Sugar Finale

I set Thanksgiving as the closing date for my experiment in cutting sugar and processed food from my frenzied life. Exhausted from late nights of work fueled by cases of gummy widgets, I wanted to find another way.


So I vowed to ditch sugar, processed grains, and packaged foods. And it was rough at first. Painful, annoying, frustrating, and almost impossible.


But over the past five weeks I’ve cut my sugar intake more than 90%. I no longer crave sweets, and I’ve replaced some of my worse habits with better choices. I’ve tried several new foods and found new favorites. Because I forced myself to replace sugar in my coffee, my snacks, my meals, my late night energy crutch, I’m fueling smarter. I’m choosing to put food into my body when it needs food energy, but trying to use exercise energy and sleep energy and breathing energy, too, as part of an attempt to slow down the trainwreck of my eighteen-hour days.

When I first started this experiment, I would crave candy and stare in frustration at the forbidden candy cabinet. (Yup. Whole cabinet. Love candy. Always have. Fifth food group. Or first, really.) Now when I crave candy, I ask myself what I really want, and I think it over while drinking a glass of water. Not because it’s a trick or because I’m supposed to, but because it makes sense. I’ve always known sugar cravings stem from thirst and exhaustion. But sugar is delicious and easy, so it was hard to choose water first. But now I hydrate and ponder going to bed. And most of the time I rearrange my to-do list, whittle only the most important items, and go to bed, on average, an hour earlier than I did before the sugar-avoidance experiment.

Processed grains were a harder part of my experiment, and after a week, honestly, I gave up. I like bread. There’s nothing inherently bad about bread, especially since we eat whole grain, crunchy-granola-Berkeley bread. Eating thoughtlessly, on autopilot, and from packages was my problem. So I kept the bread and ditched other forms of processing.

The packages were forbidden for a while, and now I don’t want them. Crackers, cookies, and pasta don’t call to me. I know there’s something delicious, quick, and healthy in the fridge that takes longer but feels better.

My habits are different, my choices are better, and I’m thoughtful about what I’m eating. Minimal sugar, minimal processing, more water, more sleep, and many compromises.

Sounds like success to me. Not perfect, not 100%. But success.

Progress update

Okay. Two weeks without sugar or processed foods.

How’s it going, you ask.

Um, well, define “without” first and then we’ll talk.

It’s been two weeks since I first attempted to go without sugar or processed food. It took a day to know there’s no way I can operate in my current form without some sweetener and some processing. I’m up early to write, the kids are up soon after, the day is a chaos of children and clients, and for hours after the little monkeys finally crash I’m editing and emailing and strategizing.

Mama needs some processed food, even if just tea already bagged for me, coffee roasted for me, nuts salted for me, and kale already torn into bite-sized pieces. I’ve cooked all our grains and beans, but I’m not making tempeh. I’ve washed and sliced and cooked dozens of veggies, but I’m not making my own salad dressing. I’m just not. Avoiding sugar and factory food doesn’t mean homesteading, y’all. It means holding life together with Kind bars.

So once my standards were lowered, things got better. I replaced all sugar with local, organic honey and quickly lost my craving for sweetness. I have at least one serving of agave or honey some days, to make the raw cacao or the almonds and coconut palatable. But otherwise I’ve gone without sugar. My coffee now gets milk without sweetener. With three major exceptions, I haven’t had baked goods for two weeks. (One exception was a friend in crisis who needed all of me, and for that I listened and nodded through half a bag of cookies. The second exception was that I made pumpkin pie with my kids and bough a pre-made graham cracker crust. The third sugar infusion was a mistake wherein I took an Almond Joy from my son when he offered it. The first bite was WAY too sweet and I would have stopped. But it was fun-sized and he was proud that he’d given me something. Whatever. Two weeks with three selfless gestures of diabetic willingness. They should make me human of the year, honestly, for being willing to eat sugar in the name of friendship and parenthood.)

I have pretty well avoided boxed, canned, bagged, and shrink-wrapped foods. Unless something that seemed homemade at the potluck the other night was secretly a t.v. dinner. I doubt it. Pumpernickel pretzels at a friend’s house, because why the heck would I say no to that? Ate the crusts off my kids’ sandwiches the other day because why the heck would I throw away good whole grain bread? Again, human of the year. Kindness and refusing to waste. I’m thinking a parade, perhaps, in my honor.

I engaged on this machine-free eating experiment because I was shoveling sugar into machinery that wasn’t working well. I wasn’t sleeping or thinking or behaving well. I don’t feel much better physically after two weeks. Maybe it’s that 7,000 calories of cookies. I do feel a tad more patient and a hint stronger on runs. I feel more likely to think clearly and go to bed when I need to than I did before. But only slightly.

In short, two weeks is too brief an experiment. I’d like to get to Thanksgiving without any other major tumbles off the wagon. I’d like to keep choosing sunflower seeds and raw cacao over candy and chips. I’d like to keep having my coffee with just unsweetened coconut milk.

Because I’m gorging a bit less. And sleeping a bit more.

And that seems good. For now. I’ll let you know when freakout season arrives. But that’s not until November, so I’m safe.

Just a bit.

But it’s a start.

Minimally processed experiment

Oh, heaven help me, I’m trying to eat healthfully for a month.

Actually, for a few hours I said I was going to eat nothing processed.

But I realized that someone cut the mint leaves and put them in a bag for me to make tea. And someone toasted the coconut and someone sprouted the pumpkin seeds and put tamari on them. All that is processing. I’m not going raw and I’m not doing too much work myself. So minimal processing of whole grains and legumes. Raw or sprouted nuts and seeds. No sugar, no corn, no wheat. Because I don’t like the way I feel lately. Runs are like slogs, and afterwards I stuff myself with bread and sugar. My posture is terrible, so I feel tired, which makes my posture worse. I keep myself up late with candy instead of just going to bed. As a result, my body acts as though it belongs to a long-lost neighbor who it increasingly suspects is not coming back. I don’t like feeling like a renter in my body. I like to own it.

And I feel that the mortgage is paid and I owner occupy when I make healthy choices for food and exercise.

So I finally gave myself a talking to and started this eating plan. Last night.

After two hours I wanted cocoa. Desperately. So Melissa Camara Wilkins tweeted me a recipe for cacao, date, coconut-milk cocoa. I have none of that right now, but will. I still want cocoa, but I know Melissa’s recipe will get me through. I kept on going.

After twelve hours I was mad. I wanted granola and candy and crackers and toast with jam and cocoa. I had mint tea and went running. After the run I chased some chia seeds with more mint tea. I had a handful of tamari pumpkin seeds and a small bowl of locally made granola (yes, sugar but give me a break. I’m new to this). I didn’t think about sugar or bread or cocoa for hours. And I had a handful of stupid ol’ peanuts. And I kept on going.

By then I was really, really grouchy. Not hungry. Grouchy.

Dinner was a stupid Napa cabbage salad with stupid lentils and stupid beets and a stupid french vinaigrette. And a handful of stupid toasted coconut.

I WANT COCOA. Cocoa is warm and sweet and promises good things for the morn. Cocoa is love food.

Stupid vegetables and stupid lentils are stupid growing food. It’s the stupid stuff I make my kids eat while I sneak delicious, wonderful candy in the kitchen.

Stupid October. Stupid not-yet Thanksgiving. Stupid plans to feel better about myself.

This cacao Melissa told me about had better be all that. I’m getting some raw cacao nibs tomorrow. They had better make a good cocoa. They had better blow my mind. And make me feel like Wonder Woman.

Otherwise everyone near me will hear five weeks of grousing about stupid nuts and seeds and veggies and fruit for a stupid chance to feel better and stronger and healthier. So much stupidity.

[If previous experience going off sugar is any guide, I’m going to be mean as hell for two weeks. Minimum. My poor family.]

Slow food or real life?

Compelling article in the East Bay Express this week: Back to the Microwave by Sierra Filucci.
The author talks about how she was torn between doing what is right for her family and the planet…and doing what’s actually right for her family. She even argues that, though slow, local food movement is outstanding for young urbanites and energetic retirees, it may actually be pushing already overwhelmed women back into the kitchen for a full 1950s three-hour meal prep.

Great read. Glad her family did the one month of microwave and one month of Pollan eating to show how it really affects a family. Mostly grateful so I didn’t have to do the experiment. Interesting results.

During the convenience month, Filucci feels “pressed into an unworkable space. The space between a smashed keyboard and preservatives—between time and health.” Everything was easy, not always fast, and universally tasted the same.

During the grow it and cook it yourself month, she remembers “that the pleasure of cooking is soon overwhelmed by the reality of eating with two small children.” But once they hit their stride, the food “was polyphonic, with the volume cranked up high.”

Filucci notes the silence about gender within the slow food movement, ignoring that in the typical family, women handle 63% of the food prep and cleanup. The men and women are exhausted after a long day and sometimes, even though cooking is faster, takeout is more tempting. She wants the sustainable food movement to realize “that what they ask of communities and households—while worthy and noble—falls unequally at women’s feet.”

I believe we all need to talk more about the costs, too, not just to families and time and the environment, but to families’ wallets. Eating locally and fresh, in dismissing the terrifically unbalanced and outrageous food policy in the U.S. (all GMO, poison-ridden corn. potatoes, and soy all the time), is designed to be unbearably expensive for most families. It costs too much for us to buy everything at the farmer’s market and through local farm delivery programs. That’s because of where we live, where people pay a premium for local and fresh. Damn them.

Back to the Microwave