Monday, June 8, 2015

6 things I learned from giving up sugar for 30 days.

I never thought I would do this.

It seemed like the kind of thing other people would do--like health-obsessed people who shop at Whole Foods. I wasn't interested in giving up my favorite foods, only in moderating myself so I didn't eat too much of them.

But after attempting to moderate over and over again, and failing every time, I finally learned from my mistakes and decided I needed to do something different. 30 days isn't too long, right? Just long enough to maybe slow down my sugar cravings, kick some bad habits, and make moderation a little easier.

Here's the clarification on my "rules" (feel free to skip this part if you don't care about the details): During the 30 days, my goal was to eat no refined sugar, including added sugars in pre-packaged foods. So yeah, I was checking labels and giving up things like salad dressing. It may not have been necessary to be that extreme, but I knew that if I give myself an inch then I would probably end up taking a mile. I didn't want to start giving myself exceptions and then just keep adding to the list. 

I did eat honey, although I know it's really not healthier than white sugar. But I couldn't start eliminating sugars that are naturally in food or I would really be crazy. And of course, I didn't eat nearly as much honey as I used to eat refined sugars.

Here are the things I learned from giving up sugar for 30 days:

1. I'm an abstainer, not a moderator. When I first learned about the difference between abstainers and moderators from Gretchen Rubin, I wasn't sure which one I identified with. In fact, it's something I've been wondering about for quite a while now. I started to suspect that I was part of a third class of people who could neither abstain nor moderate and instead could only try and fail constantly and comfort themselves by stuffing their faces with ice cream.

I finally realized that I was failing all the time because I was trying so hard to be a moderator. I thought I couldn't possibly give up my favorite foods, even for a little bit. But now I know that...

2. I wasn't ready to give up sugar until now. And I'm still not ready to give it up completely, although I can now see that happening someday. But before, every time I tried to give up treats, I was going into it kicking and screaming. I didn't truly want to succeed. I didn't have the motivation to see it through. This time, I finally went into this with determination. That said...

3. If it's not hard, it's probably not the thing you need to give up. Yes, I was determined to succeed, but it was still hard. My husband can attest that I whined to him every other day about wanting chocolate. (It didn't help that I knew he had hidden my chocolate in the house somewhere, per my request.)

And I finally realized something. You know how you hear about the people who stopped drinking soda and lost 30 pounds? Well, I gave up soda almost completely a while ago, and I never seemed to lose any weight from it. But that's because I never really drank that much soda. In fact, I haven't even liked soda for the last few years.

But I used to eat dessert every single day, sometimes more than once a day. My day didn't feel complete without a cookie or two. Part of it is that I like cookies, and part of it was just habit. Somewhere along the way, I just got used to eating a lot of treats.

After learning about food addictions, I know I'm not addicted, which is a relief. But I never want to become addicted. I want to change my habits while it's still just a matter of habit.

4. I lost weight. I guess that should come as no surprise, but I actually tried not to focus too hard on losing weight. I knew that if I tried to change too many habits at once, it would be too hard and I would crack. So I didn't worry too much about exercising or eating less or anything. I allowed myself to eat what I wanted as long as it wasn't sugar. But also...

5. I lost my preoccupation with food. I still love to cook and I love to eat, but I'm not spending half my day wondering what and when I'm going to eat next. I didn't think my preoccupation was primarily connected with sugar, but apparently it was. I guess when sugar is off the table, my brain decides that food isn't worth ruminating on anymore. I've actually had the brain space to devote to other things in my life.

But the most important thing I learned from doing this was...

6. I did this for my daughter. In the past, I've always had good intellectual reasons to break my bad habits with food, but I never had a good emotional reason. After my baby was born, I started asking myself, "Do I want her to start eating brownies just because she's bored? Do I want her to have the same habits I do?" And suddenly it was bigger than me. It wasn't just about losing weight, or looking better, or feeling better. It was about giving my daughter a healthy start to life. It was about setting her up in good habits that she will never have to worry about breaking.

I don't want my daughter to have to give up sugar. I want her to be able to eat a single cookie and be satisfied. I want her to have the ability, from the very beginning, to focus on things other than food. I want her to see treats as just that--an occasional treat, nothing more.

Giving up sugar, even just for 30 days, wasn't easy, but it was easier than it's ever been. As much as I would like to clean up my diet whenever I set my mind to it, what I really needed to do was set my heart to it.

Now, I'm going to try a moderate approach to sugar, but knowing that I'm an abstainer, I plan on doing another "sugar fast" soon.

Are you an abstainer or a moderator? Have you ever given up certain kinds of food?


  1. One of my food rules for Summer is that I never use food as a reward for good behavior or for eating other food. That's really common and easy to do, but I think it creates unhealthy thinking and habits ("I did something good, so I deserve dessert"). We do have food involved in celebrations, though, because I want Summer to enjoy food and food-associated traditions. It's hard to figure out how to set a good example when I don't want Summer to emulate my own attitudes.

    1. So on nights when you do have dessert, you don't require her to eat her healthy food first?

    2. Nope, I don't make Summer eat healthy food before she gets dessert if we're eating as a family. For now, that works for us. I do sometimes limit her portions of dessert, so if she's still hungry she can eat something healthy. And if she's eating sweets that aren't part of a group event, like her own Halloween candy, she can't replace a meal with it. So she essentially has to eat something healthy first, even though I don't word it that way.

  2. Even for abstainers though, there's a need to get good at saying "no"/"enough" when it's hard, such as after the first helping of dessert (if you haven't sworn off them altogether), or when an addiction you've kicked catches you off-guard with it's 'enticements'. That's when everyone has to rely on their self-mastery -- when their "carnal desires" and the choice they know is right come into conflict. The nice thing about abstaining (for us abstainers, that is) is that we often get to avoid those conflicts. :) Again, great article 'Lil Sis. ;)

  3. I love getting better at cutting sugar. For years I've eaten cereal each morning. So one day while feeling sugar-conscientious, I noticed that the Raisin Bran I was eating had as much sugar as the so-called sugary cereals did. (I think it's all the raisins, but still.) I peered at every box of healthy-looking stuff, and found only ONE kind of cereal with 0g sugar listed: shredded wheat. (Corn Flakes is a close second, but I'm suspicious of the corn content.)

    For a long time I ate only shredded wheat and rolled oats for breakfast with my milk, but eventually I got so sick of eating plain wheat that I switched to Bran Flakes (5g sugar). Oats with milk is still delicious.

    My other successes are in switching to greek-style yogurt and 100% whole wheat bread. Once I switched over, they only tasted better!

    I still have a hard time with brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc. :`( But I can't enjoy donuts at all anymore, even if I try. :]

    1. I love Grape Nuts (I get the generic, though it's still expensive). It has no sugar. Whole grain wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt, and dried yeast.

  4. I am definitely an abstainer. I follow the "No S" eating plan, which includes very strict rules for most of the week, followed by entire days of eating whatever you want. I simply cannot keep myself from eating seconds of dessert if it's there--although I have found that I start to feel sick from junk food a lot sooner than I used to. I'm not ever going to be super skinny, but I'm okay with that. I feel pretty healthy.