Editor’s note: I accidentally misfired this post last Thursday, when it wasn’t quite done. I’m sorry to those of you who are seeing this for the second time. It’s now complete—and actually edited this time around. I even changed the title to dupe you into reading a second time – Jorie
I think I am a sugar addict. I could go weeks—months!—without French fries, potato chips, and other salty snacks. But I have a weakness for sweets (inherited no doubt from my chocolate-loving dad). This past holiday season, I found myself constantly thinking about my next sweet treat. A mini pack of Skittles here, a brownie there, a few homemade Christmas cookies after dinner…so my day went. And I was worried it was adding up.
As I lugged myself into work in early January, mired in the post-holiday blues, a co-worker of mine named Krista casually mentioned that she had given up added sugars for the past couple days.
She had pricked my writing team’s collective ears. Together, we lamented our poor holiday diets and discussed how beneficial a sugar detox would be. My co-worker Susie piped in with an idea: “Hey. Let’s make it a competition.”
And that’s how I got looped (willfully) into a 21-day sugar detox.
First, a disclaimer: this had nothing to do with losing weight or dieting. The detox was about internal health and breaking the cycle of addiction to added sugars.
We began on January 4 at 11 a.m. and the challenge officially ended three weeks later on January 24 at 11 a.m.
Here were the ground rules:
- no added sugars (not even the “fake” sugars like Nutrisweet, Splenda, Sweet n’ Low, Truvia, Stevia, agave, brown sugar, et al, cheaters!)
- no baked goods of any kind (muffins, cakes, cookies, scones, croissants, pastries, donuts, brownies, ice cream, etc)
- no candy or gum
- no syrup (bye bye, luxurious weekend brunches)
- no soda or diet soda, tonic, fruit juices, or fruity alcoholic drinks
Foods that were okay:
- healthy cereals that still contain a bit of sugar (because nearly all do)
- all fruits
- anything else that didn’t contain added sugars
And here were the stakes: we decided if all five of us made it the full 21 days, we’d chip in $5 each and buy something fun to share. Whoever caved and ate sugar would have to forfeit her $5 to the pot—and if there was one sole victor, she’d win all the money.
That first afternoon, when my usual sugar craving kicked in at 3 p.m., I actually found myself rationalizing, “Oh, come on. Everything in moderation. This detox is stupid. I’m not addicted!”
Ah, but that was the sugar—or lack thereof—talking. Sugar addicts can rationalize with the best of ‘em.
Later, Krista came back to her desk after a coffee run. “You know,” she said, a twinkle in her eye. “I just thought to myself, ‘How will they ever know if I add a sugar packet to my coffee? How will they know?’” Alas, we’re an honest bunch, so I suspect no one cheated.
Each night, I’d discover that my most intense sugar cravings would come post-dinner. I had trained my body to expect some type of dessert after a savory dinner. I reached for fresh fruit, raisins, and rice cakes with peanut butter to satisfy the sugar urge.
That worked for an, um, embarrassingly short time. Do you know how long I lasted?
FIVE DAYS. That’s it. Five days! I was at a memorial service on the eve of the fifth day—it had been about eight hours since lunch so I was famished—and I wound up next to a platter of soft, gooey cookies. My willpower was non-existent. I ate an M & M cookie. I didn’t even feel guilty; I felt downright gleeful.
I promptly returned within the half hour and ate three more (two chocolate chip and one double chocolate, if you’re interested). Yowza. Big tree fall hard, right?
This is the email I sent to my coworkers at 10 p.m. that evening:
I’M OUT I ATE FOUR COOKIES I’M A MONSTER DON’T LOOK AT ME
One by one, my team members fell. We had a victor, who made it the full 21 days, so hats off to Lisa. Proof that the detox worked: after the challenge, she had a tiny chocolate square from our work candy stash and could only eat half of it. She said it was overwhelmingly sweet. (!)
The take-home message: sugar is in everything. It’s hiding in “healthy” snack bars, slinking around in fruit juices, and holing up in seemingly healthy cereals. And apparently, added sugars are just terrible for your health.
I failed the 21-day sugar detox challenge. Yet even my meager five-day sugar-free jaunt opened my eyes to the ubiquity of sugar. I’m a far cry from reformed, but I’ve swapped out the two daily packets of Splenda that I plunked into my coffee for the one all-natural Truvia packet. I’ve never been much of a pop drinker, but I’ve been actively avoiding it recently. I only baked once in the month of January—versus the once a week I was averaging toward the end of 2012. And I still have my unsweetened and dried mango chunks, raisins, and rice cakes that I’m trying to reach for after dinner instead of a chocolatey sweet (Struggle City, Population: Me).
Interested in the 21-day sugar detox challenge? Here are some motivating links:
- The benefits of cutting sugar (includes preventing diseases, having healthier teeth, and maintaining your figurrrre)
- Completely non-scientific quiz: Are You Addicted to Sugar? (you don’t want to know my score)
- And because there is no motivator like good old-fashioned fear, What Eating Too Much Sugar Does To Your Brain