I stopped eating refined sugar for 5 days - and gained weight

Business Insider SA

If there’s one thing I inherited from my father, it is his great love for sweet things. A meal never felt quite complete without a chocolate afterwards, and a day is not perfect not without an ice cream drive. 

My sugar addition has escalated in recent years - I simply cannot resist a chocolate while standing in the shopping line. 

I'm not alone, of course. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four South Africans are estimated to be obese - nearly double than the global average of 13%. 

South Africans tend to consume too much refined sugar in processed foods and carbs, says Irene Labuschagne, dietitian at Stellenbosch University’s nutrition information centre.

Sugar consumption has directly been linked to a range of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure - and most importantly obesity. 

READ: There's growing evidence that eating fat won't make you fat, but sugar will

Labuschagne says you should try and limit sugar consumption to vegetables, fruit and legumes to have sustained energy during the day. 

“A high sugar intake could lead to a jump in blood glucose levels which could give you a short-term energy increase, but leave you feeling drained later in the day,” Labuschagne told Business Insider South Africa. 

So I decided put her reasoning to the test by cutting refined sugar for five days. 

I was hoping to lose some excess leftover winter weight in the process. 

Labuschagne, however, reminded me that weight loss will only follow if I consume fewer kilojoules than what my body consumes. Excess kilojoules - even if they are not from sugar - are turned into fat. 

When I weighed myself on the Sunday before my five day sugar-cleanse, I weighed 83 kg.

Day 1: Meal prep 

(Zukile Daniel, Business Insider South Africa)

I knew that if I didn’t prepare meals, I’d grab the next best easiest thing so I prepared four lunch meals, chicken fillets and roasted veg, on the Sunday that I could bring in containers to work. I also made sure I packed enough snacks, such as low-fat plain yoghurt, muesli and almonds to keep me full throughout the day. 

According to the Journal of the American Dietetics Association, people also tend to have cravings when they are dehydrated so I made sure I had a water bottle nearby I filled up during lunch to keep me hydrated. 

The evening I went out with friends to the movies where we ate a Kauai wrap, which helps keep me from thinking that I was cutting sugar. 

All in all, the first day was a pretty effortless, and I didn't have any real cravings. 

Day 2: The start of cravings 

(Zukile Daniel, Business Insider South Africa)

I started craving a chocolate shortly after I went to CrossFit the morning, and the desire to eat sugar persisted throughout the day. 

The cravings were worst in the afternoon when I’d usually go buy a blueberry muffin at the Woolworths nearby work, but I replaced it with almonds and a cup of coffee which might have filled me up, but wasn’t half as satisfying. 

I ate fish and salad for supper, making sure that I stay clear of sugary fruits, sticking to nuts and lots of greens. 

Day 3: The second-to-worst day

(Zukile Daniel, Business Insider South Africa)

I absolutely craved sugar on the Wednesday morning after I had a terrible night’s sleep. I tried my best to fill my stomach with a three-egg cheeseless omelette the morning and avoid buying a chocolate on my way to work. 

It took the utmost self-discipline not to eat anything sugary during a colleague’s farewell - where everyone offered me cupcakes - but I survived by leaving the gathering as soon as possible. 

I also made sure I went out for dinner, because I knew if I was alone I would’ve gone in search of something chocolatey. 

Day 4: The worst day 

(Zukile Daniel, Business Insider South Africa)

After sleeping only four hours because I was working on a project, I spent most of the day trying to avoid sugar - especially the freshly baked chocolate croissants at the Woolworths close to work. 

I compensated for my continued cravings by drinking a lot of coffee - six cups of it - and drinking liters of water. 

The evening was the worst when I climbed into bed, feeling sorry for myself, yearning for a chocolate.

Day 5: Victory 

(Zukile Daniel, Business Insider South Africa)

After the previous night’s cravings, the yearning for chocolate was nearly non-existent by the Friday. By this time, most of my colleagues stopped offering me sugary treats because they knew I stopped eating it, which made controlling the temptation much easier. 

I also made sure to go to a colleague’s farewell with a water bottle to ensure I don’t feel the need to reach for anything else. 


When I weighed myself at the start of this journey, I weighed 83kg. When I weighed myself on the following Saturday I weighed 85kg. 

Labuschagne, however, noted that weight fluctuates during the time of day as you consume fluids and food. And since I didn’t weigh myself at the same time as the Sunday, this could have had an effect. 

Cutting sugar was not the most difficult thing to do in the world, and I couldn’t notice a massive difference in my complexion or my energy levels. But I realised that water does more than often satisfy my sugar cravings, and I can replace sugary treats with healthier options such as almonds. 

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