When I challenged myself to go a full week without eating any food with sugar added to it, my main intention was to prevent myself from eating the junk food I crave. You know, a few M&Ms here and a handful of chocolate chips there. Not to mention the “healthy” snacks and protein bars sitting in my fridge and cupboard. Sometimes, even a healthy snack becomes a substitute for candy, which can lead you to overeat. Been there done that, countless times.
So I did the one thing that I knew would absolutely change my behavior, even if just for a week. I challenged myself. Just in case my personal conviction faltered, I made my challenge public so others could help hold me accountable. And it’s a good thing I did. Around days 3 and 4 I desperately wanted a handful of M&Ms. The only thing that kept me from sneaking a few was my commit to all of you.
I learned a bit about myself and my food choices during the week. Some things surprised me and some didn’t. For example, I truly love oatmeal. I knew I liked it but I didn’t know I loved it. This may make me a weirdo, I’m not sure. What’s more, a little fruit is all that’s needed to add a touch of sweetness. Since keeping a bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer is an easy and affordable option, I’m never lacking for a delicious breakfast. Awesome!
There was more to my week than oatmeal, though. I ate normal food and enjoyed delicious meals. My family ate what I ate at meal time, and there were no complaints from any of them either. So I’d say that yes, this truly was a week of wins!
Now for what this experience taught me…
It’s not that hard (if you already eat fairly clean)
As a family, we eat every meal at home with very few exceptions during the year. It is easy for me to control what comes in and out of my kitchen and I already do this to a large extent. Long ago we did away with breakfast cereals and other packaged foods (see Mark’s transformation). Most of my cooking is done from whole ingredients. There was very little that I had to change to eliminate sugar from our meals. (Meals were not really my problem anyway. The snacks are what get me…)
Still, I tweaked a few recipes by simply omitting the sugar, such as the recipe for these oat waffles. I would walk through a blizzard to get these waffles, they’re that good. The sugar in the recipe is minimal and it was not missed at all. Instead of adding maple syrup on top, I warmed a little natural almond butter with some hot water to make a sauce. Another great topping is a handful of frozen blueberries heated in the microwave. Or live dangerously and use both the almond butter sauce and blueberries. A breakfast fit for a queen.
I also made up a bunch of flatbread. Instead of using active dry yeast and adding sugar to feed the yeast, I used instant yeast. You wouldn’t even know the difference. In fact, this is what I plan to do from now on. It’s great for pizza and tuna melts as well as for dipping in hummus.
I was always satisfied, never bloated
“I ate too much. Don’t ever let me do that again.”
On the days where I’d let my cravings control me, or I’d continue snacking in the evening long after feeling satisfied, this is what I’d say to my husband while getting ready for bed. Feeling gross is the worst way to end the day.
During my week with no sugar, I never felt that way. I don’t think sugar alone is what makes me feel gross, but it’s added, even if in minuscule amounts, to a lot of snacks. By eliminating all added sugar from my diet, I eliminated the foods that I tend to eat mindlessly. Except for a few afternoons when I really wanted a handful of chocolate chips, I did not miss these foods.
If you’ve followed my blog or Instagram/Facebook posts at all, you know that I’m a sucker for popcorn. My husband and I eat it every night – air-popped with a little olive oil and salt. Thank goodness there’s no added sugar in this! I’m not sure I would have been able to give it up. In addition to eating popcorn, last week I would heat a cup of milk with a splash of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon and drink it before going to bed. I grew to love it so much that I’m continuing on with it. In the evenings, I’ll eat my popcorn then a little while later I’ll drink my milk, and that is all. Since this is the time of day I am most likely to eat for the sake of eating, sticking to this is helping me keep on track.
Cravings hit hardest when I’m tired or stressed
I was surprised when I noticed my cravings hit the hardest after a stressful morning with the kids or when all my body wanted was to drop on the spot. If only. This shouldn’t have been a big surprise since emotional eating is not a new concept. I just didn’t realize how much it affected me. I also tend to snack more if I’m alone during the evening.
Now that I know this about myself, I am more prepared to deal with these situations. I can have a plan in place for when Mark is not home, when I’m overwhelmed, or when I’m exhausted. I know better than to think that I’ll always stick to the plan, but I do believe it will help me resist my cravings more often than not.
The right kitchen tools are essential
My food processor was the star of the show last week. It really makes food prep easy. By making my own food, I can eat, or not eat, exactly what I want and how I want it (for a price I’m willing to pay). Rarely is it more cost effective to buy pre-made food.
Here is some of the food that this wonderful, beastly appliance made for me:
- Peanut butter – Let dry roasted, unseasoned peanuts spin around for a couple minutes and you’ve got yourself some peanut butter. It’s up to you to go at it with a spoon. I may or may not have done this a time or two. 🙂
- Hummus – Leave out the tahini for a cheaper hummus that still has a great consistency and flavor. It really is a good inexpensive option.
- Copycat larabar – What I love about these is that as long as you get the right ratio of dates-to-nuts, you can use just about any add-ins you want. I used cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and sea salt. Totally delicious, but be warned, they are addicting.
I also used my food processor to rice cauliflower and broccoli and make my pizza sauce.
I’m sticking with it… sort of
I am so happy with the way that I feel that I’m planning to stick to a more lenient plan for the rest of May and then go from there. It takes 30 days to make a new habit, right? I will allow certain foods that contain added sugar, such as my favorite salad dressing and the oh-so-delicious PBfit Peanut Butter Powder, but I will not eat any sweets or snacks that come straight out of a package. When I eat a homemade snack, I will limit it to one per day. That means one peanut butter protein ball or one copycat larabar, and so on. Not two of one or one of each. To stick to it, I plan to only have one homemade snack available at any given time because if it’s there, I’ll want to eat it, and I’ll only have myself to blame.
There is one major exception to this and that is Mother’s Day. I plan to make an apple crisp in my Instant Pot. I’ve got a great recipe to try that already has minimal added sugar and I plan to lighten it up even more. Fruit, especially apples, is sweet already. Most of the time, no extra sugar is required. But for this occasion, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the warm apple crisp is required.
Another challenge, coming up…
A challenge such as this would be more difficult for someone who eats a lot of pre-packaged food or who eats out a lot. For that reason, if you’re interested in cutting out sugar, I would suggest first making more food yourself and then going from there. It is a journey, after all.
I plan to repeat this challenge at some point. Maybe I’ll try doing it for the first week of every month. I haven’t decided yet. If anyone is interested in joining me and would like to see what I eat and how I prepare it, let me know! If there’s enough interest, I will put together a mini recipe book that includes all my meals and snacks, including a shopping list for the week. Part of my goal in this is to reduce my grocery bill by embracing certain healthy “frugal foods,” so you won’t find any strange, hard-to-find ingredients on my list.