Sunday, October 20, 2013

What I Learned from My Month Without Sugar

I might have been happier before I saw this picture and 
knew how much sugar is in Thanksgiving dinner.

In the past month, many people have asked me why I was going a month without sugar. The answer I generally gave? “For a challenge”. The real answer is a little longer.

Last year, two of my friends from college shared their “30 before 30" lists and I noticed that they both included one particular goal in common. They both wanted to go for one month without sugar. They inspired me to develop my own “30 before 30" list, and I decided to add it to my list as well. I didn’t really give much thought to this, but thought it sounded cool.

Flash forward to September of this year, as I’m reviewing my list to see what remained to be done before my birthday in December. My first impulse was to just ignore this item and not even try. I didn’t think I could do it even if I wanted to. In fact, I challenged the possibility that anyone could do it. I messaged my friend Jodie on Facebook to see if she had attempted this item from her list, expecting a negative reply. Instead, she informed me that yes, she had done it several times, and it helped her lose the pregnancy weight.

Ouch. What was I going to say? “No, my body really needs sugar to support all of this weight I gained during pregnancy...”  It was on. I wanted to do this before the holidays, so I jumped right in. I limited myself to eliminating refined sugar. Here are some of the things I learned during the past month:

-First, sugar is in everything. Reading labels is essential because it is in seemingly healthy items too. Almost all of our cereal, our balsamic dressing, even our natural peanut butter had sugar in them.

-Cravings for sugar supposedly go away after 2 weeks. Not true for me. Constant craving went away after about 10 days, but then cravings came and went throughout the month. Some days I was glad I was doing this no sugar thing because I felt I didn’t need it. Some days I thought it was the stupidest thing ever and I was irritable because all I wanted was a brownie with walnuts or a slice of apple pie. I suspect hormones have a lot to do with why we as women crave what we crave and the timing of our cravings.

-My lifesaver was a smoothie made with frozen bananas, unsweetened almond milk, and cocoa powder. I'm not sure I could have gotten through some days without this pick-me-up!

-I have a big fear of failure. I had many dreams in which I unthinkingly indulged in dessert and then felt horrified that I had fallen short of my goal.

-I have a food addiction, like most Americans. I love flour+sugar. It makes me happy. It also makes me fat when indulged in too often. At the same time, baking and sharing is part of how I nurture and connect with other people, and I don’t think I need to give it up permanently. There do need to be limits, however, and I have been thinking a lot about what those limits should be in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I return to eating sugar, my new goal is to only indulge on the weekends or special occasions.

Conclusion: I  can't say that giving up refined sugar improved my mood. I may have felt more stable on average, but I also felt irritable a lot. Going without refined sugar did help me lose weight. So far, I’ve lost over 40 pounds since I gave birth about 3 months ago. I have more I want to lose, and I hope that my new sugar limitations will serve my purposes well.