My Healthy 2020

How I Decided to Eat Less Sugar (It Made a Huge Impact on My Body and My Mind)

updated Apr 14, 2020
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Credit: Design: Kitchn; Photo: Becca Mathew

An engineer in Michigan, Hannah Slabaugh did a Whole30 challenge three years ago. “I learned how my body reacts to ingredients. There were some lessons I took away from the experience that helped me function better on a day to day basis.” Today, she eats far less added sugar than she did before the challenge and says that change, in combination with moderate exercise, has become her kind of healthy. “I think that what’s healthy for one person is not healthy for another person,” explains Hannah. She shares more on what works for her now. 

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Eat Less Sugar

  • Name: Hannah Slabaugh
  • Location & Occupation: Engineer in Michigan
  • How Long Have You Been Trying to Eat Less Sugar?: 3 years

What does “healthy” mean to you?
More fresh veggies, more meals cooked from scratch, less sugar, less packaged and processed food.

So health for you is defined in relation to the ingredients you added or removed from your way of eating. Let’s talk about it. Why did you decide to eat less sugar?
Whole30 helped me realize sugar’s impact on my body, my feelings, and my skin. I don’t think that Whole30 is sustainable long term but it helped me understand what I should eat more of and less of.  

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
In combination with moderate exercise, eating less added sugar has helped me lose weight, feel better, improve my skin, decrease fatigue, decrease inflammation, and generally improve my baseline health. For me, eating less sugar means I skip the candy bowl at work and, now, it doesn’t even tempt me. It means that if I make muffins, I add far less sugar or use apple sauce instead. If a recipe calls for sugar, I’ll do less or use honey. I do eat fruit. If there’s an option to have dessert or fruit, I lean toward fruit. 

What were your goals when you made this change?
I wanted to feel better and be kind to my body. I decided that I didn’t have to wake up achy, something I attributed to inflammation from sugar. I just wanted to be a good steward to my body and take care of me. Nobody else is going to do it. 

How did you start eating less sugar? What motivation pushed you on?
I started when I did the Whole30 meal plan. I felt like during Whole30, the most pronounced change in me was with sugar. If I had a bunch of sweets one day, then, like clockwork the next morning, I’d wake up feeling like crap. It was so predictable. After a couple times, I connected the dots. It’s not easy to make a big diet change so, after the 30 days were over, I decided to stick with eating less sugar. 

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of not being tempted by candy bowls any more! And generally paying more attention to my body’s reaction to what I put in it. You see, I’m the type of person who doesn’t always like to acknowledge emotions or feelings. My food journey has helped me acknowledge that my body can do a lot and I need to take care of it. The change to eating less sugar has helped me be more self-aware of my physical being and my emotional well-being.

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I’ve learned to embrace doing it imperfectly. Some seasons (like the holidays) are a bit harder and, once in a while, I eat more sugar than I should and pay the consequences. But learning to pay more attention to the connection between what I eat and how I feel has been really helpful. Now when I do give in and eat a couple cookies or a granola bar with a bunch of added sugar (which is the vast majority of them), I understand why I have a headache or a stomach ache an hour later. Recognizing those are consequences and not the way it has to be all the time has helped. 

What’s the one food you love the most?
Roasted vegetables, especially carrots and beets. 

If you were to recommend eating less sugar to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
This is kind of two things, but I think they are equally important. I’d say, first, start somewhere. If you drink pop every day, start replacing it with water. Replace a candy bowl with nuts or veggies. Or maybe you’re ready to try something more drastic like cutting sugar out completely for a month. I did Whole30 once and it helped me recognize how much added sugar and a few other things negatively affected my body. And, second, pay attention to your body. Pay attention to when you are more tired; when you are achy; when your skin is upset; when you get headaches or stomach aches. Start to connect the dots with what you’re putting into your body and how it reacts.

Thank you, Hannah! Follow her at @things.hannah.likes on Instagram.

Some Resources If You Want to Eat Less Sugar This Month (and Beyond!)

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.