I Quit Alcohol and Sugar for 30 Days. The Results Will Amaze You.
I’ve always had quite the sweet tooth.
Between sweet and salty, sweet always triumphed. As a child, I would beg, borrow, and even steal to get my sugar fix.
I remember binging on candy with my best friend. We would play doctor and pretend to dole out medicine, with our prescription of choice being candies and cookies that we bought on walks to the corner store.
I’d sneak downstairs at night and snack on whatever sugar I could get my hands on, and was always the first to ask for a second slice of cake.
As I grew older and more diet-conscious, I tried changing my eating habits to lose weight, and some of those diets eliminated sugar to various degrees. I’d be “good” for a while, only to find myself binge-eating later on, shoveling granola and organic peanut butter into my mouth in the middle of the night.
Binge-eating sugary foods was my reality for a very long time.
Oh so tired
Another major motivator that drove me towards diet change was the fact that I was tired. I mean really, really tired.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 8 years old (I went plant-based after a particularly traumatic viewing of the movie Babe), so I’d already done my research into making sure I was consuming enough iron and protein. My caffeine intake was minimal, and I was getting decent sleep, so I couldn’t understand why I would desperately need a nap at 2 pm every day. It got to a point where I needed to plan social events around my napping schedule.
I tried everything to boost my energy: less caffeine, more caffeine, intermittent fasting, midafternoon exercise. Nothing worked.
Fed up, I visited a naturopathic doctor. She reviewed my diet and lifestyle, ran labs, and did bloodwork. The results? Absolutely nothing was wrong with me. All my labs looked great. She had no idea why I was so tired, or why my skin was breaking out along my jawline at the age of 30.
So, I had to do my own research. One of the things I learned was that eating too much sugar can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, which cause a whole host of issues, including fatigue.
Looking back, I wish that naturopath had commented on the amount of sugar I was consuming in my diet. While I was eating a variety of foods, a lot of those foods were sugary: protein powders with added sugar, large amounts of fruits early in the morning, dried fruits in my salads, and whole-wheat bread that had a whole lot of sugar added.
I also wish she’d told me to cut back on my drinking. Like so many of us, I love grabbing drinks with friends after work, hitting the bars on the weekends, and enjoying a nice cocktail along with a restaurant meal. Since so many of my friends drank like I did without issue, and given how popular alcohol is in today’s culture, I figured there couldn’t be a problem with my consumption.
This, at least, is what I believed until I began to suspect that alcohol was a big part of the problem. The naturopathic doctor did tell me that alcohol turns to sugar in the body, which in turn affects your blood sugar—so while hard spirits and wines aren’t sugary, they were still affecting my mood and energy. I suspected that rising and plummeting blood sugar levels due to alcohol consumption was part of the reason I needed to take my 2pm naps, so alcohol absolutely had to go.
I also learned that long-term drinking can result in reduced serotonin, that all-important “happy” chemical that helps keep our moods in check. Yikes!
How I Quit Sugar and Alcohol
While trying to find other people with sugar and alcohol habits like me, I came across bestselling author Alan Carr, who asked the question: if the things you consume for comfort aren’t comforting you, what’s the point?
I wondered: if sugar is making me miserable, and drinking is stealing my serotonin, could I skip this cycle of misery completely?
For the first time in my life, I decided to eliminate foods for reasons besides weight loss, which I found made it more sustainable: I would quit sugar and alcohol for a month in an attempt to boost my mood, clear up my adult acne, and get better sleep.
My goal was to consume as close to zero grams of sugar per day as possible, without any substitutes like Zevia or aspartame or even naturally occurring sugars in fruits. My meals were high in fiber from whole food sources. Vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and fermented foods made up the bulk of my diet.
I’m a runner, so to maintain a healthy running regime, I relied on sugar-free protein sources like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and pea-protein meat substitutes to preserve my energy and muscle mass. Since I follow a plant-based diet, I’m used to making these kinds of substitutions and exemptions in my diet.
Quitting alcohol was a bit more tricky—but I made do.
At restaurants, I’d order hot water—don’t knock it till you try it!—instead of a cocktail or glass of wine, and a club soda with lime during nights out at bars with friends.
3 Surprising Things That Happened When I Quit Sugar and Alcohol
What follows might seem surprising to you—it was to me too!—but it proved to me just how much of an effect diet can have on our whole-body health and mental wellbeing.
My Fatigue Vanished
Incredibly, during my 30 days without alcohol and sugar, fatigue was no longer an issue.
With no blood sugar highs and lows thanks to low-sugar whole foods, I was able to make it throughout the day without napping, and—thanks to cutting out alcohol, a known REM disruptor—I was getting the deepest sleep in my life. I was even waking up before my alarm clock would go off in the morning!
I wish I’d known about the impact that sugar and alcohol had on me decades ago. I wasted so much of my life napping or being hungover. Having the veil of fatigue lift was life-changing.
My Acne Disappeared Within Days
From middle school onwards, I’ve been plagued with acne in varying degrees of intensity. I’ve been on Accutane twice, tried every topical in the book, and change my pillowcases more than hotels probably do.
I’ve had laser treatments, microdermabrasion, microblading—I even tried meditating to see if I could visualize the acne away. Acne products were always a part of my monthly budget, and I’ve spent thousands of dollars to try to heal my persistent blemishes.
I figured that if I—a person who runs daily, eats a plant-based diet, and has great hygiene—was getting acne, then it must be incurable.
Online, proponents of a sugar-free lifestyle all promised that acne and sugar were related and that going sugar-free will give you glowing skin, even though there is no scientifically established link observed between acne and diet. I figured that even if there was a connection, I would be the exception to the rule.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up on day four with clear skin.
Typically, I would feel acne forming during the night–tiny, painful throbbing spots—and wake up with a few new friends dotting my chin or lining my mouth in the morning.
The morning of day four? Nada. The spots from before were clearing up, and nothing new was taking their place.
To be honest, I felt a little angry. As with my fatigue, so much of my life had felt dictated by my acne. I was always worried about situations where I would have to go without makeup, whether my skin would be clear by certain events, or whether my shampoo was the culprit behind my blemishes (or my detergent, or my hormones, and on and on). I had seen experts and tried endless amounts of products.
If someone would have told me that going sugar-free can clear acne, I’d have done it in a heartbeat, a long time ago.
My Binge Eating Went Away
I’d always been aware of the link between alcohol and overeating; so it wasn't altogether surprising that my late-night, post-bar escapades to Taco Bell were significantly reduced when I quit alcohol (did you know that you can replace dairy with pico by ordering something Fresca-style?).
What was less clear to me was the link between binge eating and sugar. My yo-yo relationship with sugar regularly featured periods of binge eating, but I didn’t know why.
Sugar is inherently addictive; it stimulates the same part of the brain as drugs do, creating a dopamine-seeking cycle that’s hard to switch off. By eliminating sugar and eating more whole foods, I was able to cut off the binge-eating cycle completely.
I also didn’t weigh myself during this time, because I didn’t feel like I needed to. I was eating whole foods and sleeping deeply, which made my life feel way more regulated. My moods felt even-keeled, and I attribute that to finally getting off the blood sugar rollercoaster.
What Moderation From Alcohol and Sugar Looks Like Now
Quitting sugar and alcohol was, hands down, the best decision I have ever made. My skin cleared up, my moods became regulated, my fatigue disappeared, and my binge-eating went away.
With that said, it took me years to get to the place where I was quitting sugar and alcohol for the right reasons (for reasons besides weight loss). It involved taking a deep inventory of what my life looked like, what I wanted it to look like, and what I was willing to do to get there.
Quitting sugar and alcohol was a sacrifice in some ways, but the diet change ultimately gave me more than it took away. I was able to reevaluate my relationship with drinking. I wanted to build a life that I enjoyed without having to drink through it, and it caused me to look critically at the types of things I was doing to fill my time. Did I really enjoy hanging out with that one friend from work, or were they just always willing to drink?
I had more energy, clearer skin, and a better outlook on life. What started as a one-month experiment is now a lifestyle for me. While I still enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, I’ll opt for a decaf soy-milk latte or lime-filled sparkling water instead. I stick to whole foods when I can, and scrutinize labels when I can’t.
Quitting sugar and alcohol means that I am more awake to life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Alexis Yeager is a Colorado-based writer focused on veganism, holistic wellness, and alternative medicine.
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