I never realized how much I rely on refined sugar to get me through the day until I cut it out. I can hear my friend, Molly, who eats “lunch dessert” and “dinner dessert,” scolding me: “Are you crazy? Why would you cut sugar?”
I know, I know. But here’s the thing. I was raised in a house where we didn’t eat dessert unless it was summer and we went out for ice cream, so I never cared much about sweets. While I indulge in plenty of other things — cheese and bread, for one — I’ve never had a sweet tooth. Until the past few years, after I had kids.
It started with chocolate chip cookies. If I had a gooey one at the local bakery, I’d want one the next day, too. I started drinking iced tea and sometimes iced coffee, just so I could stir in a packet or two of raw sugar, crunching on the crystals as I sipped. That led to chocolate croissants and brownies and monkey bread and doughnuts. It’s not that I ate these things multiple times a day or anything; it’s that I found myself needing them daily. Like a cup of coffee in the morning, I had to have my cookie and my iced tea and maybe grab a handful of M&Ms in the afternoon. Sugar is so addictive.
While my intake is fairly innocuous, I had a hunch that my craving of sugar was causing me to make poor eating choices throughout my day. The average person ingests 300 calories from added sugar every day, said a recent report from the University of North Carolina. And studies show that decreasing your sugar intake lowers your risk of heart disease, boosts your mood, sharpens your memory and actually helps you get rid of the afternoon sluggishness many of us fight, whether we’re at home or at work.
It’s only been two days since I cut out sugar, but here’s what I can tell you. After running yesterday, I went to work at a local cafe, skipping my usual croissant and sitting down with an iced tea. I pushed the raw sugar away, and tried to tolerate the taste of tea without the sugar. I ended up drinking more water than I normally would. Score. When I got home, I eyed the mini pumpkin muffins and the tin of chocolate chip cookies on my kitchen counter — and around 2:30pm, I wanted my fix. A bit shaky, I forced myself to peel a banana. I felt satisfied. By 3:30, I was yawning at my son’s playground, feeling more tired than usual. I wondered if it’s because my body had come to rely on sugar to push me through the afternoon.
That evening, as I cooked dinner, I had to stop myself from reaching for a handful of animal cracker cookies. Isn’t that ridiculous? But my body really wanted sugar. Yawning, I drank more water, then ate a big dinner, including more vegetables than normal. I wondered if sugar was filling me up with a fake sense of fullness, making me skimp on the healthier stuff.
The following day, after yoga, I was back at the cafe working. I ordered herbal tea. This time, someone next to me ordered pancakes, the smell of powdered sugar and whipped cream wafting toward me. I would never order such a thing while working on a Wednesday morning, but my sugar-starved body wanted a bite. I ordered grilled cheese, hardly healthy, but I needed something to soothe my sugar woes.
People have told me that cutting sugar makes you feel more energetic, sharper, happier. They even say you stop craving it. We’ll see. It’s only been two days. I’ll report back next week. Wish me luck.