Can You Eat Sugar and Lose Weight? (Here’s the Truth)
Sugar is often portrayed as every dieter’s worst enemy, but does it deserve all the hate? Here’s the truth about sugar and losing weight
I’ve received a lot of feedback from the illustrations, most of which have been good.
However, there have been a few unhappy campers, especially after I posted the Calorie Comparison pictured above.
After posting, I received an onslaught of Instagram messages and emails spouting the evils of sugar and questioning my motivates for wanting to help people.
Now, I'm not much of a confrontational guy, but I'm not a push-over either...
So I went through each email—one-by-one—calmly and politely explaining my view on why sugar alone isn't the enemy.
After going through my spiel about 12 times, I realized it was high time I write an article on the topic of sugar and weight loss. More specifically, why sugar is NOT the fat-storing villain people think it is...
Not only that, I'll also go over the areas of your diet that have a much larger impact on your ability to lose weight and be healthy. Once you have these few fundamentals of dieting dialed in, losing weight becomes incredibly simple.
Of course, it still requires hard work on your part...
But you'll find that your mental stress and food cravings drastically diminish, and your ability to stay consistent improves ten-fold!
Sounds like a pretty good trade-off for 5-10 minutes of reading, aye? ????
We could get super technical about all of the different types of sugar and mechanisms behind each.
However, that's not going to necessarily help you in deciding whether or not to eat that cupcake calling your name...
So I'll keep this brief and stick to the must-know info about eating sugar on a diet—no beakers or lab manuals required!
The Must-Know's of Sugar:
- Sugar is Energy - Our body and cells use sugar as fuel.
- Types of Sugar - There are 3 types of sugar we get from our diet, which are Monosaccharides (categorized further into glucose, fructose, & galactose), Oligosaccharides, and Polysaccharides.
- If you eat Carbs, you're eating Sugar - The carbohydrates you ingest from veggies, fruits, whole grains, potatoes, rice, candy bars, and skittles all contain one of the three types of sugar. One way or another, they are all converted to glucose (monosaccharide sugar).
Here's what's interesting...
The carbs in vegetables and a candy bar are more similar than you'd think. At some point, they're both converted into blood glucose to deliver energy throughout the body.
The only difference is the RATE at which this happens...
You've probably heard of something called the Glycemic Index? Essentially, it's a scale that measures how quickly a particular food gets converted into glucose.
Some people would have you believe that this rate of conversion is what really matters for losing and gaining fat due to its relationship with insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates you eat for energy. It's also what stores excess glucose as fat.
Since lower glycemic foods stabilize insulin levels, the thought is that higher GI foods will spike insulin and cause weight gain.
More Insulin Spikes = More Fat Gain, Right?
Well, we know from thousands and thousands of studies and over a hundred years of research that energy balance (aka calorie balance), not acute insulin levels, is the primary driver of weight loss. (source)
(If you want to read more about the Glycemic Index, insulin, and losing weight, check out this fantastic article by Mike Matthews)
Here's What ACTUALLY Makes Us Fat
Simply eating sugar doesn't make us fat. Instead, it's when we consume TOO MANY CALORIES (from excess sugar or other food sources) that we gain weight.
Energy balance, not sugar, dictates body weight changes, and it all comes down to the First Law of Thermodynamics (as depicted by this fancy-pants infographic I made ????):
As long as you're controlling calories, how much sugar you eat doesn't really matter.
Heck, you could lose weight eating nothing but sugary-infused treats and snacks! And there's plenty of research to back it up.
Here are three of my favorites....
(what? Don't you have favorite scientific studies too? *pushes up glasses and snorts*)
Scientists at Duke University conducted a study that found no difference in weight loss between subjects consuming 4% or 43% of their calories from sugar when total calorie intakes were matched. (study)
A professor at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds eating nothing but Twinkies and other packaged goods in a 10-week diet experiment (source)
Another professor was able to lose 56 pounds eating sugary Mcdonalds fast food for six months straight. (source)
The bottom line: When weight loss is the goal, consistently consume fewer calories than you burn is all that matters.
You could eat sugar and twinkies or limit yourself to a small list of "clean foods..."
As long as you're controlling your calories, you'll lose weight.
If Sugar’s Not Bad, Why All The Hate?
There are a couple of reasons...
Firstly, studies have shown that folks with higher sugar intakes tend to be heavier and have more diet-related health problems.
If you look back in time, you'd see that as our sugar intake has skyrocketed over the past 100 years in sequence with our waistlines...
But, that's not all that's changed...
Along with sugar, our calorie intake has ALSO been on a steep rise:
This further demonstrates that it's not that sugar alone harms our health. Rather, It’s an excessive amount of sugar—leading to an excess number of calories—that causes us to gain weight and develop weight-related diseases.
Secondly, While sugar isn’t inherently harmful, it’s not providing us with beneficial nutrients either…
Most people taking in an abundance of sugar also tend to eat fewer fruits, veggies, lean protein sources, and other whole foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The excess sugars (and calories) in their diet are coming from nutritionally void packaged snacks and candies—not micronutrient-dense fruits and veggies.
The Bottom Line: Whether sugar is or isn't harmful depends entirely on the context of the situation. If the extra calories from sugar are causing you to eat in a calorie surplus and/or consume very few micronutrient-dense whole foods, then you’re going to gain weight and probably develop nutrient deficiencies.
A great example of this can be seen from the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania.
The majority of their diet comes from carbohydrates, with a large portion coming from sugary fruit and honey. In fact, honey is the favorite food of the Hadza hunter-gathers! Despite this, they have excellent health and don't experience any of the diet-related diseases we see in Western cultures...
Why? because they don't overconsume calories, they get an abundance of micronutrient dense foods, and are very physically active. (source)
The Three Areas of Diet That Matter More Than Sugar Intake
Now that you understand what ACTUALLY matters for losing weight—total calories, and not total sugar intake—the answer to the question “Can You Eat Sugar and Lose Weight?” is simple:
As long as you’re in a calorie deficit, you'll lose weight despite how much or little sugar you eat.
Now having said that, if you go and follow the Twinkie or McDonald's diet and only focus on eating in a calorie deficit, you’re going to run into some problems down the road...
For one, your diet will be severely lacking in micronutrients, which are essential for optimal physical and mental health. You’ll end up hungrier, more lethargic, stressed, and have a harder time getting lean...
You’ll also be hard-pressed to get enough protein, which can lead to muscle loss and a slower metabolism.
So while calories are what matter for losing weight, the other components of food (micronutrients, fiber, and protein) are what will determine the quality of your weight loss results.
Which brings us to the three areas of diet that matter the most for losing weight...
Sugar intake is irrelevant without having a clear understanding of these three components of your diet. Get these right, and you won’t have to worry about how much or little sugar you’re eating.
- Ensure you’re in a calorie deficit either by tracking your food intake or creating a meal plan that’s set up to put you in a deficit.
- Consume plenty of protein to help build and retain lean muscle while dieting. This will make sure that most, if not all of the weight you lose comes from your fat stores and NOT muscle.
- Make the majority (80 to 90%) of your calories come from relatively unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods. I'm talking fruits, vegetables, lean meat, grains, nuts, etc.
If you do those three things, you’ll have set up a diet plan that provides plenty of micronutrients, fiber, and protein for optimal weight loss results.
You can also allow for 10-20% of your remaining calories to come from ice cream, chocolate, or anything else your sweet tooth desires!
Wanna know something pretty... sweet?
After reading this article, you know more about sugar and losing weight than 99.99% of people out there!
Even better, you know the necessary steps to set your diet up for success while still being able to enjoy your favorite sugary treats!
Do you have to eat sugar with your extra calories? Of course not...
But now you know that you can.
You know that as long as you’re: 1) eating in a calorie deficit, 2) getting plenty of protein, and 3) eating real, unprocessed food 80-90% of the time...
You can have the occasional piece of chocolate or cookie without harming your health and fat loss goals.
Want a Plan To Help You Lose Weight Eating The Sugary Treats You Love?
While there are only a few things that you need to get right to lose weight, building a program and, more importantly, executing on it is easier said than done...
That's why I created a free email course to help you do it!
In my 14-day ecourse, Fat Loss Forever, I go over everything (literally... everything!) you need to know to set up your diet for success.
It includes the most effective strategies I've used in my own journey of losing over 140 pounds and with my online coaching clients.
The best part? It's 100% FREE!
All you have to do is click the big shiny button below, enter your name and email address, and you'll get your first day's worth of content delivered straight to your inbox within 10 minutes.