I’ve always loved sugar, but our relationship is a rather abusive one. I don’t eat just one Krispy Kreme, one Reese’s cup, or one scoop of ice cream. I eat half the package. Or to paraphrase Louis C.K.: I don’t eat sugar until I’m full; I eat until I hate myself.
It’s a wonder that sugar hasn’t affected my generally strong health. But after reading two eye-opening books by Gary Taubes about the pernicious effects of sugar and (to a lesser extent) grains, I decided to do something about it.
Deciding is the easy part, of course. Following-through—in a world swimming with sugar and grains—is the hard part.
In Better Than College I described an accountability strategy (adapted from the website Stickk.com) for following through on tough goals. The key parts of the strategy include:
- choosing a very specific goal
- putting a significant amount money on the line
- choosing a destination where your money will go if you fail: a friend, charity, or “anti-charity”
- enlisting a trusted “referee” who will monitor your progress, ensure that you don’t cheat, and ensure that your money does go away if you fail
For such a formidable opponent as sugar addiction, I decided that I needed to take this strategy seriously. I began with a specific, ambitious goal:
I will eat no sugar or grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc.) for one month.
Then I sent a $500 check to the wilderness non-profit that my friend Morgan works for:
To be clear, I needed this $500. I didn’t just have $500 to throw into the wind. But I also felt that my goal was important enough to justify a potential $500 loss. And if I was going to lose $500, then I wanted it to go somewhere that I felt good about.
Finally, I enlisted my girlfriend Brenna as my trusted referee. Brenna sees through me like a glass window. If I were to cheat, she’d find out about it. And if that were to happen, Brenna promised to e-mail Morgan and tell her to cash the check.
The trap was set. But would it work?
I won’t save the punch line. Yes, it worked. This morning I met my goal, and Morgan tore up the check.
So what was it like to give up sugar and grains for a month?
- My body composition didn’t notably change. (I allowed myself plenty of root vegetables and fresh fruit, so it wasn’t a low-carb diet.)
- I ate less total food.
- I shopped exclusively on the outer edges of the grocery store, and my shopping list shrunk dramatically (see below).
- I cooked more and spent more money on quality, pasture-raised meat and fresh vegetables.
My biggest takeaway was a general sense of equanimity. My daily hunger cravings—those which made many meals feel like an emergency—virtually disappeared. Sugar no longer held a strong grip over my psyche. When it did rear its ugly head, Brenna whipped up a magical sugar-free parfait like the one pictured above (see recipe at bottom).
Spending a month away from my constant, gnawing sugar (and refined grain) addiction gave me a reference point by which to judge my future eating. Now I know, from experience, what it feels like to have balanced blood sugar levels. I know that I can walk away from my addiction if I want to. And I know that the momentary pleasure of a Krispy Kreme donut is not worth $500 when my health is concerned. Those are true assets.
Of course, I’m not giving up on sugar. We go back too far. Here’s the stash that awaited me this morning (thank you, post-Easter discount candy):
The battle continues.
Blake’s 30-day grocery list
DAIRY: Eggs, Shredded Mexican cheese, Heavy cream, Cheese for snacking + salad
PRODUCE: Kale, Spinach, Salad greens, Onion, Peppers, Veggies for salad, Avocado, Fruit for snacking, Veggies for dinner
NONPERISHABLES: Salad dressing, Coconut oil, Parmesan cheese, nuts for snacking, nutritional yeast
MEAT: Niman Ranch sausages, Grass fed ground beef, local bacon (breakfast, salad), local chicken breast, local dinner meats
Brenna’s sugar-free parfait
Bottom layer: Unsweetened chocolate, cream cheese, and cooked banana, blended.
Middle layer: Peanut butter, cream cheese, and cooked banana, blended.
Top layer: Unsweetened whipped cream.
Raw walnuts and banana slices go between each layer. Garnish with banana slices. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.