What I learned from forty days and forty nights of sweet, sugar-free living.
The next issue of the Green American is on sugar -- the health effects of sugar, genetically modified sugar, and fair trade sugar. Tracy, our Editor-in-Chief, asked me to do some foundational research on the health effects. What I found surprised me. It was actually much scarier than I had expected.
While buried in this horrifying research, I overheard two co-workers say they were giving up sweets for Lent. Freshly traumatized by studies linking sugar to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and brain damage, I hopped on board.
Here's what I'd learned about sugar's effects on health: the research is pretty solid about sugar contributing to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. We all know it makes us fat and low energy -- but there's a growing body of evidence suggesting it's a big villain in heart disease, may cause skin aging, and likely causes brain damage. Yes, brain damage.
I've been guilty of telling myself, "I work out, so I can eat whatever I want." Turns out, that's wrong. Turns out, that's like saying, "I work out, so I can hit myself on the head with a hammer"-- the health effects of sugar go way beyond weight gain and are often not reversible with exercise.
I'd given up chocolate for the period of Lent as a 6th grader and found that it not only cleared up my adolescent acne, but that the forty-day fast kicked my chocolate addiction. When it was over, I no longer felt a strong inclination to eat the stuff.
Could this sugar fast similarly free me from my sugar cravings? And what about the short-term health benefits? Online testimonials promised increased energy and feelings of wellness right away. I was pumped.
So Begins the Sugar Fast!
To prepare for my sugar fast, I made a set of rules:
For more information on why I cut out juice, check out Is Juice Bad for You?
Then I told everyone around me that I was giving up sugar for 40 days. This was actually a strategic decision. I figured my horrified revulsion of sugar would wane around day #20. Once the serious temptations started kicking in, I needed to know there were people who would judge me if I broke down.
So, How Did It Go?
I'm not going to lie. I did feel more healthy, but saying no to sugar for forty days was hard. Tracy found that after five days, her cravings were gone, and if you go on a sugar fast of any length, I hope you respond just like she did.
In my case, it was not easy. It was not easy for all forty days. I'm not going to belabor you with the the gory details of cookiecake dreams, resisting the delicious treats that coworkers brought in, or the amount of complaining my loved ones had to put up with.
Instead, I'm going to pass on some tricks I learned! The sugar fast was hard, but these five tricks are what got me through it:
Five Tips for Kicking Your Sugar Addiction!
Can you spot the added sugar?
1. Watch those labels and cook at home: There are some incredibly delicious, organic soups out there. To my great shock, a good number of them have added sugar in their ingredient list! A treacherous stroke from an unanticipated adversary!
I don't know about you, but if I allow a limited amount of added sugar in my diet, it had better be in the form of gourmet chocolate or cheesecake -- not soup. Get in the habit of reading ingredient labels and try to cook at home, where you can control how much sugar is in your food.
2. Create good habits -- keep fruit on hand, and battle stress with exercising, not eating. Do you have a regular shopping route through the grocery store? Do what you can to modify your route so that you don't even have to look at the sweets.
3. Get rid of the temptations -- they will only bring you pain. There's some great psych research suggesting that willpower is like a muscle -- the more temptations we encounter, the harder it is to resist them.
Good habits and avoidance don't require the same kind of effort that straight willpower does. Get rid of sugary things in your house. If it's not within arm's reach, it's going to be a lot easier to resist.
4. Find a no-sugar buddy. Two other people at Green America gave up sugar for lent. "Solidarity was definitely key," says Katie Gatlin, development and special events coordinator, "we had our little huddle of solidarity when [a coworker's] birthday cake came out. Missing out on cake would have been a lot harder otherwise."
Yum yum yum.
5. Notice and enjoy the benefits! Are you feeling high-energy? Did your cold go away in a day instead of a week?
My favorite benefit centered around re-discovery of fruit. I found that when I stopped bombarding my mouth with intensely sweet things, my taste buds seemed to change. Things like fruit and vegetables started tasting sweeter and more subtly delicious. Cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and sauteed onions became pretty amazing.
But What About...
I imagine I've left you with a lot of questions. Fortunately, the next issue of the magazine (which should arrive in your mailboxes in late April) is chock full of sugar information. Here's what you'll get:
- The Skinny on Alternative Sweeteners -- we compare 11 artificial sweeteners from stevia to aspartame, and discuss the health impacts of each
- Sweet, Seductive, and Deadly -- the health research for this article was what inspired my 40-day fast
- 9 Tips to help you kick the sugar habit
- How to buy GMO - free and fair trade sugar -- if you're going to buy sugar, make sure you know where it comes from
- Tracy's story on her personal sugar fast
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Meanwhile, we'll continue blogging about sugar every Tuesday and Thursday this month. You can read Tracy's blog on sugar and health here. Leave a comment or write to us at email@example.com! We're looking forward to hearing your stories.