By Heather Reid
I know sugar is not my friend—and usually I’m pretty good about keeping it in check. But despite my best intentions, sometimes my intake creeps up on me (#thestruggleisreal). I think I’m doing OK, and then I find myself up late after my two young kids are in bed, zoning out in front of the TV with jellybeans in one hand and a generous glass of wine in the other. (Please tell me it’s not just me.)
Even biology is against me: Research shows that reward centers in the brain are actually more tuned into sweet treats than they are to addictive drugs like cocaine. Yikes.
Recently, when I attempted to text “I can do that,” my auto-correct changed it to, “I can donut”–and I knew it was time for a sugar intervention.
So I pledged to give up all sweeteners (sugar, obviously, but also agave, honey and maple syrup) for a week to see what happened. Here are the results. [UPDATE: I recently discovered a secret weapon, Sweet Defeat. While I didn’t use it during the initial week, I wish I did. It really helps to reduce your desire for sugar, making this more doable without all the effort. Read the epilogue for details.]
Day 1: Sunday
I kicked off the week by stepping on the bathroom scale. I don’t weigh myself often but the number that appeared was not encouraging.
I also took a no-makeup selfie; another reality check. My skin looked uneven and dull, dark circles ringed my eyes, and I had broken out in a few places. Not cute.
It was Father’s Day, and normally I would have made cinnamon rolls or some other family-favorite treat. Instead, I drank a short bulletproof coffee and made scrambled eggs with veggies for breakfast (and everyone loved it). A dull, throbbing headache came on mid-morning and I was short-tempered.
I drank lots of water and tried not to think about the chocolate ice cream in the freezer, which the family had after dinner but I avoided by retreating from the table.
I stayed up past my target bedtime of 10 p.m. in an effort to get ahead for the week, but as I grew more tired, the sugar cravings kicked with a vengeance. Instead of hitting the sweets, I staggered off to bed.
Day 2: Monday
The headache persisted all morning and I drank lots of water in an effort to flush it out. I felt more crabby than hungry, but having some fruit that was left over from my kids’ breakfasts helped a little.
I had a keto chicken salad for lunch and drank a ton of water all day. In the afternoon, I resisted the urge to get frozen yogurt with my son. Instead I had an unsweetened green tea, and I actually felt better. My headache finally subsided late in the day and I went to bed early, passing on wine or treats with just a little sadness.
Day 3: Tuesday
Woke up feeling terrific after a night of deep sleep and some wild dreams. I had a little sweet craving, so I ate toast with tahini and fresh strawberries. I didn’t miss the shot of agave I usually have in my iced coffee, either.
Overall I had a good day, with improved energy level and mood, too. Some egg salad on greens for lunch kept me feeling fueled up and on track.
And then I BLEW IT! I totally spaced and ate a Popsicle at my sons’ school. Without thinking, I opened it out of habit and chomped away. Grr! Interestingly though, it was almost too sweet. Plus, it made me feel dizzy and wired. I realized that so much of what I eat is unconscious, habit-driven snacking.
That night I resisted the urge to stay up late and do some Netflix/snack binging, and turned in on time. Choosing sleep over jellybeans and movies? Who have I become?
Day 4: Wednesday
Woke up clear-headed after another night of deep sleep—and it was a good thing, since the kids and I had a busy day planned. I made sure to stay hydrated and I was only a little tempted by the giant chocolate chip cookie the boys had in the afternoon.
Still, the day was challenging, with lots of kid-chasing at the park. Lunch fell by the wayside, and the handful of pretzels I had instead left me feeling cranky. When we got home, all I wanted was to smash the chocolates I knew were in the cabinet and wash them down with a big glass of rosé. But I stayed strong. I ate some crisp and spicy watermelon radish slices spread with good butter and sprinkled with salt, and had a big glass of water. I was able to focus and I got my evening to-do list done in record time. I hurried off to bed a little bit early, looking forward to another night of quality sleep.
Day 5: Thursday
Another bright and clear-headed morning. I ate paleo pancakes with butter and a little coffee for breakfast. I chased my boys all day with energy I hadn’t had in forever, and I was able to concentrate and get tasks done without my mind wandering off as it had been lately.
In the afternoon, my son and I made a smoothie (no added sugar, just lots of fruit) for a snack. By evening I was ready to eat, but I felt very full after a smaller-than-normal portion, which felt great.
A good lesson from this week: Having a solid plan for lunch helps keep my cravings at bay. I wasn’t even tempted when my kids had cookies after dinner. I stuck to the plan for an early bedtime again with no regrets.
Day 6: Friday
My sons and I have a tradition of donuts on Friday. Even since I’ve cut back on sugar, I sometimes sneak a bite or finish off a leftover cruller here or there (come on, you know you do it, too). Today it was pouring rain, so we decided to make our own donuts at home. This was a lucky break because I found a recipe that called for only 4 tablespoons of sugar for the entire batch. We mixed them up and fried a few jumbo donut hole-sized beauties.
I had to have a taste. But I didn’t feel the need to go back in for another, or another after that. All day I still felt good and energetic, with no residual sugar hangover cravings from my morning treat. It felt great to tame the sugar beast.
Day 7: Saturday
The last day! Woke up after another night of deep sleep full of vivid dreams, the kind of sleep I remember having as a kid. I ate eggs for breakfast because I knew that lunch might be late, which it was. But even though I was hungry later in the day, I wasn’t hangry as I often had been before. I felt much more in control over my eating and my appetite was significantly smaller.
That night, I remembered that I volunteered to make a sweet snack for the class picnic on Sunday. Rice Krispy treats to the rescue. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even tempted to sneak one, just as ‘quality control.’ I just made them, wrapped them up and went off to bed.
Sunday: Experiment is over
Sunday’s visit to the scale was encouraging: Down 6 pounds since last Sunday. I was thrilled, especially since I didn’t do anything different in terms of exercise or activity. I took another selfie and it confirmed what I’d been feeling: My eyes seemed clearer and brighter, and my skin looked more even.
I feel so much more control over my eating and appetite. I’m looking forward to having a glass of wine with my Mom when she arrives from out of town this week, but I know I can keep it to one and still feel good the next day. I’m loving my deep sleep and the rush of energy and alertness I’ve been experiencing in the mornings. I also never realized how much my food choices in the middle of the day impacted my mood and willpower all afternoon and evening.
In spite of a slipup and a homemade batch of donuts, I came out with the confidence that I am in control over my sugar nemesis. Victory is sweet.
The thing about sugar is that just when I think I have it beaten, something like the Fourth of July comes along with ice cream, delicious goo-filled fruity desserts and frosty glasses of adult lemonade. Add that to a late night of celebrating and I’m hooked again. It doesn’t take much and it’s frustrating every time.
But this year, I wasn’t going it alone. I had heard about Sweet Defeat, a plant-based lozenge that claims to reduce your desire for sugar—and now was my moment to try it out.
The lozenges contain gymnema, sorbitol, zinc, mint and spirulina. I wasn’t familiar with the first ingredient, but the full name is Gymnema sylvestre. It’s a leaf of a climbing plant native to the forests of central and south India and has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to lessen cravings for sweet foods. Seemed worth a try.
I was definitely feeling the “need” for something sweet, so after breakfast, I dissolved one on my tongue as directed and went about my day. The Sweet Defeat lozenge was minty and refreshing, dissolved quickly, and didn’t have any aftertaste. I was surprised to find that the leftover cookies I’d packed for our lunch didn’t seem that appealing, and I was able to stay on track. I used another Sweet Defeat after lunch, when I knew popsicles and other treats would be beckoning, and again I was able to stand my ground against my sweet opponents.
That evening, I felt like the cycle had been broken and I was back in control. I even passed on the dessert that I’d eagerly indulged in the day before. It was an easier ‘come back’ day than most post-holidays are for me. I could see myself using these on days when temptation is fierce and my willpower is waning. It’s good to have another ally in my ongoing struggle with my sugar demons.
Hungry for more?