Sugar Plum Dreams

Sugar. I once claimed it was my life blood. It was more of a mantra. I have in my artillery some of the best cookie and cake recipes, found after diligent searching and baking. Unfortunately, my body was starting to show it. Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to reduce my sugar intake to the recommended daily intake of 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) as announced by the World Health Organization. This would be less than one can of soda in an entire day.

The problem with simply trying to reduce the amount of sugar is it’s really easy to not take it too seriously. I made exceptions almost daily, which defeated the purpose. If I was tired, I would give myself a caffeine boost (and sugar buzz) with Dr. Pepper. I found and fell in love with chai tea lattes, which had even more sugar than a soda. I would make cookies for my colleagues and enjoy the dough and the final product in the process.

We were already reducing the amount of pre-processed food in our diets, and we chose higher quality versions of other foods. Despite the healthier foods, I was becoming larger than I had ever been in my life. I felt horrible, I did not like to wear half my clothes, and I was feeling pretty gross in general. But I needed sugar. It made me feel happy, and usually sugar does make people feel happy. Sadly, it had become more of an addiction, and one that would be hard to fight because of the serious lack of real nutritional information and the nation’s general obsession with sugar.

This last New Year I made a new resolution. Absolutely no added sugar. Cold turkey, no exceptions. So what would be considered added sugar? I determined the easiest answer is everything that acts purely as a sweetener: all types of sugar including raw and turbinado, stevia, and obviously any “false” sugars such as aspartame. Not only that, but I would only use ingredients that had very low amounts of sugar. So plain greek yoghurt with only 3 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving (even this is hard to find, often I end up with 6 grams). Tomato sauce with only 2 grams of naturally occurring sugar. Fewer apples and grapes, and more kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Authentic French, sourdough, and Italian breads like Ciabatta (if these have sugar in them, they aren’t “real”).

Cutting out sugar was sad, but I was determined. I drank only water and tea. Occasionally I mix one part natural orange juice (not from concentrate) with four parts unsweetened almond milk with a little vanilla extract to ensure enough vitamin c and calcium. I started eating a lot more raw foods and made summer porridge for breakfast. The only, reluctant, exceptions I started to allow were occasional honey (which I am not fond of to begin with) to help with plain oatmeal and small amounts of pure maple syrup (high natural sugar content) for breakfasts on weekends. Even this I am not too happy about.

I started daydreaming about sugar. When colleagues brought in doughnuts, I would stand over them and sniff for a few minutes (breathing smells does take in particles of that odor, so it was a bit like cheating at a micro level). For my birthday, I decided that would be the one day in the entire year (including holidays) that I would allow any sugar. I was making plans months in advance. As it neared, my stomach started protesting even the thought of half that sugar. I wanted dark chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast, a root beer float with Chinese food for lunch, sushi (sushi rice requires sugar) and an ice cream cake for dinner, and to end the day I wanted an artisan s’more. I drooled a lot thinking about it but did not have most of that menu in the end. What I did have made me realize I didn’t care much for it (cake and frosting) and that I still really like my Dairy Queen ice cream cake. After seven months, I had mostly broken through the sugar addiction.

Over this time period, I took three different measurements to track whatever progress I would make. I have not exercised at all (in fact, I have used my improved diet as an excuse to be even less physical), although I know that will have to change. Over eight months, I have lost fifteen pounds and around four inches in my waist. I am already fairly petite in many people’s opinion, so this I feel is rather impressive for making one fairly significant change. During this time I have also been making other minor improvements such as flossing daily (how many people really do this?), and I plan to continue adding small improvements throughout the rest of the year. The no-sugar diet I plan to continue for the foreseeable future. It is an easy way to not get fat. But it isn’t a diet for most people, especially for those who enjoy alcohol.

And now for something entirely different… garden photos!