Monday, January 23, 2012

My Grand Sugar Experiment

Every year I give up something for Lent. For me it has been more about seeing how many ways I can challenge myself and less to do with religion. For instance, one Lent I gave up alcohol for 40 days. I learned that I should never do that. :) Just kidding.

Actually what I learned from that is that it's easy to become fixated on what you can't have. My wife got fixated on beer when she was pregnant, and she doesn't even like beer.

Here's a short list of things that I gave up (not permanently, just for 40 days):
  • Red meat (pork and beef)
  • Meat (anything that isn't a plant)
  • Sweets
  • Dating (not really an option since I just didn't date that much)
  • Alcohol (I found that I started eating a lot of fermented pears at this time)
  • Refined sugar
Of all the things I gave up, the one that seemed to have a profound effect was the removal of refined sugar from my diet. It's an exercise that really opened my eyes as to what sugar was doing to me and what little choice I had in eating it.

In case you didn't know, refined sugar is EVERYWHERE! It's in bread, ketchup, chili, chicken soup, hot dogs, cereal, granola, cranberries, microwave popcorn, chips, Cheetos (so sad), etc. In my first few days of my attempt, I nearly starved because all my usual foods were unavailable to me. Seriously, just take five food items out of your pantry and read the label. I'm going to guess that at least one of them has sugar.

The first few days were tough. Soon I started to notice that I had fewer dips in my energy level. When I woke up in the morning, I was alert. In contrast when I had sugar close to bed time, I would wake up really groggy. I do remember the day after Lent I had a brownie. It was a weird feeling as I swear I could feel the sugar course through my veins and my pulse quicken. Maybe I was excited to have the brownie after 40 days, or maybe it was just more sugar than anybody should have at one time. Probably a little bit of both.

Well as New Years Day 2012 approached, I had this idea. Instead of 40 days, why don't I try giving up refined sugar for a year? Let's see what happens. Crazy? Yes, but why not? My wife decided that she wanted to try it too. It's great that I have a partner in this. So here are the rules.
  • Avoid refined sugar (synonyms: sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice)
  • Natural sugar sources are okay (e.g. honey, maple syrup). Sparingly!
  • Refined sugar is only allowed: once a week, hard workout days, and birthdays.
That's it.

I'm almost a month into it and I have only had refined sugar twice: two birthdays. I had a bunch of heavy workout days, but opted for fruit juice. I feel pretty good. I've even skipped my weekly allowance just because I didn't feel the need.

Do I miss it. Of course I do. I miss chocolate most of all. I miss getting up during lunch meetings to get my cookie or brownie. I miss eating all of those things with coffee. I miss talking to the admin who always gives me dark chocolate Kit Kats. When you eat dessert with people, you feel like you are part of a special club. I miss that.

I don't miss the dips in energy or the morning headaches. I'm rediscovering unprocessed foods. I find my sugar fix can come from one single Medjool Date, an apple, or some other fruit. I can taste the sweetness in an almond or a glass of milk. There are flavors that were once muted but are now becoming more pronounced. That is exciting.

On top of that I'm training for an Iron distance triathlon. I'm most interested to see how this change in diet will affect my fitness. I have high hopes.

Well, I still have just under 50 weeks to go. I'll keep you posted.

Oh yeah... I gave up coffee too.