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.

No, no, I’m fine. You?

I’m not trying to blame the lows of my day on lack of sugar and crackers.

I’m simply saying that I packed my children’s lunch and gave an egg to only the one who likes hardboiled eggs. Rather on-top of things, I thought. But it was raw. Relatively useless as a protein source, especially since he tends to swing his lunch around and bang it against things.

I’m not saying that my  lack of focus today was based in my steely-willed refusal to indulge in my best friend: hot cocoa.

But I did get a scoop of raw almonds in the bulk bins and then walked off with someone else’s cart. And I didn’t notice until I had emptied half the cart onto the checkout belt. Well, okay, more honestly until the cart’s owner tapped me on the sleeve and sweetly indicated her chard and coconut and whatever else. And left me alone to locate my cart. You’d have thought it was clear I needed help. I thought about leaving the boring, dumb old groceries, since they were raw and healthy and lacking in sugar anyway, but I kind of needed to use a coupon before the end of the month.

I’m not blaming my spaciness on the fact that I used up all my attention and energy on fighting urges to eat caramel and then urges to murder anyone who would not give me caramel.

I’m just explaining that when my eldest, the sweet enigma who is so touchingly sensitive and brash and quiet and exuberant and like me and not like me, was telling me how he wrote a story at school in which good conquers evil with Briar-Rabbit-like trickery (despite not yet hearing any of those stories) I quite understandably sliced off the heel of my hand with a cheese plane.

He freaked, I calmed him. Because if you don’t bleed on the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op’s Dante, everything is good.

I didn’t make it through the day without sugar. I made cocoa. First I tried coconut milk, cacao nibs, and dates. If I had used cacao powder I might have been sated. But it just wasn’t enough. So I mixed fair trade, unsweetened cocoa powder, unsweetened almond milk, and raw, local honey.

And it was phenomenal.

There’s no way I’ll make Intentional Cocoa every day. Tea is easier. But it’s nice to have options. Because I can only pack hazardous lunches, steal people’s groceries, and slice off pieces of my hands so many times before I decide to go back to ordering gummy cherries by the case.


Sugar? What sugar?

Oh, this whole “eat really healthy and minimally processed and nothing I couldn’t make myself” thing is going to be easier than I thought. Because I’m totally cheating, yet still feeling righteous in my efforts to (eventually) eat better.

I’m going to start calling this the baby steps experiment.

No sugar rule? Well, I licked the knife after making the kids’ PB&J. The jam was cloyingly sweet, though I buy the low-sugar stuff. It felt nice to know that I’m already completely clear of the sugar habit. One day, totally averse to sugar. I don’t need sugar! Who needs sugar? Let’s just…oh my god, coffee tastes horrible without sugar. So I added a teaspoon of agave. That kind of substitution is not going to change my need for sweeteners, so I have to knock it off. Today’s modified rule: no sugar except agave in coffee and sugar added to stuff I lick off knives. Tomorrow’s rule will be no sugar. Maybe.

No bread rule? Dinner included three leftover finger sandwiches for the high tea I made this weekend for my mother-in-law’s birthday. Whole wheat with olive tapenade and cheddar. Because I was hungry and because I’m not going to waste food on a stupid premise that bread might send me onto a slippery slope of processed food. Today’s modified rule: no bread except leftover bread. Tomorrow’s rule will be no bread. Maybe.

No processed foods? Easy. Breakfast was leftover lentil salad and some jicama.  Lunch was peanuts and more salad. Dinner was three leftover finger sandwiches, leftover black beans, leftover brown rice, and cheese. After-fencing snack was peanuts. Clearly, if I have leftovers and easy snacks, there are no pretzel and ice cream binges. But ask me again on a day when we don’t have leftovers.

I don’t feel any better (perhaps because it’s day two and I haven’t actually ditched anything, really), I don’t have more energy, and I’m fiercely grouchy from 4-7pm. Tonight I fixed that by exercising.
Boring. I wanted cocoa instead.

I’ve noted three things in this second day of experimentation:

1. I’m already sick of talking about food.

2. I want candy really freaking badly after 5pm. Ever minute after 5pm. Every second after 5pm. Evening candy is habit and tiredness. If I can be mindful of my tired cravings I might actually change the way I treat my body long-term. Or I have to ban candy from my house.

3. I am hungry most of the day and don’t bother to eat until I’m in the car. That’s why the fistfuls of peanuts the past two days: peanuts are already sitting, waiting, ready, beckoning in the car. I need to keep healthful snacks in the car, and do a better job of sitting down during the day to eat.

So that was day two: cheating on invented rules, realizing I need food to be easy, and rethinking ways to get to bed by 4pm.

Side note: I want cocoa.
I’m going to go to bed instead, but I’m willing to put money on my waking up wanting cocoa.


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.]