Today is day 25 of my no sugar journey…it’s also the day that I will eat sugar. After all, it’s Thanksgiving and I can’t imagine the day passing without a piece of pumpkin pie or some sweet potato casserole. It started on a whim. I just decided on November 3rd to cut all sugar (natural and artificial) from my diet until Thanksgiving. After I proposed the challenge on Facebook and Twitter, my wife Jessica decided to join me, along with a few other friends.
I typically don’t eat sweets as part of my normal diet, so I thought that this would be pretty easy for me. Turns out I learned a few things along the way…
- Hidden Sugars are EVERYWHERE! – From day one, I wanted to be diligent about not eating foods that have added sugar or sweeteners. That meant looking at every label and being an expert on what ingredients to look for. Seeing “sugar” or “corn syrup” on the list of ingredients is pretty easy, but sweeteners such as “cane juice”, “sorbitol” and “mannitol” are often hidden way down the list. I couldn’t believe some of the random things that contained added sugar or sweeteners. Nearly everything in a box or package! Things that we normally eat, like coconut milk yogurt, almond crackers, pretzel chips, chewing gum, hummus, banana chips, organic peanut butter, organic spaghetti sauce – they all had added sweeteners…it was everywhere. So in order to be as strict as I wanted to be, I had to adjust my expectations of what I could eat.
- Focus on what you CAN eat, not what you CAN’T – After quickly realizing that it was going to be a bit of a challenge to go without sugar, I found some go-to foods that I liked and knew I could have. Jessica shared with me that she did the same thing. Instead of telling yourself that “I can’t have” this or that, just focus on your favorite foods that you can still enjoy. I love avocados, so they became part of my breakfast most mornings and I made up some guacamole to eat with some Mary’s Gone Crackers for lunch or a snack. I also like to eat fruit, so I would have a banana or some blueberries on hand. Our dinners most nights consisted of a vegetable (broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.) and a meat or pasta (with olive oil instead of tomato sauce). We really didn’t have to deviate much from our normal dinners, as my amazing wife is great at cooking healthy dinners for us all! Taking leftovers for lunch the next day also made it easy to avoid searching for something else. The salad bar a Kroger has been a go-to lunch for me in the past and I used it as a good option during the last three weeks as well.
- You have to cook. – It would be nearly impossible to go without added sugar if you were eating lots of meals at restaurants. As I mentioned before, Jessica is a great cook and we ate nearly every meal at home. To make things even more complicated, our kitchen was being remodeled right in the middle of the month, so we were forced to eat a few dinners out of the house. This helped us learn to look on the menu for things that were not likely to have added sugar. Such as grilled chicken and steamed vegetables or raw fruit. Of course, I good salad with olive oil dressing is always a safe bet.
- You have to clean house. – Since we started our no sugar November journey only a few days after Halloween, we had to quickly get rid of any temptation that would be in the house. The kids candy was donated to be sent to troops overseas. I threw out a few other things that we had around. Since the kids were not going completely without sugar, we still had some things in the house that contained added sugar (cereals, Clif bars, orange juice, etc.). Both Jessica and I managed to have enough will power to keep from eating anything with sugar that we did decide to keep in the house.
- You should tell everyone! – The more people around you that know you are not eating sugar, the more likely you are to stick with it. Social media makes it pretty easy to let all of your friends, family and co-workers know your intentions. They will be more than happy to hold you accountable as you try to improve your health. More than likely, you will at least make them take a look at their own eating habits and see much sugar they didn’t realize that they were eating.
- You will get lots of questions. – As I was out to lunch with customers or eating dinner out with the family, I would often have to ask questions about what had added sugar. Inevitably, this lead to questions from the other people at the table and often the server. They get questions about gluten and nuts all of the time, but never about sugar. More often than not, a trip back to the kitchen was required to confirm if a soup, sauce or glaze had sugar. I found out quickly that the answer is always “yes”. When people would ask “why” I would want to go without sugar, my response seemed to change as the month went along. At first I was telling people that I wanted to see how much better I felt being off of sugar. I then found myself telling people that I was doing it to become more conscious of all of the hidden sugars in what I thought was a healthy diet. Sometimes I would tell people that with a family history of type 2 diabetes, I wanted to keep things in check. No matter how I answered, the response from other people was almost always the same. “I could never do that”. It often lead to further discussions on the subject, but I never tried to make others feel bad for eating sugar. If I just made a few people think about cutting some sugar from their diet, then I’m glad they asked.
It’s also worth mentioning that I was still able to get in some good workouts without sugar in my diet. I pushed some hard intervals on the bike and my power levels were no lower than they were when I was eating sugar. I had plenty of energy throughout the day and never had a “crash” in the afternoon or felt like I was starving myself. I actually only lost three pounds long the way – but I didn’t have much to lose in the first place. It’s nice not being a slave to food! So I will enjoy my sugary treats for the next few days, and then I will probably try to stick with eating no sugar going forward. I might not be as strict, or maybe I will pick one day a month (like a birthday or holiday) that I will eat sugar. As long as it’s in moderation, and I know that I will be able to fight off the cravings that re-introducing it in my diet for a day will cause, I will still be able to enjoy it now and then.
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