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Posts Tagged ‘giving up’

Every year for the past… many years, I’ve ditched alcohol for the month of January. So many people do this, the month even has a silly nickname (Dry-nuary). I do it because I tend to go overboard during the holidays. With family around, it’s very easy for me to get into the habit of having wine or a cocktail every day. And for me, I prefer to keep my alcohol intake to two or three days a week; I don’t have any specific reasons; I guess it’s fewer calories, it’s less expensive, and I just feel better (I am Morning Headache After Drinking One Glass of Wine years old, after all). But the problem – for me – with doing something every day is that it becomes a habit. I am a very routine-based person, so when I’m enjoying the holidays with a fancy cocktail every night, it doesn’t take long before a normal Tuesday feels like it requires a gin and tonic. Taking a month off helps me reset my mental and physiological expectations.

In April, I decided to apply the same principle to sugar.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have anything against sugar. I enjoy it. As with pretty much anything, I am totally fine with it in moderation. But I was no longer doing a good job of moderating. Sugar had become a habit. After every single meal, I kid you not, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm. I could go for something sweet right now.” I was eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup with my almonds and tea for breakfast. Which is a delicious breakfast, by the way. And I am not OPPOSED to having a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast. What I am opposed to is my body’s willfulness and my mind’s lack of will power. I don’t like being bossed around by my cravings for sugar. I want to be in charge, and if I want to have a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast, fine. But if I don’t want one, I don’t want my body to protest and whine and pout and wheedle until I give into the badgering.

So I decided to give it up. Just for a month, just to see if I could do a hard reset on my expectations. I got my husband on board (this was important) and I roped Carla in and on April 1, we gorged ourselves on sugar (because it was Easter) and the next day we gave it up. Cold turkey. (Well, except for Carla. She still ate PB&J for lunches, and pancakes with syrup at breakfast, and when friends brought donuts for brunch one day, we let her have one so she wasn’t the only kid who couldn’t eat a donut.)

In an admittedly half-assed way, I tried to do some research before we started. Based on some of the things I’d read, we crafted our own Sugar Free plan. We weren’t doing it for health reasons, so there was no need to be super strict. Which meant that we defined “No Sugar” as “no artificial sweeteners, no added sugar, no sweets.” We continued to consume milk products, fruit, and things like pasta and rice. (We also continued to consume things like ketchup and barbecue sauce and a few other things that probably had sugar as an ingredient. But those instances were pretty rare; I even avoided recipes where sugar was an ingredient in the marinade or the sauce.)

Most of the major differences for me were a) getting rid of the morning Reese’s cup (and maybe an afternoon spoonful of cookie dough here and there), b) eliminating my normal sweet creamer from my morning tea and c) cutting out all the diet soda I was drinking (usually one but sometimes two a day).  And of course, I stopped eating dessert.

To really jumpstart things, I did the first three days without any milk or fruit, too. On the fourth day, I added one piece of fruit (if I wanted it) and milk back into my day, and I also drank a glass of red wine in the evening if I felt like it.

The first week was BRUTAL. I thought about sweets all day every day. After every meal, my body would send up this internal notification: Ping! Feed me something sweet! Ping! I need candy! Ping! Ice cream needed urgently! Every time I was online, I was looking at recipes for cookies or cakes or pies. I was desperate for a Diet Coke. I transferred all my desire for sweets onto carbs, and found myself wanting bread and pasta more often than normal (which is already, at baseline, a lot). Instead of eating dessert after dinner, I’d prowl around trying to stem the craving with something else: almonds, Triscuits, tortilla chips. We bought cartloads of dried fruit (no sugar added) from Trader Joe’s. I once ate an entire bag of dried apples in one sitting.

The second week was less brutal but still pretty rough. I usually drink black tea with a hefty slug of sweetened creamer. Black tea with milk was NOTHING like black tea with sweetened creamer. I switched to green tea. Then to matcha lattes with whole milk. I drank a lot of water. I hated every sip of every drink. It was nice to drink the red wine at night; that helped stem some of the dessert cravings. But I longed for a glass of sweet Riesling or even prosecco. I thought a lot about fizzy, ice cold Coca Cola in a tall glass, ice cubes clinking together, the bubbles effervescing on my tongue.

Week three, something clicked. I no longer wanted anything sweet. I went to a birthday party and a beautiful piece of birthday cake was set in front of me and I did not take a bite or have any desire to do so. I didn’t even smell it. It was a completely neutral presence. My internal sweets notification alarm had either deactivated or been turned down so low I could barely hear it.  I still had the occasional craving for Diet Coke, but even that was less frequent.

Week four passed quickly and smoothly. My husband and I agreed that the worst part of the sugar restriction was the liquid portion of our diets, and we started to split a packet of sweetener to add to our respective coffee and tea each morning. That helped immensely. Water no longer became a chore to drink. At night, I’d sometimes still have a phantom dessert thought flicker through my brain – “Hmmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have something sweet?” – but I couldn’t ever transfer that general desire to something specific. If I rummaged around in the pantry or fridge, I could never even find something I wanted. I stopped gorging on almonds and chips and crackers to fill the sweets void.

April 30 was our last day of the No Sugar Month. I think I can safely say that I eliminated my sugar cravings. To tell you the truth, I’m glad that’s the reason we did the No Sugar Month, because we didn’t experience any of the other supposed benefits. One thing I heard from a lot of people about giving up sugar is that they lost a ton of weight. My husband and I did not experience that. I lost two pounds right away and then stayed pretty stagnant. It’s possible that if we decided to use it as a weight loss technique, we would have approached it differently (less fruit, for instance).  I’d also heard that it would improve my skin. Nope. That has not happened. And that I’d begin to taste the natural sweetness in foods (bell peppers, fruit) that I’d never experienced before. Nope. Everything tasted the same. (Well, except milk. That began to taste sweet to me.) If I had given up sugar for a month because I wanted some of these other benefits, I would have been pretty annoyed. Of course, we weren’t as stringent as we could have been, so that probably has a lot to do with it.

Now that I’m done… I’m not sure where to go from here. I would certainly enjoy my morning tea more if I could add some sugar or some honey. I don’t really want to go back to my sweetened creamer. I swapped out my normal raspberry yogurt with plain Fage topped with pomegranate seeds, and I suppose I don’t really want to spend my life’s savings on pomegranate seeds anymore, so maybe I’ll switch back. I am delighted that I no longer want my afternoon soda, or my post-breakfast Reese’s cup, or my post-dinner whatever.

But I also really want to go get ice cream with Carla when the weather gets nice. And I want to make cookies with her. And I want to bake her a big sugary birthday cake with lots of sugary frosting. So I think we are going to resume eating sugar, just at a much lower level than before. We want to try to keep sweets to once a week. That way, they’ll really be treats rather than a regular part of our diet.

Time will tell, I suppose! Hopefully a month of no sugar has at least enabled me to enjoy sugar in moderation.

(Of course, you know what I did the very first day of May right? Cupcake for breakfast. And a huge glass of Coke for dinner.)

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