You know how I like a good challenge? They give me a reason to try something new. They get me focused on a thing for a limited period of time. It’s something to blog about.
So when a friend said on social media that she and some of her peeps were about to dump sugar, my ears perked up. They’ve been following the plan Krista Scott-Dixon outlines on Stumptuous. And today was the big day: week three, day one is the day you actually give it up. Weeks 1-2 are all about planning, learning, readying yourself.
This isn’t a regular challenge, mind you. It’s not supposed to be temporary. This one is more akin to a total life change, like giving up alcohol (which I have done) or meat (which I have done) or dairy and eggs (which I have pretty much done except for sometimes, which I’ll get to in a minute).
Anyway, I got my friend Anita sort of on board to try this with me, even though she isn’t quite as motivated and is taking it as but a temporary challenge. We reviewed the plan.
Step 1: Get your head right
Step 2: Plan and schedule
Getting your head right means buying a notebook (or setting up a shared google folder called “Sugar Project”) to serve as a journal. Crack it open and do some reflection. The first writing exercise is “write down all the reasons you want to give up sugar and answer the question ‘why is this meaningful to you?'” The idea is to be clear on what you’re doing and your reasons for doing it.
I went into this a bit ambivalent about whether I should take this as a time-limited challenge or a life-change. But when I reflected on my reasons, I started to lean towards the life-change project. Here’s from my journal:
- I always feel a little bit out of control around sugar.
- If I’m going to overeat, sugar is usually involved.
- I recognize that sugar has pretty much no nutritional value and that it lurks in all sorts of processed foods that I would be better off without.
- I remember the year I went without sugar and how much better I felt–I slept better and my energy was even through the day. I had fewer food cravings and I never felt over-full after a meal.
- I like the idea of feeling satisfied with fruit for dessert.
- The easiest time I ever had maintaining a weight that I felt good at was when I didn’t eat sugar.
- Sugar is something I usually go to mindlessly, without thinking. Next thing I know, I’ve eaten something, it’s gone, and I hardly enjoyed it.
- I like a challenge, especially if it’s good for my health
- Sugary treats are the most frequent things that take me away from my vegan principles, and that always makes me feel bad.
- I have a tendency to idealize sugar-laden desserts and treats, as if they have magical qualities that will solve all of life’s problems or add super-specialness to life’s special moments. This is delusional and means I use sugar as comfort, which I know to be a poor coping mechanism.
- I don’t consider myself a sugar addict, but I do think that the less it’s in my life the better I will feel.
Some of these are not so compelling, like “I like the idea of feeling satisfied with fruit for dessert,” which is an odd thing to have come up with but I wrote all of it down so there you have it. But others are a bit more serious, like this business about idealizing sugary-laden foods and assigning magical qualities to them — this seems like it might be better replaced with some positive life skills.
There’s also my vegan principles. Lots of sugar is vegan, so that’s fine. But lots of baked goods are not vegan. I often “joke” that I’m vegan except I’m willing to make concessions for baked goods. I went to a vegan society lecture the other night and I feel re-committed to a more stringent approach. I am a fairly principled person. Making concessions for cake just makes me feel badly about myself.
So doing this tipped the balance a bit more strongly towards the thought that giving up sugar would be a positive life change.
The second exercise asked about anticipated obstacles and proposed strategies for coping with them. Here’s what I said:
- Special occasions (strategy: try to remember that occasion is not all about desserts and sweets; have a back-up, like fruit salad; drink tea)
- I’m not sure I’m prepared to fully give up chocolate (strategy: very high cocoa content dark chocolate)
- Any time someone goes out of their way to prepare a vegan dessert item with me in mind, I will have a hard time saying no. (strategy: offer to bring dessert –fruit salad; let people know in advance that I’m not eating baked goods anymore)
- Whenever I am at Fresh and need to say “no” to their chocolate cake (strategy: eat a piece on Tuesday; hope that by the next time I’m not interested in chocolate cake anymore)
- Having my apricot jam and other treats in the house could be a challenge (strategy: Marmite; peanut butter and banana instead of jam; see if there is a sugar-free substitute jam available that isn’t awful)
- Race nutrition — so much of it involves sugar. (Strategy: I need to think of substitutes: bananas, dates and nuts, other fruit, potatoes (I read that they’re good race food)
- Race hydration — I always reach a point when I want to take the gatorade for the carbs. If I’m not going to do that I will need an alternative that I am not yet aware of. (strategy: water but I know that’s not enough; concession for race day in the name of proper hydration; do some research).
- Condiments — trying to imagine fries, homefries, and sweet potato fries without ketchup (sad face), veggie dogs without ketchup or relish (extra sad face). Maybe this means that fries will no longer be attractive. (Strategy: Homefries I’m willing to experiment with Frank’s hot sauce. Veggie dogs — maybe just go for the yellow mustard (read the label today and discovered: no sugar).
- Will this trigger “the diet mindset”? If so, that’s trouble. (Strategy: monitor the situation and be honest about motives)
I have yet to do writing exercise 3:
Writing exercise 3: Grieve the Loss
Get out a piece of paper and write down all the feelings you feel (physical and emotional), and all the thoughts you have about sugar. Thoughts and feelings.
I feel as if this will be a tough one precisely because I do associate desserts and sugar with comfort, fun, and celebration.
Up top I said, “this is not a detox.” I don’t believe in the whole idea of eating clean or detoxing. This is really a reflection on what kind of foods make me feel good (and in what way). And I don’t plan to be a fanatic. I’m going to keep eating fruit. Natural sugars will not freak me out. My focus at least for the beginning will be on ditching processed foods and refined sugar products. There is just no really solid reason why these need to be in my life. If life would be sad without them, then that in itself says something kind of sad about the rest of my life.
Anita was gung ho yesterday when we reviewed the plan. She was set to dive right in on day one, week three TODAY. That would have made today the day of truth when we cut out sugar. But I really do need some time to reflect on this — is it something I even want to do?
Our compromise: roll weeks one and two into one week and set D-Day for next Monday. Will report back.
Have you ever thought you might want to get sugar out of your life? Did you? Why? Why not? Does this kind of challenge resonate with you or make you want to run for the nearest piece of triple chocolate cake?