Sugar Free January Recap - Skillful Cook
Our recipes, your inbox. Sign up

Sugar Free January Recap

A Sugar Free January Recap shows nine meal ideas.

It's February 1st! Meaning ... that's a wrap on Sugar Free January! WHAT WHAT WHATTTTT! We seriously did it.

I don't know about you guys, but I actually really enjoyed stepping away from refined sugar for a month, and I'm totally being serious. Admittedly, there were moments, especially breakfast-related moments, where all I wanted was a fat stack of pancakes soaked in maple syrup... + fruit... + pastry... + mocha. But last night while Bjork and I were watching Netflix, I snacked on an orange and made myself a peppermint tea and I pinkie swear I was not missing an-y-thing. I mean, that's basically HEALTH GOALS all-around, right?! I think what makes me so happy isn't just that I was following all the sugar free rules, but that I was actually enjoying it.

Today I put together a few thoughts about what it was like for me to take a balanced and flexible approach to being sugar free for the month of January.

And of course, I would love to hear from you in the comments. OBVIOUSLY TELL ME EVERYTHING.

  • Did you do sugar free January?
  • Did you like it or hate it?
  • Was it harder or easier than you thought?
  • What changes did you notice?
  • Which recipes were your favorite?
  • What are you going to do moving forward?

Okay, I'll go first.

What's Been Good

Avocado toast with a runny egg.

There are three main things I've feel good about during sugar free January:

Saying no to pop aka soda (I live in Minnesota - we say pop - I know, I know). I don't normally drink a lot of pop, so it wasn't like I was breaking a huge habit here. But I do like pop, under normal circumstances, and to be honest, the few sips I had mid-month during our Hawaii trip were just loads sweeter than I wanted them to be. It felt good to find my tastebuds not wanting something so sweet.

No coffee drinks. Pop wasn't so hard. This one was hard. But now that I've been without a mocha or a royal tea latte for a month, I feel like I'm better able to calibrate for sugar in general. My tastes aren't so adjusted to these super-sweet drinks. Usually it goes something like this: Ugh, I really want a mocha. // But I think I'll just get a tea. // Wow, this tea is actually really good and I love it.

No mega-desserts. I feel REALLY good about this one. I almost always crave something sweet right after I eat, or maybe an hour or two after dinner when we're watching TV in the evening. But other than splitting one dessert with Bjork in Hawaii, I really didn't have any major desserts throughout the month of January and, um, not to get braggy, but that feels awesome. I feel like I proved to myself that a really good, fresh, juicy winter orange or a date smeared with peanut butter is just as enjoyable as a brownie. I KNOW! Who am I right now. But this is what happens to me when I give up sugar, and I like it. My tastebuds have readjusted themselves.

What's Been Hard

My two problem areas were persistent throughout the month:

I craved refined grains. Like white rice, white bread, white flour, flour tortillas, etc. For example, I always found myself wanting battered and fried chicken over regular chicken, or a white bread sandwich over wheat. That is strange for me because normally I don't mind the whole grains. But for whatever reason, I kept finding myself making more exceptions in this category than I had planned. Not a huge deal - just something I was aware of and found interesting.

I craved sweet breakfasts. There's probably some science behind this, but even as a savory breakfast lover, I'd always wake up craving something sweet. Towards the end of the month, I started to get a little loose and giving myself a glass of orange juice in the morning, which was not necessarily in the plan, but I felt like it was a good in-between of savory breakfast and straight-up sugar cereal. I found that the most effective way to handle this breakfast mega-craving was to either have some kind of carb + fat combo (whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter, toast with butter, etc.) or wait an hour or two to eat until my savory cravings kicked in. Usually once I had been awake for a while, I was more excited about a quick hash with an egg on top, but dang, getting around that morning sugar craving was tough.

The Effects

Various ingredients spread out on a counter.

Here are some of the effects I experienced going sugar free for a month:

Food just tasted better! Things that were supposed to be sweet actually tasted sweet - imagine that. This made me really happy because that was the big goal for me in going sugar free for a month. There were a few times I ate a piece of fruit and was just blown away by the natural flavor and sweetness. Yay for food!

I trained (or started training) my brain to find alternatives to a sweet craving. Thought 1: I want cake. Thought 2: A piece of fruit with a little wedge of cheese also sounds pretty good. Sometimes all it takes is paving a new path. Once you find alternatives that you can confidently say are just as good as the thing you're missing, it becomes so much easier.

I felt just generally more stable and balanced. Truthfully, I didn't have a huge energy boost, and I actually slept worse in January for reasons probably unrelated to sugar. Go figure. But on a day-to-day level, I did feel more grounded. As a person that is highly sensitive to all-around stimuli (caffeine, noise, weather, etc.), what I am realizing is that sugar may have contributed to my pre-sugar-free-January ups and downs more than I realized. So, I guess it's not all that surprising that January felt much better. I was making better decisions and not feeling so much overwhelm.

What Happens Next

My plan moving forward is to stay “Sugar Aware” and try to keep refined sugar to special occasions (vacation, birthdays, a weekend treat). Here are some practical ways I have done this in the past:

  • Saving wine, cocktails, soda, and/or desserts for weekends.
  • Ordering coffee drinks “half-sweet” or with half the amount of syrup.... OR just reminded myself that I actually do enjoy an unsweetened decaf Americano with cream, or an unsweetened orangey-cinnamony hot tea.
  • Drinking sparkling water with a few berries or a wedge of lime while I make dinner so I don't miss the glass of wine.
  • Drinking hot tea in the evening. New routine!
  • Using dates or bananas instead of refined sugar in recipes.
  • Adding an additional pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness in a recipe (for example, these homemade almond butter cups).
  • Mastering savory breakfasts. I really do feel like having the right breakfast helped set the tone for the day when I was able to start with eggs, toast, avocado, cheese, greens, roasted vegetables, etc. instead of sugary foods. Even oatmeal or chia pudding with a natural sweetener didn't leave me feeling as balanced as something with some protein, healthy fat, carbs, and maybe even a hit of spice. Maybe I need to investigate some savory meal prep options. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to drop a comment.
  • Really savoring the sweet things. If I'm having dinner with my friends and someone makes dessert, I want to really, fully commit to that. I want to be aware of every delicious, warm, gooey, melty, ice-creamy bite. What I don't want is to absentmindedly eat the leftover dessert the next day while scrolling through Instagram before lunch. If and when I opt in to sugar, I want to really be present to that. I want to fully enjoy it.

Favorite Recipes

Kale salad on a plate.

Okay, my favorite recipe from Sugar Free January is... OMG, I could never pick. I legitimately adore them all and worked really hard to make sure I was only posting recipes I truly loved. But if I had to pick?

I think I would say, for me, at the moment, it's the Kale Caesar Salad with Sweet Potato Fries. It's just everything I want from a veg lunch. The flavor of the dressing is just right - definitely punchy and bold without being overbearing, and because it's an avocado-based dressing, I actually feel okay about smothering my kale in it. The side of sweet potato fries adds warmth, crunch, carb-ature, and a little sweetness... gah. It's just my perfect combo.

YOUR favorite recipes this month? Here are some recipe wins:

collage of Sugar Free January Instagram stories

Hey You - Good Work!

Congratulations to everyone who did Sugar Free January with us! Whether you went all-out in removing sugar from your diet or just casually tried to be aware of your sugar intake, I am so, so happy for you! You've taken a manageable, practical, and friendly step in the direction of food enjoyment and food health. I have LOVED creating these recipes and you guys have just (literally) eaten them up. The amount of screenshots of your recipes in my camera roll is just... it's scary. Scary awesome.

I'm so thankful for your energy this month, and I can't wait to share more really tasty sugar-aware food with you!

In case no one has told you today: you're awesome. And that's unrelated to sugar. You're just awesome.

Now - tell me about it! How did it go for you?

Filed Under: Sugar Free January

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for that kale Caesar recipe!!! I haven’t been sugar free in Jan, but have been trying to stay under 1300 calories a day, which ends up meaning very little sugar anyway! I have eaten that salad at least three times since you posted it, and guess what’s for lunch today?? Also, I have had to kick my soy latte habit and nightly beer or glass of wine, and also have a new appreciation for tea. If you haven’t tried Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea, it is delicious! It’s my after dinner sweet treat ( along with drinking it pretty much all day on the extra cold days!)

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    The husband and me went full Keto this January. So it was no sugar of any kind and no carbs. Super tough at first, but I am now down 7 lbs. I am also smashing my cycling and running PBs. Gone are the moments of feeling overly full after meals, getting hangry at around 3pm, and my “cannot function” slumps. As for breakfast ideas – I often batch cook broccoli and cheese omelettes and then reheat as needed in a pan. I also cook up and keep a stash of sausages (with real meat, not the jimmy deans) or Canadian bacon for when I’m in a super rush. I just grab and go. While the breakfasts are a bit fatty, I can totally go from 7am to 1pm without needing a snack now. Hope this helps!

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    This was such a fun/hard/rewarding challenge! Everything I read beforehand said it’s not actually that hard, you’ll be fine, etc. but for me (and I didn’t think I ate a ton of sugar regularly) the first week was super hard! I don’t know if it was just the whole ‘once you say I can’t have it, I want it even more’ thing, but I was struggling the first week. Now though, it’s been much easier and I feel super accomplished! I was definitely more lenient on the weekends when we did group brunches, happy hours, etc. but I’m super proud of how I did during the week (I mean, no wine Wednesdays were rough).

    I think my biggest takeaway is looking for the hidden sugar in sauces, dressings, etc. and being more inclined to just make my own so I can control the ingredients. And I love your tip about being fully present when eating dessert. I don’t want to mindlessly eat it just because it’s there, I want to savor it and enjoy every bite. I think that will also help to say no to sub par store bought treats at work too.

    Here’s to a sugar-aware 2018!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      The sub par work treats. It felt so good to say no this month. I would have eaten them just because they were “there”.

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      Yes to the sub par work treats! Ugh. I love your perspective and I agree – I found the first week (even just the first few days) the most difficult. The longer I was sugar free, the easier it was to keep doing it. Thanks for the comment Stephanie!

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay! I went on the sugar-free January journey and came out at the end with a good “sugar aware” plan for myself.

    At first, sugar-free January was a little too easy for me because I was allowing myself (too much) dried fruit and 85% chocolate every day, plus occasional bakes made with good amounts of honey or maple syrup (I love baking and didn’t want to have to give it up). But I think that eating dried fruit daily to curb my sugar cravings wasn’t doing me any favors because my body was probably processing it the same way as it would process candy.

    About halfway through the month, I changed my plan to a “quantity control” approach. I stopped eating dried fruit (only fresh) and chocolate every day. Now, I allow myself one “clean” treat every week (maybe something like your peanut butter cups, a batch of waffles with maple syrup, or banana oat bars with dark chocolate). And I allow myself one indulgent bake (that includes refined sugar) every two weeks. When I plan for the bakes that I know are coming, I don’t crave sugar everyday the way I used to. And I am WAY more mindful about my indulgent dessert.

    Bonus surprises from my journey:
    1. I am drinking more green smoothies
    2. I think I’m getting way more nutrients on a daily basis from the smoothies and all the fresh fruits and veggies I’m eating.
    3. Your salmon burger recipe. YUM!
    4. I started a food journal (not to count calories) but just to write down what I’ve eaten every day. It helped me get some chocolate habits under control.

    P.S., Your relaxed and balanced approach to sugar-free January was inspiring to me. Everyone has their refined sugar vices, and it’s okay. I like how you encouraged everyone to experiment and find something that worked for them. It’s definitely the reason I decided to do SF Jan, and it really payed off for me in the end! I feel like I’m in a healthier state than I was before. The balanced lifestyle approach is the way to go.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      This makes me so happy. I love how you started and then adjusted based on what you knew was best for you. Good work Lisa! 🙂 And I’m so glad you liked the salmon burgers.

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    I did not do sugar free January but loved the salmon burgers with slaw! Will definitely be a favorite in my recipe rotation, will be a great summer dish as well.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    We did the Whole30 this January (so not even natural sweeteners or any type of grain) and I’ve also been amazed at how my taste buds have adjusted. Mangoes taste like heaven and I had the slightest drizzle of honey in my tea last night (I used to put a spoonful in) and I could taste it! I wasn’t able to make all of the January recipes due to the Whole30 rules so I can’t wait to catch up on the deliciousness now. Especially those almond butter cups! Thank you Lindsay!

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    My husband and I did sugar-free January, including giving up honey and maple syrup (we did keep wine and unsweetened dried fruit!). It was hard at times, but ultimately super rewarding for both of us! We both dropped a few lbs., and I was able to kick my gross flavored-coffeemate-plus-an-extra-spoonful-of-sugar habit, and am now drinking my coffee unsweetened with just a big splash of half and half (thanks for that tip!). One thing we both absolutely loved was the Squirrelly sprouted grain bread you recommended. It’s our new go-to!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I’m so glad!! This morning I had a splash of Bjork’s flavored coffee creamer in my coffee and (no offense Bjork) it just did not taste good to me. I love that I love unsweetened, creamy coffee now. 🙂

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I started no sugar/no flour after Christmas. I did have some at special occasions, but not much. I’m always amazed at how the body adapts and I could have cared less about sugar (vs. being a sugar fiend usually!). I feel great and agree with you, food tastes better! Now, to keep it up. I’m the sort that if I give an inch, that’s it-game over.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Yes – Bjork is that way too (prefers it to be black and white) so I understand the struggle! I hope you find an empowering and enjoyable way to carry it with you moving forward!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you Lindsay for this challenge! I feel like I was healthier this month until I had to travel to a place with blah food options – luckily it was a short trip but still even coming back home I wasn’t in the cooking mode I was in before. I tried your cauliflower taco meat and that was so easy and great. I stayed away from hot chocolate until yesterday. I learned I need to pay more attention to sugar in whole wheat bread and find a better choice.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    I didn’t go full on sugar free and I kept things like white rice and flour because I don’t use much of those anyway. I kept red wine and maple syrup. Overall I like it because it made me look keep better track of what kinds of sugar are in the foods I eat and made me read the ingredients for everything closer which was kind of fun 🙂 The hardest thing was keeping it to one glass of red wine which was not an actual goal but I just something I tried to limit too (though I sometimes topped it off again before dinner 🙂 ) I’ll definitely continue to read the ingredients of everything I make. I would have loved to try some of the recipes that you listed if my husband wasn’t so picky where vegetables and “funky ingredients”, according to him, are concerned.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Hahaha – we have some more basic, mellow dinner recipes coming up next month. Maybe there’ll be something he likes! 🙂

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    I did it! No sugar/flour for the WHOLE month, the only thing I allowed myself was dried fruit (raisins mostly, because that filled my need for a sweet something after a meal). It was incredibly rewarding (down 7 lbs) and my skin improved too! Yesterday I said “hmmm, what am I going to eat to reintroduce sugar,” and couldn’t come up with one thing in my house that was worth splurging on. I am resolved to be very choosy in sweet indulgences going forward.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hey, way to go Lindsay! Well done on the sugar-free 31 days! I guess the white carb craving was your body looking for that high GI hit. I didn’t do sugar-free January and weaned myself off sugary coffee some years ago. But I did do Dry January – and (believe it or not!) I only just realised when I read your post that it’s Feb 1!
    Not feeling the need to rush out for a beer though, and going to keep it going a while.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    It was actually easier than I thought. I don’t like bread or rice. My boys don’t like noodles. So I was ok with my choices or lack thereof. I lost 4 pounds. I feel great. Until I ate a cupcake today. Now I feel sick. So I can see fewer cupcakes in my future. Don’t know if that is good or bad yet.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Isn’t that strange how foods you used to crave now make you feel so gross? I feel the exact same way about cupcakes, donuts, etc. I still eat the occasional donut, or half of a donut, but I just know that afterwards I’m going to feel ill or get a headache. Thanks a lot, sugar!

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    I started Sugar-Free January with a “what the heck, might as well try it” attitude. I allowed myself to have honey in tea and yogurt, maple syrup in oatmeal, and limited artificial sweeteners and dried fruit.

    At times, it was difficult. There were two scone-related incidents. I crave something sweet after meals, so I kept dates on hand. My downfall was the mascarpone cheese that we also had on hand. I started keeping Cuties on my desk at work for a post-lunch sweet.

    One big victory: we switched to plain Greek yogurt! Bonus: I spend less time at the store deciding between a zillion kinds of yogurt. (Fage 2% plain, done.)

    I had issues with bread. I looooove bread, but I know that eating too much white bread or pasta leads to huge energy crashes. I made a deal with myself that any white bread I wanted needed to be homemade. We had fun experimenting with no-knead bread, and I’m eager to try making a sourdough starter.

    What changed? I’ve lost the desire to raid the candy dish at work. I prefer to make my own coffee, usually cold-brew (less bitter = less sugar needed.) I missed the convenience of flavored creamer, but half and half + vanilla-flavored liquid stevia worked. I discovered honeybush tea. <3

    Recipes? I am making buffalo cauliflower this weekend. I want it on a salad with crumbled gorgonzola and sliced celery. My teenage son is addicted to avocado crema and asks me to pack it with a taco salad for lunch.

    Going forward, I'm planning to prep more savory breakfasts, so I can avoid the everlasting temptation of scones.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I love this comment. “There were two scone-related incidents.” made me LOL. You are awesome. Love your experience and perspective!

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    For breakfast, I like to make a crustless quiche/frittata on Sunday and eat a piece for breakfast all week. In a pie pan, make a layer of cooked, sliced potato (sweet or white), throw a bunch of veggies (sun dried tomato, spinach, mushroom) on top, add some chicken sausage or bacon, top with scrambled eggs, add some cheese if you want, and bake at 350* until set. SO good and keeps me full all morning with minimal prep work! The slices also freeze well.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Love! This sounds awesome. I don’t love quiche (I know, I’m weird) but I think I could do it if there were potatoes involved. 🙂

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    As someone who grew up eating desserts most nights after dinner and continued that habit into my adult life, and as someone who went HARD on holiday treats in the days leading up to January, I found going sugar-free….WAY easier than I expected. I barely had any cravings whatsoever, with exceptions being like this time a coworker sat down next to me with a mug of hot cocoa and I got hit with that delicious warm chocolate aroma. I went into the month telling myself I could have dark chocolate (like you), but I didn’t even need that fallback! I guess what I learned is how much of my “sweet tooth” was actually habitual, and then the cravings that arose from that habit, rather than something ingrained in my very character, which is what I sort of thought. As for what life without sugar has been like…honestly I feel great. More energy. More satisfied after meals. Less bloated. All-around pretty dang good. I don’t even feel tempted to celebrate with a big dessert today! This has been such an eye-opening month for me.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      “I guess what I learned is how much of my “sweet tooth” was actually habitual, and then the cravings that arose from that habit.” This is so wise! I love it.

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    I did Go Sugar Free 2 1/2 years ago and have been pretty much sugar free since then. I didn’t join your sugar free challenge because I had a trip to Disney already planned for January and knew I’d at least be having some cocktails (my one sugar selection that I’ve allowed myself). For the first time, I had a few bites of dessert. It was full on awareness, they were wonderful, but all I needed was a few bites and haven’t craved anything since then. I’m now aware that I can do that every once in awhile and will come out ok on the other side. Good job with your sugar free January!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      YES I love that you only needed a few bites. I feel the exact same way. The idea of eating a full dessert seems overwhelming to me these days!

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    A quick and healthy savory breakfast that you might like are egg “muffins”. You put scrambled egg and whatever mix of veggies, cheese and meat you want in a muffin tin and bake until set. They’re basically mini crustless quiches. They keep in the fridge for maybe
    a week. Top with your favorite hot sauce 🙂

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I am so picky about eggs. I don’t love quiche so TBH I don’t know if I would like them. But I’ve seen this before and I love this idea in theory. Maybe it’s time to give them a try!

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    I have a tea recommendation for you! Last month, I was in the “fancy” market in my town and wandered into the bulk tea section, where I saw a jar labeled “Milk Tea Oolong.” Now, I love everything milk tea. One of my good friends still talks about the time that I dragged her around Hong Kong for 6 hours searching for the “best” cup of milk tea in the city. This oolong has been infused with milk tea flavor, minus the milk and the sugar. It tastes like being wrapped up in a cozy blanket. I want to share its goodness with the world as we enter drab February. I’m not sure of the brand I bought, but a quick Google/Amazon search pulled up several options. I have enjoyed it both plain and with a teaspoon of sugar, which I feel brings out its flavor.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsey! Loved your enthusiasm leading up to and throughout the sugar free period. I had to go start an anti-inflammatory diet at the end of the year, so I was sugar-free along with you (and gluten free and dairy free and fruit free and and and…). Due to my pain, it was easy to forgo all those foods. My head feels clearer, some weight has dropped, and I’m not as fatigued as usual. Sugar cravings? Yes, but again, happy to give it up to help the body’s inflammation go down. Thanks for all your energy!!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    OMIGOSH! Those peanut butter cups are to die for! My granddaughter and I made them 3 times over this past week. We got the recipe adjusted to perfection using the Agave syrup (the Maple syrup just wouldn’t freeze). They are so delicious! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    you & your readers who did the SF Jan are all very inspiring! highly recommend “The Power of Habit” by Duhigg to know what happens when it comes to sugar and habits. Great work, everyone!

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    Well done to everyone who got involved. Also, I love your perspectives. It’s great to see real world discussion – rather than people just claiming that cutting out sugar is simple and easy.

  24. Skillful Cook Logo

    I think this was perfect timing for me. I had to take a bout of steroids late last year and ended up with oral thrush (eww) and couldn’t get rid of it. So I’m doing sugar-free, carb-free, basically meat, eggs, veggies and Greek yoghurt with the odd helping of fruit (because I can’t help myself). Bread is my kryptonite, so it’s… been harder to ditch that than anything else. The first week was hard. But it hasn’t been too bad since then, and TBH, I’m actually not craving sugar at all. I mean, I stared at a cheesecake the other day at a birthday party, and didn’t have that craving for it. It’s weird to try and describe the feeling, but my body is basically looking at chocolate these days and… nothing. No drooly, get in my belly feeling at all. Weird. I am craving salt, though I’ve also been hitting the gym hard, and since I’m eating nothing that’s got preservatives in it, my body is trying to compensate for salt loss. Other bonus: not as hungry, dropping kilos, and feeling pretty alert throughout the day. I think I’ll stick with it, and only have the odd treat (OMG, garlic bread, I need you in my life).