The 30 day no sugar diet was a success. I made it through the whole 30 days without sugar (or any of sugar’s accomplices, like agave, maple syrup, and honey) and am still alive enough to tell the tale. Giving up sugar was certainly “challenge” worthy. There were a few days (the second week mostly) where I really wanted a sweet dessert and no other food seemed to fill that void. I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact that certain combinations of sugar and fat act on the same parts of your brain as heroin!1
Fruit and I developed a close friendship during this challenge. Fruit certainly helped get me through the tough moments of giving up sugar. At times when nothing seemed to satisfy me, Fruit made every effort it could to take the edge of my cravings. Many a fruit sacrificed themselves for this cause by falling into my blender and becoming Smoothie. Overall, Fruit was very supportive (more so than my mom, who tried to tempt me into going to get an ice cream cone.) I plan on continuing this new relationship with Fruit.
My Vitamix also helped made giving up sugar a whole lot easier. A high speed blender allows you to make amazing smoothies that a normal blender can’t handle, and it can liquefy fruit and veggies like apples or zucchini so you can use the puree for baking.
One of the best results from this no sugar trial is that my taste buds seemed to have re-calibrated I can now taste the natural sweetness in food on a whole new level. During the last couple weeks of giving up added sugar, I started to notice how sweet many of the foods I eat every day really are. Berries were sweeter than I ever remember them being, apples, almonds and most nuts slowly became dessert-worthy. Towards the end of the no-sugar challenge, even whole rye with salt tasted sweet to me!
During this 30 day sugar-free trial I did not experience any obvious or amazing benefits that would make me never want to eat sugar again. I eat well in general (almost entirely whole-foods and plant-based) so eliminating sugar did not noticeably increase my energy level, which tends to be high overall. My weight is also healthy and I did not experience any weight loss that I can attribute to giving up sugar, although I have read that many folks who try a no-sugar diet do lose weight.
So what is the verdict? Many times during this challenge I found myself thinking that life is just better with chocolate in it. Sweetening cocoa goodies with fruit just isn’t quite the same. I plan on having a bit of dark chocolate in my diet, and I won’t deny myself the occasional slice of cake.
The truth is that I didn’t experience any benefits from giving up sugar for 30 days that would tempt me to abstain permanently. Years ago I was really into wine: wine tasting, wine tours, wine clubs, wine with dinner, etc. Giving up drinking was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done so far in my life. Giving up wine freed up countless hours of time (turns out the hours between 5pm and midnight are very useful). My mind feels clear and vivid, (as opposed to the numbing, foggy effects of drinking) and I also save piles of money by not buying alcohol. I could go on a while here about the benefits of quitting drinking, but the point is that giving up sugar did not bestow all these amazing gifts on me.
I am fairly certain this challenge will reduce my overall sugar intake. I no longer feel any desire to pour honey into my muesli, and I can happily substitute apple sauce or warm blueberry sauce for maple syrup if I feel inclined. Now that my taste buds consider apple to be a suitable dessert, I’m fairly certain that food with lots of added sugar will seem too sweet to overindulge. During this challenge, even some fruit smoothies tasted too sweet!
This 30 day challenge showed me that if I feel my sugar intake is too habitual at some point in the future, I’ll be able to step back and reduce my sugar intake without too much suffering. I’ll probably do the 30 day no-sugar challenge again down the road, just to see if I notice any benefits that I didn’t experience this time around.
UPDATE 8/24/12: A few months have passed since I did this challenge, and I am seriously considering giving up sugar! Like any highly addictive substance, moderation is a slippery slope. It didn’t take long for chocolate cake and its sneaky cookie friends to start replacing fruit smoothies and apples. Although I didn’t see the benefits of giving up sugar during the challenge, I now realized how much healthier I ate that month because my diet had no added sugar. Eating healthier gave me more energy overall, whereas now I notice frequent energy slumps during my day from eating sugar. If I do decide to give it up, or at least revisit the challenge, I’ll certainly write about it, so stay tuned . . .
1. See discussion of sugar in Use Your Brain to Change Your Age by Daniel Amen, M.D