The Sugar Challenge (Mental Health Edition)

CW: food restriction (cutting out refined sugar), mentions of depression and anxiety


  • My mental health could use some improvement
  • I’m going to try to cut out refined sugar as a DIY intervention
  • In my experience, (quitting) sugar has some interactions with anxiety/depression/ADHD
  • I’m going to document my sugar challenge from a mental health perspective (no focus on weight loss)

The brain on sugar

I’m slipping again.

The signs are always the same, and yet it takes me an eternity to notice.

I’m not sleeping well. Not eating well. Not moving enough.
I’m running on sugar and pride.

I try to laugh it off. Yeah, my heart rate is a little erratic. I just had a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. Nothing to worry about.

I conveniently leave out that I have been self-medicating with sugar and that I feel a little more wired every day.

I can’t sleep at night.

I lie in bed and think about all the things I don’t want to think about. I play stupid games on my phone to keep my mind occupied. To keep it from spiralling.

I know meditation is a better strategy, long term, but WaterSortPuzzle (yes, really) is easier, and I can combine it with binge-watching, audio books, podcasts, or other forms of multitasking. It’s easier just to keep my brain busy, even though I’m getting tired.

So tired.

At home, I was doing reasonably okay. I had a good food structure, and let myself have some junk food at the end of the day. (I know myself. If I start too early, I’ll be craving cookies all day.)

WholeFoods food haul in our Airbnb (please also note the bag in the background)

Now, between my grandfather’s passing and flying to New York (jetlag, lack of food routine, and so many new treats to try!) my sugar intake has skyrocketed.

“Did you just have four cupcakes?” – my partner

(The answer is yes.)

I feel awful.

I’m hungry all the time. I go to bed wired and wake up tired. I’m nauseous a lot. By the end of the day, my hands are shaking. In short: I feel like shit. (Cue: Bo Burnham.)

Introducing: The Sugar Challenge

I’ve taken a break from refined sugar before.

During those two months, I had no(!) panic attacks. None.
I had more energy. I felt better. My skin cleared up.

But that was years ago. I’m in a different place now.
Still, I want to feel better, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

30 days without refined sugar.

Let’s go!

Sugar and mental health

There seem to be some interactions between sugar and mental health. Here is my personal experience:

Sugar and depression:

There is some research that implies that quitting sugar may have a positive impact on depression. I’m excited to find out.

At the same time, in my personal experience, depression can make it harder to quit. (I’m making up for my lack of happy chemicals with snacks.)

This is going to be an adventure in learning to sit with my feelings instead of drowning them in chocolate.

Side note: if this is not manageable for you right now, please be kind to yourself and reach out to a medical professional if you can!

Sugar and anxiety:

From personal experience, sugar seems to make my anxiety worse. (Although – important to note – it does not actually cause anxiety.)

As I’ve said before, my previous attempt at a sugar challenge (60 days) really seemed to help me manage my anxiety.

My current tools are helpful, but not sufficient, so I think it’s worth a shot.
(I’ll let you know if it works.)

Sugar and ADHD:

This one is the most complicated for me.

I’m currently unmedicated. Medication helped me tremendously, but the side effects were brutal. I am definitely self-medicating with sugar. (While properly medicated, my sugar intake was much lower and more stable.)

Figuring out how to navigate cravings with ADHD is always an interesting experience. I want to acknowledge that – between (deficient or inefficient) dopamine, emotional dysregulation, and impulse control challenges – this does make it a lot harder (but – as I’ve done it before – clearly not impossible!).

What you can expect from me

In preparing (and fuelling this newest hyperfocus), I’m reading and watching everything I can get my hands on to get inspired and motivated.

I’ve seen some great blogs and videos, but most of them focus heavily on weight loss, and we’re not about that shit here. I 100% believe in health at every size, and the focus is on mental (and sometimes physical) health; weight will not be discussed.

In short:

  • We’ll focus on mental health
  • Pay attention to interactions with anxiety/depression/ADHD

If you’re interested in following (or even joining) my Sugar Challenge, leave a comment or find me on Instagram!

With love and cookies,


Side note: I will be sharing my personal experience. None of this is medical advice!

I know some people do great with moderation. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to be moderate about anything, so I’m going all in 🙂

If you have a history of disordered eating, this might not be the way to go. (If you need to make changes to your diet due to health reasons, please contact a health professional.)


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