What Happens When a Sugar Junkie Gives it Up for 30 days?

Posted on
Dec 16, 2014
33

From a night market in Barcelona, where I wanted to eat all the things.

I am a sugar fanatic.

This should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who’s visited this site at least once (I have a category of posts labeled “Cupcake Death Match“). When the debate between sweet and savory comes up, I scoff, because it’s no contest.

When I snack, it’s something sugar-laden, like a bowl of frosted cereal, or an entire sheet cake. I have a bag of peppermint M&Ms in my fridge, and I regularly pull out a few candies throughout the day to munch on.

Starting at 8 in the morning.

My sugar consumption is slow and constant (indeed, the pound bag of peppermint M&Ms has lasted nearly 6 months). Occasionally, though, I’ll bake something, and then demurely eat half the pan. It’s an impulse control issue dating back to my childhood, when sweets were rare (no one in my family has a sweet tooth, and they are not bakers). If you happened upon a plate of cookies, the only sensible response was to mash as many into your face as possible in as short a time, because there was no telling when or if that would happen again.

Literally some of the best cupcakes I’ve every had – from Philadelphia’s Brown Betty Bakery.

 

In college, I started baking. This was problematic for several reasons:

  1. I now had easy access to dessert, but no willpower. Deep down, I was still a sugar-starved kid. I’d eat half a pan of cookies in a day and think nothing of it, and then feel sick.
  2. I am a really, really good baker. People were always asking me to make treats, and I’d gleefully oblige. And then eat half the pan. And feel sick.

The easy out, of course, is to avoid baking, but that hasn’t really worked, because I love to do it.

These problems don’t abate while I’m on the road. If I’m in a new place, I want to try all the regional desserts. I feel the strange pressure of missing out (the concept of treats being scarce hasn’t left me). If there’s a bakery, I’ll walk into it, even if I’m barely hungry.

And if I am hungry? Brace yourselves, hide your children, and pray I don’t mistake your finger for a madeleine.

Our South Africa trip wasn’t different from the norm. We traveled, and I ate a lot of desserts.

Dessert at Bushman’s Kloof: creme brulee, honeycomb ice cream with brandied cherries and macadamia nuts.

I even made cookie bars twice in our rental house. But as I was cramming these sweets into my mouth with all the restraint of a baleen whale inhaling krill, I realized something:

I wasn’t even enjoying my dessert.

I was skipping indulgence and going straight into overindulgence. It’s not really all that surprising. I’ve read countless stories about the addictive nature of sugar. One study claimed Oreos were as addictive as heroin. (I promise not to try heroin.)

So on the flight back to the U.S. from South Africa, I decided something: I was going to give up sugar for a month. My friend Marshall had done it with his entire family (including his children). I figured I’d give it a shot.

Or, at least, I’d try to.

I also resolved to give up artificial sweeteners and natural ones, too. So no honey, maple syrup, aspartame, corn syrup, stevia, or anything else. I’d also avoid fruit juices, and try to limit my fruit intake to two servings a day. And I don’t drink anyway, so adding alcohol to the off-limits list was easy.

I was going to start the second our plane touched down, so I desperately crammed a few more cookie bars into my mouth as we began our approach to SeaTac.

And then I started my month without sugar. Here’s the play by play:

Day 1: Despite eating half a pan of cookie bars on the plane, I am still not satiated, and have no idea how I am going to last a month. I begin to pout. Rand laughs. My friend Sarah predicts I will last 3 days. Her husband Eric says I’ll survive for 3 hours. I think Eric is right.

Day 2: Discover that all my breakfast foods are filled with sugar. Even my supposedly healthy wheat bread has sugar in it. I make myself plain oatmeal with berries on top. I want to weep.

I find myself eating a massive amount of carbohydrates to make up for the lack of sweets.

Day 3: THERE IS SUGAR IN MY CORN CHIPS. What in the actual hell. Also, all I can think about, at any given time, is dessert. I realize that I’m an addict. There’s no other term to describe it.

Day 4: Rand notices that I’m quieter than normal. “You just don’t seem like yourself,” he says. And I’m not. I’m sluggish. And exhausted. And I really want a cookie. I guess this is withdrawal.

Day 5: I start looking up frosting recipes. Reading them makes me feel both better and worse. I start making plans for what I will bake when the 30 days are up.

Day 6: Go to a catered dinner with Rand and Nicci. Dessert is served, and they both encourage me to try some. I decide to break the rules, and take a few forkfuls. It’s wonderful – I feel like I can actually appreciate dessert again. But I can’t stomach more than a few bites. I start to wonder who I am.

Day 7: No, really, WHO AM I?

Day 10: Starting to feel a little better. Like myself again. When Rand eats dark chocolate at night, like he always does, I don’t try to make out with him just to get a taste of it. I still try to make out with him, though.

Day 12: Thanksgiving. I accidentally get sugar-bombed – there is definitely sugar in the cornbread stuffing. I’ve told myself that I would allow myself a slice of pumpkin pie, but decide not to after last week’s half dessert and today’s accidental indulgence. It’s difficult … but not that difficult.

Day 15: We walk into a froyo shop, as Rand is considering getting dessert. Without thinking twice, I find myself eating a sample of white chocolate peppermint frozen yogurt. The reaction is mostly involuntarily – I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I understand now what addicts mean when they talk about triggers. This bite of froyo will haunt me for the rest of the month.

Day 17: We go out to sushi, and I learn that there is sugar in sushi rice.

Day 21: We go out to eat Korean food with friends. Everything tastes weirdly sweet. I know that there is sugar in bulgogi – I just didn’t realize how much. I only have a few bites – it’s not at all appetizing, even though this is a restaurant I love.

Day 22: THERE IS NO ADDED SUGAR IN GRAPE NUTS. I am so excited by this, I eat a bowl every morning for a week. It’s wonderful. I’ve finally stopped counting the days, too, which is nice.

Day 25: I eat an entire bag of corn chips in one day. What was the point of this sugar strike again? To be healthy?

Day 27: I tell Rand I’m bored. He stares at me, confused. This is one of the first times in the history of ever that I’ve said this. I’m never bored. It takes us a while to figure out what’s wrong, and finally it hits me: “It’s evening,” I tell him. “And cold out. You have work to do. What would I normally be doing right now?”

He doesn’t miss a beat: “You’d be baking.”

I realize I miss that process even more than I miss sugar.

Day 28: Everything that isn’t entirely savory tastes too sweet to me. Like eggplant. Eggplant tastes sweet. If it isn’t sour, I’m kind of grossed out by it. I eat fruit for dessert, and it’s plenty sugary for me.

Day 29: I’ve eaten dinner, but I’m still peckish. This has happened a lot this month – I normally save room for dessert, and since I haven’t been eating that, I’ve found myself still hungry after a meal. I have a craving for a cookie. Not the obsessive, gotta-have-it craving of earlier in the month. I just kind of want a cookie. Like a normal person. Instead, I make myself a glass of warm milk.

In my PJs, drinking warm milk, and having an existential crisis.

 

Day 30: I kind of can’t believe it. Besides the bites of dessert during week 1, the froyo incident, and the times I’ve been accidentally sugar-bombed, I’ve managed to do it. A month without sugar. I figured I’d spend today doing nothing but cramming sweets into my mouth, but right now I feel fine. I do want to bake, though. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll make some cookies. Maybe.

The Post-Mortem:

Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do it – if the girl who adores sugar could actually kick it for a month. And I’m a little surprised that I managed to. It honestly became much easier as time went by.

I wasn’t trying to lose weight – it wasn’t a goal of mine. I’m okay with how I look, and I’m not really one for weird diets. I do like feeling healthy, though, and a month without the sick feeling of overeating is pretty great. And I happened to lose four pounds, despite the massive quantity of carbohydrates I ate.

I think that I’d become desensitized to sugar, and I’m really glad that I was able to take a break from it. Part of what I wanted to do was make sweets special again. To make dessert something singular and rare – something to be savored. In my world, that was no longer true. And now I think it might be again.

I’m pretty excited about that.

—————

Isn’t it awesome that I get to live in a world where food is so plentiful, the only thing I have to complain about is voluntarily giving up sweets? It’s something I take for granted a lot, so I made a small donation to Northwest Harvest to celebrate the end of my 30-sugar-free days. If you have plenty to eat this season, and your biggest food worry is overindulgence, please consider donating to your local food bank. It’s a great way to feel awesome and get a little perspective.

Leave a Comment

  • Deb

    Three weeks into no sugar, wheat, corn, alcohol and coffee. Number 1-4 were a cake walk. I suck at baking. Popcorn is an gorge fest but the popcorn machine is massive so easy to ignore. But first three days off of my one to two cups I’ joe were hellish. Then I felt good, now I felt great. My downfall. Jim tried giving up coffee the following week. He couldn’t handle the misery. Really he was Crabby and Cranky. I made him a cup of full caffeine coffee. I’m weak.

    • Everywhereist

      No wheat or corn? I would cry. CRY.

    • I decided to give up caffeine one month ago. The first days were incredibly bad and included neverending migraines and the risk of falling asleep pretty much anywhere (thankfully I don’t drive). Now for the good part: I feel amazing. I wake up after my 6-7 hour sleep and I feel like I’ve spent the night at the spa. I honestly don’t see myself drinking caffeine ever again, unless they hide it into Tiramisu.

  • Oh god. Thanks ALOT. You have now ruined my life. I have been happily reading your blog for some time now, silently enjoying. But this. I have to say something. There are lots of people who give up sugar. You read about it every day in compelling articles entitled “How I gave up sugar and discovered the meaning of life” (if you peruse the same trashy news sites that I do) but you more or less know that those people who gave it up and feel really great about it and then don’t really miss it much, never really understood dessert. They are the same people who just “don’t feel good unless they exercise” or “who love the taste of vegetables” or who think a cauppacino qualifies as dessert. You know. THOSE people. But you? I expected more of you. And now….now I am going to have to seriously consider trying it. Aaaaaarrrrrghhhh!

    • Everywhereist

      I know, I know – look, I’m disappointed in myself, too. I had hoped today would be a sugar binge culminating in the consumption of an entire wedding cake.

      But let’s get back to why I did this in the first place – I wanted to enjoy dessert more. Is that not a noble goal? Let us focus on that, instead of the monster I have become.

      • Yes, I agree. The goal is noble. But here is the thing: To enjoy a dessert, you HAVE TO EAT IT. ‘Nuff said. Sigh.

  • Melanie

    please explain how to give up sugar when it seems almost everything has sugar in it? Did you eat the sushi rice? I eat lots of sushi. We also eat out a lot and I try to go for fish or steak etc, but … But … I’m SO confused! (But I do drink wine every evening and am not no not ever willing to give that up!). Am I doomed?

  • Kristina Cline

    I have cut out wheat, and I am working really really hard on corn and soy. Corn and Soy are used EVERYWHERE and its driving me up the wall. I applaud your efforts, and cutting out sugar really does change your taste buds. We have cut out most refined sugar (still use honey and maple syrup.) The boys went to a birthday party and LEFT CAKE ON THEIR PLATE because it was “too sweet.” It’s crazy out there.

  • I’m a total sugar junkie and I’ve tried to detox many many times and never managed. I blame Italy for this. We’re one of the few countries where breakfast is primarily sweet (yes, even for adults) and we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That always felt like a loophole to me: I can’t skip breakfast and can’t betray my country by eating a salty one (also, fruit is boring). Maybe if I turn it into a writing project it will work out.

  • Dee

    I applaud you for that. I won’t even give it a try….I had to give up wheat in 2011 (found out I’m allergic) and like any good Italian girl I shed tears for no pizza, pasta, bread or beer. I have to cling to something in life to make up for it, so sugar and I are besties.

    • Everywhereist

      Girl, that’s totally fair. If you have to give up gluten, you better be eating everything else.

    • kokopuff

      Never fear, there is rice hops beer! One should never have to give up beer.

  • I gave up sugar – the refined, processed stuff found pretty much in any prepackaged food this days – for a year. And yes, I love dessert. You and I are alike with the eating half of whatever dessert I have baked and then feeling ill after but still doing the same thing again and again. I still allowed myself raw, unrefined honey – but after a while, even that was too sweet for me so I stuck with fruits. It was kind of nice not needing – really needing – a nap mid afternoon because of all the sugar I was consuming. And I lost weight without even trying. When I first started, I ate a LOT because I felt like I was trying to fill that sugar void. Surprising how my body was perfectly capable of processing healthier foods, in large quantities, without turning it into extra pounds. I felt so healthy and then, slowly, but surely, after my year long goal was reached, started back down the sugar trail. At least now I eat healthy about 85% of the time and allow myself some sugar (what kind of baker doesn’t sample her own desserts?). When I bake now, since I do love it and find it so relaxing and fun, I make sure I have somewhere to take the bulk of what I’ve baked so I am not tempted to overindulge.

    I applaud you for making it a month – I know how hard it is!

  • The statement that resonates the most from this is that you’ve been stone sober all of the times I’ve talked to you. Oh. Goodness. Me.

    Enjoyed the post. Will think about how addicted I am & test giving it up for January.

    • Everywhereist

      I know. I KNOW. People are always amazed when they find out I don’t drink. I’ve actually had a waitress cut me off before … I was drinking water.

      I AM JUST LIKE THIS SOBER.

  • Nice one and I never thought you’d go sugar free. You of all people. Although it only takes a few days to get back into the swing of things and you’ll be on sugar rushes in no time. I’m glad we have you postong again.

    • Nice one and I never thought you’d go sugar free. You of all people. Although it only takes a few days to get back into the swing of things and you’ll be on sugar rushes in no time. I’m glad we have you posting again.

    • OK you got me, sorry for the double post. I thought I was correcting the original f’up. What I was going to say was much more witty. And I quote

      “Damn autocorrect, wtf is postong anyway. I think I just made up a new word”

      Side note: It tried to autocorrect my postong replacing it with posting, that android is screwing with me.

      Delete any of the above as I am rambling.

  • Erin

    I, too, am a sugar addict who loves to bake and have now been off the refined/processed/artificial stuff for 3 days (I’m still sweetening some things with honey…baby steps). The first day I was mean. Just flat out, scaring my co-workers, mean. I miss candy and diet pop and skippy peanut butter, but I have really noticed how much I ate – just because. A handful of gummy bears here, a diet coke and cookie there. Totally mindlessly. You’re my inspiration!

  • I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, but so far haven’t had the courage. We eat out a lot and it’s so hard to avoid sugar when eating out — it’s in everything!! I did manage to stop putting sugar (or any sweetener) in my coffee, so I count that as a win.

  • Well done!! I gave up the white stuff for 2 months last year and felt amazing! The best part is the control you gain over yourself and not having that compulsion to eat whatever sweet treats are around.

  • The less sugar you eat, the less you crave. That’s why you don’t feel like eating it now after a month of no sugar.
    It is hard to quit all sugar, I am trying to reduce processed sugar and still eat and drink fruits and smoothies.
    I really enjoyed your post 🙂

  • After I read your post I realize I have a sugar addiction as well that has been hiding under the guise of a “sweet tooth.” It starts out innocently enough with a well-intented sugary treat and then I before I realize it I am shoveling a fourth one in my mouth without a second thought. Also, I actively go out and seek sugar and my mood is dramatically effected if I cannot get some. Of course there could be worse addictions, but I appreciate you sharing your own thoughts on this topic and also tying in the cultural component of always being surrounded by food aplenty. A lot to think about.Thank you!

  • No way I could have done it myself!

  • Shal

    I also have a sweet tooth (that definitely has become more of an addiction at times), and decided to give up all sweets last Lent. I didn’t give up sugar entirely (because it is in pretty much everything we buy and I value my sanity, lol), but become much more aware of how much was in what we eat at my house and avoided all sweet snack/dessert. It SHOCKED me how much it impacted my thinking and mood…and my taste. Now, many months later and post-Holidays, I’m looking forward to doing it again this year…and, before then, going back to a normal amount of sugar consumption with which I can be happy. Thanks for sharing!

  • Marshall Simmonds

    Coming from the only survivor of the 30-Day No Sugar Challenge in our house, congrats and be proud. Breaking the routine for me was the hardest part. The flavor is, so far, always temporary (mental note: billion $ idea!), but my walk to Daddy’s Chocolate Drawer is a nightly event I look forward to.

    The plan is to try this masochistic ritual again come May.

  • I did no added sugar for 10 weeks because I pretty much only ate bags of candy during Hurricane Sandy. I felt I needed a massive detox. Also I just have a problem. And this was during the holidays so I missed out on Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts. I allowed myself honey and fruit. I dreamt that someone was pouring me lemonade and I kept asking them to add more sugar. I was told that I’d eventually stop having cravings but that was a total lie. I have since been eating stuff with sugar and it’s HARD to get back on the no sugar wagon.

    • Olivia esddms

      Hello, fellow Sandy survivor. I just love hurricanes- they seem to be drawn like magnets to NY. Happy and hurricane-free in Europe. Even the worst storms here were nothing like the “oh god the roof! Creak. SNAP. “Oh shit the rest of the house ;_;”

  • MC859

    Congrats on finishing!

    Wondering if you thought about baking bread instead of desserts for your evening activity? I have heard from bread bakers that the kneading, etc. is a great mental break. And you can add herbs or roasted garlic or whatever so it’s not just plain old bread (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    This is on my 2015 To Learn list – first not to kill the yeast, then to have homemade bread I’ve kneaded myself!

  • On a dark, dark day in September 2013, I learned that I am allergic to refined sugar. I nearly cried. I had been suffering with chronic fatigue on and off for a couple of years, and had been getting colds and flu every other week for my whole adult life (I’m 33). I went for food allergy tests and my second worst nightmare actually happened (don’t even ask about the worst).

    That was the last time I (knowingly) ate sucrose or glucose. I lost nearly two stone within the first 3 months (I wasn’t overweight in the first place). I haven’t had a cold since, and virtually never get ill at all. In just 6 days, I went from being laid up in bed with fatigue and brain fog, to running the Cardiff (Wales) 10km race in a pretty respectable time.

    And the weird thing is this: giving up sugar was easy, because I was *told* I had to do it. I don’t think I could have done so by pure personal choice. But I removed any sense of free will from the situation and “obeyed orders” – then it was easy. Eating out is a pain (so is eating in, quite frankly) but I have stopped thinking about it now.

    Thanks for sharing, Geraldine :o)

    • Everywhereist

      Daniel – Congrats on figuring out what the cause of your illness was – I bet that was both a relief and also really disappointing. I’m glad you are feeling so much better. 🙂 Also, I’m going to venture a guess that your worst nightmare would have been a gluten allergy. Am I right?

  • Lauren Kennedy

    Just came across your blog today and this post made me smile. Also loved how you ended it with gratefulness & your donation. Thumbs up! I am the opposite of you because I LOVE baking but I don’t have a sweet tooth at all. Usually by the time it’s done, I can’t even look at it because I already ate a few bites of batter and that was enough. My problem is french fries. Haha, cheers and thanks for the read! 🙂

  • Olivia esddms

    Well, congrats!
    I cut sugar after getting used to 85% and up chocolate. After that, normal candy started tasting like stuffing my face in a bowl of sweetener. I hate sweetened tea. Too much sugar in anything makes whatever it is taste like only sugar, and in a horrible, sickly sweet way.

    So yeah, thank you, dark chocolate. It took like a month of cringing to actually be able to eat you, but your 15g or less of sugar per bar is lovely.

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