Tuesday, June 21, 2011

30 days without sugar - the why, what and how to

Be warned, people. This is a jumbo post! I didn't intend for it to be that long, but proper documenting sometimes just needs space. :o)

As you can see from the ticker at the very bottom of this page, I have been living sugar free for exactly 1month, 1week and 1day now.

Why no sugar?

Around that time, I had a big downer and I just didn't feel like I was myself for a variety of reasons. I then decided to make some changes to my life in order to have more energy and feel more in charge of things. One of the changes was going completely off refined (white and brown) sugar.

I set myself a period of 30 days to test this. I've done 30day-trials very successfully before (for example, to get in the habit of flossing) and I knew that I could get through this period even if it would be hard.

I am a total sweets-junkie. I love choccolate and if there's cookies around I really can't hold myself back and take just one and then forget about the half-opened pack in the cupboard.

I think this compulsive way of eating has a lot to do with other things like how you grew up and your psychological relationship to food. But I'll leave such insights for another post.
Fact is, however, that we are not the only ones to blame for our issues with food cravings. I have been reading and hearing a lot about research that found certain additives in food products to cause addiction-like reactions in our bodies.
One of these additives is sugar.
Sugar has also been linked to bad skin, ADS, mood swings, depression, PMS...I guess you can see why I wanted to give it a try.

What does that mean?
So I'm not eating any refined sugar. What does that mean? It means I can't eat sweets, white bread, and most pre-processed foods (like fastfood, lasagne, salsa, bread spreads, yogurts...).

Once you've developed a feeling for it, it is actually quite easy and now that I'm writing it down I feel like it's actually not so much that I have to stay away from.
I braced myself for an extensive period of cravings. I've had experience with such days even before I started adjusting my diet - when you just can't think of anything else than the next snack and your mouth is constantly bored. It sometimes went so far that I found myself staring into the empty fridge without knowing how I'd got there and then some minutes later I would go back just to check if there really wasn't anything to eat in there. (The fridge wasn't empty because I was broke, but because I know myself well enough not to leave any snacky things lying around ^^ )

But, oh miracle, I actually went through the first two weeks like a breeze. I think that being well prepared helped a lot - I'll talk about that later. For my birthday dinner, I had a tiny portion of sorbet and the day after that, when I graduated in my nature teacher's course, I had one toffiffee.
The five days after that were pure horror. I was back to my darkest nightmares of craving hell. I really know how a recovering junkie must feel now.
But these days passed, and I slowly got back into non-sweet life.

How to do it?
Here are some tips I think might be useful if you ever consider changing your diet:

- Give yourself a trial period. Restraints are much easier to bear if you can see the end of them. After 30 days, you can still decide to go for another 30 days, and then another... or quit without feeling bad, because you accomplished the challenge.

- Do your homework: For the first few times of shopping or eating out, it might be useful to write down a list of things that contain sugar. Later you will automatically check the label of products that contain more than the obvious ingredients, but at the beginning we are often not aware that sugar is hidden in even the unlikeliest products. (Like pesto sauce, crackers or tortillas!)

- Make a list of alternatives: Instead of your favourite soft drink, you can drink shorley, or maybe - as a special treat - a diet version of it (I try to avoid sweetening subsitutes, too). If you are a snacky person like me, consider dried fruits or healthy things like selfmade popcorn. Fresh fruits are my first choice, but sometimes they're just not sweet enough. I started making my own bread (especially white bread in the shops often contains sugar), using honey instead of sugar.

- Try different sweet substitutes like stevia, honey or pear syrup. Don't delude yourself though: They should be used carefully and sparsely. Honey is very sugary and sweeteners can be bad for your blood sugar system, leading to more cravings. You'll have to find out what works for you.
If you like baking, there are a lot of great sugar free recipes out there. I tried it, but there hasn't been a major breakthrough yet.That is certainly due to my lack of experience though. ;o)

- Consider the social part of your dietary choice: People might want to invite you for icecream dates or cookie baking. If you don't feel like you're strong enough to say no, try to avoid these in the beginning, or let your friends know you are restricted with your eating choices at the moment. Telling them that this is a thing for a limited time often makes it easier for them to accept. Otherwise they might think you're too extreme and try to talk you out of it.
For people who aren't that close to you, I felt like they often find it easier to accept your choice if you don't tell them the whole story and instead simply inform them that because of your health you are momentarily not allowed to eat sugar.

And how do you feel now?
I am now in the very lucky position to live with people who also make conscious dietary choices. Partly because they have to and partly because they know that you are what you eat. Meat is a kind of no-go around here... There are hardly any readymade foods in our kitchen and our fridge is full of fresh things - I find that very inspiring.

Felix' breakfast treat

Coconut milk and rice drink

To suit everybody's needs we mostly eat gluten free, sugar free and vegan stuff if we cook together. Trev and I have been eating meat very rarely before we moved here and now we don't miss it much. The new place has also helped me cut my dairy intake down even more. Cheese is now a very special treat for me and I like it like that. We do have dairy products in the kitchen, but they are not a big favorite. Most of the time we struggle to finish them. The bottle of milk in this picture is still sealed:

My cravings really are down to a bare minimum. Now we even have choccolate cake lying around or I watch the boys eat icecream without even considering having any. I know I'm on a delicate balance here and I really don't wanna destroy it, so I decided to keep this diet for as long as possible. Maybe one day I will feel like I can risk a piece of choccolate without going back to the beginning, but that still seems far away.

What are the benefits so far?
I am not saying that this diet is THE thing and everybody should eat like I do. I believe everybody has to find the diet choices that work best with their body and mind.
I personally feel much lighter in my mind and more aware and in harmony with my body and mind since I've changed my eating habits.
I'm not an expert, but I feel that eating less milk and cheese goes easier on my digestive system and makes my whole body feel less lethargic.

Cutting out sugar has made me more aware of my eating habits. I know when I've had enough, although I sometimes make a deliberate choice to have some more, because the food is just so good. The difference is: I don't feel helpless anymore, I can decide by myself and with reason if and how much more I want of what, I don't just HAVE to eat.

My psyche feels more stable than a month ago, but after hardly 40 days I don't think I can say it will stay like this. I do, however, feel like I can take things like moods more easy and look at them with a certain distance. If I feel frustrated or down or generally vulnerable like yesterday for example, I can accept those feelings but at the same time I know that I am having a bad day. I can also feel the connection between my gloomy mind and my body that is fighting off a cold at the moment and I know that if I take care of my throat and get some sleep I will feel brighter soon.

I hope I could paint you a picture of how interesting it can be to experiment with your diet and challenge your eating habits. I'm off for some yummy dinner, then! ;o)


Sara said...

What a great post! I can identify with the cravings and not being in control of eating habits. I still struggle with that daily, but have gotten slightly better. I still find myself sneaking into the pantry for some oreos saying "i'll just work out extra hard tonight" but after those oreos I just don't feel like working out.

It's so good to hear that I'm not the only one and that there are ways to overcome the food addiction. I don't know if I can do what you did and cut out sugar completely for 30 days but I might try smaller steps like 2 weeks and then go from there. Such an inspiring post, Thank you!!

Elisa said...

wow, you're hardcore.

I am still allowed whole grain bread with sugar syrup (for the colour).

I am just continuing to not eat any sugar on anything and no sweet desserts or baked things.

And after nearly 2 months I am able to eat ONE cookie or 2 pieces of chocolade and not more for some days. And as long as I ride my trim- bike afterwards I can even eat more.

Oh and I on the contrary need a daily tea cup of plain fatty yogurt with living bifidus lactobacillus in it for better digestion. I do not eat much cheese. But I love my daily big glass of milk (I have been drinking a glass of milk for my whole life so far and have never had any broken bones even when I fell off trees) and I find returning to full-fat milk is one of the best decisions ever. I agree that I feel lighter and more powerfull if I can substitute the daily cow milk. With organic goat milk that is. :-) Oh, and I think cream gives a lot of meals some extra deliciousness and same goes for Butter.

I agree avoiding sugar substitutes because they are cheap, industrial waste and trick the body in a mean way.

Mikelle Jade {The Honeypie Archives} said...

oh wow. all I can say is good luck! But sounds like it will be a great accomplishment!

As for cravings... I'm more of a salty person myself, but hey, maybe I should try this too!

Cindy said...

Wow this is an amazing diet, Yaga! Definitely not for those light of heart. Mostly I try to eat balanced...I'll allow myself sweets if I'm craving it, but I have to make sure I eat lean meat and vegetables too. Plus I like to tell myself working out a lot compensates for having a full fledged non-diet. xD

And I have vinegar cravings a lot...vinegary things really tickle my taste buds! :D

Jana Miller said...

Wow...that's great. We cut almost all our refined sugar about a year ago. And we eat mostly gluten free as well. Our main inspiration was a blog called Marks daily Apple. I lost a bunch of belly fat. Yay!. We still eat dairy and mostly just meat and vegis. I get in trouble when I have off limits food in the house. Otherwise i do well with the new way of eating.
xo jana

Bonni said...

Great post! Can I start it next week.....:(
I'm blog hopping and found yours! I'm now following. Would love for you to check out my blog and follow back!! Have a great weekend! Bonni from http://www.mombyexample.com

Nika Corwin said...

I love this and you make it look and sound like it is a breeze! I used to be able to give things up fairly easily, but these days I am truly addicted to all things sweet. I gave up diet soda (the only kind I drank) and everything with artificial sweeteners years ago and somehow replaced those things with baked goods and chocolate! Thank you for inspiring me--I will definitely try this in small increments. Like maybe I'll try for this week and take it from there...Anyway, thank you for the post and I'm glad I found you while blog hopping. My last blog post tackled my dilemma between food and exercise, but your post is pushing me in the right direction! I hope you are able to check out my blog and follow back and I look forward to reading more from you...

yaga said...

thanks for all your comments, i am so glad this is of interest for you. i can't believe it's been almost 9 months now since i started this... I thin it's time for another post on this topic! ;o)

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