Thursday, October 25, 2012

30 Days Without Sweets

In May 2011, my doctor told me I was "one blood test away" from a Type II diabetes diagnosis. It was a wake-up call. Over the next year, I lost 35 pounds. But since May, I've been stuck, losing and regaining the same next 5 pounds. Something had to change. And I didn't have to look far to know what: I'd long since trimmed a lot of excess fat from the whole family's day-to-day diet, so it wasn't fat, but I have killer sweet tooth.

So I committed to give up sweets for 30 days. By sweets, I mean things that are basically a vehicle for refined sugars and fats, with no significant nutritional value: cookies, candy, cake, ice cream... I did not scrutinize labels for hidden sugars - I took a more "I know a sweet when I see it" approach. Fruit, I continued to eat, indeed ate more - in fruit, Sugar comes to the party with Fiber, in contrast to sweets, where she brings her sketchier date, Fat.

The idea was to see if I could reset my taste buds to rein in the sweet tooth and form some better habits for times when I reached for sweets because they were there. To be more intentional about what I ate, and less reactive to habit or opportunity (just because that plate of cookies is in the break room at work doesn't mean I need to eat one).

I looked at the calendar, and picked a 30-day period in which I would not have more than the usual temptations (things like Halloween, or holidays, or birthday celebrations), when I would have the greatest chance of success. I marked my chosen start date on my calendar with a huge star, and I spent two weeks reminding myself I would start on that day and ridding my house of sweets.

It was, astonishingly, easier than I expected. I think the mental buildup and the fixed date range helped. I told people I was giving up refined sugars (it took me almost 4 weeks to realize that "sweets" was really more accurate), and that helped keep me honest. It also enlisted unexpected help - a coworker who had set up a "cake break" for my coworkers to see my slides from Europe, on hearing this, asked if I would rather she made fruit salad than cake for it. She did, and another temptation was avoided.

And if I learned one thing, it's that it's easier to plan ahead and avoid temptation than it is to try to resist temptation. They've even done studies on will power that show that - none of us really has will power when faced with strong tempation. So I skipped that middle school mid-quarter breakfast to pick up The Nerd's interim reports, a function I knew from past experience would involve a huge table laden with doughnuts and pastries and all manner of sweets. She brought her interims home, and I avoided temptation.

I thought about situations in which I eat sweets, and planned how to handle them. Like, we eat at the local diner every Friday, and we always get dessert. So I psyched myself up for days before the first dinner at Elmo's that I was not going to get dessert. God apparently has both a sense of humor and a lot of faith in me - their dessert special was key lime pie, which I LOVE. As does The Nerd. And she got a piece. And ate it sitting next to me. And you know what? I wanted a bite in the worst way, but I didn't have one. Anne 1, Key Lime Pie 0.

I also tend to reach for cookies when I get home from work - those 100 calorie packs are wolves in sheep's clothing - they seem benign, even good, in that they limit portion size, but oh, they make it easy to just grab one and ignore better options. Now, I reach for an apple (and have discovered that investing 30 seconds in slicing and coring it and putting it in a little bowl makes it a much more snacky snack, and more satisfying). Or a tablespoon of peanut butter. Or a hardboiled egg. Or some grapes and blueberries, which turn out to taste REALLY sweet once you stop eating junk sweets...

My worst temptation was The Nerd's birthday - which involved chocolate cake. Not my favorite indulgence, but still... Rapunzel and a friend of the girls who'd come to visit for the weekend made the cake for me (making it might have undone me...). After dinner, I lit the candles, brought it to the table, sang while she blew them out, then excused myself while Rapunzel served and she and The Nerd and Chris and the friend had cake. But the next day or so, I would keep encountering the leftovers and saying "Eat this cake up, would you???" Just a finger swipe of chocolate frosting, I'd think.... But I resisted.

Many nights during these 30 days I have dreamed of eating sweets. But not in an"oh, this is good" way but an "uh oh, I accidentally ate <fill in the blank sweet>!" way. It was not wish fulfillment but "what if I fail and cheat?" anxiety. The dreams tapered off the further I got into the 30 days, perhaps as I gained more confidence that I could do it.

I lost 10 pounds over the course of the 30 days, but it had other, unforeseen benefits. Like The Nerd asking if she could do it with me. She decided it would be wiser for her to start after her birthday weekend, so she started on October 9, and is two weeks in. She's done amazingly, and I am so proud of her. And now that The Nerd and I don't get dessert at Elmo's, neither does Rapunzel, and Chris usually gets something at the grocery (where we do the shopping after dinner at Elmo's on Friday) to eat later.

I finished the 30 days a couple days ago. The next day, I ate no sweets. But today, I was making apple cake for a baby shower at work. And so of course, I was going to have a piece, but the plan was just one. And I learned one more thing: I am incapable of eating "just one" when it comes to sweets. I ate two pieces of apple cake and one and a half of the other cake, and felt gross after. So the moral of this story, for me, is that I need to not start unless there is external portion control. Because once I start, I will pig out.

So, my name is Anne. I'm a sugar addict. I've been sugar free for 7 hours.