What is right for you? Gradual vs. cold turkey with sugar

Quite often, someone muscles up their fire and motivation to change around sugar and then turns to me and goes OK LAURA, HOW? HOW!!!??

It happens when I meet new friends at co-working spaces, at parties (I know not cool!) and a lot via e-mail from responses to the blog.

What are my options to currently reduce the amount of sugar I stuff my face with?

Should I go cold turkey starting tomorrow or just be gradual with this?

How can I stop this last habit I have snacking on Oreos in the evening after dinner?

How do I avoid succumbing to this ‘healthy cake’ which I’m eating 5 times a week for nothing other than emotional reasons?

How do I reduce my cravings like you did without it being so extreme it doesn’t last?

Is cold turkey a healthy way to do it on both a physical and psychological level?

The confusion

I’m not surprised that you and other people are confused. Different health experts, magazines and articles say different things all the time. I was confused for a long time myself. I read like every perspective on it and got my head thoroughly around all the arguments for both. 

Let alone then working out what to do with fruit, sugar substitutes and the rest of it.

The fear with going gradual is that nothing is going to really happen fast and you’re desperate to change quickly. However cold turkey just feels a bit extreme and you may have even been burnt from previous attempts which have backfired.

I really do appreciate the challenges in trying to work out the best approach, so I’m going to help you weigh it all up and get some key considerations on how YOU should go about your current sugar challenges. 


Pros & cons of each

Let’s get some key points out on the table:

Cold turkey advantages

  • Craving control. It is the quickest way to get physical cravings down. Past 3-5 days, if you’re not going crazy on a natural source of fructose, you will notice a change.
  • Intensive focussed knowledge gain. You learn how much sugar is in different things, become a sugar spotting ninja and are forced to find alternatives to everything. It’s a decent learning curve if you’ve not been on it before.
  • Clear boundaries. Decisions take energy so when you know what you’re doing, you reduce internal stress from ‘should I have that or not?’ type dilemmas.
  • Clear benefit attribution & motivation. Skin suddenly looks amazing and energy is through the roof? It’s extremely obvious that the sugar’s responsible which is helpful to know for future motivation.

Cold turkey disadvantages

  • It’s a ‘diet’. No matter how you cut it, there is restriction. I’ll come onto this later in considerations.
  • It perpetuates ‘all or nothing’ and ‘black or white’ mindsets.
  • Detox symptoms. The more sugar you’re eating, the worse these will be.
  • It’s not very social. Life has to somewhat go on hold if you’re being really strict because preparing, analysing and planning takes time and mental energy.
  • Sustainability. What happens when it ends? This is dangerous territory that requires certain things.  
  • It doesn’t address deeper issues around emotional eating, habits and feelings around sugar. It’s a bit of a quick fix.

Gradual advantages

  • Focussed habit change. Less need for discipline when you adopt a steady habit change strategy.
  • Social life & priorities. You can do everything you normally would but maybe with the odd tweak here and there. You can continue to keep the majority of your focus other on work and life projects.
  • No overwhelm or deprivation feelings. Things feel easy & manageable.
  • Things stick. You reduce sugar in 1-2 places so well, it becomes natural & effortless. You then move onto the next and you really trust these changes.

Gradual disadvantages

  • Sugar cravings can still linger. A relatively high amount of sweetness might still be in your diet so physical cravings can still be a problem.
  • Longer & not as pronounced results. Harder to attribute benefits. More patience and trust in the gradual process is required.
  • Easy to slide with habits. You forget them, lose focus or lose motivation when you’re not seeing much difference and don’t have a structure to follow.  
  • Prioritisation. You need to really know which habits to tackle first which can be hard without the right knowledge.

Now with that lot, you’re possibly even more confused but at least you know all sides of each approach in one go.

food-eating-candy-chocolate (1)

It’s now time to get personal and work out what’s right for YOU…

Personal considerations

I’ve got the benefit of experience here – coaching a ton of people through this change and defining their own cold turkey vs. gradual approach strategy at various points of the go lower sugar process.

To do this, I ask shed loads of questions first, like shed loads.

Questions about your dieting background, questions to help determine the significance of your physical sugar cravings vs. your habits vs. your environment.

Questions to understand what limiting beliefs you have in place and where your personal boundaries are.

Questions to understand why you are currently eating what you do and what makes you tick.

Questions to challenge and call you up on uncomfortable areas that are likely your biggest blockers or the root of emotional eating patterns.  

It’s only after weighing up the answers to all of these questions in one go can I with strong confidence, give someone a sugar lifestyle change strategy that really suits them. This vital information helps me devise prioritised practical recommendations that I know are going to work from all aspects of the holistic approach I use. 

So the bad news is one solution does not fit all and it’s not so black and white.

But the good news is you can do some of this self analysis yourself and use case studies to model traits that you think you align with.

Case study 1: Cold turkey (ish) working well

First let’s look at one of my favourite coaching clients Simon Williams who I met last year in Ibiza! We had to start off gradually as there was, in his own words ‘no way he was going cold turkey on diet drinks’.

Si 2013 Dublin (1)

However I recognised Simon was strong on a mindset front with no dieting history and I knew I could push him a little more on the cravings and nutrition front. We were able to really step up his palate change with a mini adapted detox period (that I framed as a fun challenge) and it worked absolute wonders for him.

Simon got completely in the know with sugar in super quick time (read his full story here), lost quite a bit of weight and improved all his blood results. But the best bit in the end was that he felt that trust with sugary food so he can still have his favourite McFlurry ice cream when he wants it and not worry about spiralling back.

Case study 2: Gradual approach working well

A contrasting example with another more recent client, we uncovered in the first two sessions, the actual sugar was MUCH less significant that she had thought. I’ve written about that too here

Cold turkey sugar type detox programmes not only weren’t working for her, they were perpetuating the real mindset problems that were holding her back from longer term change. Sugar was simply the manifestation of this.

I knew cold turkey was absolutely not the option and we worked much deeper on the diet mentality thought patterns using mindfulness and emotional eating techniques alongside keeping the sugar habits slowly changing in the background so physical cravings were kept in check.

This client in 12 weeks, changed unhealthy thinking patterns that had been dominant for years and years – life changing! Sugar habits shifted gradually without the restriction, trust in social settings could blossom and the emotional yo-yo cycle stopped.

What about you?

As you can see, these are two varied examples. Both had challenges with sugar but the approach required in each was different. If you can identify with either you can start to gauge the approach for you. 

If you can’t, you’re probably wondering, how to I work out what’s right for me?

The best place to start is to evaluate yourself how weak and strong you are in terms of my ANCIENT GREEK TEMPLE!!

Yeah get me – who else uses a Greek Temple in sugar dealings?! ha! See the components of it below….



But seriously, using this framework starts that all important process of knowing yourself first so you can diagnose a strategy that will get you the quickest most effective results to make you feel healthy, happy and most importantly, in charge.

Simply rate each element of the temple from 1-10 where 1 is weak and 10 is strong. Identify your weaker ones and focus your habit change efforts here.

Know that if your Foundation or Pillar 2 is weak, a cold turkey approach is not to be recommended. If these are stronger then it may well work better for you.

Want to learn more?

There’s obviously a lot more to learn about my legendary Greek temple approach, so if you’re keen to use this as a framework to help you change, make sure you watch my video training on it here

I’m also super excited to say that I’m running my first live webinar THIS WEDNESDAY 10th FEB 2016 at 9pm GMT where I’m going to be going through this approach in more detail.

I’ll be highlighting the most common mistakes I see made in each area and you’ll easily be able to identify where you need to be prioritising YOUR efforts so you can go forth in 2016 knowing you’re doing low sugar in the best way for you 🙂

There are literally only a few places left now on the webinar so sign up here quickly if you want to make it! See you there!!


What are your thoughts on the different approaches? Found something already that works? Have some cold turkey war stories? Please do comment below or ask a question 🙂


2 replies
  1. Emma
    Emma says:

    Hey, great post. I’ve only ever tried cold turkey, and to be honest I’m starting to see why this approach has never worked for me. I’d like to try a more gradual approach. How does one do this? How long does it take? Thanks.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Hi Emma,

      It really depends on a lot of things but give yourself 2-3 months for a gradual approach and pick 1-2 habits every two weeks to work on. Good luck! xx


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *