What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
When I am bumming, certain things always make me feel better, like this video montage of Celine Dion being absolutely insane, or planting my face in a tub of vegan cookie dough.
But unlike clips of Celine barking and air humping, mass amounts of sugar makes me feel pretty bad after I am done. I have a ravenous sweet tooth, and unfortunately, moderation and I do not get along. When I start in on the cookie dough, I eat it by the pint, and unlike ice cream by the pint, when it's done, you have just consumed the equivalent of 11 dozen cookies.
I know it's not healthy, and my lack of self control when it comes to sweets has always frustrated me. Sugar-benders aside, I eat very healthy. But every now and then I go on a sugar binge that leaves me feeling a bit ashamed of myself for not being able to stop at that second slice of pie. Or the third. Or fourth...
So, a few years ago, because I am stubborn, I decided to give up sugar. Not forever, but just for a while. Just to prove I COULD. Screw you sugar, you don't own me.
In order to harden my resolve, I did a bit of research on the stuff, and why I like it so much. I had learned how some consider sugar to be toxic when I was studying holistic nutrition in 2006. But I went back and watched this once-viral lecture about the “evils” of sugar, which came out in 2009.
Now, this lecture is a bit extreme. The speaker, hormone specialist Robert Lustig, is definitely a captivating speaker, but so was Hitler. But the lecture IS convincing.
Lustig's -- and many other health care professionals -- argues that, like booze and cigarettes, sugar is a substance we abuse, a substance that leads to a plethora of health problems like heart disease and hypertension. But for me, the clincher is that sugar is addicting. When alcoholics go through AA, they are often warned not to sub in sugar for alcohol when they are recovering, because it's like switching one drug for another.
I know, I know -- saying sugar is a drug is an extremely bold statement. But you can't argue it's addictive qualities. Also, a study I read that linked children with insatiable sugar cravings to a family history of both alcoholism and depression really freaked my freak. It even found that these children are more likely to develop eating disorders.
OK, enough with this holistic sugar-will-kill-you babble. Let's talk about HOW I broke up with sugar, and what happened.
I didn't use any stevia or sugar substitutes to kick the habit, although I know they can be helpful for some. I didn't use them because I was pretty sure if I had something that even remotely resembled the white stuff, my pupils would dilate like a shark with a taste for blood, and I would then use my Honda Fit to run a bakery truck off the highway.
What I hadn't really realized when I started my sugar-free journey is that added sugar is in EVERYTHING. Salad dressing. Chips. Non-dairy milks. Basically, if it comes from a box, can, bag or tube, it contains sugar. If it's processed, it probably contains some form of "-ose."
Dextrose, fructose, sucrose, galactose, glucose -- sugar is a sneaky bitch and hides in many different forms. I tried my hardest to avoid the stuff, but I didn't allow myself to go too looney. I bought soy and almond milk without any added sugar, but I still ate ketchup. However, I didn't eat any actual sweets for a solid three months. That's almost 100 days without a cookie. Or a brownie. Or pie...or a...mnnnn, pie.
So how did I get off sugar?
1. When I wanted someone's dessert, I smelled it.
This made me look like a total nutter when dining in public, but it worked. I got this trick from my aunt, who hasn't eaten sugar in 15 years. When my boyfriend was eating something deliciously alluring, I would ask him if I could smell it. You would think it would make it more tempting to take a bite, but because I was still getting the sensual foodgasmy experience I was coveting, it really did help stave off cravings.
2. I watched my emotions.
No shockers here that my sugar cravings are often emotion-based. As I said earlier, while munching, sugar makes me feel better. It gives me energy, boosts my serotonin levels, and cupcakes are both cute and comforting. When I kept track of how I was feeling -- PMSing, fighting with my family, anxious over a deadline -- it was easier for me to figure out when I would probably get a sugar craving, and strategize how to control myself.
3. I drank a fuckton of water.
Seriously. I drowned myself. I had less cravings for everything.
4. Banana ice cream.
Banana ice cream was my savior in my quest for a saccharine-free existence. I made it a few times a week if my sugar cravings were wackadoodling. This is also how I later ditched dairy when I went vegan.
To make it, all you need are bananas and a food processor. You freeze them, and throw them in your food processor. If you want, you can add a tablespoon or so of creamy liquid, like coconut milk. If you're feeling fancy, you can also add delicious things like peanut butter, vanilla, and unsweetened cocoa powder.
Throw it all in your processor, and let it rip. At first it will seem like it will never become creamy and will appear kind of crumbly and weird. Don't lose faith! Just keep processing. Pulse your machine. Wipe down the inner sides with a spatula.
Eventually your mix will becomes thick and delicious like hard ice cream, and you can eat it with a spoon. If you read my weird smoothie post last week, you will remember I freakin love bananas, and if I didn't, I am not sure what I would have done here. Other frozen fruits don't work as well because of their high water content.
So those were the tools I used to get off sugar. But what were the results?
1. My sleep was better.
This was a pretty immediate change. I often wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I usually chalk it up to stress. But during my 3 sugar-free months, I slept like I had popped a benzo or 5 before bed.
2. I stopped craving sweets.
After about two weeks, it stopped being so difficult. I stopped salivating as my boyfriend worked through a tube of Oreos. After a month or so, I stopped asking to sniff sweets.
3. My tastebuds changed.
When I wasn't eating confections, things with natural sweetness, like fruit or sweet root veggies, seemed 100 times sweeter. When I eventually went back to eating sugar, the taste was almost overwhelming. I mean, not too overwhelming to eat, but definitely more intense than I remembered.
4. I felt better.
My moods were better when I wasn't eating sugar. More energy, no afternoon crashes, and less overall bitchiness. But this could also be because I can't really do sugar in moderation, and so every sugar binge would leave me feeling full and bloated and also sort of disgusted with myself.
When the three-month period was up, I decided to eat a slice of birthday cake. I had a small piece and -- shockingly -- did NOT want to smash my face into the remaining platter of frosted goodness. I was satisfied with my slice... and by satisfied, I mean beyond excited.
Until the next morning. When I woke up, it felt like I had been tossing back shots of José all night.
It was crazy! I was dehydrated, sluggish and nauseated, with a pounding headache. My body was pissed. For me, this reaction cemented the idea that sugar IS a toxin. Much like caffeine. (I start speaking in tongues if I don't get at least three cups of coffee in. I know that's not healthy, either.)
Getting off sugar for a few months broke my sugar binge cycle. That said, I still eat sweets, but now I am able to do it with a little bit of poise. Toxic or not, a life without the occasional whoopie pie is not a life I am interested in.
Zoe is abusing her sweet tooth at @sexytofublog