mozarella pasta inspired by the flavors of caprese salad. Our whole family loves this easy chicken pasta recipe!

Caprese Chicken Pasta {whole grain}

But no—I had pastries on the agenda and Rocky Road ice cream in my freezer. After ignoring Jacqueline’s email for a few days, I hit reply and settled in to write her a polite but firm decline. Then, a small nagging feeling in my stomach, a squirm that felt a little bit like fear, stopped me.

What Jacqueline didn’t know when she emailed me, and what I’d been quietly denying to myself for the past several months, was that I’d developed a reliance on dessert. I ate ice cream on nights even when I wasn’t really craving it, then went to bed with an uncomfortable stomach. I walked through the bakery section of every grocery store, miffed if they weren’t sampling the cookie of the day. Dessert felt like a stress relief or a necessity, not a treat.

Instead of writing Jacqueline a socially acceptable response like, “Thanks but no thanks,” or even, “I’m honored!” I sent her a brutally honest litany of every reason I was hesitant to take the course: What if I got too obsessed over what I was eating? What happened to the concept of all things in moderation? Would I have to count calories? What about the special New York pastries I’ve been waiting three months to try?

Jacqueline wrote me back right away and, instead of revoking her offer, she patiently assured me on every point and encouraged me further. Go Sugar Free was meant to fit into my everyday life. It would be flexible and customizable to my lifestyle. I could pick and choose which added sweeteners and refined grains to eliminate, and the course in no way advocated for counting calories. I also didn’t need to wait until the illusive “perfect time” to begin, because Go Sugar Free was designed to fit into my daily routine, right here, right now.

So I said yes. If I didn’t like the course, I could always quit right?

Summer Pesto Potato Salad

Pesto Potato Salad {grain free}

Then, a week later, I received my first daily course email from Jacqueline, a warm, informative message that I began to look forward to each day. I was half expecting to open that first email and read, “SAY GOODBYE TO EVERY FOOD YOU’VE EVER LOVED!” in giant red type, but instead it was an affirmation of my decision to enroll. We started by defining what “Going Sugar Free” would mean to each of us individually. True to Jacqueline’s word, the program was flexible. I picked what I wanted to eliminate and through Go Sugar Free, I learned about and experienced the prevalence of added sweeteners and the way they impact many different facets of my health, including my sleep, energy level, and even my skin.

Raspberry Peach Salad with Grilled Chicken, Feta, and Almonds

Peach Salad with Grilled Chicken and Raspberries {grain free, sweetened with honey}

I’ll spare you the intimate details of my Go Sugar Free journey (because as much as I think the word “journey” is cheesy and vague, it is the best word to describe my experience), but I want to say first and foremost that Go Sugar Free positively impacted my daily life. I am so grateful to Jacqueline for inviting me to join her, and I recommend Go Sugar Free to anyone looking for a structured way to improve his or her health. Yes, I had my low moments (like that time I took a bite of a brownie and spit it out—I’m not proud), but I would do it all over again.

Here is a snapshot of my experience, what I learned, and what Going Sugar Free looks like to me going forward.

Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese. The best dip meets the best comfort food in this suprisingly healthy mac and cheese recipe

Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese {whole grain}

Going sugar free was hard. And then it wasn’t.

I found it very easy to eliminate some foods—I’ve never been a big candy addict (dark chocolate aside) and already loved whole grains—but I really did struggle the first few weeks of the program not to have dessert after both lunch and dinner. It was my routine and my comfort. I also struggled with dessert in social situations. Wouldn’t everyone think I was a total weirdo for passing on the slice of DQ Ice Cream Cake? The first few times I said no, either to myself at home or in social situations, I felt bummed or frustrated, but it got easier and easier each time. Also, for every food I turned down, I discovered dozens more that I could enjoy. Instead of feeling deprived, I felt elated eating and creating wonderful recipes that were free of added sweeteners and refined grains: these Blender Banana Oatmeal Muffins that have been going bonkers on Pinterest and so many of you have made and loved; this incredible whole grain and naturally sweetened Cherry Blackberry Crisp, now my favorite crisp topping recipe of all time; and this Caprese Chicken Pasta that had Ben and I licking our plates.

Blender Banana Oatmeal Muffins. NO butter, sugar, or oil. This skinny recipes uses Greek yogurt and honey instead. I can't believe how good these tasted!

Blender Banana Oatmeal Muffins {whole grain, sweetened with honey}

Sugar is EVERYWHERE.

Before Go Sugar Free, I thought Ben and I had a fairly “clean” diet. With the exception of cereal, bread, and the aforementioned ice cream, we have few processed foods in our pantry. As it turns out, almost every packaged food at the grocery store contains added sugar, from bread, to cereal, to “healthy” granola bars. Even things marked “sugar free” usually contain some form of artificial sweetener. Most salad dressings, crackers, nut butters, and condiments contain added sweeteners, as does any flavor of yogurt with the exception of plain. Until I really dug into ingredient labels, I had no idea just how much added sugar I was actually consuming.

Sugar really can hurt.

Beyond the cravings and tummy aches, consuming too many added sugars is negatively linked to sleep, acne, belly fat, energy level, and more. During Go Sugar Free, both my skin and my sleep improved, and I eliminated my afternoon energy crash. Belly fat was a net-net for me, but I believe I’m an exception there—many in the course report losing inches off of their waists.

Super Summer Detox Salad

Super Summer Detox Salad {whole grain, naturally sweetened}

Going sugar free can be a progression.

While some go into the program wanting to eliminate every kind of sweetener from classic white sugar to maple syrup cold turkey, I didn’t feel like I was ready for that on Day One. When I decided what Go Sugar Free would look like for me, I noted that, unless I was making something I’d already agreed to develop for my blog (in which case I tasted the recipe until I was confident it was right, then sent the leftovers to work with Ben), I would cut out all highly refined sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, artificial syrups, etc), fruit juices (except for lemon and lime juice to flavor my food), and try to seek premade sauces and condiments that contained two grams of sugar or less per serving. Less refined sugars like honey and maple syrup were on my “approved” list, as was dark chocolate. On Day One, I couldn’t imagine living without that chocolate square after lunch, and I was allowing myself to make more naturally sweetened cookies and brownies to get my nightly after-dinner fix.

Fast-forward four weeks into the program. The more I eliminated added sugar, the less and less I craved it, and the more the natural sweetness of wholesome, natural sugars like fruit satisfied me. I updated my version of Go Sugar Free to eliminate dark chocolate as a dessert on its own and to only add moderate amounts of honey, maple syrup, and occasionally dark chocolate to breakfast recipes.

Paleo Zucchini Bread with Chocolate Chips

Chocolate Chip Paleo Zucchini Bread {grain free, sweetened with maple syrup…and a little chocolate}

Before Go Sugar Free, I really was dependent on dessert.

I knew that I craved dessert after lunch and dinner, but I didn’t realize how much it had taken hold of me. Eliminating sweets after mealtime (with the exception of fresh fruit or frozen bananas blended with cocoa powder and peanut butter—so good!) was more difficult than I felt it should have been. Go Sugar Free opened my eyes to just how addictive sugar can be, as well as to differentiate between when dessert is worth it and when it isn’t.

I’m not perfect and that’s OK.

I’d like to proudly report that I stayed true to my version of Go Sugar Free for 67 perfect days, but it’s not true. I ate and enjoyed several of those pastries in New York (though far fewer than originally planned), indulged in homemade pastas and refined grain breads when we were out to dinner and the restaurant was known for them, and I could not turn down the brown sugar spare ribs my sister-in-law spent six hours making for a family dinner. Fortunately, Go Sugar Free is about consistency, not perfection, and I felt supported in those decisions, because they were carefully thought out, special occasions. Each time I veered from my plan, it was fairly easy to start fresh. Go Sugar Free helped me to identify which situations are worth indulging (a small family gathering, a destination restaurant you’ve been anticipating for months), and where the sugar isn’t worth it. If you skip the mass-processed bagels at a work breakfast, no one will actually notice and/or care.

BLT Pasta Salad

BLT Pasta Salad {whole grain}

FREEDOM!

Yes the clearer skin, sounder sleep, and elation of knowing that the foods I’m choosing to fuel my body are wholesome has been rewarding, but my absolute favorite takeaway from Go Sugar Free is the freedom I felt towards the end of the course. Instead of stalking grocery store bakeries for samples or being distracted at social events because I’m watching for the hors d’oeuvres tray, I feel fully present and better able to enjoy the food I do eat. I was scared Go Sugar Free would be all about what I can’t have, but instead, it deeply enhanced my appreciation and taste for the foods I can have.

Clean Eating Cherry Blackberry Crisp made with wholesome oats, pecans, and maple syrup

Cherry Blackberry Crisp {whole grain, sweetened with maple syrup}

What now?

Although Go Sugar Free is a 67-day program, it’s impacted the way I view food and my diet moving forward. Now that the course is over, I could go back to my nightly bowls of ice cream and tortilla chip-binges, but honestly, I don’t feel like they are worth it. The truth is, I don’t need twice daily servings of dessert to be happy, and I feel far more energetic when the amount I consume is more limited.

That said, I’ll never completely cut out sugar or refined grains, particularly my Grammy’s Strawberry Super Pie, scratch-made bread (especially this English Muffin Bread), or these phenomenal Mint Brownies at Christmas. I did have a few moments during the course when I honestly teared up at the thought of never having another chocolate chip cookie for as long as I lived. Now, besides the fact that dessert no longer has that level of emotional hold over me, when I do eat a dessert, it’s a special occasion, at a well-known restaurant I’ve been looking forward to trying, or in the home of a friend, and I enjoy it more. I’ll still bake chocolate chip cookies, but they will be the very best ones, and I won’t need to eat them three times a day.

Whole Wheat Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies. Best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had.

My favorite Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies {mostly whole grain, a special splurge}

If this sounds like I’ve circled back to “all things in moderation,” I have. I want to give myself the freedom to indulge at social events and memorable meals, but at the same time, my definition of “in moderation” has shifted, and I’ve realized I don’t “need” the amount of sweets in my life I thought I did.

Above all, I want you to know that Go Sugar Free hasn’t changed the way I cook here on Well Plated. Even if we reduce our intake of added sweeteners and refined grains, we still gave a giant, colorful world of tasty food to enjoy, which is why you likely didn’t notice much of a change in my recipes. I’ve long strived to create delicious recipes that incorporate whole grains and are in low refined sugar, and you’ll only see that continue as it did before. The last thing that I ever ever want is for someone following a healthy diet to feel deprived, which is why I strive to ensure that all of recipes you find here taste great and almost all of them are great for you too—with the occasional slice of Mocha Cake tossed in for good measure.

All things in moderation.

Is Go Sugar Free right for you?

Going Sugar Free was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and it was life-changing in that it taught me to become far more aware of what is in my food and the effects those ingredients have over my physical, mental, and emotional well being. I now feel more satisfied with less sugar, have a deeper appreciation for the foods I do eat, and I have been better able to define what “in moderation” really means. Jacqueline is incredibly helpful and makes herself available to course participants, and I was impressed by the level of individual support participants receive. I also love that participants can customize what Go Sugar Free means to them. Think that you’ll never be able to cut out that can of Diet Coke? That’s OK. You can still participate, and Go Sugar Free is set up for you to succeed.

If you are interested in Go Sugar Free , the next course begins in August, and here is an affiliate link to register. I’ve already re-enrolled (course benefit: once you sign up, you can take the class as many times as you like at no extra cost, and there’s post-course support too), and I would love for you to do Go Sugar Free with me! Even if you are just a little bit curious, I encourage you to read Jacqueline’s story and check out a few of of the Go Sugar Free success stories posted from other course participants.

Copycat Chipotle Burrito Bowls with Quinoa, Chicken and Avocado

Chipotle Burrito Bowls with Chicken, Quinoa, and Avocado {grain free}

Thanks for listening.

When I started writing this post, I had no idea I would be spilling onto the FIFTH page of a Word doc. Of course, I also had no idea that I’d feel happier without a daily ice cream binge than I did with it. Thanks for sticking with me, for being open-minded, and for letting me share this uplifting, surprising journey with you!

I was offered a complimentary spot in Jacqueline’s Go Sugar Free course but was not obligated or compensated to write a review. All opinions are 100% my own.  I enjoyed the course and had a positive experience, so I chose to share and recommend it here. This post contains affiliate links, and if you decide to sign up for the course via this post, I would truly appreciate your support!