What Happened When We Quit Sugar for a Month with Sweet Defeat

Three Essence dietitians (and several of our clients!) decided to commit to a full MONTH with no added sugars with our partner, Sweet Defeat for their SWEET DEFEAT 30 DAY SUGAR DETOX. At first, we hemmed and hawed about the length of the trial – a FULL month? Wouldn’t just FIVE DAYS be sufficient? How would we EVER not accidentally consume something with added sugars for that long? But then it dawned on us — we weren’t aiming for perfection here (we NEVER are – at Essence – ‘PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION’ is a central value!) and we thought to ourselves that using any probable deviations from the campaign would serve as a ‘teachable moment’ to our audience, and make us acutely aware of our more long-term patterns with added sugar consumption.

Now, you might surmise that this would be “easy” or “natural” for a herd of registered dietitians – don’t we just LIVE our entire lives with nary a grain of sucrose gracing our tongues? Um, we are HUMANS and subscribe to yet another central value at Essence – INTUITIVE EATING! SO; indeed, this WOULD prove more difficult than you would expect, because though our added sugar consumption is probably a microscopic fraction when compared to that of a “typical” person, it’s still present, and NO added sugar means NO added sugars! We’ll take you through each of our subjective stories; divided over the next few weeks’ posts.

Here were the rules we abide by:

  1. No alcohol (alcohol is metabolized rather efficiently into fat by the body and can have some deleterious effects on blood sugar; so we thought it best to avoid. PLUS it can trigger sugar cravings)
  2. No added sugar of any kind. That means no honey, no maple syrup, no dried fruits, no coconut sugar. Technically these aren’t artificial or man made, but we wanted to eliminate anything ‘extra’ that would lend sweetness to a dish or cause cravings.
  3. No artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners, as this would kind of be cheating, since they mimic sweet taste and can cause sugar cravings.
  4. Though not technically ‘added’ sugar, we wanted to avoid refined starch/grain/flours of any kind as they are rapidly metabolized to sugar by the body
  5. We insisted on including fruit. We never eliminate fruit from anybody’s diet (unless they have a fructose malabsorption issue!) because fruit is full of disease-protecting chemicals. It would be unhealthy, disordered, and really just plain stupid to eliminate fruit. Plus, avoiding mangos in the summer should be a criminal offense in Miami.
  6. We agreed to be as vigilant as possible; WE know all too well that added sugar is EVERYWHERE; even in your vegan organic grain free gluten free evil free neighborhood smoothie shop’s concoction; they are probably not using UNSWEETENED almond milk, and our favorite salad place is probably adding honey to their addictive ‘green goddess’ dressing…. So politely ignoring little things like that was not an option for us; we simply KNOW TOO MUCH (dramatic music).

 

Monica
I knew I wouldn’t have a hard time avoiding “desserts” – weirdly, I actually RARELY get sweet cravings and doubly weirdly – I’m not a huge fan of chocolate – I’ll choose a rhubarb pie or almond croissant any day over a brownie – but I knew added sugars lurk in MANY more places than brownies. I was more concerned about how my teeny little added sugar habits (namely, daily Manuka honey in my matcha) would affect my body and my brain. (Note: you CANNOT disconnect body and brain; that’s ANOTHER Essence tenet!)

Interestingly, my biggest challenge here was NOT avoiding decadent desserts or chocolates – but avoiding Manuka honey, Stevia and Monk Fruit! I will occasionally add a packet (or teaspoon of honey) of these (like, 2 a week, if that) into my plain yogurt or tea – so nixing that made for some VERY funky-tasting matcha. I had to switch to black tea, which is palatable without sweetener. AND IN FACT – now I PREFER it without sweetener (this just goes to show; taste perception can change over time!) However, matcha without sweetener remains downright disgusting. Additionally, because I work like a hound and am rarely near refrigeration long enough for a full fat plain yogurt afternoon snack to not spoil, I rely a couple times a week on some #essenceapproved bars that have Stevia in them. So it was REALLY hard for me to swap those out because they are SO terribly convenient – especially on days where I am at a professional stadium doing consulting in the late afternoons, because I love having nut butter and fruit at breakfast and prefer not to have even more in the afternoon (and yogurt isn’t an option since it’s refrigerated… as are kefir/labneh/guac/goat cheese which would be some other go-to afternoon snacks of mine).

Avoiding smoothies (not made by me) was another huge challenge, because I *know* that most places are using sweetened nut milks (or non-organic regular milk, which is not an ‘added sugar’ product but I REALLY try to avoid conventional milk when possible) and grabbing a customized smoothie on the road is another really helpful afternoon snack strategy of mine when I’m away from home from hours on end. SO – I did relent and have one of those bars twice (hey, not bad for an entire MONTH) at the ballpark where I was consulting, and though I felt a little deflated, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world and at least I was being CONSCIOUS about it! There was one afternoon where I was STARVING and had already been in traffic, was about to sit in more traffic, and the 94 degree ambient heat made me feel like a shriveled leaf, so I had to stop and get a ‘commercially’ made smoothie. It had almond milk, oats, almonds (I nearly had a heart attack when I saw they were using JIF peanut butter, which I originally ordered, so I yelped and made them just add almond slivers instead, thinking that was basically almond butter), cinnamon, and yogurt – but one sip and it was VILEly sweet; but the COLDNESS of it felt so good that I drank it; and I was so full after (~5 PM) that I didn’t get hungry until MIDNIGHT. This is what happens when you let hunger (and heat) get the best of you! Never mind the choice words I have for all of these “healthy” smoothie places that are tricking consumers into eating pancreatic poison, but that is neither here nor there!

Another issue for me – avoiding baking sweets. I’m a disappointing cook, but baking has always made sense to me since there are precise directions (and very little knife work; I’m a liability here.) Baking to me is a fun way to kill an hour here and there; and OBVIOUSLY I never bake with white flour, but I do use maple syrup, honey, and 85% dark chocolate. Since my husband isn’t as jazzed by almond flour blondies as I am, I usually end up freezing most of what I make and eating one per day as an afternoon snack for a bit. I scaled back on baking this month since I wouldn’t be able to eat any of my creations. A friend (who is a chef) actually came over on Day 12 and brought me some sea salt chocolate chip vegan cookies she made; and I promptly relocated them to the freezer – out of sight/out of mind is usually a helpful strategy for clients – so why not for me?

On Day 4 of the challenge, I had my first Miami Spice dinner out with friends. This is a prix fixe menu option during the summer months in Miami at fabulous some restaurants who lower their price points during this special event, so dessert is included. WOE does it pain me to avoid free food; so I had three bites of a ‘California Orange Dreamsicle’ which actually turned out to taste horrific so that was self-limiting; and I realized I only ate it because it was fiscally included and the other six people at the table were eating dessert. Had I not been able to guide myself through that logic, a Sweet Defeat would have been quite helpful. On my second Miami Spice dinner out with a group, I had a cup of tea and donated my dessert to my husband, who happily accepted it. Having tea + a Sweet Defeat lozenge in my purse #ICE (in case of emergency) became my secret weapon; it was hot, soothing, delicious, anti-inflammatory (all tea is!), and gave my mouth an occupation while everyone else at the table had dessert. Dessert in a group is largely a #fomo experience; so I triumphed psychologically over this one eventually after using the lozenges a couple of times. Also – since I’m so picky with desserts, it was easy for me to gloss over some of these dishes because I could literally sleep next to a fudge sundae and not want anything to do with it; luckily no almond croissants were included on these menus; so had they made an appearance I would have had my trusty Sweet Defeats in my purse to fall back on. The final ‘slip-up’ was a night when I had received some bad news, and my husband was out playing soccer, so I was alone with my UberEats app. Thing I learned: don’t order food when you are hungry and sad!! I got myself a pizza (to be fair, it’s artisanal, the dough is made in house, and it was LOADED with veggies), a side kale salad, and a burrata appetizer. So here is where I had my only white flour of the month, and honestly I think that’s pretty ‘balanced’ if it was just once over 30 days, but the issue was that an emotion instigated it, rather than an empowered state of mind. Sometimes our emotions can get the best of us. Imagine yourself as the driver of a car; you KNOW how to brake, but sometimes you tune out a bit; and WHAM you almost rear end someone; LUCKILY you have BRAKES in place (or in my case, a sensor that beeps viciously at me if I am going too fast too close to another car) – that’s your SweetDefeat. It’s your “mental” brake so you can actually take yourself through a mindful eating process versus cravings. Dietitians aren’t perfect! (Also: of note, it was extremely delicious, and I didn’t binge; I had a very normal portion.)

Something I noticed that I was craving tons of full fat Greek yogurt/skyr during this month. I’m not sure if it was because it’s abysmally hot outside and I wanted something cold and creamy, or because I had shifted this to my preferred afternoon snack since I wasn’t eating my own baked masterpieces. No nutritional drawback here; a whopper of calcium, vitamin D, probiotics, protein, and satiating fat in the afternoon with some berries, cinnamon, and hempseeds is fully #essenceapproved anyways.

THINGS I NOTICED AFTER THE CHALLENGE

I don’t make a habit of weighing myself, so I don’t believe anything has changed on that front, but I’ve definitely become VERY vigilant about reading labels and not turning a blind eye to ‘commercially’ prepared sauces/smoothies and assuming they aren’t using sugar (they are.) It makes me a little sad to think that even those with the best nutrition intentions are still at the mercy of our food environments, including myself! This challenge definitely made me consciously prepare more of my own meals, have eagle eyes on every label (a hummus even tricked me once; it had cane sugar listed in it and I didn’t realize it until I served it at a staff meeting and another Essence RD pointed it out! WHY are companies adding SUGAR into HUMMUS?!) I’ve realized that added sugar is NOT a necessity, it is NOT a right, and should be enjoyed as a mindful choice and privilege. You REALLY don’t NEED processed foods (i.e. bars) in your life, but our hectic schedules and convenience basically necessitate them, realistically, for many people. A Sweet Defeat lozenge’s most salient asset is its potential psychological effect; if I were someone who DID have cravings (of note: my husband ate a dulce de leche dipped in hazelnut chocolate popsicle in front of me for 20 minutes on a night out and I had nary a desire for a lick), I would expect that by the time the lozenge has worn off (about 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the person), you would have taken yourself through the mindful eating process enough to distinguish that a craving is largely emotional + environmental and you would find the strength to realize true hunger vs. untrue hunger and let that impress you and carry you into the future. Had I began this challenge from a ‘worse’ place with added sugar consumption (like I imagine most people are at!), I imagine the physical effects would be tremendous, though in my case, my added sugar consumption is rather small to begin with; my effects were largely mentally eye-opening. A client wrote me that she and her daughter were completing the challenge and that she was touched and joyous that her daughter was, for the first time despite having been taught previously , evidencing very nutritious eating choices and noting awareness about sugar, as a result of this challenge. Sweet Defeat propelled her to kickstart a healthier relationship with sweets. That was warming to hear; after all, education = power!

Oh, and not drinking was actually easy (had I been single; probably not). My husband and I calculated we probably saved about 200 dollars on booze this month (cocktails in Miami are EXPENSIVE!) so – THANK YOU, SWEET DEFEAT!

Stay tuned for our next blog post in the series to hear about Essence RD Michele’s experience…

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