I really didn’t want to have to write a post explaining why I’d given up on my goal of quitting sugar for 31 days, and that was sufficient motivation for me to stay on the wagon for 20 days. But day 21? Let me tell you a little story about that…!
A social conundrum
I realised week three was going to be a test. I was excitedly expecting a friend and her family to stay with us over the weekend. If I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen catering the whole time, we were going to need to go out to eat or order takeaway for some of our meals. That’s when it struck me that I hadn’t faced any real temptation in the first two weeks because I’d been in total control of my food choices.
If I had a job outside the home, workplace snacks and cafe cake counters would have sung my name till it was all I could hear. If I’d been invited to eat at someone else’s house, there’s no way I would have quizzed the host on the ingredients of their offering and then refused anything that contained sugar. If I’d had occasion to eat at a restaurant I might have tried to choose something that seemed low in sugar. OR I might have just gone “what the heck” and ordered whatever I fancied, followed by a cheesecake or sundae, since in that scenario there would be no way to adhere to sugar free diet perfectly.
Knowing I would likely come up against real temptation to eat out over the weekend, I considered myself faced with three choices. 1. Be a total killjoy and insist that we go home where I would martyr myself in the kitchen and force everyone into a sugar free weekend. 2. Be the awkward person who goes along for a meal but refuses to eat anything or demands a bespoke dish. 3. Go with the flow and compromise my experiment to a greater or lesser degree.
I’d given this predicament quite a lot of thought over the course of the week and knew that going with the flow would be the only solution I’d feel comfortable with. I’m all about the path of least resistance. Unfortunately the weather was abysmal and my friend decided not to brave the coast roads and hilly motorway in gale force winds and sleet. Fair enough! The silver lining is that I was able to carry on being in total control of my food intake, with a new understanding of just how difficult a sugar-free lifestyle might be under different circumstances.
Reaching the end of my willpower
I’m not sure if making peace with (probably) breaking my resolve over the weekend for social reasons was a subconscious trigger. For whatever reason, I didn’t make it to the end of week three sugar-free.
I woke up in a filthy mood on Sunday, after several nights of extra-broken sleep. I need a lot of sleep. I was despairing of ever getting enough sleep again in my life, or at least in the next 18-20 years. We had an outing to the museum which culminated in a stop at the museum cafe where Mark and James treated themselves to baked goods. Cafes are my ultimate weakness and I used every last shred of willpower to avoid cheering myself up with cake. Instead, I got even crankier.
In the afternoon the dog needed a walk and I was irritated about having to rouse myself and go out in the fierce biting wind. I put my coat on and discovered half of James’s morning treat in my pocket, wrapped in a napkin. I could have left it on the bench on my way out the door and saved myself some torment, but by that stage I was looking for a reason to be weak. I was annoyed up to the eyeballs about nothing at all, and over feeling like 20 days of abstinence had been totally without benefit. Five minutes down the road I tore the layers of tissue off and had a nugget of lolly cake in my mouth before my rational brain could convince me not to.
In total I ate half a piece of lolly cake that I barely tasted, 3 horrible foamy marshmallows, 3 bits of dark chocolate that had been languishing in the cupboard for three weeks, and a bowl of ice cream which I did rather enjoy. All in all, not an uncommon amount of sugar for me to eat pre-May the First.
When I came home from my walk and confessed to Mark that I’d eaten James’s cake I boldly stated that I didn’t regret a thing. But by about bedtime I began to regret it. The main side effects were a strange type of wired-tiredness I’d grown unused to feeling (racing mind in exhausted body), a tummy ache, nausea and a horrible aftertaste. In Mark’s lingo my mouth ‘tasted like arse’. Everything sounds better with an Irish accent, no? I had a restless sleep and experienced tummy-rumbling ‘hunger’ around 4am.
Seeing the light
That was when I realised that the reason I hadn’t felt any better on a sugar-free diet may have been because I didn’t actually want to. That would mean either considering quitting sugar for good, or continuing to eat sugar while accepting that I had the key to unlocking better health but refused to use it.
I may not have become a picture of glowing health over my 20 sugar-free days. I didn’t experience the unbridled energy I hoped for. I didn’t lose any weight and my skin got worse instead of better. But there were some benefits too subtle for me to appreciate until I remembered how I used to feel on the regular:
- Less bloated despite having a diet comprising mainly of bread, cheese, butter, pasta, peanuts & chips
- Feeling more ‘at home’ in my body, not being as preoccupied with my weight or experiencing ‘fat days’
- Being less preoccupied with food in general
- Feeling less hungry
- Sleeping more restfully (when toddler and baby allowed!)
- Less inclined to rumination – I noticed my mind was suddenly frantic again after eating sugar
- Waking up without daily nausea and anxiety was one of the biggest benefits
- Beginning to see sugar as a poison rather than a cure (or treat)
- Breaking some thoroughly entrenched habits, notably my ‘need’ for a sweet treat after dinner. I didn’t think I could ever give that up!
- Saving money by not needing to have sweets constantly on-hand to avoid feeling anxious about missing a sugar fix
- Feeling somehow ‘cleaner’, for example losing that horrible taste in my mouth
I’m thrilled that I went 20 days without sugar, that’s about 19.5 days longer than I expected to last!
Now I need to decide whether the benefits I experienced are worth making some changes to my old sugar consumption habits. I can’t imagine going directly back to my old levels of sugar-neediness, knowing now that I can actually survive without it. But of course I know that sugar is one sneaky rogue that will ingratiate its way back into my daily life if I’m not paying attention. I’m going to need some real-world strategies if I’m to keep to a reduced intake over the long term.
I also have to acknowledge that I’m simply not going to feel like a million, billion bucks until some other issues are addressed: looking at my caffeine intake, getting my kids to sleep through the night, balancing a dodgy thyroid, eating a more wholesome diet in general…
It’s a complicated business isn’t it, this quest for feeling good?!