This is a special three-part blog entry. There were three of us who took the challenge of going thirty days without sugar - Joe, Jill, and our friend Stacy - and the three of us had very different results:
I think I was the least affected of the three of us. At first, I was reluctant to participate, because I thought it might be just a part of one those faddish diets or lifestyles that I personally find both ridiculous and downright unhealthy. But when it was put to me in the form of a "let's just see if we can do it" challenge, the macho reptilian portion of my brain rose in all its ugly glory and said "Heck yeah, I can do that; easy!" Well, it wasn't as hard as I had anticipated, but it was a lesson that I should look into a lobotomy should I ever listen to that part of my head again. You see, for me, it was not a matter of battling endless cravings and the jitters of low blood sugar levels, it was simply just annoying! During the thirty days, I craved sweets no more than I usually did. I never felt ill or weak, or conversely, I never felt stronger or more healthy either. The only bad mood going without sugar put me in was from the annoyance of trying to put together and cook meals sans refined sugarcane! Evidently I can deal with hardships and sacrifice; I have a harder time with irritation.
Now in the past, I have always given artificial sweeteners a wide berth. I am one of the unfortunate few to possess the so-called "bitter gene," and I have heretofore found artificial sweeteners to be entirely unpalatable. Couple that with my worries about the health risks (yes, I know you have to drink a bathtub full of aspartame before you increase your risk of cancer, but still. . . .), and I have never had the least desire to indulge in diet soft drinks, sugar-free sweets, etc. But Jill brought us home some sugar-free sweets made by Russell-Stover, and I must say that they were nearly as good as their more honest cousins, and had none of the bitter aftertaste. I can't exactly say the same thing about sugar-free Life Savers: Aside from Pop-Rocks, sweets should not tingle like radioactive waste on the tongue. So it seems that the technology has advanced far enough that should someone be compelled to live a sugar-free life, there are products out there that will satisfactorily ameliorate many of the difficulties. However, I am now, more than ever, a firm believer that foods should not pretend to be something that they are not. I first noticed this when I ate several times at a vegetarian restaurant: Items on the menu that naturally contained no meat, such as salads and pasta were delicious. But every meat substitute I tried was disappointing, to say the very least! This last month I saw the same thing regarding sugar: Many foods do not contain or need sugar, and they can be delicious, but when you try to make foods that pretend to contain sugar, but do not, the result is almost always unpleasant.
When we started eating sugar again, I did notice that I was more quickly satisfied with fewer sweets, but not by much. So in short, while I realize that reducing or going without sugar can be very difficult for some, in my experience the last month was only marked by reduced flavors. For me, it provides more evidence for my belief that most everything is good for you in small amounts, and deprivation isn't always so great.
Guest Blog - Stacey Tyler -
I appreciate that Jill has asked me to contribute my thoughts on our 30 day challenge. In recent months, I’ve done a lot of research and thought a lot about the way I eat, and how the foods I consume affect me. Vegetarian, vegan, raw and organic diets really interest me. I think that while there is a lot of propaganda that goes along with these diets, I also believe they have some very valid points. I consider myself to be fairly educated on the right and wrong foods to consume. I spend time preparing wholesome meals for my family because it’s important to me that they eat healthy (READ: something that doesn’t come out of a box). Even so, it’s difficult to consume a good variety of fruits and vegetables every day. As a mother of three young children, I have found myself, especially in recent months, becoming more reliant on sugar to make it through the day. I depend on chocolate, primarily, to give me that little boost to survive the afternoon. I realize this is not a healthy choice, especially when it’s nearly every day. That’s why I wanted to take on this challenge. I wanted to break my body of the sugar habit. I’m just glad Jill and Joe agreed to come along for the ride. It’s so much easier when you have support! (And would have been even easier had my husband agreed to the challenge, too.)
I admit the first few days were very difficult. I could tell my body was rebelling. I was shaky and (according to my sweet husband) grumpy. I felt so restricted in those first few days that I didn’t eat much because everything I thought of to eat contained sugar. I began relying on breads to fill the sugar void for the first couple weeks. I made several batches of homemade buttermilk biscuits. I found a great recipe for crepes (omitting the sugar, of course) that we topped with peanut butter and fruit. That helped a lot, too. Then, I came across two websites that showed me there are plenty of options out there for sweets, and they can actually be good for you:
Over the last two weeks or so, I discovered a whole new world, as it were, to eating dessert that doesn’t involve loads of granulated sugar.
It was fun to try new recipes and discover new websites and see that there are plenty of people doing the same thing I was.
I even got some recipes to try from a friend who I had no idea loved raw, vegan food.
Now that it’s all over, I’ve learned that while I missed it, I don’t need sugar to survive. And when I do crave something sweet, I have many other options besides baking up a batch of cookies or brownies. I also feel better physically and mentally when I make good food choices. While in the past, I could polish off half a dozen cookies (or more) in one sitting, I can now say that I don’t need more than one or two to get through a craving.
I’m not one to deprive myself of food, simply because I know it’s bad for me. I believe that even the most unhealthy foods (READ: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and the like) are o.k. in moderation. However, my eyes have definitely been opened to other alternatives and I’ve found that I enjoy eating some raw/vegan desserts because they’re actually delicious.
I must also mention that I did make a “sugar-free” cheesecake and try some “sugar-free” chocolate wafers during my challenge. I discovered that my body doesn’t deal well with alternative sweeteners, like Splenda. I had awful stomach aches after consuming the wafers, in particular. And I’m o.k. with that, as I tend to believe that if it’s man-made, you shouldn’t eat it. I prefer to stick to natural ingredients, like pure sugar, real butter and non-processed foods.
As far as the vegan/raw diet, there are parts of it that really appeal to me, and while I don’t think I could ever fully commit to that lifestyle, there are definitely aspects of it that I will continue to incorporate into mine.
I admit I wasn't excited about this 30 day challenge, but when a challenge is presented I usually like to tackle it head on. Stacey and I were texting one night about diets and healthy eating; she suggested we try 30 days without sugar; it was time to break the sugar habit! Joseph and I agreed to the challenge which began March 1. I had been weening myself off of Mtn Dew so this challenge came at the perfect time.
I found the first week or so to be surprisingly easy! But then I started paying attention to what I was eating and noticed I increased my carb intake a bunch. Carbs turn into sugars if you're not burning them off so I was replacing my lack of sugar with sugar so to speak. When I limited my carb intake I noticed my cravings for sugar increased. I started drinking a ton of water! Water was the key for me which helped me not feel hungry and not constantly look for snacks. Also, keeping sweets and treats out of sight was another key to not craving sugar. One night Joseph and I ran to Smiths grocery store to buy a gallon of milk. Every sweet thing I saw I wanted! My mouth watered, and my eyes got big, I think I caught myself licking my lips like a animal hunting its prey. We got out of the store as fast as possible only walking down the paper towel isle and the feminine products isle. The check stands are the worst! Twix, skittles, Kit Kat, M & Ms, even Altoids looked good to me.
After the addiction was broken I felt fine, I had a ton of energy. Before the challenge my energy levels felt like a roller coaster always going up and down. About two weeks into our challenge I noticed I didn't have energy spikes anymore. I made sure I was drinking a ton of water; at least 64 ounces while I was at work and another 16 ounces in the evening. Our fruit intake increased as well. We were paying attention to what we ate and so we started to eat much more healthy foods.
March 30 Joseph and I stayed up til midnight. We decided to break our 30 day sugar fast with a nice warm bowl of Coconut Vanilla Rice Pudding! The rice pudding was delicious and we felt great! A couple days after the challenge I resumed eating sugar and sweets and noticed I felt sluggish again and my energy levels started to vary though out the day. I also felt sick to my stomach and I've had several headaches. I feel using sugar as an ingredient for flavor is great but to sit down and eat just sweets and sugar is a bad thing. I feel the challenge was a huge success and I learned a lot about how my body reacts to food.