The Month Without Sugar is. . . Proof I’m Not in Control (Part Two of Two)

. . . by week two, the wheels had fallen off my August resolution.  So why was I eating that wedding cake and all those s’mores?  [from Part One of Two]

What happened when those desserts kept coming?  There were, of course, the voices in my head that said:  “No, Meredith, you can’t have this ice cream!” and “Bad Meredith, why are you eating a donut?”  And worse:  “Meredith, you are disappointing not only yourself with this brownie, but everyone who reads your writing!”  It felt like exactly the way you screw up a blog:  by making grand pronouncements about what you’re going to do and why it’ll be oh-so-interesting – and then changing your mind along the way.  Due to my Wedding Diet commitment, the voices came up stronger and louder than I’ve ever heard a chorus of self-blaming, dessert-shunning voices sound.

I set forth the goal of trying a new limitation each month and reporting back on how it went.  It was going to be a beautiful little lifestyle project.  I thought that whatever I chose for the month, it would be reasonable to control just that one thing:  not eating sugar, or dairy, or whatever.  It’s not that I didn’t have the willpower; I’ve been doing P90X every day and eating better than I ever have.  In fact, I lost seven pounds this last month.  And it’s not that I didn’t have the mindfulness; I’ve been increasingly conscious of what I eat and when I eat it.  But beyond the challenges I cited last week, the reality is that life didn’t fit into my perfectly symmetrical plan.  Life happened, it happened differently from what I expected, and I couldn’t control it.

While I was supposed to focus on eliminating sugar, I suddenly felt myself drawn to counting calories.  I don’t know why.  I’ve never done it before.  I just resonated with exercising discipline around food in a different way; I went from focusing on limitation to playing with allocation.

Being open to shifting my approach was freeing in many ways.  Limitation – the central idea behind the Wedding Diet – put me in a place of saying a categorical ‘no’ to some foods while giving others a weak ‘sure, but I’ll probably give it up next month.’  The result was that there was a halo of ‘no’ around most foods.  This created a collectively negative way of seeing food.  Playing an allocation game, on the other hand, was much more positive.  I could eat all sorts of things, but there were bounds to what moderation meant.

I expected that I would achieve greater awareness of my body and a sustainable approach to eating by following The Wedding Diet For The Rest Of Your Life.  So much of me wants to shoehorn my life back into that perfect project plan that I made for it.  But when I take a broader view, I see that I’m achieving the outcome I wanted, just via a different path.  If thinking about allocation instead of limitation works for me, why would I deny that insight?  I feel great, and I’ve been able to do that while eating cake at weddings.

And so the month without sugar has also became the month without control.  I can set ambitions, but I don’t always have perfect control over how I get there.  But if I can live with that human messiness, maybe what I realized in this month without sugar can also push me in the direction of greater self-love and growing connection to my body – what I searching for all along.


The Month Without Sugar is. . . Exhausting (Part One of Two)

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).