No Buying Sugar for a Year – Plus Thoughts on Designing Goals

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One of my goals for 2018 is to not buy sugar.  This isn’t about having a hard-core goal that is some sensational story to blog about: “I went one year without eating any sugar.  Here’s what happened!”  Nope.  There is nothing hard core about it when I’m allowed to eat desert at my friend’s house or bake a cake for my son’s birthday.  But it’s the sort of thing that is realistic and that has the potential to be maintained for many years after this.

It’s important to have powerful reasons for pursuing a goal.  So, I’ll start with my reasons:  

  • My sugar addiction was taking over.  I was constantly craving sugar.  I felt obsessed.
  • Eating way too many Costco cheesecakes, donuts, sweet cereal, and tons of other sweet stuff.
  • Not losing the baby weight.
  • Knowing that how I eat affects the people around me too- baby B directly as he’s breastfeeding, but also as he sees my behavior.  And S directly too as I do almost all of the grocery shopping.
  • Becoming increasingly aware of research showing the bad effects of eating sugar- heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and lots of other yucky stuff.  (I won’t get into details or siting research here: you can Google about it if you want.)
  • The first several months of motherhood have been absolutely amazing in many ways, but the effects on my diet is not one of those ways.  After baby B was born, my sleep schedule was crazy, my hormones were out of whack, and I felt extremely hungry due to the caloric requirements of breastfeeding.  I was turning to sweet snacks at all hours.  (Sleep plays a huge part in food cravings.)
  • Knowing that eating sugar causes spikes in blood sugar, insulin production to counter those strikes followed by a drop in blood sugar and more sugar cravings.  Basically one awful cycle.
  • Striving for a healthy diet can be difficult.  There is little agreement even in what is healthy.  Processed sugar is not recommended as healthy by any of the different camps.  It has no nutrients and no nutritional benefits.  So it seems like the perfect place to start (or the perfect thing to end) in pursuing healthier eating.

I have very specific rules for my goal.  The reason for this is that it’s much easier to have goals with very well-defined guidelines.  This means that there is no gray area about what is OK or not.  There are no decisions to be made because you already know whether or not something is OK.

What’s Out (Lots of obvious stuff)

  • Refined sugar in all it’s forms: honey, syrup, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar.
  • Products that contain the above, with a few exceptions listed below.
  • Sweets: cheesecake, ice cream, donuts, cake, pie, cinnamon rolls, etc.
  • Jellies and jams
  • Cereal with any amount of sugar in it

What’s In (Sugar is pervasive in our culture and many items that don’t seem like they should have sugar do.  I am not looking to make this super hard on myself, so some things that aren’t really intended to be sweets but commonly have some sugar in them are OK.  So bagels are fine, but cinnamon raisin bagels that are intended to be sweet aren’t.)

  • Bread, tortillas, bagels
  • Tomato sauce
  • Bacon and lunch meat
  • Fruit

What’s Grey

Grey areas are BAD when it comes to making good goals.  But fruit juice is the one thing that is still in a grey area for me.  It’s not out-right banned, but I don’t want to buy and drink lots of juice just because it’s delicious and sweet and everything else is out.

The main rule is simple: no buying this stuff on the what’s out list or ordering it at restaurants.  This isn’t meant to be about having to use lots of will power or to make my life more complicated.

But there are a few fine details:

It’s OK for me to buy sugar for others.  if I’m buying and somebody else orders a soda at lunch, it’s OK for me to buy their soda.  This isn’t about forcing my decisions on others or being socially weird.

It’s OK to eat the sugar that is already in the house.  And there is a surprising amount of it – syrup, honey, powdered sugar, chocolate syrup, a couple of half-eaten dark chocolate bars, some sugar cubes, and a little bit of good old-fashioned refined white sugar.   The sugar that is in the house will slowly disappear and it won’t be replaced.  (The brown sugar is already all gone, the syrup bottle doesn’t have much left, the chocolate syrup is on the decline.  Mmmm… chocolate milk.)

It’s OK to eat sugar that is provided at other people’s houses.  If I go to eat at somebody’s else’s house and desert is served, I’m under no obligation to decline.

There are also six special occasions that are exempt: three birthdays and three other special occasions.  This is not about depriving baby B of cake when he turns one.

The design

I have very carefully chosen all of the rules for this.  I have had different goals throughout my life and I’ve tried to pay lots of attention to which strategies work for me and which don’t.  It’s important to keep in mind that different strategies work for different people.  Maybe some of my strategies would work for you and maybe not.  What I want to convey to you, my reader, is that it’s important to tailor your goals to the strategies that work for you and experiment with different strategies if you don’t know what works for you.

I know that my will power is limited.  I have a lot going on in my life and I don’t want to be spending my will power on my diet choices multiple times a day.  By deciding to not buy sugar, the times when will power is required are limited to when I’m at the store or at a restaurant.

What I buy is the single biggest influence on my diet.  If I’m looking in the fridge for a snack, I can’t eat something that isn’t there.

I need something that is a slow, meaningful, long-term change. I did a Whole30 a few years back and it left me feeling amazing. (In a nutshell- no sugar, no dairy, no grains, no preservatives.  Lots of veggies, meat, eggs, fish, healthy fat and a little fruit.  No cheating.  30 days.)  It did change the way I thought about food and the way I ate for  along time.  But sugar slowly crept back into my diet and eventually took over again.  I know other people that have done Whole30s and once the 30 days is up, the sugar starts creeping back in for them too.

I don’t need something like a 30 day reset.  I need something much longer.  Maybe even more than a year, but we’ll see how things are at the end of the year.  Hopefully my habits have changed enough by then that I just sort of continue on with much-reduced sugar consumption in my life.  Maybe I’ll continue on with these same rules after the year is up.

One month in

This first month has been less of an extreme change than I expected, largely due to the large amount of sugar products lurking around the house.  It has been a gradual change.  There is still a lot of sugar in my diet, but as we use up the sweet things around the house, it is decreasing.

I have already noticed some subtle differences.  When I do eat sugar, I am more mindful about eating it, savoring it and really enjoying it.  There was a small bottle of root beer in the fridge that S and I split the other day.  I poured it into a couple of glasses with ice for us.  I really enjoyed drinking it.  It felt like a healthy way to have sugar: a small amount that I consciously savored.  It was very different than compulsively eating three giant pieces of cheesecake in a day.

I had too much sugar and not enough real food at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and it left me feeling sick.  I took this as a healthy sign that my body is adjusting to less sugar.

One of the special occasions that is exempt was yesterday.  I bought a cheesecake for it the day before.  S and I did not completely devour the cheesecake in two days.  We did each have a slice of it the day I bought it rather than waiting for the day it was for.  I have not had more than one slice in a day.  It is a distractingly tempting thing to have in the fridge and I’d like to have a piece for breakfast.  I’ll have some sort of real food instead though because I am being more mindful of my sugar consumption.  Once it’s gone, I will be unreasonably sad but also relieved.

For now, I am off to have not-cheesecake for breakfast.   Some time in the next year, I’ll try to provide an update on how this is going.  In the mean time, I hope that I’ve encouraged you to think carefully about what sorts of strategies work for you when you make goals.

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