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Our Life Without Sugar

Muffins on a drying rack.

There's something I haven't been telling you.

For the last 60 days, Bjork and I have taken on the challenge to live without refined sugar.

And it is TOTALLY a weird person thing to say and do, and I know you're thinking the same thing right now, since you know me for my love of chocolate chip cookies and brownies and chocolate chip cookies and brownies together in one dessert. Which I still love. Like, hi. This is a monumentally bizarre situation.

A few months ago, a nice person named Jacqueline emailed me and asked if I had any interest in joining her course called Go Sugar Free. I said NO WAY NEVER EVER (in my mind). Then I said THIS COULD BE INTERESTING (to Bjork). Then I said SURE I'D LIKE TO CHECK IT OUT BECAUSE I'M INTERESTED IN SEEING HOW YOU RUN THE COURSE (to Jacqueline). I specifically told Jacqueline at that time: We are not really into this whole sugar free thing. That's just not us. We won't be participating, but I'll just follow along in order to do some “market research.”

And so then the lessons started, delivered to my inbox every day in the form of a nice, concise, and extremely information-packed email. It was such a wealth of information that even after just three or four days I was crazy curious about this whole sugar free lifestyle. I would come home from work and just talk Bjork's ear off through an entire Office episode about Jacqueline-this-and-sugar-that and isn't this all so interesting?! One day, my curiosity reached a tipping point slash I became a new, open-minded person and I told Bjork I was going to participate with the course and commit to living sugar free for 60 days. He said: Okay, I'll do it too.

Hold the phone. Crazy. Town. This was SO not something we would normally have any interest in and yet there we were, along with about 75 other people, committing to live sugar free for 60 days.

Sauce in a pan and noodles.

We started by creating our own version of what it meant to be sugar free. For us, this meant cutting out refined sugars (white sugar brown sugar fake sugar syrups etc etc etc) and sticking to all natural sweeteners in small amounts, like real maple syrup, raw honey, and fruits. It also meant cutting back as much as possible on refined grains and choosing whole grains whenever possible.

Okay, get ready for this shock of your (and my) life: I think the biggest surprise of the whole experience to me was how... easy it was. Most of the time. It's not like we were doing the no-no finger shake at sugary foods - we were just embracing other foods that we might not ordinarily have chosen that were equally as delicious and made us feel even better. And when I say embrace, I mean loving up on them. There are some really amazing, whole, delicious foods out there that don't need any added anything to be wonderful and satisfying.

Our Life Without Sugar

But, I mean, don't get the wrong idea. There were challenges.

Two weeks after we started, we went on vacation for 7 days with my family. Because apparently we like to test our goals with extremely difficult and tempting situations right off the bat. Smart. We shed a few silent tears at the table when my mom pulled a pan of warm brownies out of the oven and we pined (I mean, it was intense desire) for that cool, creamy, sugar cookie crust fruit pizza. And my family, being very supportive and loving but also being superexcited about desserts, all probably silently judged us and/or felt bad for us as we tried to muck our way through these new choices. That was probably our hardest week - it was still so fresh and we weren't super comfortable with making the decision public and redefining ourselves in this totally out-of-the-box (for us) way.

But in the better moments, which was most of the other 53 days, we really enjoyed not only what we were eating but how we felt about ourselves. It's been such a positive lifestyle change for us that we're indefinitely choosing to live a “refined sugar selective” lifestyle. Meaning that the new norm is choosing other whole foods and snacks over refined sugar desserts on a day-to-day basis, but also recognizing that truly special, social times every now and again deserve a real dessert. Like, for example, having a piece of cake at my high school bestie's wedding next month. It's special and it's social and it calls for the real thing.

Nachos on a black surface.

Jacqueline describes the sugar free lifestyle as a true freedom from wanting or needing sugar all the time, and retraining your palate to taste the natural sweetness in things in ways you never did before. And this has definitely been true for me.

Along those lines, let's get a top ten list going here. You guys, I love listicles. So much.

Top Ten Positive Things About Living Sugar Free

  1. A new appreciation for fruit. Fruit tastes amazing. Fruit IS amazing. Beautiful, colorful, and perfectly sweet. I ❤ fruit. Current faves are cherries and raspberries.
  2. More sensitive tastebuds. Things that used to taste plain to me now taste sweet. I can put 2 tiny teaspoons of real maple syrup on my oatmeal with a tiny bit of real cream and it's sweet perfection. My old ways would involve dumping half the syrup bottle into the oatmeal bowl and topping it with extra sugar. Joking sort of.
  3. Discovering new whole AND packaged foods that we love for meals and snacks. Like Medjool dates, Pellegrino, poached egg and avocado toasts. And new brands of spaghetti sauce, Greek yogurt, and crackers with no added sugar.
  4. Losing weight. This was not a big part of what motivated us to take the course, but has definitely been a side effect of living without sugar. I lost, like, two pounds, which... is fine. But Bjork lost 15 pounds and he looks ahhhmazing. To the max.
  5. Flatter bellies. I feel really spammy writing that, but I promise this is not secretly a google adsense segment where I talk about the one secret trick for losing belly fat. It's just a natural side effect of eating less sugar and more whole foods. I lost 1 1/2 inches around my waist, and Bjork lost 4 (count em - 1-2-3-4) inches. Go get a tape measure and see what that looks like - it's a HUGE change.
  6. No regret. I feel like every morning when I wake up and think about what I ate the day before, I feel clean and healthy and proud. I don't feel that oh-no-I-ate-five-brownies-just-before-bed regret that I used to after a wildly good time at the dessert table.
  7. The upward spiral. We've felt really good about the decisions that we're making regarding sugar, which leads us to want to make more healthy decisions. Yesterday Bjork went for an 8 mile run. By choice. Things are getting weirdly awesome around here. When you start feeding your body good things, you want the upward spiral to continue so you make good decisions to continue to progress.
  8. Simplified decision making. Do you want a piece of fudge? No thank you. Period. No decisions to be made. You just pass on it and find something else to enjoy.
  9. Being smarter. I feel like I have a better understanding of nutrition and sugar and food and maybe most importantly how to form and keep good habits that has and will continue to empower me to make smart choices.
  10. Feeling better, all around. This could be purely psychological or it could be a result of true physical change. I don't even care. We both feel great.

Kale and potatoes.

So the whole point of this post is to come clean and just let you know that this is what we've been doing, and what we'll be continuing to do for the foreseeable future: eating more whole foods, less refined sugar, and leaving just a tiny bit of room for high quality, real deal dessert on the most important occasions.

Even though I haven't specifically told you about our new lifestyle shift here on the blog (other than the occasional vague mention), ALL of the recipes of the past two months have been fitted to our version of refined sugar free. You might not have even noticed, which makes me super happy. If you ask me, refined sugar free = eating really really well. Delicious yum more of the good food.

Last thing that's really important to say: I pass no judgement on a lifestyle that includes refined sugar. None! You guys, please hear that.  This is not about nutrition wars or making blanket statements about what's best for all the people everywhere or making someone behave the same way I do. I have always been a dessert lover and I get a lot of joy from a big, frosting-loaded slice of moist, rich chocolate cake. For right now, for us, this refined sugar free experiment has proven to both Bjork and I that it's a good fit for us.

Breakfast on a plate.

Finally, if you are interested in checking out the course that we did that guided us to our 60 days of refined sugar free living, you are in luck!

You can visit Jacqueline's website to learn more about Go Sugar Free. This is an affiliate link since we highly recommend Go Sugar Free and the way Jacqueline supports, teaches, and encourages throughout the duration of the course!

Thanks for being bestie readers, guys. I totally and completely and overwhelmingly appreciate the support, positivity, and open-mindedness that you bring to Skillful Cook! XOXO

Filed Under: Healthy Life

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    Reading upon your post and saying that sugar free will lost the “belly”, the initial recation was, ” I am sold!” Since we have history of diabetes in my family, this is completely a good idea. But on the second thought, there is fear fo getting out from the comfort zone of trying baking all my cakes /recipes using honey, maple and etc. I may try this intermittently, as what I am doing now, but jumping completely feels so difficult.

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    I think that is great that you and your husband have decided to do that. I too have gone through phases where I did not add sugar to my diet and you physically feel better! You do appreciate the natural flavors of food a bit more. I think I can understand what you are saying as far as being more selective. Maybe I will take the course and see what comes of it. But you know this all goes out the window when someone decides to make homemade oven baked chocolate chip cookies,right? My hope is, if I do this, that the cookie or whatever refined sweet will taste so sweet that I won’t want it.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      It’s so funny, Nicole … that’s totally how I felt the first time I had a bite of a sugary food. It was overwhelmingly sweet to me!

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      We’ve cut back on our sweets lately too, and I was surprised to find that when I did have a small, special occasion treat (like the wedding cake that you mention in your post), I got really shaky from the sugar, a headache and ended up not really enjoying it! What an eye opener! Definitely makes it easier to pass on the sweets knowing that there are going to be some immediate ill effects, but still can be pretty hard to pass up in the moment!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        That’s so true! We haven’t had a major indulgence since finishing the course but even when I have just little things (jam on toast, for example) I can tell right away that my body isn’t used to it – it’s like a shock to the system! 🙂

    3. Skillful Cook Logo

      I recently took a continuing education class from a PhD dietician who really opened my eyes on this subject. She talked about how chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to damage to the blood/brain barrier (which transports needed nutrients into the brain and blocks out things that are harmful) and to the brain itself. This is the first time in history that we humans have had access to SO much sugar all the time (not just spring when the fruits are growing). Our bodies aren’t made to handle it. Anyway, my husband and I cut out most sources of refined sugar three weeks ago and we have both lost weight and are feeling better too! The most remarkable thing to me is that the craving goes away. That’s a relief for a long-time sugar addict such as myself.

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love your takeaway. My family eats refined sugar for special occasions and every-so-often treats maybe once a month. Dessert is delicious when you save it for those occasions. Summer would be a hard time to start the challenge, though. I mean, ice cream, Lindsay. Ice cream.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      me too… can you do a blog in which you are a bit more specific. I know the ‘plan’ is individual and you want to support your friend in her blog, but a list of 5 top new favorites would be helpful. Also could you maybe do another list/blog from all the recipes you made over the last month(s) or so that fit this new eating style so they are easier to find on your site?

        1. Skillful Cook Logo

          Same here. Your blog really spoke to me as my husband and I have started getting more serious about being thoughtful on how often and when we indulge. I’m down with the less/no refined sugars but I’m not ready to spend half my paycheck on co-op food so would love any budget-friendly brands you use to stick with your sugar-free life.

          Also, thanks for being so non-judgmental towards those who still want to ride the refined sugar train.

          1. Skillful Cook Logo

            Thanks for the feedback Sara! I’ll try to put together some resources in a separate post sometime soon! I can tell you quickly that for my spaghetti sauce, I found a Costco brand that I really like (I think the brand itself is called Kirkland). Lots of flavor and texture but no added sugar!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Yes, I think it would be helpful if I categorized “sugar free” recipes so people could look through those recipes all in one place. Thanks for the tip Stephanie – I’m on it! 🙂

        1. Skillful Cook Logo

          I was inspired by the GoSugar Free experience you shared and am seriously considering doing that. Thanks to the others who suggested putting those sugar free recipes together for easy access because I was just about to ask you to please do that. Anxiously awaiting…

          My brother-in-law is almost 70 and has the look of a high schooler and I think his sugar free lifestyle has a lot to do with that. No belly fat! I love that! And want it for myself!

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      I always look for sugar in secret places like store-bought pasta sauce, and so I usually get either the Italian Spices or Tomato Basil versions of 365 Organic sauces (Whole Foods brand). Weirdly enough, their conventional (non-organic) sauces *do* have sugar.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    Nice one Lindsay and Bjork! I have been trying to do this recently too and while it’s hard I definitely feel the benefits.
    I can’t believe you stayed strong in the face of chocolate brownies. That would be my downfall.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      You could totally do it Lori! I think the people who have the biggest advantage for something like this are people who can be creative and inventive with food – that has your name written all over it!

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    Way to go guys! I am a total sugar addict, evidenced by the fact that I try to eat sugar free two days a week and often fail at that. But. I have significantly cut back on processed packaged foods and focused on whole foods and all home-baked treats. I can already see how my tastes have changed and even what used to be an awesome store-bought birthday cake is now pretty disgusting.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    And I love you guys even more now, if that is possible. I think it is fabulous and because you are such a huge blog, you have the ability to influence so many people into eating healthier.

    I am a sugar lover as well, but do stick to unrefined sugars as much as possible. I have to admit though on our family vaca last week I gave in…big time. If I would have read this post before maybe I would have had more will power to refrain.

    And no, I didn’t notice the change in your recipes.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Thanks Suzy! Really appreciate that and glad you didn’t notice a drastic change in the recipes! I didn’t feel like anything was too different except for maybe posting fewer dessert recipes. 🙂

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Kuddos to you and Bjork! I have definitely found the “upward spiral” principle to be true! The more I fill up on good, clean food, the more I love it, and the less I *need* the refined, mad-made stuff. Looking forward to more great POY recipes along these lines! 🙂

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I feel like I have gone in the other direction. I was pretty good about cutting out refined sugar for awhile, but then in the last year, I’ve started doing more baking. And even though I try to bake without refined sugar and adapt recipes to be healthier, sometimes I like to the make the recipe the old-fashioned way to begin with so I can see the difference when I health-i-fy it. Slippery slope! But this post inspires me to get back on the no refined sugar train. Or at least to hop back on the train for a little while. 🙂

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay. . I loved reading this!! I’ve seen the benefits with my own eyes when friends around me have cut out sugar so I know it’s a good thing and obviously does wonders. I love your take on it. . the “refined sugar selective” lifestyle. As a mother, I’m always trying to cook healthy, reduce the sugar intake and make smarter choices for them. . as a food blogger and baker, it’s hard, yo. But I love this. . you’ve got me thinking.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    I don’t think I could do without sugar completely, but maybe gradually. I have given up processed food gradually since I became sensitive to soy. (It is in everything in a package.) I will say it makes it difficult to eat at restaurants. I have also become kind of a food snob. (A nice food snob.) Once you start eating unprocessed food your tastebuds just become more discriminating.

    btw, why do men always loose more than women? Congrats to you both. 🙂 You are such a cute couple.


  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    Nice! Alex and I don’t eat a lot of refined anything, and we truly feel so much better for it. We use stevia (not Truvia) to sweeten things up when need be. And, like you, a drizzle of maple syrup in oatmeal.

    Keep it up Bjork! There’s nothing like running to whip you into shape.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    That is wonderful! Love – love – love your blog and recipes.
    Congrats to you both! It must have been easier to go through the challenge together.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    I just wanted to let you know that you are an awesome writer. It is such a skill to be able to encourage a new, slightly scary lifestyle change without alienating your readers and making them feel bad about their choices. You made me feel like I could do it!! Thanks for the support you probably didn’t even know you offered. Will be trying those recipes from the last two months!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      This was my favorite comment on the whole post. So encouraging and exactly what I wanted to come across by sharing our story. Thank you Marissa!!

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    Wow! Congratulations! It is amazing the direction our lives can take when we take a leap of faith and try something totally new. I don’t think I am ready for that kind of jump…but will certainly be examining that direction. Thanks!

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    This has been one of my favorite posts of yours. I get recipes off the blog just about once a week and I have also been trying to cut back refined sugar. I like your approach to the subject, it is very refreshing to see a “normal life” approach instead of a “sugar is the devil. If you eat sugar yout body will be against you forever” type of approach. I have found a good place for a good treat without feeling like you ate a treat is Ecopolitan in Uptown on Lyndale Ave. They have a “banana cream pie” that is made with dates and cashews. It is out of this world! Looking forward to more delcious recipes!

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for sharing, Jacqueline’s program sounds great and I hope to try it. Did you notice that you craved sugar the first few days? Anytime I’ve tried, I can’t get past the first week. I hope it gets easier after that!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      The first week was the hardest for me. Maybe even the second or third day. But I think once you pave a new way for yourself with a bowl of fruit instead of a slice of cake or whatever the trade off is, it just becomes the new normal and it gets easier and easier.

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    This is so great! I’m actually on day 24 of a 90 day fitness training program and I’m not eating refined sugar, added salt, or added fat. It’s been so crazy, I feel like my palate has been completely re-set. Fruit tastes SO sweet to me, and I find that a little lemon juice or vinegar usually replaces my need for salt.

    I love hearing what you two are up to!

    p.s. flat bellies rock!

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    Years ago I read “Sugar Blues” and decided to go sugar free. I read labels (What? No ketchup?) and eliminated all sugar. I can’t remember how long I did it, maybe a month or two. I do remember how my taste buds awakened. It was amazing! Not only did fruit taste sweeter, as you say in #1, but I learned how sweet vegetables can be.

    Since then, sugar has become a once in a while treat pretty much reserved for special occasions. Maybe I’ll have to revisit going for a totally sugar-free spell again. Great post!

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    I started cutting out the refined sugar at roughly the same time, though I didn’t take that awesome-looking course (which I may do) – just decided to do it! My experience has been similar to yours – it’s really not that tough. Of course, I’ve been going through more pure maple syrup and honey than I used to, so I probably need to not use those natural sweeteners *quite* so much as a crutch. I definitely have noticed that I don’t need nearly as much sweetness as I used to. I think there’s no truly downside to eating this way most of the time!

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    When I’ve cut back on refined sugar in the past, it’s always been the first 4 or 5 days that is the toughest, and then I lose the craving. I truly don’t want it anymore. When I have had sugar indulgences, my body reacts by becoming fatigued As in…I need to nap RIGHT NOW. There really is something to be said for cutting back on sugar. Great post, Lindsay!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi, I just did this challenge also a couple of months ago (10 day) after Katie Curic came out with a movie/documentary etc. I found it difficult as there are so many products that contain sugar – Peanut butter, salad dressing, bread! As I was the only one in the house of 4 that was attempting this, it was hard to do. Its good to have everyone in the house on board take on this lifestyle change. Its amazing to learn how many products that processed sugar is added to. – And don’t forget all the other words that are used that mean sugar,,,….glucose..sutrose, etc. Crazy.

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    This is something I’ve been considering to do for a while. Recently, I actually looked at the ingredients/nutrition stats on a container of (flavored) Greek yogurt and could not believe how much sugar was added. I’m now eating cottage cheese with fruit in place of my daily Greek yogurt. It’s crazy how many “health” products have added sugar. I think the simplest way to do this is to just avoid processed foods, ya know? Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s great to hear that it can be done! 🙂

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Courtney, I have a great easy recipe to make homemade crockpot yogurt. I don’t want to be spammy and leave a link but if you email me I will give it to you. My email is


    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      Cottage cheese and fruit is my life. So true about the sugar in Greek Yogie! We’ve switched to plain… not as fun, but still delicious and no sugar. 🙂

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    Wow, congrats on the experiment and on liking it! You made me want to try it out at one point.

    It feels though that it would be hard to go without Pepsi – I’m guilty of drinking one a day – and hard to track all of it.

    Do you have a tip to know which ingredients / products are full of refined sugar?

    In my quick research I’ve seen that I would have to look at the “Carbohydrates” on the nutrition facts of the products, but what if they say “carbohydrates” but they don’t specify it’s sugar?

    Thanks and great read Lindsay!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      A quick tip would be to look at the ingredients list. Anything that is a syrup is sugar. Anything that ends in -ose is sugar. Fruit juice concentrate is added sugar. Really almost anything with the word juice in it usually means concentrated, added sugar like: cane juice, cane juice powder, evaporated cane juice, cane juice crystals.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      I usually look at the ingredient list (like Suzy said) and just look for sugar, cane syrup, or the -ose words. Sometimes I look at the grams of sugar, too… yesterday I bought a health food brand granola bar that had “no sugar”, just honey, and was super excited to try it. I took one bite and was blown out of the water with the sweetness… 15 grams! For me, that should be more than half of my daily added sugar. So bottom line is I’d look at the ingredients and the grams of sugar. 🙂