I had a goal to go sugar free for May, hoping to head into June (and life from then on) looking and feeling better than I ever had before. I decided to abstain from added sugars, sweeteners and fruit to see if I noticed an improvement in my energy levels and general health. I wanted to know whether I could go any length of time without sugar, since that’s not something I’ve ever attempted to do despite long believing that sugar was my undoing and the cause of all my ills. I was also hoping to re-educate my palate in order to need less sugar for satisfaction (hence abstinence from fruit as well).
And then I rock up 2 days out from my finish line and announce I’m throwing in the towel?? Yup, that’s me to a tee.
Weeks one to three
Physically I found it far easier than I expected to give up sugar. I had no headaches, no more fatigue than usual, no strong cravings. On the flip side, I also had no cloud-parting moments of clarity, none of the boundless energy and aura of good health that I hoped for. I was totally disappointed that I didn’t feel at all ‘different’ than normal.
Following a wee blip that saw half of day 21 thrown to the wind in sugar fuelled defiance I decided to get back in the game. After eating sugar for the first time in three weeks, I did take note of some small improvements that had been too subtle or incremental for me to notice as the days went by. Carrying on into week four I didn’t necessarily expect to learn anything more or notice any further improvements in the look or feel of myself, I was just up for the challenge of going a few more days.
Week four took some real willpower. It’s not that I was experiencing strong or particular cravings, it was just that I started to feel inconvenienced by the whole experiment and doubtful that it was worthwhile. Nevertheless I stuck it out for another week, mindful that I’d hoped to eke another blog post or two out of my sugar ban and its outcome! I also thought it was still worthwhile to significantly reduce my sugar intake, simply because common sense tells me it’s an unnecessary and not-beneficial nutrient.
During week four I noticed I was picking up some new, undesirable habits as a result of cutting sugar from my diet. When I’d pepped myself up for this challenge, I’d decided not to concern myself with anything (regarding health goals) besides avoiding sugar. As the weeks went on and I patted myself on the back for staying strong in the face of cake counters, I turned a blind eye to the fact that I’ve been getting less exercise than usual and eating certain other foods with abandon. I’ve been grazing constantly and eating enormous meals and justified it by telling myself I had bigger (chocolate) fish to fry.
I’ve really been struggling with lack of motivation in the kitchen for several weeks, and going sugar-free has not helped at all. Not only has it made me feel limited in my food choices but it’s taken all the fun out of eating (and hence cooking) for me. With so many condiments and basic savoury foodstuffs containing added sugar I’ve been finding my food rather plain and seeking satisfaction in quantity.
Additionally, since my family is eating as normal, I’ve found myself making four different plates of food every evening: standard dinner for my husband, standard dinner with sugar-free substitutions for myself, elements of standard dinner plus toddler-approved substitutions for the little one and puree/finger food for the tiny one. Dinner time is a major organisational operation. Wraps with a side of microwave rice or oven chips is a fairly regular meal for us. There’s sugar in the wraps, sugar in the salsa, sugar in the rice or chips. So even when choosing relatively balanced meals for my family that they will actually eat, sugar finds ways to sneak in and complicate matters.
I’ve been feeling like a two-faced fraud as the weeks have gone on. It’s pure folly to give up sugar while continuing to eat potato chips and salted peanuts, white bread with globs of butter and complain that quitting sugar has not made me the picture of health I want to become. This experiment has taught me that there’s more to looking and feeling good than eliminating a single scapegoat ingredient, then sitting back and waiting for ‘results’.
Throwing in the towel
So, what made me quit on day 29?
A little bit of despondency, I suppose. Frankly I ran out of willpower and didn’t see the point in continuing when the payoff has been quite small, not beneficial in the ways I’d hoped, and unlikely to be improved by three more days of sugar abstinence.
After 4 weeks sugar-free (let’s forget the day 21 blip?!) I wasn’t able to change my mindset and see sweeteners as totally undesirable. I’ve noticed how pervasive sugar is, I’ve learned that it’s not something I (or my family) need, but I still feel like it’s something I want from time to time. 27.5 days just isn’t long enough to undo a lifetime of conditioning that’s led me to think that sweets are a treat and that convenience (and packaged foods) is a necessary evil.
I’ve learned a few excellent lessons that did make my temporary sugar ban worthwhile:
- It’s possible for me to go days and weeks without sugar – and with no hardship.
- There is no satisfaction in sugar; no lasting satiation, no lasting contentment, just a momentary relief from ‘wanting’ it.
- Abstaining from sugar is not intrinsically rewarding if that’s the only change you make.
- There are other, more immediate ways to feel good – getting some exercise, having a big drink of water or a plateful of vegetables. Doing something healthy is easier and more immediately gratifying than not doing something unhealthy.
- A little bit of what you fancy can do you good if it prevents you from seeking consolation in bigger quantities of something less enjoyable.
Oh, I do like a plan!
In aiming for moderation, I won’t be worrying about ‘hidden’ sugars – those sugars in savoury dishes that are only hidden if you don’t read the label. Those sugars are not my undoing.
My vices are ice cream, cake, biscuits, chocolate blocks and lollies. It’s also muesli bars, brown sugar on my cereal and honey with my toast or smoothies.
Basically my weakness is for anything which tastes sweet. So my simple rule of thumb is: sweet is out, savoury is in.
I need to nip this new grazing habit in the bud, as well as getting my meal sizes back under control. I’ll only be eating at mealtimes and using common sense as my guide to how much is ‘enough’.
I still want to have a sweet treat from time to time. Maybe I’ll want to have a cake or dessert from a nice cafe, or try a new variety of Whittaker’s chocolate, but a couple of occasions a week should do it.
Fresh whole fruit is back on the menu when eaten at mealtimes – it makes me hungrier than ever when eaten as a snack.
Keep looking for ways to eat/do more of the good, positive, health-supporting stuff and let that crowd out the less desirable stuff until I’m brimming with energy and aglow with good health.
Can I be so sensible with food in general and with my old frenemy sugar?
Time will tell!