The Sugar Fast Day 32: What’s Next

Well, it’s over. Yesterday was the last day of the sugar fast. I haven’t written about it in so long—almost two weeks, in fact—because I haven’t had anything new to say, really. I’ve just kept at it. Boring, but true.

Can I be a little sad that it’s over?

I had a clementine this morning and was overwhelmed by its sweetness. It tasted like I was eating candy. The blueberries I ate this afternoon also tasted extremely sweet, but not quite as overpowering.

From the beginning, I’ve been concerned with developing good habits, and I think….drumroll…we have. We’ve incorporated way more vegetables into our diet, have been so astounded by the deliciousness of homemade bread that I’m not sure we’ll ever buy it from the store again, and have successfully broken our incessant cravings for sugar.

Will we still have sugar? Yes. It doesn’t need to disappear from our lives forever, and moderation in all things is certainly now the sugar rule.

But it doesn’t define our—it doesn’t define my—experience of happiness or well-being anymore.

I’ve been happy without it, and I will be happy with it again—as an occasional treat.

And if it ever becomes a dominant force in my life once more, out it goes for a little while. We’re even thinking of making January an annual no-sugar fast month. Who knows?

This month has been crazy, stressful, wonderful, bewildering, and revealing. Thanks for sticking it out with me.

And now… back to our regularly scheduled program. 😉

The Sugar Fast Day 19: Middle of the Week Mutterings

I’ve never really liked Wednesdays. Does anybody? They’re right in the middle of the week, exactly the same distance from the end as from the beginning. Boring—and also, in a mild way, depressing.

A Wednesday is a great day to make cookies and put off all other responsibilities. It’s also the kind of day that my husband and I might look at each other and say, “Meatheads?” It’s our favorite local burger-fries-and-shakes place. Everything is amazing there.

Except I can’t do any of those things.

Last night as I was flipping through some dessert cookbooks, I recognized once again that I often make not eating sweets harder on myself. I spend a lot of time hunting for the next best dessert recipe, in part because I love baking, but mostly because I, you know, love sugar.

I’ll have to be careful either about keeping my “flipping” to a minimum or about learning to be content with a beautiful picture 99% of the time. It’s a dangerous pastime on a Wednesday—a day that is, I think, summed up well in Snoopy’s ever-useful “blah—and when the barrier of this fast is gone, I don’t want to fall prey to the temptation of instant gratification.

Yes, after more than two weeks, it’s still difficult. I don’t want sugar quite as much, but that not quite as much is still an awful lot.

Strangely enough, my biggest fear coming out of this isn’t that I’ll still love sugar. I’ve been able to resist it, and I’ll continue to resist it. I have confidence about that. No, my biggest fear is that I won’t like it anymore.

Maybe that seems odd to you. What better way to rid yourself of an “evil” than not to have the desire for it at all? As much as that’s true, I’m not sure that would be helpful in terms of other areas of my life in which I need growth. I don’t think I want to banish my desire for it—or my desire for anything that is not intrinsically wicked—so much as control and reign in that desire, making sure that it doesn’t master me.

The finite is not worth enough, not worth nearly enough, to have overmastering importance over anybody.

And what’s more finite than a single sugar crystal?

The Sugar Fast Day 14: Breaking the Rules

Guess what? I broke the rules yesterday. (I know, I know, you never saw it coming.)

It turns out, my last post set this one up really well when I wrote that the point of this fast isn’t to follow an arbitrary rule, but to kick bad habits and—if possible—learn to develop a healthy relationship with sugar. Or at least to see it in its proper light.

I’m hearing shouts of, “Luucy, ’splain” in my head right now. (I am not ashamed to admit that, in some ways, Lucy Ricardo and I are very similar.) Well, calm down. I’ll ’splain.

A few months ago, I signed up for a six-week women’s program hosted by several ladies from our church. I got a call later that I was on the waitlist, and a few weeks later another call saying I would have to try again next year. Then, the Monday before last, I got yet another call that a spot had unexpectedly opened up, and was I interested?

I debated about it. We had already decided to do the sugar fast, and this program—which was intended to give young wives cooking demonstrations, delicious food from said demonstrations, and encouragement from a short devotional and prayer-time—would surely include sugar. The call came two days after we started the fast, so it felt like a personal attack.

But my husband suggested it would be a good opportunity to get more connected in our church and receive mentorship and wisdom from older women. Acting on his advice, I decided to say yes—and learned right away that the first night, not actually part of the six weeks but just an introduction, would be “Dessert Night.” I’d already written so much about temptations that I didn’t include a mention of it in the post I wrote around that time, but believe you me, I was thinking about it.

This post isn’t about that night, though. I went and had a cup of decaf coffee, and—perhaps because of the absence of some of my favorite sweets—I didn’t find the sight of a table full of desserts so bad. In fact, it was fine. The most anxious moment I had was eyeing a plump blueberry.

The first official week, however, presented fresh challenges that I hadn’t thought of. In the days leading up to Thursday, our meeting day, I wondered, What will I do if there’s sugar in the dinner itself? Will I even know?

Brandon had already told me that, in order to enjoy the experience of the program, I should be able to have dessert at my own discretion. Initially, I responded with a resounding “No!” It was our rule, and I wanted to keep it. But after those questions kept coming up again—and even as I watched our hostess pour a honey glaze over salmon during one of the demonstrations—I found myself re-evaluating. What, after all, is the purpose of this fast? Not deprivation for deprivation’s sake, surely.

It became increasingly clear that I wouldn’t be able to avoid having sugar without at the very least inconveniencing all the women who had taken time to prepare our food. What was more, they brought us our plates—already filled with the salmon, a kale salad topped with mandarin oranges and dried cranberries, and a sweet potato. If I was to stick, puppet-like, to the rules, I could only eat the sweet potato.

As I stared at the food on my plate, I made a decision. I wasn’t going to spoil my evening or distress those at my table or the women who had prepared the food by leaving everything but the sweet potato. I would eat in good conscience, because, once again, the rule wasn’t the point.

(I feel that, psychologically, this is a big deal for me. If I had a psychoanalyst, I would probably tell him so at our next meeting.)

I decided, too, that if I wanted dessert after our devotional and prayer-time, it would be okay to have some as well. We watched the desserts being prepared—an apple crisp and two kinds of cobbler—and they looked very yummy. Later in the evening, their aroma wafted out to us from the kitchen. It was heavenly.

After our prayer-time ended, I went through the kitchen to where several women were congregating around the dessert. There they were, laid out prettily in all their glory, that tantalizing aroma even more pungent in close proximity. Would I? Or wouldn’t I? I looked at the dessert. I looked away. I wanted it, but I didn’t need it. The urge to devour it as soon as possible wasn’t there. It was a pleasure I could indulge. It was a pleasure I could forgo.

I said no.

But here’s the thing: it would have been okay if I had said yes. Sugar is fast-fading as a dominant force and motivator in my life. It’s gaining its proper place. It’s not the culmination of my dreams for happiness. And a little now and then won’t hurt. It was okay that I wanted it. It was okay that I said no. And, I repeat, it would have been okay if I had said yes.

Because the taste of the mandarin oranges and the dried cranberries and the honey glaze and whatever sugar was in the dressing for the kale salad to make it palatable didn’t make me go crazy at dinner. Because my taste buds didn’t faint with delight at such a concentration of fructose again. Because I tasted it, thought, Mmm, this is good, and shrugged. Because I delighted in the meal, but it didn’t overwhelm me with longing.

I don’t know what I’ll do next Thursday, but I’m not wracked with guilt about it, as I usually am when I feel I’ve transgressed a rule. I’m learning that freedom with sugar doesn’t mean insanely eating everything whenever I feel like it. It’s freedom to desire it, and freedom to curb that desire—the freedom to say yes and the freedom to say no. I’m beginning to understand both.

Not a bad conclusion to come to on the last day of Week 2, methinks.


The Sugar Fast Day 8: The Limit(s)

Although the time for clarification has probably passed, I realized the other day that I never actually defined clearly the ground rules for this month. So here they are.

  1. No food with added sugar (specifically, fructose).
  2. No fruits.

Pretty simple, but in some ways I don’t think they’re getting any easier. I was never in doubt that I could do this. I love rules. I love to follow rules. So following these two rules (by the letter) is fairly straightforward in that I’m not too concerned with whether or not I’ll fail in the strictest sense of failure.

But the deeper issue isn’t about following rules. As I said on Day 3, this month should be primarily about developing good habits, and whether or not I can make the most of this time by going a different way that doesn’t include instant sugar-gratification. It’s about following through on a long-term plan, something that we’ve managed here and there but needed a major kick-start to make permanent. If it’s only about not eating sugar, I’m just going to be angry and bitter this entire time about depriving myself of my absolute favorite foods.

And who wants to be angry and bitter? I admit that it’s been difficult not to be, at least, vaguely depressed about things. To use a wonderfully British turn of phrase, in some ways this challenge really has been the limit.

There have been, however, a few non-sugar highlights that are worth mentioning for their hopefulness. I would have been the last person to tell you this, my friends, but here I am confessing that healthy food can indeed taste good. Case in point: I came across this cauliflower recipe a few days ago, and we happened to have a whole cauliflower sitting in our fridge. So I did something I didn’t think I would ever do—as per the directions, I roasted it and served it with Garlic Tahini Sauce for dinner with nothing else. And it was delicious.

As I reflect upon this past week—already a week—I notice how much more conscious my eating decisions have been, and how unconscious they used to be. A piece of fudge here, a leftover cookie there, and all eaten quickly, most not even savored. We savored that cauliflower. The crispy outer edges, the undertones of sweetness, how well it paired with the sauce. It was glorious. And it didn’t have sugar.

Surely that’s a step in the right direction, even as I take two steps back by looking at recipes for currently forbidden foods. The road of progress is certainly far from smooth. Still, I don’t feel quite as desperate. Week 2, watch out.

The Sugar Fast Day 3: Temptation, Thy Name is Dessert or Frailty, Thy Name Is…

Hmmph. Fill in the blank with the name of your friendly neighborhood blogger here. This morning I was cheerful and optimistic. This evening I’m grumpy and pessimistic, especially after reading one of those potentially pseudoscientific articles about eating and wondering if everything is meaningless.

But I press on.

It’s only the third day of this fast, but I feel as if I’ve already learned so much about how problematic my relationship to sugar—and food—is. I catch myself thinking that a cup of tea, a chapter of a book, an evening spent playing games with friends, would all be made more pleasurable by something sweet.

When I’m feeling a little down, what have I done? Written a sonata? No. I’ve reached for some Ghirardelli. (Raspberry Dark Chocolate, to be specific, but please don’t send me any. I might cry.)

These last few days have been filled with nothing short of temptation. All at once, sugar is everywhere.

Do you know how many things in the grocery store contain sugar? Let me enlighten you. Almost everything. It’s both discouraging and frightening. It is, in fact, a conspiracy. (I don’t know if it actually is, but someone ought at least to look into it the possibility.)

It wasn’t just the grocery store. Besides the temptation of all of the sugar that is (mostly) hidden around our apartment, Pinterest is assailing me with emails like “Copycat recipes for your favorite candy bars.” Et tu, Brute, when I have pinned so many healthy recipes?

And so many unhealthy recipes, as anybody who peeks at my Pinterest page could tell you. It isn’t Pinterest’s fault. It’s mine. My own former sugar-loving, sugar-crazy self. I’m Brutus. Pinterest is only trying to be helpful. Its algorithm says something like, “Hmm. I see you’ve lately pinned ten different recipes for variations on Chocolate Cake and one recipe for How-To-Make-Salad-Taste-Like-Something-Else, and since you appear to prefer pins with the tag ‘dessert,’ I’ll send you emails accordingly.”

It’s a sad day when you realize that it’s you who’s getting in the way of you.

But, on a more positive note, and to go back to the grocery store—it really wasn’t too bad. I only wept for a few moments as we put broccoli and cauliflower and green beans and carrots and other delightfully healthy things into our cart.

After all, this challenge is as much about building good habits as it is about breaking bad ones; otherwise there wouldn’t be much point. And I have a lot of bad habits related to sugar. As I mentioned above, I crave it when alone, when with other people, when feeling sad or bored or distracted… Basically All. The. Time. I did, however, have a revelation at about four o’ clock this afternoon (hence the cheerful-turned-grumpy mood.) I realized I’m usually pretty good about eating healthy in the morning and at lunchtime—it’s night-time that’s the trouble. I save all the sugar-snacking for when I’m not working and can relax. (I say “usually” because the holidays were an exception.) This revelation meant that all of the pats on the back I’d been mentally giving myself for doing so well and going so long without thinking about sweets weren’t worth very much because it wasn’t my sweet-eating time yet.

I’ve even eaten sugar when I didn’t really want it. There were definitely times right before Christmas and the week after—when my diet was 80% sugar, 10% salty snacks, and 10% food that would actually keep me alive for longer than seven years—that I wondered why I was still eating more sugar when the thought of it made me squeamish. I ate it anyway. Because I could. Because it was there. Because somebody had paid for it, and wasn’t it a tragedy to let a pow wittle piece of marzipan go to waste? I didn’t even stop after I got a pretty bad cold, the remnants of which are not yet unstuck. Probably because of my insistence on eating chocolate for breakfast.

Enough about bad habits. It’s all very well to recite my failings—it is necessary in order to move forward, but wallowing in regret never did anybody any good. (Except for all of those wallowers who provided the world with beautiful music and poetry and prose out of that regret, but that’s another matter—and productivity isn’t wallowing, anyway, in some sense.) So today to continue beginning good habits, instead of chocolate for breakfast, I had whole wheat puff cereal. No, not the kind that has added sugar, the kind that doesn’t. Yes. It exists. It only tasted a little bit like sawdust. Homemade soup for lunch and a hearty(ish) salad for dinner rounded out the day nicely, and left me feeling… Accomplished. Not full, but happy that the eating part was over, and that a tiny sliver of a good habit was tacked onto the previous two tiny slivers of Days 1 and 2.

I do want to take this opportunity to build more good habits outside of the realm of eating (and realms are never islands unto themselves) that involve using more of my time productively. I won’t promise you any sonatas (ha!), but I do hope to re-focus on writing and reading. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me soon as to how that’s going. 😉

Addendum #1: You know what the difference is between a fast and a feast? Just a little “e.” But he makes every bit of difference, that little “e.” Curse him.

Addendum #2: I’m only going slightly crazy, I assure you, and mainly because I’ve been repeating to myself over and over again idiotic aphorisms like “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “Baby steps.” Ahem. 3 days down, 29 to go.