On the 3rd April, I finished my very first round of the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program (which, for the uninitiated, is a eating & lifestyle plan designed to help you kick the sweet stuff and get you eating real, low sugar food). Now that I can call myself an IQS8WP graduate, I wanted share my reflections on the Program in this blog post. (If you like, catch up on my earlier posts on the Program here and here first.)*
What I enjoyed about the IQS8WP
One of the key characteristics of the 8WP I greatly appreciated (and that I think is essential to the Program’s popularity) is the relative simplicity of the required ingredients and cooking instructions for the meal plans.
- As long as you’re located close to a fairly decent-sized supermarket, 95% of the required ingredients for all of the meals should be readily available to you, and at a reasonable cost. The emphasis is on a ton of veggies plus some grains and protein, no supplements or “super foods”. The only item I can really think of that might not be in all supermarkets was rice malt syrup (a.k.a. brown rice syrup), but this is quite widely available in health food stores and/or online.
- In terms of cooking ability, if you’re not one to whiz around the kitchen like an amateur chef, there’s also no need to stress. Most of the recipes I was given on the 8WP probably had on average about 5 steps, many had less, and the recipes were not difficult to execute. Chop, slice, grate, sauté – relatively simple elements to meal prep and not too many bowls and boards to wash up.
Another element of the Program I found helpful was the emphasis on reducing food preparation time by way of (i) implementing a regular “Sunday Cook Up” and (ii) encouraging participants to make a habit of having last night’s leftovers for lunch the next day (the set dinner recipes typically made two portions so you’d make your lunch the night before). In addition to improving efficiency, I think the real value in these practices is that they reduce the risk of having a sugary slip-up during the Program. How often do you leave it that little bit too late to take a lunch break and then want to eat the whole food court like it’s a giant buffet? The Sunday cook up goods make the mid-week dinner prep shorter so you’re less at risk of having cereal at 9pm, too.
Finally, for me, the nicest part of participating in the IQS8WP was that it took away the need to personally plan meals. I work quite long hours, in addition to studying and running my website. I always try to roughly map out meals for the week and do a big online grocery shop to match, then prep as much as I can over the weekend. On the 8WP, the planning and list writing was done for me; I can’t think of any way to describe that except delightful. If you’re not in the habit of regularly mapping out meals and getting your groceries in order, the 8WP is a nice way to coach yourself in to this. Eight weeks is a solid period of time to get you in to a healthy routine; once the Program is over you can use the plans you have on hand as a foundation for your own weekly plans!
But hey…was the food tasty?
On the whole, I liked it! I did the Omnivore Winter Plan, which included lots of yummy slow-cooked items, some soups, grills and salads (note: you can get a vegetarian plan if you prefer this, plus there are tips on swapping proteins and making vegan choices). A few meals weren’t up my alley, I admit, not necessarily just because of flavour, but also sometimes because of the ingredients. I’m not strictly low-FODMAP but a few high FOPMAP foods, especially legumes and some fruits, really irritate my stomach. So I made substitutions or just skipped some of the meals and made my own sugar-free things.
If you’re wondering what kind of food you can expect on the IQS8WP, the majority of the meals on the Program I’d probably describe as “modern Australian” or “contemporary” Western cuisine, though lots of meals are influenced by various cultures so you’ll get curries, stir-fries, biryani, shakshuka…plenty of flavour and variety.
The recipes on the Program are exclusive and you need to join to gain access to them, but you can check out this old IQS blog post showing what an average day on the Program looks like, plus a lot of the recipes on the IQS blog are very similar to what you can expect on the 8WP. There are also a couple of the IQS8WP recipes floating about online for free so you can sample these! Try out the Paleo Veggie Bread (one of my absolute favourite recipes from the Program, it’s such a good one to have in the freezer) or these Green Bacon & Egg Cupcakes.
What else I would have liked on the Program
The IQS8WP is delivered primarily via an online platform (you get regular emails and login to the platform to access, and print if you like, all of your meal plans etc.). On the whole, it’s quite an extensive offering; besides the shopping lists and weekly meal plans, there are community forums, fact sheets and even some exercise guides.
To expand on the offering, I think it would be cool if there could be some more support around (i) options for when you miss the Sunday cook up and can’t make up the time and (ii) what to do when you need to, or would rather, buy your meal out. I love making food and it’s not a chore for me to be in the kitchen, but there are times when I literally just CAN’T; I’m pretty much home to sleep and that’s it. In my experience coaching others, I’ve found it to be quite a common issue; some days you’d have to be toting around three meals’ worth of food and it’s not always practicable.
While the IQS support materials do provide a few suggestions for faster meals you can make outside the weekly plans, I’d love to see some super “stripped back” meal guidance to help really time-strapped people to eat something sugar free, e.g. a visual guide of five things you can make with 4 ingredients or less, just so participants have a quick and easy guide to portioning out a fast, basic meal. Similarly, expanded guidance on choosing meals out would be helpful (though I did just see a new IQS blog post go up on how to choose a good food court lunch which is pretty on point, plus you can check out my blog post on how to eat low sugar when you’re eating out!).
Personally, my compliance with the IQS8WP was strong right up until the final week, as then I left for an overseas holiday and had to make do pulling together the lowest sugar options which on the road. Thankfully, my first stop was New York (where I stayed until the Program concluded), so I was in a city that enabled me to enjoy lots of no or low sugar food quite easily. Eggs for breakfast, chopped salads for lunch and grilled, Mediterranean style dinners were the easy low sugar options. I was sad not to be able to try out the last week of IQS recipes though, and have bookmarked a few for trying out asap!
Beyond the 8 Week Program
Overall, I enjoyed participating in the IQS8WP and am happy to have picked up an array of new recipe ideas I can continue to use. You get to download all of the IQS meal plans, so by participating you basically gift yourself a little recipe booklet, as well as becoming part of the IQS community (which includes a very friendly IQS graduates Facebook group where you can continue to share ideas and get support outside the Program).
Now that I’ve run through the whole of the IQS8WP, as I initially contemplated in my initial blog post pre-Program, I think that the 8WP is suitable for someone who feels like they need a bit of a sugar “reset” and would like to learn how to develop a consistent approach to low sugar eating. The Program is very helpful in terms of getting you in to a regular routine and encourages healthy habits including weekly meal preparation time (using natural, unprocessed foods), and a reduced reliance on overly-processed and sweet snacks between meals. My only caution would be if you’re someone who already feels nervous or anxious in any way about the food you eat; the 8WP does involve following a kind of eating regimen (though there’s no calorie counting). Regimented eating in any way can be harmful for some people, in a psychological sense; please, talk to someone you trust first if you recognise this nervousness in yourself, before embarking on any kind of eating and/or lifestyle program.
If you are keen to sign up for the IQS8WP, my final tip to you all would be – try to get someone you live with to do it with you! Halve your food prep by taking it in turns to do the meals and you will have the most cruisy, healthy eight weeks ever. Plus you’ll get a grocery shopping buddy and someone to share the cheese platter with when everyone else is getting sticky date pudding!
The next round of the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program kicks off in June 2016. Are you going to try it out next time? Have you completed it already? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
If you’re keen to try out I Quit Sugar but the program dates don’t work for you (affiliate links/images follow), you can grab these resources from IQuitSugar.com:
- You can buy the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Program Starter Pack book bundle which provides you with guidance and recipes for reducing your sugar intake, or
- Pick up one of the more specific IQS cookbooks and incorporate your favourite low sugar recipes in to your meal planning as it suits you! My favourite cookbooks are the IQS Slow Cooker Cookbook (total lifesaver, I love prepping in advance), and the IQS Healthy Breakfast Cookbook (because breakfast!) and the latest book, Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious.
*Disclaimer: I was invited to try the IQS 8 Week Program and did not pay the program fee, however please know that my review of the Program content is an honest appraisal of my experience.