As far as I’m concerned, sugar might as well be pixie dust. For as long as I can remember, it’s cast a magic spell over my taste buds.
I’ve loaded a spoon with the granulated white crystals and eaten it straight out of the paper sack. I’ve licked an entire batch’s worth of cookie dough out of the bowl. I’ve mindlessly unpeeled a dozen candy wrappers in one sitting.
My “sweet tooth” is the endearing excuse I’ve used for years to justify anything from seconds on shortcake to eating ice cream for dinner.
This obsession reached a new level when I entered college: the dessert-lover’s dreamland. While my parents had rarely kept desserts around at home, college cafeteria tables boasted a constant supply of cookies, cakes and other confections. Candy and junk food lurked in every dormitory hall.
The more I ate, the more I craved. I had developed a sugar addiction, a phenomenon documented as causing reactions similar to that of drugs or alcohol. I frequently felt tired and sluggish when I didn’t have my sugar “fix.” Some research revealed that compared to the amount I should eat, my sugar consumption had been off the charts.
In fact, most Americans go crazy on the sweet stuff, whether they realize it or not. The average American now consumes a shocking 23 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s nearly four times the daily recommended maximum for women and over two and a half times the maximum for men.
Sugar is not only in our desserts and drinks, but in all sorts of processed foods — from bread to salad dressing. Our nation’s current sugar consumption — some estimate it as ten times that of 200 years ago — has been linked to a surge in diabetes and obesity.
It was time to slash the sugar. While I had already slowed down on some sweets, in the spring I realized that in order to truly reform my diet, I needed to go cold turkey. That meant no sugar — including honey and artificial sweeteners — for six whole weeks.
As with any new challenge, the first week was the hardest. For several days, I felt tired and moody. I yearned for something — anything — to dull the cravings. Fortunately, while the phase was difficult, it proved to be short, only lasting a few days. That’s fairly typical — a California study showed that cravings usually subside within the first week of ditching sugar; for half of the participants they ended within just two to three days.
When the inevitable cravings came, I discovered how to control them — without relying on willpower alone.
My best defense? Fruit, also known as “nature’s candy.” Apples, oranges and melon provided a sweet element for my meals or a midday pick-me-up. And although fruit should be eaten in moderation since it contains sugars, they’re packaged with fiber — which helps the body to digest them so the blood sugar won’t spike — and loads of vitamins.
Fruit wasn’t the only food I began to appreciate more. When I no longer rushed through meals to reach a sugary finale, I started to enjoy spices and savory flavors more fully. I no longer needed a dessert to finish a meal on a satisfying bite.
Tasting the Difference
When the two-week mark passed, I had formed habits that made sugar-free living much simpler. No longer did I stop to peruse the dessert buffet, but walked around it. The pesky cravings for sugar-filled refined foods like cereal and pastries had been replaced by cravings for a hearty omelet or sizzling stir fry. Even fast food had become less appealing.
The sugar-free life was not without challenges. Social situations and celebrations created especially difficult dilemmas. Yet the challenge actually boosted my willpower, preventing me from caving in the moment. I wasn’t going to undo two sugar-less weeks for one measly cookie!
Most importantly, I felt better. My overall energy levels increased. I found that I could function and concentrate more efficiently in classes. My mood improved. My skin even became noticeably clearer.
When the last week was up, I discovered that part of me didn’t even want to stop. I no longer missed sugar — I was doing just fine without it. While that may seem strange, some sugar addicts at Buzzfeed who undertook same challenge shared this sentiment in a video documenting their experiences. It shows that we don’t actually need sugar to have delicious, satisfying diets.
Perhaps the most surprising result of my experiment was my how it “reset” my palette. I could taste sugar in foods that I couldn’t detect before. When I first tried frosting again, I couldn’t believe how grossly sweet it seemed. In the earlier study, 95 percent of the subjects said that the foods and drinks they used to consume now tasted “sweeter or too sweet.”
Yes, I still eat sugar, just less of it. And yes, I still enjoy it — maybe even more than I used to.
That’s because I’m more selective in which desserts I choose to eat. For me, a rich, fudgy brownie is the ultimate treat. A package of store-bought cookies, on the other hand, only gives a cheap sugar spike without the same satisfaction. Dietary discretion doesn’t rob my dinner-time joy, I discovered, but improves it.
Life should be sweet. And maybe life is actually sweeter with a little less sugar.