As a personal experiment, I’ve spent the last 120 days eating according to a set of simple rules:
- I don’t eat “obvious sugar.” I don’t eat candy, cookies, desserts, or sweets of any kind.
- I try to limit “hidden sugar.” I avoid sugary sauces and condiments (including ketchup, honey mustard, barbecue sauce, and most pasta sauce).
- I do eat fruit. Whole fruit, that is. No juices.
- I also eat as much of anything else as I want. Other than avoiding sugar, I haven’t tried to limit carbs. I haven’t worried about fat content or calories. The only thing I check on a food label? The sugar content.
I did this, in part, with an eye toward weight loss. But mostly, I did it out of curiosity. If sugar is as evil as they say, eliminating sugars from my diet should have some pretty dramatic effects, right?
I lost weight. During the first three months, I slowly and gradually lost about three pounds a month. During the fourth month, I’ve lost an additional pound.
I feel better. I am more consistently happy, with fewer mood swings and less irritability. I have more energy than before.
I don’t crave sweets. After the first two weeks, sugar cravings went away. People keep commenting on my willpower, but the truth is, at this point, sweets don’t tempt me. They’re not even on my radar.
I’m satisfied with less. Before I got off sugar, I was one of those people who could always eat, because I was always ravenous. Now, I’m satisfied eating less, and I don’t really get hungry, even when a meal is delayed.
Some Perspective on Sugar
Before this experiment, I was eating a ton of sugar.
The World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of six teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar.
A single packet of sugar contains four grams.
A Krispy Kreme donut contains ten grams (just over two packets) of sugar.
Photo Credit: Pixabay User Skeeze
A single slice of Pizza Hut hand-tossed barbecue chicken pizza hides 12 grams — three packets! — of sugar. This whole pie would contain 24 packs:
Photo Credit: Pixabay User Tookapic
A tiny “healthy” cup of fat-free Yoplait yogurt contains 26 grams (or just over six packets) of sugar.
An eight-ounce bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice (“all natural with no added sugar!”) contains 28 grams of sugar. (They don’t need to add sugar, because the juice already contains seven packets of it!) Naked juice (also “100% juice!”) contains eight packets (or 32 grams) — almost as much as a single twelve-ounce can of Coke (with 33).
An order of General Tso’s chicken or sesame chicken at your favorite Chinese restaurant contains 62 grams of sugar. That’s like eating stir-fried chicken with fifteen and a half packets of sugar poured over it.
Picture Credit: Pixabay User Koisra
It’s Easy to Eat a Lot of Sugar
Before I started this experiment, I’d often have a Starbucks orange and cranberry muffin with juice at breakfast. I’d have General Tso’s chicken for lunch. In the afternoons, I’d have a frozen fruity Starbuck’s drink and a big chocolate chip cookie. For dinner, I’d pound down barbecue chicken and a slice of cake, followed by one of those peppermints at the cash register, and maybe two or three Oreos as a bedtime snack.
In other words, many days, I’d eat at least 299 grams of sugar: about 12 times the recommended daily allowance, or the equivalent of 75 packs.
Just reading that makes me sick. Imagine how sick eating that was making me.
Actually, I don’t have to imagine it. In October 2015, my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic and insulin resistant. And, of course, instead of recommending a change to my diet, he recommended a lifetime subscription to a $45-per-month medication. It would lower my blood sugar without my having to alter my diet — and greatly increase my chances for bladder caner and kidney disease.
I declined that opportunity, and stopped eating sugar instead.
Is Abandoning Sugar Hard?
Frankly? Once you get past the first two weeks, not eating sugar is easy, because foods with sugar start tasting terribly, horribly, impossibly sweet.
My family recently ordered a Pizza Hut Brownie (279 grams of sugar, or about 70 packets, in one tidy package). One bite of that brownie — an eighth of a single serving — contained an entire packet of sugar.
And, boy, could I tell it. That bite of brownie was so sweet, it made me nauseous. It was gritty, syrupy, sickeningly sweet. I actually had to spit it out.
Not so long ago, I would have polished off at least four of the nine brownies in the box all by myself.
My point is this: once you start avoiding sugar, doing so gets easier, because foods packed with sugar start tasting terrible.
The Bliss Point
And, frankly, a lot of the food in America is packed with sugar. We sweeten peanuts. We sweeten cereal. We sweeten bread. We sweeten meat. (Sugar-cured bacon, anyone? Honey-baked ham?)
That’s all because of a food science discovery: the bliss point. Add a little sugar to something, and it tastes better. Keep adding sugar, and food will keep tasting better. But eventually, you’ll reach a point where adding any more sugar makes food taste sickeningly sweet. Back off from that point just a little, and you get the bliss point — the maximum amount of sugar you can squeeze into any food in question.
Most American pre-packaged food, from Oreos to yogurt, is engineered to hit the bliss point.
I’ve decided to find my bliss elsewhere.
The Hardest Thing
The hardest thing about not eating sugar is dealing with other people’s reactions to my choice.
When I gave up sugar, I did so quietly. I didn’t announce it. I didn’t start preaching the virtues of being off of sugar. I didn’t start policing other people’s food. I just stopped ordering desserts and started very politely saying no to offers of sugary foods.
This sends people through the roof.
A relative: “What? You aren’t going to eat any of this cake I made just for you?” (No, but thank you.)
A friend: “No dessert? None at all? Not just one bite? Come on, have just one little bite. It won’t hurt you!” (No, thank you.)
A relative: “Oh, you must be miserable! We shouldn’t be eating sweets in front of you!” (I’m not suffering. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Eat what you want. It doesn’t bother or tempt me in the least.)
A well-meaning co-worker: “Well, that’s just not sustainable. You’ll be eating chocolate again by Christmas.” (Thanks for the support.)
I don’t think any of these people mean to be unkind. They just have trouble seeing my choice from my perspective.
I don’t know how long this will go on.
But here’s what I do know: I like the weight loss, I like how I feel, and I’m getting a kick out of beating a system that seems to have been deliberately stacked against me.
Now, it’s time for breakfast: a delicious black bean and chicken burrito with a side of sausage, paired with a hot cup of coffee.
Total grams of sugar? Less than a single pack.
Featured photo credit: Sugar Cubes – Pixabay User Humusak)