I’ve always had a penchant for sweets. I remember vividly a childhood full of summer days buying penny candy, birthday party cupcakes and my grandmother’s delicious Christmas cookies. Yes, sugar and I go way back. As an adult and dietitian, however, I’ve learned over the years to be more selective in my sugar consumption and to balance it with healthier selections…mostly.
After a holiday season full of yummy treats and 10 days in St Lucia where everyday included scuba diving and sugar laden alcoholic drinks (not at the same time), let’s just say my sugar intake was getting a little out of control. Even after holiday merriment transitioned back into reality and routine, I found myself mindlessly consuming sugar. Something needed to change and in this case, it needed to be drastic. So I committed to my own month long No Sugar Challenge.
Knowing myself, I needed to set up my challenge with parameters I knew I could meet. My ground rules were: no added sugar (naturally occurring sugars like fruit and milk sugar were acceptable), no low calorie sweeteners (bye bye morning coffee with stevia) and I would allow for two exceptions – mindful consumption of sweets on my birthday and at my grandfather’s 90th birthday party. It was an interesting month for sure, here’s what I learned:
I am actually a discriminating coffee drinker. I used to believe I could drink any coffee. Turns out, that’s only the case if you dose it with enough sweetener until it’s palatable. Not all coffee is created equal! Coffee from the local diner? No Thank You! Morning coffee from my Nespresso machine? After a day or so of getting used to it, I still really like it, even without sweetener.
Stress is a major trigger. There’s nothing quite like taking away a coping mechanism to reveal your triggers. At stressful points in the day, I initially found myself mindlessly seeking out sweets. In one particularly stressful situation, the desire for sweets was so high it was almost unbearable. But I made myself a commitment and it forced me to find other ways to address my stress. I went for a walk, I talked it out, or I practiced some breathing techniques. All of which worked. If you’re curious as to why we seek out sweets when we’re stressed, check this out. Though the desire for sweets under stress might not go away, I now have other tools to cope.
Balancing my meals helps. Here’s another fun fact, if my meals are short on carbohydrate or are too small, it leaves me searching for sweets later. I fine tuned my breakfast and lunch to include more healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, unsweetened dairy, beans or lentils. Because these foods helped keep my blood sugar steady for longer, I was able to avoid falling prey to the between meal sugar monster.
Sugar is EVERYWHERE. Seriously, everywhere. This challenge really forced me to look closely at labels to see just how much sugar was being added in to foods I commonly eat. Check out this earlier blog post for a list of sugar’s aliases. After all, sugar by any other name is still sugar. What surprised me most were the small amounts added in foods like pasta sauce, salad dressing and wheat bread. Though I knew manufacturers pulled this trick, it was still a shock at how quickly it adds up.
This month long challenge raised my awareness helping me realize my sugar triggers, take my consumption off autopilot, reduce my reliance on an overly sweet taste and also helped me lose a few pounds! Going forward, I plan on continuing to avoid use of low calorie sweeteners (which seems easy at this point), consume sweets only in a mindful setting (AKA not in a stressed out frenzy at 2p daily) and to rely more on non-food stress coping mechanisms.
So what can a challenge like this do for you? I am a big fan of self-experimentation. A challenge done with curiosity and without judgment can bring to light some very helpful lessons. So I challenge YOU to think about what experiments might be most helpful to your goals!