a very kind reader sent me an email asking me to write in a bit more detail about how i gave up sugar. what follows is a jumble of thoughts i got out on the plane ride home last friday. i do want to take a moment to say: i never gave up sugar in full, if i feel the need to have a cookie, i'll have it. it has been this attitude toward sugar that has been so influential in my life--because i'm learning to extend it to all foods: there is no such thing as failure. you cannot lose. and there is no such thing as perfection. one bad decision does not extend to another decision. there is no domino effect here. each day i wake up and make good and totally normal choices. our bodies are resilient buggers. sometimes i'll be out with a friend and they'll order something and think that i won't partake, because i'm so good about what i put in my body. let me be clear: i'm not so much good about what i put in body as i am NORMAL. i eat the pizza. i eat the fries. i eat the cheese and the fat and the asparagus and the salad and upon occasion, the cake. so giving up sugar is still very much a work-in-progress, as i imagine it will be for much of my life.
HOW I GAVE UP SUGAR (A WORK IN PROGRESS)...
- I gave up soda. Years Ago. I quit diet coke because there is a tremendous amount of research on the ills of fake sugar. Because it is sweet in a way that does not exist in nature (which is to say hundreds of times sweeter than real sugar) it desensitizes our brain to the subtle and sweet flavors that exist in nature. Eat too much Splenda and that apple doesn’t taste so sweet. Also, our brain takes it in as though we’ve found the super food. What, the sweetest, best thing ever had?! it thinks. But when the accompanying calories never come, the body senses something is amiss and tries to make up the difference--we end up craving more to fill in the blank where those calories should be. In giving up soda I was aware that I craved the “hit” (if you will) of carbonation. So while I didn’t originally like soda water, I’d pack it with fresh lemon juice and enjoy the burn as it hit my throat. Over time I fell in love with the stuff. In fact, when I first started scaling back on sugar and I’d have a really bad craving for something sweet I’d run out and buy a fresh bottle of soda water—not because it was sweet, but because it is something I love and always seems to give me a hit of pleasure.
- I wasn’t strict with myself. I didn’t think of no sugar as an edict, but rather as a gentle game, one of trial and error. It would be a series of mistakes—a slow unraveling. Every time I could say no to sugar I would be investing in my no-sugar-muscle in the brain. And if I couldn’t say no to the stuff then it was only that moment, on that day. The no-sugar muscle was something that could only get stronger. It couldn’t go backwards, it couldn’t weaken, it wasn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Giving up sugar was a game in which I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. There was no way for me to fail. If I had sugar, I had it, and so what? The next day was full of new opportunities to strengthen that muscle and had nothing to do with any of my previous decisions.
- I truly invested in the notion that I could have as much of the “fatty stuff” as I wanted. There was no scaling back. The idea being that if I wasn’t eating sugar the fatty stuff would fill me up and I’d know when I was full. Fat was the key to that much discussed, all powerful and magic self-control (will-power) which has never really been magic, and always been science. Investing in fat was a leap of faith--a jumping off of a cliff of what is usual and commonly believed. But it worked. And I could tell it was working within in a very short period of time.
- I started slowly. I didn’t go cold turkey I just stopped adding sugar when and where I could. No sugar in my coffee. No hot cocoa packs in the kitchen counter drip coffee. And then I started to pay attention and I encourage you to do the same: look at the sugar count in Luna bars. In Cliff bars. In cereal and weight watcher lemon cakes. Look at the sugar content in things that are thought of as “healthy” or kept in the diet aisle at your local drug store. From there I upped my game by passing on dessert at the end of a meal on fancy-nights-out. Instead, all throughout the meal I made sure to really order what I wanted. And to enjoy it. And (and I can't stress this enough), I “filled myself up” on the company of those I loved and adored (which means only hanging out, when possible, with the people you really want to). Frankly, I don’t have the time or the energy for people I’m not that keen on. And when I do hang around them I tend to eat more because I’m not satisfied by their company. This may sound a bit harsh, but I implore you to give it a go. Life is too short. I don’t need to be well liked by a lot of people. I want to be well loved by a few people who demand my affection and respect. On a date how much I eat is always a sure-fire-indicator of how much I like the man. And it has nothing to do with oh-well-I-should-eat-less–because-that’s-feminine-and-he’ll-like-me-more (hooey!) When I like the guy I get full super quickly because I’m stimulated in so many other ways--conversation, the flutters in my stomach, and on and on.
- When I’m out and about with friends and they want to grab a sweet-treat or ice cream I’ll get an iced latte. It feels like a treat to me. It is sweet and cold and I like it between my hands. There is something—for me—about coffee that is deeply personal and healing and always comforting.
- When a sugar craving gets really strong I’ll have big heaping spoon of peanut butter.
- At the end of the day, I'll sometimes have a small glass of white wine. Better that than a pack of Twizzlers.
- I order popcorn with a lot of butter when I go to the movies. And if I want to eat the whole thing, I do.
- Biscotti are cookies that are really low in sugar.
I think the hardest bit is constantly coming up against people who want you to fail. They may not even realize that they do, but they act in such a way. Their language is subversive and hurtful. Most people don’t want you to get healthier where food is concerned or get that body that you (and they) have always wanted—this is because the choices you make somehow feel like an affront on their choices and decisions and priorities. But that’s on them, not on you.
No one has the right to comment on how you eat. And no one has the right to comment on what you look like. Mostly because their comments will be wrong and damaging (even, and especially, if it’s a compliment). No one should have to eat more to please another person and you do not need to eat sugar to be fun or have a good time. A lot of times people want you to eat more so that they feel better about eating more--what an onus, how terribly unfair. It may be easy in the short-term. But in the long-term it helps no one.
if you've missed the earlier posts in this series, you can catch up here: