Why I Stopped Eating Sugar for a Week and What Happened Next
Last Wednesday I saw an interview with Chris Kresser promoting his new book Unconventional Medicine (2017). During the interview I learned some shocking facts about the state of our nation’s public. For example, almost 100 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Not only that, but 40% of Americans are now obese. These factors, combined with others, mean that if our healthcare costs keep increasing at today’s pace, by 2040 it will take up 100% of the Federal government’s budget.
There are many financial problems with our healthcare system – not even considering the dysfunctional health insurance system that’s been foisted on us. I won’t even begin to explain how health insurance companies and government subsidies have incentivized excessive testing, useless procedures and over-prescribed medicines. I would love both our healthcare and health insurance systems fixed and set on a sustainable and cost-effective basis for decades to come but I won’t hold my breath; however, I can hold the sugar.
Health, I believe, is fundamentally an individual responsibility. After all, if you are terribly ill your doctor and insurance company only feel sympathy, not symptoms. Shocked as I was, I realized I couldn’t fix the health system but I could do something to improve my own health and hopefully keep my body in better shape for years to come. I decided to challenge myself to not eat any “junk food” for a week, so no deep-fried food, no fast food, and no processed sugar. I made this decision Wednesday afternoon, so I dedicated myself to no junk until next Wednesday evening.
Thursday things were a little difficult. I was used to eating all kinds of sugary treats at work, punctuated by a few sodas throughout the day. By the time I went home in the afternoon, I was definitely craving sugar. Luckily, once I was home I could access some healthier sugars, so I had an apple and threw some craisins into a salad and that cut the craving. I decided that my next day at work I would be prepared.
Friday I was ready. I brought organic brown sugar and apple oatmeal for a morning snack. I also had an apple I had intended to save for the afternoon but I was so desperate for something sweet I ate it before lunch. Before I came back to work, I mixed some non-fat Greek yogurt with sliced bananas and cinnamon for the afternoon. I finished it within an hour of getting back and for the rest of the afternoon I could only walk by the office kitchen a few times an hour to glare angrily at the coffee bundt cake someone had brought for our office.
Once I was home for the weekend, things went a little more smoothly. I had a few peanut butter and banana sandwiches for snacks on Saturday and finished off the yogurt. Sunday wasn’t quite so easy though. Last Sunday was a fast day at my church; it wasn’t the fast itself that was tough, it was the break the fast meal held in the afternoon. I ate as much of the main dishes as I could but they ran out before long. I went back for thirds and there was only one thing left. Rather, one course – dessert. Someone was kind enough to bake homemade brownies, someone else brought cupcakes and a resplendent Mississippi mudcake was present too. I filled my cup with water and sat back down. With my stomach grumbling, I helped clean up then excused myself a little early to go home to have a salad.
The next week seemed to be a breeze. I had figured out just how much food I needed to bring from home to keep myself from eying our office cupboard filled with sweets and the first three days of the week passed without issue. By Wednesday, I was looking forward to getting to have some refined sugar in my belly finally. When I got home from the office, I had completed my challenge; I could eat whatever I wanted. I went to the fridge to grab a Dr. Pepper but I saw there was only one, so I decided to leave it for my roommate. I wasn’t aware of anything else I could snack on and I had accidentally forgotten to bring some of the office’s Halloween candy home with me. There wasn’t anything else for me to do but make a chicken breast sandwich on whole wheat with avocado and tomato.
The moment finally arrived in the evening. I went to church for classes, and our teacher kindly brought their left over Halloween candy to be finished off by the students. I took my time surveying the bowl, it had some real quality treats in it, Starburst, Skittles, M&Ms – no Sweetarts or Tootsie-pops to be seen. I decided I would go for the peanut M&Ms to ease myself back into sugar, because milk chocolate and nuts are good for you, right? I put the first one in my mouth and barely tasted it. I chewed it up, expacting a rush of sweet bliss. Nothing came. It didn’t even taste good – not bad, just nothing special about it. I didn’t really want to finish the little fun-sized bag but I did out of politeness, thinking it would have seemed maybe more than a little odd for me, an American, to offer someone a pack of M&Ms with only three taken from it.
That was two days ago. I haven’t really wanted to have another soda, I’ve been fine with milk and water. I told my roommate about my journey through the sugar desert and he was so proud of me he went and bought a thing of icecream. I don’t even know what flavor it is. I think just giving my body a break for only a week from a deluge of sugar has broken its hold on my appetite. I’m no physician, so I can’t say a week is all it takes for your body to be flushed of your sugar cravings, but I do encourage you to give it a try. Stick it out for a few days to see what happens if you go 5 or more days without any. Maybe try the same thing with other urges you struggle to control. You may surprise yourself!
I’ve decided I’m going to try to keep the experiment running on a longer-term basis, alternating weeks with absolutely no sugar allowed. At the worst, I reason, I’ll cut my sugar consumption at least in half. Wish me luck, because next week is Thanksgiving and seeing as that always falls on a Thursday, that will be Day 1 of my next No Sugar Challenge Week.