By Anna Redman
As a small child, I distinctly remember starting the day with Nesquik cereal, Cookie Crisp, or chocolate chip waffles. To this day, I take my coffee with half hot chocolate, carry Pop Tarts in my purse to ensure I never go hungry, and am always the first to try Starbucks’ latest Frappuccino or Tim Hortons’ newest donut. All of this is a long way of saying I adore sugar, I’ve got an unquenchable sweet tooth, and the idea of enduring a month without my beloved white powder (no, not that one) terrified me.
In fact, the month got off to a slow start. Despite being scheduled in my calendar more than a week in advance, I missed my start date by not one but two days because I couldn’t bring myself to turn down the sweets. When I did finally get my act together, however, the road out of Candyland was a surprising one.
In The Beginning
Step one was finding and purging all of the sugar zones I would encounter throughout my day. My cereal vanished (I was now the proud owner of plain instant oatmeal — as I consider myself anti-muesli, my choices for sugar-free cereals were severely limited), my coffee order changed (good-bye hot chocolate, hello unsweetened almond milk), I swapped my afternoon granola bar for fruit and pumpkin seeds, and I begrudgingly took a hands-off approach to the box of donuts that periodically appeared in the office’s communal kitchen. After one day (and a pounding headache that started at exactly 3:48 p.m.) I thought I’d go crazy, and my co-workers thought so, too. In fact, their uncensored scoffing at my attempt to live my life sans sugar was the extra motivational push I needed to get me past the first 24 hours.
And so it began. I swapped icing for almond butter, searched out no-sugar-added products, and ultimately discovered that my only real option was to spend a lot more time in my kitchen. The grocery store is overflowing with sugar, even in things you wouldn’t expect, like salad dressing. But a made-at-home version meant I knew exactly what the ingredients were, and that two-kilogram bag of sugar in my cupboard stayed firmly closed.
Getting Into The Grove
Just as I was surprised to learn how often sugar appeared in commercial products, I was equally surprised to learn that I could bake desserts (that’s right, full-on odes to sweetness) at home, without including that prohibited powder. In fact, I made “power donuts” using only chia seeds, baking powder, almond milk, cinnamon, oat flour, and vanilla extract — and let me tell you, they were delicious (and filling).
Having never been a recipe goddess by any means, this new culinary hobby was an adjustment in and of itself, but as my confidence grew and my energy levels spiked, I realized cooking wasn’t so bad, and neither was a life without sugar — although the entire transition certainly wasn’t all rainbows and naturally sweetened lollipops.
The Difficult Denouement
Giving up the white stuff cold turkey definitely put me through some unpleasant, rehab- like effects. I felt more irritated, more often, my patience wore thin well before lunchtime, and I found it incredibly difficult to mask the disinterest that I would normally hide behind a large smile. My body, normally fed sugar once, twice, even three times daily (if not more, especially on weekends), couldn’t understand where its energy-spiking, delicious- tasting hit had vanished to and was taking its withdrawal out on my mood.
But thankfully, after two tumultuous weeks, my body developed a coping mechanism. I’m still not entirely sure what it was, but my system finally managed to adjust to my new, less-sweet life, without bringing the emotional rollercoaster or pounding headache along for the ride. I began to feel like myself again, perhaps even better than before, despite the radical new diet. And let me tell you, I was very relieved to arrive on the other side of Candyland (mainly) unscathed.
I have to say, after my month came to an end, I’m surprised by the results. I lost four pounds (an unanticipated added bonus), I have far more energy, and I realized I could curb my sugar habit and still be happy. In fact, when I try to consume similar amounts now, I’m often left with a pounding sugar hangover and a churning stomach that can’t entirely fathom what I’ve done to it.
Will I stay entirely sugar-free? Probably not. I don’t want to live a totally Pop Tart- and Frappuccino-less existence, but the oatmeal’s here to stay, as are my newfound Jamie Oliver-style skills, so I guess it’s really about balance. Sugar is meant to be a sweet treat and, if we’re honest, it has no place in cereals, salad dressings, or other faux-nutritional products, so I’ll nix it where I can and save the Def Leppard moment for occasional, special indulgences.