Note: The is the August installment (aka, The Month Without Sugar) of The Wedding Diet (For the Rest of Your Life).
Ahh, the month without sugar. Unlike the month without dairy, I frankly didn’t expect much of a challenge this month. I’ve never had a sweet tooth, and I would always choose a bag of chips over a candy bar. That said, August was plenty tough and highly insightful. In fact, there’s so much to say at the end of this month that I’m cutting it into two posts. My realizations after swearing off sugar:
First, sugar is elusive – and pervasive. I fielded a lot of hard-to-answer questions as I started this month: “Are you giving up sweets, fruit, or both?” “What about sugar as an additive?” “Do you count agave?” “What about corn syrup?” “Are you ready to spend a third of your life reading labels?” At the beginning I’ll admit that I didn’t have a sophisticated plan of attack; I thought I’d simply take sugar out as I had done with dairy. But as I started down that path, I realized how near impossible that would be. It’s not only white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, demerara sugar, and the other straight-forward sugars that are in question. No, in just my first trip to the grocery store, I realized the many other names that sugar takes. Not only does sugar masquerade as high fructose corn syrup (made from corn instead of cane, but with similar effects), it goes by evaporated cane juice as well. “Organic evaporated cane juice?” you say? “Isn’t that essentially organic…juice? It sounds so good for you!” But alas, whether they evaporate it, centrifuge it, or crystallize it, it is indeed sugar. And that culprit is in basically every organic processed food product lining the Whole Foods shelves. While I set high ambitions, I ended up scaling them back to the easiest of all possible paths (avoiding sugar-focused items, but allowing added sugar and fruits) within only the first few days. Even though I took the least rigorous path, it would still get tougher because…
Second, sugar helps us share meaningful experiences with others. Do you want a slice of my birthday cake? Will you commiserate with me over a bowl of ice cream? Will you have a cookie that my aunt made? If alcohol is a social lubricant that eases awkwardness, sugar is the ingredient that punctuates the highs and lows of life. Every time something is particularly celebratory, there’s sugar (birthday cake! wedding cake! every other type of cake!). Every time something is particularly sad, there’s sugar (the proverbial pint of ice cream at a break-up). We make and share sweets to show our love, affection, or friendship, as symbolized by the cupcakes offered me by a friend at work. We find solace in sweets when the day is done. Whatever the occasion, avoiding sugar felt tantamount to denying the most meaningful moments of life. This month alone I faced multiple wedding cakes, a birthday ice cream social, and ritualistic Labor Day s’mores around the campfire. For someone who is not only an extrovert (ENTP for those of you playing along with Myers-Briggs at home), but also so focused on meaning, this was a crushing challenge. It wasn’t the sugar itself, but instead what the sugar meant that ruined it. It’s near impossible to celebrate with equal fervor (or have other people see you as sincerely participating) when they’re all eating cake and you’re munching on kale.
So, my overall conclusion? Due to both the practical difficulty of avoiding its many incarnations and the social tax of giving it up, avoiding sugar is exhausting for me.
But let’s be honest. Those weren’t the big insights this time around. I had figured out both of these realities by the end of week one. And by week two, the inherent difficulty of giving up sugar and the social implications of limiting it were not the only things that made the wheels fall off this resolution. Aside from both of these, something else was going on as well.
To be continued in Part Two (coming later this week).