Saying Goodbye to Sugar (or gluten, or potato chips or basically anything yummy you never want to stop eating)

32309648_sAt some point in your quest for improving your health or your weight it’s inevitable that you’ll need to make some dietary changes to meet your goal(s). The first step can be challenging: You need to identify the specific nutritional modifications that will get you the farthest the fastest. This is where coaching and programs like my Sweet Freedom Reboot can be invaluable, But it’s actually the second step, implementation, that’s the hardest for most of us.

Sometimes we just need to adjust our portions or nutrient balance. Or you may learn, like me, that your system is reactive to certain foods or you’re straight up addicted to them. Bang: Suddenly you have to say good-bye to something you’ve been eating happily for years, maybe decades.

In walking hundreds of people through this “good-bye process” over the last 10 years, I’ve noticed some patterns that bear a remarkable resemblance to the famous Five Stages of Grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her now-classic 1969 book “On Death and Dying”.

Kubler-Ross interviewed over 500 people in the process of dying and conceived “The Model of Coping with Dying” based on a five stage process that she witnessed over and over again among the patients she studied. In her book she was very clear that not everyone goes through all of these stages, and the order isn’t always consistent, but there were enough similarities that she felt there was some clinical significance to the patterns in the way we process deep loss. The stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Using the Five Stages of Grief for giving up dairy or starchy carbs to get healthy may seem extreme, but if the shoe fits…

Here’s what it looks like when I and many, many of my clients are told that in order to achieve ________ (health/fitness goal), we need to give up _______ (certain food or category of food):

Denial: “I don’t think that test is accurate.” “That can’t be right – I’ve been eating ________ for years and I’m fine!” “Food reactions are a myth. My doctor says so.” “You’re a quack and I’m getting another coach!”
This stage is a kind of defense against bad news you really don’t want to hear. It can be short and intense or it can linger on for years. In my case I tried a bunch of different ways over about five years to “prove” that I could keep eating sugar…fail.

Anger: “This is so unfair!” “How come my sister can eat anything she wants and she doesn’t gain a pound?” “Can YOU eat ________? You suck!”
At this stage it’s gotten harder to deny the truth but you’re pretty pissed about the whole thing.

: “Okay, so what if I give ______ up all week except on Sunday cheat day?” “I will do ANYthing else – I’ll work out twice as hard if I can just eat _______.” “Okay, I know wheat isn’t good for me but flour’s not the problem, right? I’ll just eat gluten-free pretzels and gluten-free bread and gluten-free muffins, okay?”
This is what I call the stalling stage. It’s an attempt to delay the inevitable – we’re sure there must be some way we can avoid actually giving up this food for good.

Depression: “What is the point of eating if I can’t have ________?” “I don’t care, whatever.” “I’ll never meet my goal anyway so it doesn’t matter what I eat.”
At this stage the truth has usually started to sink in and there is some real sadness around it. The idea of never eating certain beloved foods again can even fill you with listlessness or apathy about your goals, as if giving up this food is something you have to do, but may not be worth the loss.

Acceptance: “I think this is going to be okay.” “There’s plenty of stuff I love I can still eat, and some of the substitutes are just as tasty as ________.” “I actually feel a lot better when I don’t eat _______ and I can live without it.” “I can totally do this.”
At this stage we’ve come to terms with the reality of this change. We can see and feel the clear benefits and are willing to actively alter our lives to make the change(s) permanent.

The process is usually cyclical, not linear, as most of us will go through several rounds of giving up the food and then eating it again before we truly acknowledge that it just doesn’t work for us. You can expect that as part of the normal process of making lifestyle change stick. It’s really good if you can cut yourself some slack here as you try to work at this deep level with something that’s been a habit for most of your life.

The good news about this grieving process is that when you let yourself move all the way through it and stick to your bigger goals, life generally starts feeling better than it did when you started.

If I could add one final stage to my “good-bye food” model, it would be:
Born-Again Abstinence: “You should really try giving up _________ – it’s amazing – it will change your life! I don’t even miss it!”


  1. Most excellent article. I went through this myself, and it’s both good and sad to know I went through these same steps multiple times; first IBS, then GERD, and the final blow was eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) a year ago. I am amazed by this, if I had known, I might have done things differently – such as me screaming because I had to figure out what to eat!

    • Jeannette says:

      Oh Janice, I’m so sorry! You’re not alone, though. This kind of struggle is so common that I think it’s our human “norm”. I wish you more ease going forward. Warmly, Jeannette

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