“Please have some sugar!”
That was the plea from my wife and daughter when I was midway through my #NoSugarChallenge. They noted I was <ahem> more irritable and unpleasant than usual. Whether that was a lack of sugar or just my personality, we’ll never know.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
What and why
I was inspired by my older son to try this challenge. We debated rules: Does maple syrup count? Agave? What about dextrose? Pretty quickly we settled on avoiding anything that included white or brown sugar, corn syrup or similar derivatives, or artificial sweeteners. We agreed that eating an apple, for example, or granola with real maple syrup, was acceptable.
For most of my life, my approach to food was simple: if I liked it, I ate it. Over the last ten years, though, I have become more mindful of what I eat. My view of sugar in particular has changed as I saw my mother die of diabetes, and learned how one of every three people in the US will develop this preventable disease.
I had tried similar challenges related to meat and alcohol. Now it was time to try a sugar challenge.
The immediate benefits
Starting from the first day, I became increasingly aware of sugar in my diet. I started reading more labels, and was often surprised at how sugar had insinuated itself into so many things.
For the most part, it turns out, I don’t eat much added sugar. I like baking and enjoy ice cream, but for these 30 days I could easily avoid them. Dark chocolate, though, was a different matter. I have a habit of having a few pieces after dinner, and I really wanted that chocolate. To deal with my craving, I’m sure I drank more wine and had more second helpings than usual.
I also failed twice while I was on a business trip. Once was on purpose. At a nice restaurant with a friend who was looking forward to sharing dessert, I made a conscious decision to participate. The other time was an impulse, when some lovely-looking rice pudding was served for free after an Indian meal. I did not resist.
At the end of the challenge, I opened some chocolate I had purchased specifically for the occasion. I looked at, smelled it, and savored it. Just a few pieces. It was heavenly.
The absolute best part
The biggest benefit actually didn’t have anything to do with sugar, but with the practice itself: I became more confident, with a reinforced sense of self-control. I first experienced this when I became a vegetarian:
“When I stopped eating meat I did more than just change my diet, I gained confidence that I could change anything I wanted.”
That feeling has increased with each challenge and with new habits like writing, meditation, and playing piano. For most of my life, my fear of big changes was matched only by self-criticism for my lack of discipline. Now, in mid-life, small experiments with my habits have changed my life.