I had a little reality check moment with myself the other day: I've been off sugar for 14 months. Since before two Christmases ago. What began as an 8-week experiment with Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar has become a permanent fixture in my way of living -- I did not expect that to happen, nor did I expect it to be so easy to stick to.
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend about sugar -- particularly a [healthy] sweet recipe she'd come across and was emphatic I try to make at home. It sounded good, but I wasn't totally excited by the idea of making it. To be honest, I am now so physically aware of what the sensation of having sugar is like that I don't want it. I can pretty clearly forecast into the future how I will feel after I have something sweet - puffy, tired, moody, headachy - so much so that choosing not to have it in any form has become second nature.
In case you didn't see my first review of what going sugar free involved, here's a recap for you. In the past 14 months, I have avoided [almost entirely]:
- sugar, in all its forms (including white sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, demarara, etc)
- natural sweeteners (honey, agave, coconut sugar, maple syrup, etc)
- fruit sugar
Before deciding to give it up, my sugar intake was minimal (no soda, candy, or chocolate bars; occasional vegan frozen yogurt; wine, some fruit, agave), but the shift I noticed from removing even just these few things has been incredible.
I don't feel like I'm missing out, because I'd rather feel the supercharged, super-happy energy of being off the white stuff than have any at all. It's just not worth it to me anymore, and that has been one of the most powerful motivators behind continuing to eat this way for over a year. It's not about looking physically better or having dropped two dress sizes, although those have been happy bonuses. The biggest shift has been in my mood and mental clarity throughout the day. Back in April, when I first wrote about quitting sugar, I noted that I felt like a nicer person without sugar. Let me tell you: this continues! I feel so much more even and grounded. (According to Macrobiotic theory, sugar has a highly expansive energetic quality; caffeine, alcohol, and drugs do, too. There is something wild about feeling just a little more centered most of the time... which is difficult to feel when our energy is flighty and unsettled.)
I have dabbled a little in sugar over the last 6 months to see what might happen and if I could reintroduce it without throwing my good groove off. Some highlights have included:
- a sweetened tea latte at a little place I love in NYC -- I felt headachy and super irritable for the rest of the afternoon. Not worth it.
- a bite of vegan gluten-free cake at a friend's holiday party -- I felt on edge. Ick. Not worth it.
- banana -- namely in a couple of smoothie situations where I've neglected to ask for it to be omitted, and one time I intentionally tried a blended drink that included banana anyways. The cravings reignited almost immediately, and I spent the rest of the day feeling puffy and lethargic. Not worth it.
- berries have been okay from time to time, but I notice that even something low-glycemic like goji berries or blueberries reactivate the crazy sugar monster's cravings and I end up feeling insatiably hungry the rest of the day. No thanks. Not worth it.
- juice -- during last fall's 3-day juice cleanse. I spent about a week recovering from the minuscule amount of sugar from the apples, pear, agave and coconut nectar in a couple of those juices. My digestion was all over the place and I felt unreasonably puffy. Lesson learned: our next juice cleanse will be veggie-only. Not worth it.
- honey, just because it came home with us in some Christmas presents -- it was promptly removed from our kitchen on account of the immediate brain-hold I felt taking over after one spoonful in some tea. Not worth it (who likes to fight with their brain?!)
Turns out: nope, sugar just isn't going to work for me long-term. And that's okay! Once a body is detoxified, having even just a tiny bit of sugar can quite jarring. For some people, reintroducing it produces a feeling of 'Oh, that's nice! I've missed that. A bite is enough, thanks'. For me, I just feel physically off, my cravings resurface, and I don't like the funk I get into. That's motivation enough to call it quits long-term.
The great thing is that I have discovered that sweet veggies [sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squash] and flavorful healthy fats [a little almond butter + coconut butter, avocado with gomasio, or this freezer fudge] make incredible substitutes for those craving-filled moments. The one exception I make on a daily basis is a little soy milk in a [wee] latte, which has a touch of sugar, which I don't notice affects me negatively or exacerbates my inner sugar monster. We've also worked some apricots and bee pollen into recipes in the last year, without too much trouble. And also wine. Of course wine. Sometimes. :0) Great to know there is such a thing as balance... for some people, it will be a little more flexible than for others. The big lesson to take away from any experiment like this is learning to listen to what your body wants. When we acknowledge that packing our system full of things it doesn't like isn't doing us any favors, we start to notice what does do it favors... and what allows us to thrive.
What's been fun for me is sharing this adventure with other people and seeing how their experience plays out. Oddly enough, the friend I mentioned above (with the recipe suggestion) found herself in a house packed with sweets for two full days not long after our conversation. She told me afterwards that the idea of 'knowing that I will feel unwell if I have sugar' really stuck with her. She had just a few tastes of sugary stuff over the weekend - not because she was worried about 'being skinny' but because she didn't want to feel physically gross - and felt awesome the whole weekend. I was thrilled to hear this! How does sugar impact you right now? Do you notice a difference if you have it or not? Do you crave it? (Is it brutal or what?!) Please feel free to share in the comments section below.
So, all in all, an interesting first year off sugar! If you're looking to go on your own sugar-free exploration, let me know! I would love to support you through it.
Check out this page to set up some time to chat: I am thrilled to have launched customized plans to help my clients end their sugar dependency. Let's create one for you that will help you break it off with sugar in a painless (and truly deliciously joyful) way. Best part? It's not dieting... it's food-horizon-expanding!
Wishing you sweetness this week in all the best ways.