My Bittersweet Break-Up with Sugar

Research shows that if you want to be rid of a habit, you just need to abstain from whatever it is you want to eliminate for 21 consecutive days. After that, the temptation subsides and you have a pretty good chance of quitting.

Apparently, this is true for good habits as well. For example, if you’ve never been consistent with flossing your teeth, or if you want to join the neti pot craze and help irrigate your nasal passages (yes, it’s a thing), you must simply force yourself to incorporate the new task for three straight weeks. That commitment alone may be enough to create a ritual.

A couple of months ago, I crossed off all the items from my grocery list and pushed my cart over to the checkout lane at the front of the supermarket. As the clerk totaled my purchases and began placing my items in my reusable bags, I suddenly remembered that we were out of chocolate!

I panicked. “Wait!” I said. “I forgot the chocolate! I’ll be right back! Sorry!” I abandoned my groceries and dashed to the candy aisle like a crazy person; bulldozing the woman standing behind me – a mixed look of horror and disgust swept across her face.

“Sorry,” I said, returning with a stack of Lindt with a Touch of Sea Salt chocolate bars. “I almost forgot these. That was a close call.” I smiled, blissfully self-unaware. The clerk and the woman behind me exchanged a look I could only describe as, how sad.   

That’s when it hit me: I am a sugar addict. Have I always been addicted? Could I stop if I wanted to? Do I want to stop? When was the last time I didn’t have dessert after a meal?

Looking back, the real sugar surplus sprung up at the onset of motherhood. The birthday party cupcakes, the trips to the yogurt shop with my daughter and her friends, the bags of Halloween candy that remained… suddenly, it’s everywhere. Somehow, having a little human in the house made it all right to enjoy a few bites of chocolate fudge pudding, a slice of cherry pie, an ice cream cone with sprinkles.

Nobody can deny that sugar, particularly in excess, is poison for your body. In fact, experts now claim what many have claimed for decades: Sugar is actually toxic and is a major cause of many chronic diseases. I recently read that lab rats showed greater signs of distress when withdrawing from a sugar addiction than a cocaine addiction.

I can’t speak for everybody, but in my own memory bank of everything nice, sugar is strongly associated with joy, family gatherings, cheerful holidays, and love. Growing up, bowls of candy-coated pastel Jordan almonds and boxes of assorted Turkish Delight were never scarce in our home. As a naturally underweight teen, I was encouraged by my mother to eat “nutritious desserts.” Candy made of artificial color and flavoring didn’t make the cut, but ice cream – with ‘healthy and real’ ingredients like milk, cream, and fruit, could always be found in our freezer. “It’s good for you!” Mother would say. “You need the extra layer of fat!”

When I turned 16, my mother took me to the local French bakery and managed to get me a job offer on the spot. “Maybe you will gain some weight while working with all those delicious breads and pastries!” Mother told me. As an adult however, the fast metabolism I once took for granted has gradually slowed and I have become increasingly aware of a decline in energy level. Was sugar zapping my energy?

So I decided to quit cold turkey. I vowed to eliminate all refined sugar from my diet to see whether a correlation existed. No ice cream. No chocolate (not even the healthy antioxidant-rich dark kind). No custard-filled pastries or cookies. Sigh…

As it turns out, my experiment proved that sugar single-handedly annihilated my energy.  Without it, the spring in my step returned and I no longer felt the afternoon sluggishness that my addiction produced. I also learned that many food products contain hidden sugar. Who knew that a jar of marinara sauce could have 10 grams of refined sugar?

Though it took immense willpower to restrain myself, I did it! I put away the raw sugar packets routinely used to sweeten my morning coffee, and I got rid of all the chocolate bars and boxes of gifted See’s Candies.

Once I hit the six-week mark, I allowed myself an appropriate reward. What kind of reward does one give after abstaining from sugar? Sugar, of course! Interestingly enough, the rush that came from the homemade raspberry muffin my daughter and I baked in honor of my milestone actually overwhelmed my body. I had pulled back enough from the stuff that it no longer satisfies as it once had. More importantly, I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

Mission accomplished. 

While I plan to reunite with my favorite sweets while on vacation this summer (because gelato flavors in Italy are mind-blowing) I don’t plan to bring it back to my daily diet.

Would you give up sugar for 3 weeks? What sweets will you have a hard time going without? Besides sugar, what are other things you’d want to abstain from? Share with us!

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Tags : confess   eat   health   sugar   

Kira Smirnova
I would never give up sugar. It's all about balance.
Nikki M
I can relate to this so hard. Especially that supermarket scene...