[Image from when I counted the number of references to sugar in my room, back in April. All of these except the mint cone are gone now.]
I’ve tried going without sugar for 30 days twice before, but both times I started eating it again soon after since I saw it as more of a thing that I wanted to try but didn’t really care if I made it a permanent habit. Lately I’ve been eating what I consider to be way too much of it, and I actually get cravings for it that cause me to go out of my way to buy a sugary snack. There’s that, and I think that it’s crowding out my capacity to eat healthy foods. People are generally surprised when I tell them that I don’t think I eat enough fruits and vegetables – I’m vegan after all, what else is there to eat?! I do eat them, but a large part of my diet consists of grain/starch foods and sugar. Probably not the best. I’ve started getting kind of grossed out by it.
So, I decided to make my next experiment a reduced sugar diet. ‘Reduced’ because I’m not cutting it out ENTIRELY (I have a few exceptions which you can read below), but it will still be a lot less than I normally eat, probably less than half of normal. I expect it to be easier for me to give up sugar than an average person, since I already have plenty of experience turning down delicious looking food for personal reasons (lvl 4 vegan discipline yeahyuh).
The other option I was considering for my next experiment was something to do with my social life (since I tend to alternate between money/health/money/health), but after I realised I wanted to focus on social things I’ve started accepting more invitations and putting a little bit more effort than usual into making plans, and so I already have several social events lined up in the near future. Because of this, I’m going to let this area of my life proceed without a formal experiment for a while!
What I hope to get out of this experiment, in order of importance:
- One less dependency. I hate the idea of needing something, which I why I never got into smoking, social drinking, or coffee. It took me a while to get off cheese, so sugar and the Internet are probably my only remaining vices. It’s not that I will never eat sugar again, but I want to be able to enjoy it consciously rather than feeling like I’m suffering if I don’t have it regularly. This is the main reason I want to do this experiment at all.
- Long & short term health benefits. Less killing of the pancreas/liver, lower risk of many of the major scary things like heart disease/cancer (I’m living ’til the Singularity, just you watch! ;) ), better nutrition, more stable mood, increased energy level, improved oral health. It’s not that I feel that I’m particularly UNhealthy, but I’d like to be better than average.
- I’d probably NOT want to lose weight since my BMI is on the low side, but I took some measurements and ‘before’ pictures of my body and skin complexion to see if anything changes. Because that would be interesting indeed. I don’t expect any drastic changes though.
At least a month (August 14th-September 14th), but actually it’s unspecified because I want to keep it up until I don’t get cravings any more, however long that takes. I’ve heard that cravings are supposed to disappear after 3-4 months if you go cold turkey, but since I’m not eliminating it completely (at least at first) it might take me a bit longer. I have some milestones marked in my calendar, however. The first three days are supposed to be the worst, and it’s supposed to get easier after ten days. I also have the 21-day (habit forming) mark and the 30-day mark just for interest’s sake. After my cravings are gone I’ll come up with a controlled way to reintroduce sugar to make sure that I don’t get sucked back into it immediately.
What I will NOT eat:
Candy, desserts, sweet drinks (including sweetened tea or fruit juice), natural sugars (like maple syrup), artificial sweeteners (like aspartame – except in the case of chewing gum). The reason I’m eliminating juice is that it will be an easy way to get rid of several more grams of sugar from my day and I can get more health benefits from eating whole fruit.
I’m also going to try to reduce foods that have more than 4% sugar content (like barbecue sauce, some tomato sauces, a lot of cereals), but I’m not going to be quite as strict in this area. I’m not exactly sure what to use in place of ketchup, so I might keep that (it’s not like it’s a major source of sugar for me).
What I WILL eat:
My two exceptions for sugar will be 1. chocolate soymilk, and 2. lunabars, because I think that for now the nutrition in them is worth it (my soy milk is fortified with b12, and lunabars have delicious minerals). I’m going to limit myself to one cup/one bar a day though, but if after 21 days I feel like these are sabotaging my efforts to reduce cravings, I’ll replace those out too. I’m going to continue to eat non-sweet snack foods like chips or pretzels, and I might even give baking with stevia a shot (it’s a natural, sugarless/no calorie/no side effect sweetener).
I plan to gorge myself on fresh fruit and veggies and protein and fat and water. Some people recommend eating low on the glycemic index all around and cutting out fruit, but since I think fruit is probably one of the healthiest things you could possibly eat, I’m keeping it and focusing more on eliminating the processed/refined sugar. I will probably be increasing my fat intake (ideally nuts, avocado, coconut, olive oil) to make up for the calories.
[My last coconut ice cream sandwich last night! Om nom nom nom.]
Experience so far:
Well, day 1 is over (that was yesterday). I felt really good until just after lunch when my energy level suddenly plunged and my head felt sort of weird, and then my energy slooowwly eventually creeped up again to a ‘sort of tired but not falling asleep like I was before’ level. I wouldn’t necessarily attribute that to sugar related things though because I’ve been known to get sleepy after a meal! It was kind of weird how sudden the energy drop was though. I probably noticed it more because I had been paying attention to my body.
For breakfast I had oatmeal the way I usually make it (chopped walnuts, spoonful of peanut butter, cinnamon, unsweetened almond milk) but without the maple syrup and a glass of water on the side. It was kind of weird having it unsweetened, but totally edible. For lunch I had pasta, and the canned tomatoes I used did have sugar added (and were DELICIOUS~), but it was only around 7% or so and I’m not policing non-dessert foods as much. After that I didn’t really feel satisfied so I had… carrots and lettuce and water since I wasn’t really sure what else to have besides pretzels. Throughout much of the day I’ve felt like snacking, not necessarily like eating sugar in particular, just a sort of persistent feeling of dissatisfaction/hunger. More calories required? Likely!
Around 6:30 pm I got hungry again but wasn’t sure what to make for dinner yet so I had a banana and a coconut! I like drinking the coconut water with a straw and then eating the actual coconut inside. Coconut water has a sort of sweet flavor, so that was nice, but when I bit into that banana, oh man, a tingly feeling erupted in my mouth and then spread out through my arms and legs, and before I was half done eating it I felt much more awake. I’m not even kidding. At least being a banana addict is a step up from being a candy addict.
Then I finally made a batch of burgers and had one on a bun with lettuce and ketchup (sugar, whuh-oh) and I had my glass of chocolate milk as well (a whopping 19 grams of sugar, yikes), bringing the day to a close. I felt the same kind of tingly feeling with the chocolate milk, but it wasn’t as pronounced as it was with the banana.
It’s only the first day so it might be too early to tell, but so far it’s easier than I thought, considering comments I’ve read from other people who have quit sugar (then again, they probably eliminated it almost completely, in some cases they eliminated fruit). It probably helps that last night I watched a documentary on heroin addicts so I know that whatever this experience is like it will pale in comparison to that!! Still, since I stayed home yesterday, it was difficult to get my mind off of it. If this experiment continues the way it does, it should be smooth sailing.
Have you ever quit or thought about quitting sugar (or any other substance or food)? What was your experience like?