'I will not make war against my own heart'

A Sugar Free Diet: What do I eat?

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One of the most common questions I get about giving up sugar is, “What do I eat?”

While the answer to “What should I eat?” will be different for each person, this is how I do it. This is what works for me – an example, not a prescription.

There’s a lot of freedom in the container of sugar abstinence, many different ways to eat:  vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, raw foods, paleo (a hunter-gatherer diet), high protein, clean eating (whole, unprocessed foods.) I prescribe to the philosophy that there is no one diet that works best for everyone, what is called integrative nutrition. Rather, each person needs to find the foods that work for his or her body.

How do you do this?

You eat something, note how it makes you feel, and adjust. You find the foods that love you back. (A food diary is a fantastic tool for this process, as you can observe yourself and make the connections between your health/mood and food choices.)

You gently release or moderately eat even “healthy” foods like bananas or whole wheat pasta if they make you feel terrible. The trick is making peace with those choices – and not creating fodder for the mind to feel deprived.

I’m constantly experimenting, fine tuning, and listening. So while I can share what I eat today it is exactly that – what I am eating today.

About 60% of my diet consists of vegetables, as organic, whole, unprocessed and local as I can get. My intake of veggies includes land veggies and root vegetables (winter squashes, yams, carrots, and red potatoes, for example.)

To each meal, I add fat (olive oil, butter, flaxseed oil, avocados, etc.) and protein:  nuts, meat, legumes (black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, etc.) or dairy – mainly plain yogurt, kefir and hard cheeses. I struggled for years with eating meat, because I felt sad killing an animal so that I could thrive. I also felt guilty and felt like I “should” be a vegetarian. And yet as someone with low blood sugar, I feel much, much better eating dense animal protein and fats. It’s one of life’s sad limits I’ve accepted.

I try to minimize my intake of grains as I feel pretty awful on most grains and find them addictive. I eat some low sugar fruits, but sparingly – mostly apples and berries. Too much fruit whacks out my body chemistry. Treat foods are homemade popcorn, unsweetened carob chips with almonds, and corn tortillas.

I know that eating this way may seem like a shock if you’re used to eating differently. I understand; it’s taken me over 2o years to get to this point. I was a typical junk food eater in my teens and early twenties – sodas, then diet sodas, lots of fast food and restaurant food, candy, sweets, ice cream and sugar, lots of processed food and processed carbs (potato chips, crackers, white flour, etc.); bagels and fat free (and sugar laden) yogurt for breakfast.

I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. I don’t want you to feel discouraged if you try and eat like I do and then find it overwhelming. (I made this process much harder on myself by trying to change too much at once!)

Start with one small step. Honor each shift. Take the next step and keep taking the next step and you’ll slowly change how you eat.

Once your taste buds adjust to more whole foods, it will get easier and you’ll feel better. Canned foods will taste too salty and sweet, and you will actually crave fresh foods. Your body will feel “lighter,” even before the scale moves, and your digestion will greatly improve.

You’ll eventually crave the foods that nourish you body, mind and spirit. When I’m not eating sugar, I can taste the natural sweetness in almonds, carrots, peppers, and onions. The variety of textures and flavors of vegetables satisfies my taste buds. I love the creamy taste of nut butters. I use lots of different spices and sauces and seasonings to keep my meals interesting and varied. I make lots of soup, as it’s comforting, warm and filling.

One of the reasons why I didn’t want to give up sugar was because I thought that giving up sugar would mean having a joyless relationship with food – where I’d spend the rest of my days living like a food cop, neurotic and miserable. I’ve learned to embrace this paradox:   a joyful, loving relationship with food while also abstaining from sugar.

It’s what I also want for you – joy and freedom; love and appreciation. Nourishment. (I explore this idea further in Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life.)

Here are meal ideas taken directly from my kitchen:

Meals with meat:

  • Grilled steak or chicken with grilled veggies and a big raw vegetable salad
  • Roast chicken with green beans, salad, and curried vegetables
  • A giant taco salad with ground bison, guacamole, salsa, a huge bowl of salad greens, sautéed onions and peppers
  • Turkey sausages, homemade hash brown potatoes, sauteed greens and bacon
  • Roast turkey with roasted acorn squash, salad, and steamed broccoli
  • Roast beef with tomatoes, onions, and carrots and sautéed squash (zucchini or yellow squash)
  • Grilled salmon and stir fry veggies seasoned with Bragg’s liquid aminos (a lower sodium, healthier version of soy sauce)
  • Chicken salad with a bit of mayo and veggies on a huge green salad; black beans
  • Grilled chicken breasts with a caprese salad, fresh peas, and a cucumber salad
  • Bison steak, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, a huge raw vegetable salad, quinoa
  • Chicken, salsa, guacamole, jicama, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic on a huge salad
  • Roasted chicken thighs with olives, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, and mushrooms; a large side salad; red potatoes
  • Hamburgers (without a bun) with sautéed mushrooms, onions, lettuce, and tomato, a side salad, and homemade fries (I slice potatoes with the skin into thin strips, sprinkle them with olive oil spray, and bake them in the oven.)
  • A salmon burger (no bun) served with sauteed spinach and onions, a large green salad, and a baked potato
  • Grilled venison, elk or buffalo with sauteed kale and onions, sauteed mushrooms
  • Baked salmon with lemon juice, soy sauce, and dill, with sauteed swiss chard
  • Diced chicken with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a creamy sauce; hummus and raw veggies; a side salad
  • Stir fry veggies with chicken thighs

Meals without meat:

  • Split pea soup and a large side salad
  • A brothy soup with lots of vegetables, potatoes, and greens
  • “Spaghetti:”  spaghetti squash topped with a tomato sauce and parmesan
  • Plain kefir or plain greek style yogurt with almonds
  • Stir fried veggies with eggs
  • An egg frittata with lots of sautéed veggies and pine nuts
  • Baked winter squash with cinnamon and pecans and drizzled with flaxseed oil (I love this for breakfast!)
  • Lentil soup with a large side salad
  • Chili with a huge green salad
  • Sauteed veggies and a baked red potato with butter
  • Baked yam wedges and a huge green salad, a side of sauteed veggies
  • Creamy millet (millet made with 4 parts water to 1 part millet) with sauteed veggies (a wonderful comfort food meal)
  • A quinoa-veggie salad
  • Homemade black beans, millet and sauteed peppers, garlic and onions
  • Roasted red potatoes and veggies, a side salad

For more help with sugar, you can order the new 3rd edition of Overcoming Sugar Addiction as well as the follow up workbook, Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life.

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About the Author:

Karly Randolph Pitman
Karly Randolph Pitman helps women understand and heal the emotional dynamics that feed eating disorders and food compulsions like overeating, sugar addiction, and night bingeing. Rather than learning strategies to manage or control the food compulsion itself, Karly's approach, growing human(kind)ness, heals the internal dynamics that drive it. Karly's work arises from her own 20 year struggle with multiple eating disorders. She's the author of the best selling Overcoming Sugar Addiction, When Food is Your Mother, Overcoming Sugar Addiction for Life, The 30 Day Lift, and Heal Overeating: Untangled and teaches classes throughout the year on growinghumankindness.com. Known for her compassion, insight, and gentleness, Karly's mission is to help women feel their belonging, know their goodness, and rest in love.

29 Comments

  1. […] What do I eat on a sugar free diet? […]

  2. […] What do I eat on a sugar free diet? […]

  3. Mary December 15, 2013 at 6:51 am - Reply

    I'm on Day 7 of detoxing from sugar. It has been surprisingly easy, but I was already eating the way you suggest. I just binged every night on sweets when I finally relaxed for the day with my guilty-pleasure mystery novels. I used to be a vegan, but like you I just seem to have to have animal protein, even if it's just a cage-free egg or a free-range chicken breast. Thank you for validating that some of us just aren't cut our to be vegans. Also wanted to share something that I believe you mention in your first book, but now when I get a sweet craving at night, I ask myself if it's really worth a few minutes of pleasure to start my next day out waking up with guilt and shame over the night before. This works for me, but I wonder how long it will be before I get resentful and give in. Guilt and shame are not good reactions to food or to oneself, I'm sure. Any suggestions for rethinking this?

  4. Karly Randolph Pitma November 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Hi May,

    I'm so glad that the book was helpful to you. There are so many great resources out there for sugar addiction, and it sounds like you found one that was a good fit for you.

    Warmly, Karly

  5. May October 30, 2013 at 12:16 am - Reply

    I had to give up all sugars, including foods that convert to sugar quickly in the body – like potatoes- in order to cure my long term systemic candida.It was hard going for a bit, but now I am really in fantastic health and look and feel better than I did a decade ago. The book "sugar or sex", it's diet guidelines and the other support that it suggests really helped me. If you are suffering from hard-core candida problems or need to eat completely sugar free, including fruit and grains and everything, I really recommend this diet and approach. I worked really well for me. I had tried so many other methods over years, and none of them gave me a long term cure. But Sugar or Sex really worked. thanks! May

    • April March 7, 2014 at 1:04 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for posting this, I am dealing with the same thing and it’s nice to have a book recommendation in addition to the hours of internet surfing I have done one it.

      • Karly Randolph Pitman
        Karly Randolph Pitman April 6, 2014 at 4:02 am - Reply

        Hi April,

        I’m so glad! If you’d like to learn more about what I do or how I can help, my focus is on healing the emotional and psychological roots of sugar addiction and eating disorders, something above and beyond managing or “controlling” the cravings or behavior itself. You may find this webinar helpful, where I map out what drives sugar addiction: http://growinghumankindness.com/webinar-replay-wfiym-140109/

        In warmth and care, Karly

  6. Karly Randolph Pitma October 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Marylou,

    How wonderful that you're feeling so well! As to what to eat to help maintain your weight, I need to be honest and share that this isn't my area of expertise. My friend Andrea at True Nourishment may be able to help with this question – http://truenourishment.com/ or Csilla at Shining Health – http://www.shininghealth.com/ In love and care, Karly

  7. Marylou October 20, 2013 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Karly, I've been refined sugar free and gluten free for 3 months now. I've dropped 15 pounds and feel great but I am now finding it hard to maintain my weight. It just keeps dropping no matter how much other food I eat. I don't want to increase my fat in take too much so that I stay heart healthy. Any suggestions?

  8. Louis Jeevanantham September 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    I am in week 1 of my sugar-free diet. I stopped using sugar, in any form because of anxiety. I was told, by an Integrative Medical Practitioner that sugar causes a spike in cortisol, which then causes anxiety.My days haven't been anxiety free, but they have been better.

    I am on anti-depressant medication, after having been hospitalised for anxiety.

  9. suzan July 19, 2013 at 12:57 am - Reply

    hi there, I love your article and the advice is amazing… I am on week 3 of no sugar and by no sugar I mean sweets, junk food, pastries, chocolate, refined sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey etc. I have not eliminated any fruits as I feel fruit has helped me along the way and I love them… so pretty much my question is this, when we say sugar free are we suppose to be eliminating fruits as well? it seems wrong as they provide lots of valuable nutrients and vitamins.

  10. Candy June 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this, I was just diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer and told to take sugar out of my diet as well as meat. This has been very helpful to me as well. Breakfast is the hardest meal for me to fine things to eat as well but your ideas helped, a lot.

  11. Karly Randolph Pitma May 31, 2013 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Hi Meg,

    My breakfasts look a lot like lunches or dinners. This morning it was some ground beef with sauteed veggies in olive oil and butter (cabbage, onions, carrots and sweet peppers with some fermented pickles on top.) I know this may sound odd, but this kind of breakfast makes me feel very grounded, satiated and full for hours.

    I know plenty of people who eat fruit smoothies with added protein in them, and feel great. So perhaps that's a way for you to enjoy your fruit in the morning?

    Or if you're okay with dairy, some plain greek yogurt with nuts and fruit?

    I hope these ideas help!

    Warmly, Karly

  12. Meg May 31, 2013 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Karly, just wondering what an ordinary breakfast might look like for you- love my fruit for brekky!!

  13. Kathy May 29, 2013 at 1:29 am - Reply

    We were told not to even have fresh fruit because of the sugar and I see your listing it……..little confusing. Do you have any snacks besides nuts you can recommend? Dealing with Pancreatic Cancer and was told no sugar at all. Little hard to wrap ones mind around no sugar. Seems to be in everything!! Thank you.

  14. Heather March 24, 2013 at 10:09 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this information. Your comment, “One of the reasons why I didn’t want to give up sugar was because I thought that giving up sugar would mean having a joyless relationship with food – where I’d spend the rest of my days living like a food cop, neurotic and miserable. I’ve learned to embrace this paradox:a joyful, loving relationship with food while also abstaining from sugar.” took the words right out of my mouth. I suffer from asthma to appoint lately my attacks are regular. I am am desperate. I was not born with asthma. I am not overweight and I am pretty active but this is getting in my way and the medicines I am on are not helping. I know I need to change something. But better yet I want to change something.I love food and sugar is my thing. So I I am going to do what you said and start slow, keep a diary and get to a point where my body will crave the foods, spoken by you that, “nourish your mind, body and spirit.” Thanks so much for this article.

  15. Harvz February 26, 2013 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Hi and thank you for your article. I have recently started to reduce sugar from my diet, and have lost a considerable amount of weight in the process, but better still, I feel great. I have written an article about my journey here http://dietandsugar.com/ which I hope may be inspiring you you and your readers.

  16. Karly Randolph Pitma February 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Hi Karen,

    Veggies are the primary component of my meals – I can't imagine feeling satisfied on any level without them. I feel glad you have other options, too.

    XO, Karly

  17. Karen February 2, 2013 at 12:29 am - Reply

    Thank you for these meal ideas! I recently noticed that every time I eat sugar, I feel an intense itchiness and so I am trying to completely eliminate sugar from my diet. I thought I would only be able to eat meat, but it sounds like there are definitely some veggies that are ok. Thanks again for providing some healthy options!

  18. Karly Randolph Pitma January 31, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    Yeah for you Maury – I feel so happy for you.

    Warmly, Karly

  19. Maury January 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article with its sensible advice. I started to eliminate sugar early in the month, and I've dropped 23 pounds so far. I may reach my goal weight yet! The information you gave is very helpful.

  20. Karly Randolph Pitma January 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Hi Jenna,

    A great question!

    I share some of my family's favorite snacks here –
    http://www.firstourselves.org/what-can-i-feed-my-

    Some of my personal favorites are nuts – almonds, roasted cashews, pistachios, or walnuts. I eat them on their own, with berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries) or with plain kefir. I also love raw veggies and hummus.

    But one of my favorite snacks isn't really a snack, per se – a bowl of soup. I'll eat soup for every meal, I love it so much. We pretty much always have a soup cooking in our house.

    I hope that helps!

    Warmly, Karly

  21. Jenna January 27, 2013 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    I am a real snacker… do you have any ideas on that?

  22. Stephanie Nelson October 23, 2012 at 4:30 am - Reply

    Thank you for all of this wonderful information! Your meal ideas look amazing!

  23. Tom White May 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks for all of the great information! If you are looking for meal ideas or meal plans, I have been using a website called FitClick. It is a great way to pick up some healthy meal ideas if you are looking to cut your sugar/fat.

  24. Karly April 26, 2010 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Hi Robbie, I don't have a recipe for the curried vegetables. But I can share my favorite salad dressing with you here:

    1 cup olive oil

    1/4 cup vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar from Bragg's, but I've also used balsamic vinegar,too.)

    1 tsp. dijon mustard

    1-2 tsp. dried garlic

    optional – finely diced herbs, to taste (such as basil, cilantro, thyme, etc.)

    Pour ingredients in a cruet and shake to mix. Delish!

  25. Robbie Wood April 24, 2010 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Do you have a recipe book with your dressings for salad and the curried vege's? Those sound amazing!! ;)

  26. Karly Randolph Pitman May 30, 2013 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Hi Kathy,

    First, I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer. It sounds like you are doing lots of things to care for yourself.

    Yes, it is confusing about what is or isn’t “sugar free” – different people define it in different ways. I do eat fruit in moderation – but that’s what works for me and my body. I probably eat more of a zone type of diet (40% carbs/30% fat/30% protein.)

    My area of expertise is the emotional component – not the “what to eat” piece. So if you’re needing help on this, I’d encourage you to seek out a nutritionist or other expert who can help you determine what sugars you should avoid so they can better meet your needs.

    I actually find that when I eat meals that have a good amount of fat and protein in them, I don’t need to snack – I eat 3-4 meals a day instead. So I eat mini meals for snacks.

    I hope that helps!

    Warmly, Karly

  27. Karly Randolph Pitman September 23, 2013 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Hi Louis,

    I didn’t know that sugar can cause a spike in cortisol, but as someone who’s had lifelong struggles with anxiety, that makes so much sense to me. Thank you for sharing that with me.

    I’m glad that the anxiety has lessened for you now that you’re eating less sugar. In addition to writing about sugar, I’ve also written a lot on First Ourselves on softening anxiety, and have a hunch these posts may resonate with you:

    http://www.firstourselves.org/allowing-our-feelings/

    http://www.firstourselves.org/soothe-reactive-brain/

    http://www.firstourselves.org/loving-where-youre-at/

    In love and care, Karly

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