When I tell people I quit eating added sugar over a year ago on a dare from my son, the response I get is, “Wow, I could never do that. I don’t have your willpower.”
But I quit the sugar precisely because I realized that willpower is a myth. How else to explain that whenever I hosted a holiday party, I had to give away, or throw away, all the left over desserts? That included running the containers of ice cream under hot water until they were disgusting, congealed blobs floating in the sink.
If I didn’t discard them, I’d eat the remaining desserts until I felt sick. And if I merely threw the ice cream containers into the garbage can? I’d promptly fish them out.
Sound crazy? Or sound familiar?
The truth about staying away from sugar-laced, processed, garbage foods is that it’s a matter not of willpower, but of creating new habits.
What was my son’s dare? For 30 days, don’t eat anything with added sugar (or sweeteners of any kind, artificial or not). No desserts, no processed food with sugar, no yogurt with fruit. No fruit juices, or alcoholic beverages. Luckily, I’d never acquired a taste for juice or alcohol (both mega sources of sugar).
But it did mean I could eat sugar in its naturally occurring container. Fruit. Milk. Plain yogurt. Nuts. Vegetables.
I didn’t get completely fanatical. If a restaurant added a dash of honey to a recipe, that was fine, as long as my serving had less than a teaspoon of sugar in it (4 grams).
I set about changing my habits. I stocked the house with fresh and frozen fruit. I satisfied my dessert cravings with a few roasted, unsalted nuts and some raisins. As time wore on, my brain sensors changed, and the raisins tasted too sweet.
If I drove past my favorite ice cream parlor and longed for the soft vanilla cone dipped in chocolate, I thought of the cherries and blueberries I had in the house.
Those 30 days rewired my brain. Instead of craving added sugar, I now craved fruit and vegetables. Most of the time.
If I ever did crave sugar, I redirected my focus so I noticed I wasn’t actually in need of sugar, but was tired or thirsty. A glass of icy water, a sit down with a book, or a serving of fruit, obliterated my sugar craving.
My new habits became so ingrained that when I saw other people eating cake or ice cream, I had no desire to join them.
Very rarely, in the first few months, when my senses were assaulted with the aromas of sugar, dough, and butter, I reminded myself that I could eat sugar if I wanted. But if I did, I’d be jumping right back onto that roller coaster of craving.
Knowing I had a choice set me free. I decided to keep to my abstinence because I felt so much freer after breaking out of the prison of cravings.
Now, over a year later, I have no desire to eat sugar-sweetened garbage. My brain has reset. A plain croissant tastes too sweet. Watermelon and pineapple taste heavenly. Tomatoes taste sweeter and juicier. I feel full of energy and more alive than ever before.
Whenever people confess their addiction to sweets, I suggest starting a 30 day challenge.
They look at me wistfully and say, “I wish I could do it, but I can’t.” Or, “That’s crazy. That will never happen.” Or, “Don’t you miss it?”
I miss sugar as much as my vegetarian friend misses meat. (She doesn’t. She wrinkles her nose when I ask.)
I miss sugar as much as my couch potato friend misses exercise. (He doesn’t. He’d never trade his TV for a stair master.)
Life is so much sweeter since I gave up the myth of willpower.
It helped enormously that my son stuck to the sugar free life. When I had my doubts, I would imagine disappointing him, and that thought kept me on my path.
Doing this with someone you love makes it easier.
Have you ever tried something like this?