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At the time of writing this, it has been seven days and approximately 16 hours since I last ate sugar.
Before you roll your eyes, I promise that I am not a nutritionist or a fad-dieter, nor am I consumed with looking for the latest secret to longevity. I am a normal (ish) 25-year-old yogi-unmarried-childless-woman with an income that makes me miss college (hello, free food at the dining commons).
Additionally, I am a CrossFitter.
While many CrossFit coaches will push for athletes to acquire a paleo diet, I’ve always been unable to commit to the last “law”: no sugar. Sure, I can let go of the spontaneous Taco Bell run and the glass or two of wine at the end of a long day, but all sugar, completely?! No way.
I’ve always been a sweets kind of girl—we’re talking everything from late night cravings to traditional Donut Friday celebrations to post-workout rewards on Saturday mornings. However, I’ve been feeling like a sore wreck recently, which is very atypical of me, as I’ve always been a hardcore athlete. After some food logging, I concluded the sole difference in my diet from when I felt pretty good through the week to feeling like a truck hits me every day, to be my sugar consumption.
Thus, I drafted a game plan to tackle those words I’ve always only laughed at: no sugar.
I knew it would have to happen quickly and painfully; like ripping off a Band-Aid. I decided to go cold turkey, unbeknownst to the Facebook world, my coach, my parents, my friends, everyone except my girlfriend (who I cohabit with and convinced to do the challenge with me). I kept this lifestyle change hush-hush because I knew it would be a battle that I needed to win or lose on my own.
Willpower is a difficult thing to develop—I have learned this the hard way time and time again. This time, if I wanted this lifestyle change to stick, I had to feel every loss or win completely within myself, rather than find legitimacy and worth in the eyes of other people. If I wanted to feel like a true champ by not eating half a pint of ice cream at the end of the day, I needed to not let anyone else know. If I felt that I let down everyone holding me accountable if I accidentally slip up, I’d feel guilty enough to give up completely. This needed to be for me and me alone.
At the time of writing this, I’m one week in on a three-week (self-made) challenge: no sugar (or anything remotely sugar-like) for 21 days.
Here are some big lessons I learned this week—things you should know if you’re thinking of trying to cut out sugar from your diet.
1. Sugar is in everything.
No, seriously. I dare you to raid your pantry and find ten items without sugar or sugar substitutes in its ingredients. Hey America, what the hell? It’s as if the food industry intentionally tries to make sugar consumption easier than healthy diets.
Lesson: Buy food without labels (primarily fresh produce).
2. A sugar detox is like drug detox.
On the first day, you will probably have a horrible headache, and possibly even the shakes. Expect to feel run down for the first several days.
Lesson: Have water handy. Drink it constantly.
3. Sugar-free items can actually be really unhealthy.
Don’t let the multi-colored, bolded “sugar free!” on the label fool you into thinking it’s a better choice than raw, clean foods like produce and lean meats. More often than not, prepackaged sugar-free food items are full of hidden crap.
Lesson: Do your research, know your labels and shop on the perimeter of the grocery store.
4. There are foods that taste better than sugar.
There are so many recipes out there that are 100 percent more flavorful, tasty and filling than some cheap, processed meal you pick up on the way home after a long day. I’ve had so much fun trying new things and being pleasantly surprised by my creations.
Lesson: Have fun experimenting in the kitchen!
5. You will fail.
If you don’t accidentally slip up (do you know how many different types of sugar there are with names I can’t pronounce?!), then your cravings will get to you. Don’t let these slip-ups destroy you! Learn from it, move on and bounce back. Example: I accidentally (probably from habit) had a sip of soda. Instead of beating myself up and consequently eating a cake from every grocery store within a five-mile radius, I bought some sparkling water to sip instead from then on.
Lesson: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Meal prep, so you always have sugarless food (and drinks) handy!
To keep it simple, here are my more prevalent pieces of advice: plan ahead, stay hydrated, be creative, and forgive yourself. I’m one week in and although it has been a bumpy road, I’m already reaping benefits of my decision. I feel more alert throughout the day, my post-lunch caffeine craving is gone (as is the late-night cereal craving, as is Donut Friday fix…) and I feel less sore after workouts.
I’m so excited to prep for next week—sugarlessly.
Author: Kelsey Canalin
Editor: Renée Picard