I gave up sugar for three weeks. Here's what happened.

Monday, January 23, 2017

December is always a month of indulgence, and this year was no different. Over the holidays, anything goes at our house, nutrition-wise: cheese, crackers, and nuts constitutes dinner; sugar cookies or Ferrero Rochers make adequate snacks. Baking with my son is one of my favourite holiday activities, so every weekend we were whipping up a batch of something or other: gingerbread, shortbread, Nutella sea salt cookies (oh my GOD those were good). Add a generous glug of eggnog, some Baileys, and a whole lot of wine, and that's your typical December diet.

By the time New Year's Eve rolled around, I was beyond sick of sweets. Three or four straight weeks of blood sugar spikes and plummets will do that! I didn't want to start 2017 by doing any kind of a cleanse or a diet, but knew a little reset was in order. Since I was already cookied out, I decided to give up sugar. I don't mean any and all sugar - I wasn't scouring nutrition labels for sneaky hidden sweeteners - just no chocolate, no cookies, no sweets, no baked stuff. I figured I'd eliminate the obvious culprits. 

My plan was to stay sugar-free for the entire month of January, but my husband's birthday was on January 21. Eli and I spent a big chunk of the day baking him a birthday cake, so I decided to treat myself to a slice and then get back on the bandwagon for the rest of the month. We chose a fairly simple classic birthday cake recipe with a basic buttercream frosting (no triple-layer milk and cookies cake this year, sorry Peter!) 

Here's what happened after three weeks without any sugar: 

[weight] Since January 1, I've lost two pounds. However, I've also eaten a bit less over the past couple days since I've had an upset stomach, so that may be part of the reason. I didn't cut out sugar as a weight loss measure, but I know people always like to know how a nutritional change affects a person's weight so I decided to address that one first and foremost! (I'm still nursing Henry so weight loss is not really on my radar, and the breastfeeding hunger is real and spectacular. I don't even want to think about how many calories I consume every day). 

[sleep] In December I slept like garbage - this happens every December, in fact - but in January I've definitely been getting better quality sleep. I always attribute my annual shitty sleep habits in December to daylight savings and my body clock being messed up, but maybe it also has to do with terrible nutrition leading up to the holidays.  

[energy] Probably related to getting better quality sleep, my energy levels have improved as well. That said, I still look forward to my morning cup of coffee and I'm still zonked by 9:00 p.m. However, during the day I'm feeling much less zombielike. 

[cravings] The first couple of days sugar-free were easy. Like I mentioned above, I was SICK of treats, so bypassing sweet stuff for nuts, fruit, veggies, and yogurt felt good. After a few days, though, I wanted sugar badly. We have a cupboard where we keep all our "junk" food and it was FULL of stocking stuffer chocolates and candy. Lindor balls! My absolute favourite dark chocolate sea salt bars! Just sitting there, taunting me. I made up for it by eating...a lot of salty things. Cheese, crackers, nuts, pretzels with hummus. Healthy? Maybe not...but the good news is, after a couple days of double-fisting Triscuits, my cravings leveled out and now I'm eating like a normal human again. 

The biggest proof point for me about how awful sugar is, however, was how I felt after eating a slice of cake on the weekend now that my body has adjusted to very little sugar. This was a homemade cake, a recipe that didn't require a horrific amount of sugar, and I had a moderately sized slice. After I finished the cake, I felt almost like I was vibrating, as if I'd just eaten a whole cup of sugar. The cake tasted waaaaay too sweet. It tasted good, but I felt so weird I didn't enjoy it - it wasn't the "treat" it would have been weeks ago. 

I don't think I'll be sugar-free forever, but I'm planning to refrain from sweets for the rest of the month and then, hopefully, I'll work the occasional cookie back into my diet - "occasional" being the operative word. I'll also be choosing natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey when I can, or simply cutting the amount of sugar required when I'm baking.

If you're having trouble sleeping or experiencing low energy, I think experimenting with a low- or no-sugar diet for a few weeks is worth it! Just make sure you stock up on protein-rich snacks beforehand and drink lots of water, and hang in there through the first few days if you can. The results may surprise you! 

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