2020 30-Day Minimalism Challenge

Monday, July 4, 2022

Sugar fasting...

A couple posts back I mentioned breaking a months-long sugar fast with a cherry cobbler made from cherries I'd picked from our own cherry tree ('cuz if there's a reason to break a sugar fast, making something from cherries from your own tree tops the list).  I was asked by one commenter if I had any advice to share about doing a sugar fast.  Turns out I have far more thoughts on the subject than Blogger would allow me to leave in a comment, so I decided to turn a response to the question into a post.

To minimize frustration I'm letting readers know first up that I'm turning comments off for this post.   While I love comments, and I like to respond to comments, I really don't enjoy engaging in conversations about diets, and what constitutes healthy eating.  I tend to find such conversations overwhelming (especially, if people are passionate) and sometimes downright tedious.  By turning off comments I'm also eliminating the opportunity for unwelcome advice.  And, hopefully, by letting you know up front you can't leave a comment, you'll read more freely knowing you don't have to spend time forming your thoughts for a response to something I've written.  If you feel compelled to correct, or add to something I've written, or even just tell me you found this post helpful, you can send me an e-mail through my profile.   But don't feel like you have to.  To be honest, I may or may not respond to an e-mail - for the same reasons I don't want to spend time responding to comments on this topic. :)

First off, let me say that I am no expert on the subject of fasting, let alone sugar fasting, but I've done this a few times now and I definitely have some helpful-to-me things I'm happy to share that I've only heard from very few sources.  Some of the things I've found helpful are not the most intuitive, and at least one thing is the exact opposite of what has become "common wisdom".   Curious?   If things I've learned or found to be helpful can help someone else, then I'm glad to share.

I was asked why I did a sugar fast, and the answer is simply that I periodically do a sugar fast (and diet soda fast, for that matter) purely for the sake of disciplining myself to get some control over an area that is out of control.  While some people lose weight with a sugar fast, I can't say that I ever have.  That's not to discourage you.  I just don't make losing weight part of the goal.  Conquering the addiction was the goal - and a sugar fast is a great way to do that.  

I want to say, too, that this time around I only fasted from what I call "overt sugars".  Desserts, candies, cookies, cakes...  sweet treats.  Sometimes I include all unrefined carbs such a fast, but this time I didn't.  That said, I noticed that I almost automatically avoided some things like pasta this time without outright declaring them part of the fast.  In fact, an interesting thing I've found is that periodically doing sugar fasts is that over time this practice has created an awareness of how often added sugar shows up in food, and I become more attuned to how refined carbs convert to sugar in our bodies, and how they affect me, personally.  Because of these things, it shouldn't be surprising that even when I'm not totally re-fined-carb-fasting when sugar-fasting, I eat fewer unrefined carbs in general during a sugar fast. 

A program where I learned much of what is below is based on cognitive behavior theory.  Though, in my estimation, it's mostly common sense.  The particular program I used was available years ago through my husband's work (it was part of an incentive program that was tied to the cost of insurance), AND it does not seem to be available at this time. I don't want to name it because I've seen that other programs have labeled themselves similarly and I don't want to lead someone to one of those.  They are not this.  That said, I suspect that some other, possibly well-known programs that exist today do use similar tools and techniques.  I'm just not personally acquainted with them.

While some of what I've written below may seem counter-intuitive, or go against the grain of common wisdom, if you're wired like me, some of these things will immediately resonate with you.  Some may not, but even if you doubt the effectiveness of any of the suggestions below, you have absolutely nothing to lose by trying them.  To be clear, some of the ideas below are simply what I do - in other words, they weren't learned as a part of a program.  As always, your mileage may vary.

Here we go... 

  • Getting ready to fast from sugar I think it's really helpful to try to understand why sugar has such a negative impact on our health and why it is so addictive.  I suggest watching some YouTube videos on the topic of sugar as a cause of inflammation (for starters).  Search out documentaries on sugar (on whatever streaming service you may use) and you'll likely find several. 

  • I believe pushing through sugar cravings is harder psychologically than it is physically, though I wouldn't deny some people suffer some short-term physical side effects of giving up addictive substances like sugar.  In the end, any physical side effects will only be uncomfortable, they will not harm you.
  • Once I make the decision to do a sugar fast, I set a period of time (usually a month or 40 days) that I will commit to it.  Interestingly, I've never done this and not gone well beyond the time frame I committed to.  Usually, once I've gone that far, I don't want to break the fast.  

  • I learned some years back to never tell myself lies about food.  For example, I don't tell myself or others, "I cannot have sugar" or that I can't eat this or that.  I don't make any negative statements to myself about any of this.  Not only is it unhelpful to put a negative twist on abstaining from things that are unhealthy, but the negativity typically contains lies.  The truth is, I can eat sugar (or sweets) anytime I want.  When I have the desire to eat sweets, I say something like this to myself:  "I'd like/love to eat [whatever it is], but I am choosing to be healthy instead (or in this moment)."  A statement like that takes the power away from the food (and from my addiction) and gives it squarely back to me.  I am in control of the moment, instead of feeling deprived and weak.  Note that I say this to myself.  I do not say this to other people - for various reasons (see next point). 

  • This next thing is probably my biggest tool when sugar fasting:  I don't (usually) tell anyone that I'm doing this while I'm doing it.  That itself is a motivator for me.  I know the "common wisdom" says to bring people on board with your plan, or that being accountable to someone else aids a person in sticking to a goal like this, but I have learned over the years that this isn't necessarily true.  I've also experienced, in many ways, other people subtly (though probably not intentionally) sabotage my efforts.  While some may balk at this piece of advice of keeping this a secret, I suggest trying it.  You might be surprised.  And it certainly can't hurt anything. I find the longer I can go without mentioning that I'm abstaining from sugar, the stronger my will grows.  It almost becomes like a game of "how long can I keep this going?"

  • Of course, if you're living with anyone, eventually, your people will catch on, but I have found I can carry on with this sugar fast for quite a while - sometimes couple of weeks before it becomes obvious.  Even at that point and beyond, I try to go about my business quietly abstaining from sugar.  As best as I can, I try not to bring the subject up. As the main shopper of groceries, I do not buy sweet stuff during a sugar fast so that hopefully minimizes how often the topic will come up, or how noticeable it is that I'm abstaining.  In my case, if Hub brings up that he'd really like a particular sweet thing, I acknowledge the statement with a nod and maybe an affirming sound, but I don't engage in conversation about it.  If pressed, I will say something simple like "I'd like that too, but I'm trying to not buy sweets right now."  Or I remind Hub that he can buy it if he'd like. 
  • I can see how this may feel trickier with kids, especially if desserts are a matter of course in your house.  Hub grew up with regular desserts, I did not.  I, instead, grew up with a small grocery store next door, and a drug store a block away that I could run to every time I had enough change in my pocket to buy some candy.  I quickly learned to like Hub's family's way of a dessert with pretty much every meal, but knowing it wasn't a good idea, I would have periods where I went back to my upbringing, and only offered a dessert on occasion.   When I had kids at home, and I was suddenly not buying things they were used to seeing in the house, I would be more direct with them, recognizing a teaching moment, and that I was influencing them and their future.   I wish I had done this type of thing more when they were young, but I've noticed each of my sons periodically go on different "fasts" and overall, they seem healthier than I was at their age, so maybe I did something right.

  • I also resist the urge to offer explanations or apologies for taking a pass on dessert when I'm dining with others.  I just say a nice (as opposed to a pained) "no thank you", or nothing at all if a thank you isn't required.  It took me ages to realize no one owes anyone an explanation about such things.  A polite person wouldn't go on about something served them that they hated.  I've come to see that it's just as polite to not go on about passing up something I'd love to have, but am choosing not to eat.  I let others enjoy their dessert, while I enjoy my little secret, knowing I'll be happier with myself later for it.  

  • I don't substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar during a sugar fast.  Aside from some questionable health risks of some artificial sweeteners (admits she who loves ice cold Diet Pepsi), the reason I don't substitute artificial sweeteners when I'm on a sugar fast is because that would negate what I'm trying to do - to discipline (or train) myself to not crave sweets.  Substituting artificial sweeteners during a sugar fast just continues the desire and addiction to sweet stuffs.  Not to mention there are some seriously uncomfortable side effects when overdoing some artificial sweeteners.  

  • Once I've gone a week or so, I start to feel so good about not having eaten sugar for THAT long, not breaking the track record becomes the motivation to continue.

  • Another (very nonintuitive to me) thing I've learned is to build resistance by allowing myself to contemplate eating a sugar-ladened thing and create a momentary craving - actively practicing this for a week or two early in the fast.  In fact, when I do this I buy myself a single-serving sized sweet treat (like a bag of Peanut M&Ms).  For several days (or for as long as it helps), a few times throughout a day I pick up the bag, stare it down, feel the crave (create a crave even), then say, "I'd really want to eat this, but I am going to choose health."  In doing this, I've learned I can experience a craving and not give into it.  I've learned a craving is not nearly as fearsome a thing as I think it is.  If we learn that we can feel uncomfortable for a moment, the moment will pass. 
  • This point goes along with the point above, but it is so important I decided to separate it out so it doesn't get missed.   In the moment of the craving, I do not replace or try to pacify the craving with a healthier snack.  In that moment, substituting something else for the unhealthy thing doesn't build resistance, it feeds (or attempts to feed) the craving.  And as we all know, the craving is never really satisfied - either by giving into it, or by substituting something else.  It is really important to understand that feeling the crave and realizing I don't have to give into it is what builds resistance.

  • I try not to snack - especially in the early days of sugar fasting, but I do try to add healthier food options to my days.  I try to eat more nuts, and proteins.  I fill my plate with more healthy veggies.  And I have learned that eating my salad (or saving some to eat) at the end of the meal instead of at the beginning or alongside whatever else is my meal, often leaves me feeling more satisfied. 

  • While I try not to snack during this time where I'm disciplining myself regarding sugar cravings, let me say that the first year of COVID seriously altered our way of eating - I think for good.  Hub and I tend to only eat two meals a day anymore.  Many days that is plenty of food, but some days, especially lately when we've been more active outside, we do get hungry between those two meals, so we'll grab something easy to eat mid-day.  In a sense, these are snacks, but I try to keep nuts, and easy proteins for eating when true hunger strikes and I'm not wanting to make a meal.  Easy proteins for me are nuts, cheese, sometimes canned meat, even a bowl of cereal that has nuts in it (I really like Great Grains Crunchy Pecan).  Or I'll eat a leftover protein from a prior meal.

Of course, we all know to drink plenty of water and to exercise.  And hopefully, the real goal is to eat better overall.   It's great to have a hobby or an activity to do to keep oneself busy and distracted from rummaging through the fridge and pantry out of sheer boredom.  The above points don't make up an exhaustive list of things I do when I attempt to reign in addictions to unhealthy foods, but these things have been most helpful to me.  

I know the struggle is real and I hope I've provided some encouragement with these things that have been my greatest helps.  Giving this topic this much time makes me consider that I might start posting some recipes I enjoy that are also (relatively) healthy.  And I'll try to remember to post new food-related things that I have a mind to try (as I try them).

If you hung around to the end of this long post, thank you!  I will back soon with comments turned on.