One of the biggest things in my these-are-not-resolutions post was the bit about me not having had sugar since last year’s Ash Wednesday. That’s actually not just when but also how it started. My first thought had been, hey, let’s do this Lent thing and let’s give up sugar for Lent. It stopped cold turkey (which, luckily, is not a sweet dish) from February 13th onto 14th and was, thus, gifted a heart shaped box of candy right after having decided not to eat that kind of stuff anymore. The candy, I mean. Never have or will eat cardboard boxes.
I was surprised by how easy it was to give up sugar (which I will define more closely in a moment/paragraph or two) and therefore decided to switch it up from Lent to Lent’s-see-how-long-we-can-do-this.
Now, because I am me and I am always in competition with myself and having to prove myself over and over to everyone who will listen and constantly accepting challenges nobody even made (think Barney Stinson on ‘roids)… that then turned into I can’t stop now or it wins! “It” being the sugar. Don’t ask me how it can win anything and especially don’t ask me who even cares (aside from me, way too much), but the game was on. Again, it’s just me playing here.
Recently, as I also mentioned in the not-resolutions post, I decided to get better at nutrition in order to become a healthier person. I have a beautiful goddaughter and an awesome little niece and nephew, so I have to take care of myself for them so I can be a good madrina and auntie for them for a long time. And one with energy that can play and have fun with them and not watch from the couch while they run around… In order to become better at eating, I joined Noom. Not going into details on that right now except to tell you that as part of that programme, I’m in a group with like-minded and like-“objectived” people so we can all help each other with motivation and whatnot. That group is the reason I’m writing this no-sugar post. Some gals are wanting to do a “sugar-detox” and I said hey, let me tell you about how I haven’t had candy in a year to help you with setting ground rules for yourself! Because, while I don’t know many things, I know about setting myself some rules, oh yeah.
Here goes: my hopefully comprehensive list of what I decided is cool and what isn’t.
I fully gave up:
· full-on added sugar
This is the most obvious first step.
I never put sugar into my coffee or tea, but that’s the most obvious thing to go. Something else I have never done anyway, but that would fall into this category, is spoonfuls of sugar added into fresh squeezed juice, yoghurt, onto bowls of cereal or bowls of fruit. I mean, what? I’ve seen that happen and have had to (almost literally) fight to get those things without the sugar… Crazy to me, but normal to many, apparently. This means spoonfuls of granulated white or brown sugar, sugar cubes, rock candy on a stick to put in your tea, etc
· healthy alternatives to added sugar
Yes, all of these things are not processed white sugar and some of them are low-glycemic, but they’re still sugar in my book, so they are off limits as well. This is honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup, any kind of corn syrup, date sugar, birch sugar, palm or coconut sugar, dextrose, molasses, and many more. While they are healthier alternatives to plain old sugar itself, my personal goal was to cut out not just glucose, but what “sugar” stands for – sweets and candy and so-called “treats” and all of that. I’m limiting the explanation, because it would become too much to read.
· sweet foods
I removed candy (chocolate, candy bars, bonbons, pralines, hard candies, gummies,…), ice cream and fro-yo, preserves (jams, jellies, marmalades, and compotes), and baked goods (cookies, biscuits, cakes, tartes, tortes, galettes, pies, pastries, croissants, bundts, pancakes, crepes, waffles, traditional Austrian sweet main dishes,…) from my diet completely, whether they are store-bought or homemade – by whomever (even myself). This also means that when I bake (and I bake a lot) I do not eat my own food and I also do not try it. I can tell from smell and touch whether it is how it’s supposed to be and that is enough.
· sweet drinks
Sweet sodas or pops are completely off-limits (think Coke or Fanta or anything like that), as are iced teas (except when it’s literally me making regular tea and letting it cool down and putting lemon slices and ice cubes in it, but bye-bye Arizona), cocoa or chocolate milk or hot chocolate, and juice (because juice, even fresh, is just fruit-flavored, colored, sugar-water with none of the fibre or vitamins of the fruit left in it).
· typical healthy snacks
There are alternatives to candy in the healthy snack department, but they are also sweet and, to me, they are crutches. This means dried and dehydrated fruit like dried berries, desiccated coconut, dates or figs, raisins, sun-dried bananas, etc – yes, it’s no longer processed, but it’s literally just empty calories, you’re munching on fructose. Also in this department are cereals and granolas, and nut butters.
I greatly reduced:
· low-natural-sugar foods and drinks
While juice is a no-no, smoothies are fine-ish. Because the whole fruit is in there, you get everything that whole fruit has to offer in terms of nutrition. However, they’re still not ideal so I try to stay away from bottled smoothies (such as innocent or true fruits) in the supermarket and only get fresh-made smoothies from time to time (from Juice Factory, Omelli’s, or the Rauch Juice Bar, for example). There’s a kiddie snack I kind of like – from time to time: Quetschis. Translates to something like “squeezies”, because it’s mushed up fruit in a squeezable container that you can give your kids to trick them into eating more fruit and vegetables. A lot of them are very sweet, not because anything is added (because nothing is, which is awesome), but because fruit simply contains sugar. But I will allow myself a Quetschi from time to time, if the total sugar content per 100g is under 10. There’s a wonderful frozen yoghurt place in downtown Vienna that has plain, natural frozen yoghurt – no sweetness and no added flavour. I had that once this past summer. Regarding actual food, the only example I can think of is my recipe for no-sugar spelt’n’almond cookies, which are delish! At least to me they are, most other people do not like them… There are also a few other things I can make or bake that wouldn’t have actual sugar (or healthy alternatives) in the recipe, but I don’t make any of it often at all. I don’t want to build new bad habits.
· low-carb and high-protein drinks
There’s a bunch of different diets out there and special drinks or meals to match each of them. I used to like having the odd high-protein drink or cereal bar to make sure I get enough protein in my diet in general, but as most of those come in the same flavours as your stereotypical milkshake or frappuccino, I put them on the no-side of my table. I might have the occasional drink or bar, but this “occasional” is defined as somewhere around once or twice every three or four months, so, barely.
· “sugar free” and “diet” and “zero calorie” and “light” products
I have never liked artificial sweeteners, being somebody who can taste aspartame in drinks and hating it, for example. To me, foods and drinks containing any kind of artificial sweetener are just even more processed alternatives to already too processed bad choices. This does not apply to the reduced-fat-content kind of “light” drinks or foods, I’ll have lean turkey ham or low-fat baby mozzarella or 1% yoghurt all day every day, thankyouverymuch. But fake sugars, nope. There are two exceptions in my life at the moment: Diet Coke/Coke Zero and Red Bull Sugarfree/Zero Calories. Both of those are terrible and I work on keeping my consumption low, but I’ll be very, very honest here: I drink only water and coffee on a day to day basis, in varying shapes and forms (think sparkling mineral water or ice cold tap water and a cappuccino or double shot espresso). I drink coke sometimes to get a different taste in my mouth (because it’s not always a tea-moment and I have some pretty disgusting-tasting meds I have to take every day and nothing else masks the taste well enough) and I drink Red Bull at work. Because work. Coffee is not sufficient (sorry, coffee!).
· the hidden sugar
Not to start any conspiracy theories here, but we all know there’s a lot of sugar in a lot of things where you wouldn’t typically expect it, because, at the end of the day, oftentimes, carbs equal sugar. Therefore, I try to stay away from white flour and stick to whole-grain everything – from bread over pasta to rice and other grains. I also avoid flavoured yoghurts and similar products that are not marketed or intended as a sweet treat, but which still contain a whole bunch of sugar.
Naturally (pun intended!), the more processed a food is, the less nutritious value it has for you and the more bad stuff is contained in it – including sugar. For me, this is where cutting out sugar has bled over into turning my diet as a whole into something a little healthier. The fewer unpronounceable ingredients a food has, the better. The more visi- and recognizable the building blocks of a meal are, the better. Less sugar, less weird chemicals, more health, more sanity (where food logging is concerned, eh, cos that stuff gets complicated!).
What I haven’t and won’t cut out:
I know fruit contains sugar, but I’m not diabetic and I’m doing this for me, not a doctor. Therefore, I continue enjoying all of nature’s goodies!
· Food is easy, people are not.
At my last job, I heard the same stupid joke about something containing “no sugar, just [insert any type of candy]” at least once a week. I’ll polite-chuckle twice, then polite-smile twice, then ignore it twice, then glare. Because it gets very old very fast… Everyone also has an opinion and most of those are not at all helpful. Also, people tend to take this personally. I’m a bad friend because I’m not making an exception for your cake-mix-cake? I didn’t make an exception for my nephew’s birthday cake that I worked on for three days and even learned new techniques for, you egotistical snowflake.
· Don’t lean too far the other way.
The first few weeks, I course corrected a little too hard and replaced the entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream with the entire can of Original Pringles and the entire cake with the entire loaf of bread. If you’re an over-eater, quitting sugar won’t help you with anything other than quitting sugar. Other problems need other solutions and you have to be careful not to create a new problem (maybe replacing high blood sugar with high cholesterol..?), which leads to the next point.
· Trust the tummy.
The most important thing is to do this for the right reason. Society doesn’t matter, trends and fads don’t matter, your health does. Does it feel right to eat or not eat something? Go for it. Or away from it, whichever it is. Your body knows what it needs (tummy tells you when it’s full or when it needs more food) and the better you learn to listen to it, the easier staying healthy will be.
Okay, now I think I’m done preaching.
Let me know if I should elaborate on anything else and maybe share your own tips with me in a comment!