So, in somewhat exciting(ish) news, I recently had my first byline published in the Tribune!
In otherwise (non)exciting news, it was because I (attempted) to give up refined/added sugar for two weeks.
Spoiler alert: I was not fun to be around for those two weeks.
Before I started at the Tribune almost two years ago, I was a reporter for a small daily paper in a town of about 26,000. I was writing every day. But, when I got the opportunity to work on the digital team here at the Tribune, it was impossible to say no. My responsibilities switched from reporting and writing to curating and editing, and while I absolutely love what I do (it’s crazy that this job didn’t exist when I was in high school!), sometimes, I do miss sitting in front of a keyboard and letting my thoughts pour out for the community to read.
So, it was cool to have the opportunity to do that recently.
I kind of wanted to elaborate a liiiittle bit about my piece, which is hyperlinked up in the lead if you’d like to read it. I had space constraints to work with, so I had to abandon my original day-by-day concept that I’d started. But, I can share that here! No space constraints on my blog, I’m sorry to say. You’re all stuck with me.
Side note: I only attempted to give up added or refined sugar. Natural sugar — ie: from fruits, dairy, etc. — was deemed OK. As was wine and honey. I’m not a complete masochist.
Day One (Except Not Really): “I can totally do this if I just stop eating chocolate and vending machine Skittles at work!” It sounds so easy at first. I make myself a berry vanilla almond smoothie and start internet searching refined sugar. I’m halfway through my smoothie when I get to the part of my research that tells me added sugar is in practically everything — even innocuous-seeming products. Sure enough — both my vanilla almond milk and frozen berries have “organic cane sugar” listed as an ingredient. Wait. What? It’s 10 a.m. and day one is already a scratch. OK. We’ll try again tomorrow.
Second Attempt at a Day One That Still Failed: OK, cool. After hours of internet research, I’ve replaced my sweetened almond milk with unsweetened, purchased natural almond butter with no added sugar and swapped Wheat Thins — which do contain refined sugar —for Triscuits — which don’t. I have bought out the entire vegetable section of Mariano’s. I have kale. I’m ready to go.
I make a pineapple, banana and kefir smoothie for breakfast, enjoy scrambled eggs with tomato over sautéed kale for lunch, snack on some raw veggies throughout the day and… realize I’m meeting a friend at a restaurant for dinner. There’s absolutely nothing on this menu I would eat that looks remotely free of refined sugar. Screw it. I get a sourdough, fig jam and cashew butter sandwich, and since I’ve already failed, I binge eat chocolate chips from the bag when I get home.
Day One Actually for Real this Time: OK, this is happening for real today. I down the same fruit-and-kefir smoothie as the day before for breakfast, pack up some chili I made over the weekend for lunch and head out the door. I have a Larabar (date, lemon and almond) for a snack and go to get my chili for lunch when I realize… I made the chili with a tomato paste base. Tomato paste has added sugar. The chili goes back in the freezer and I angrily stomp over to Whole Foods to buy a new lunch as well as two weeks’ worth of refined sugar-free snacks. My desk is filled with almond, brown rice and popcorn-based food, my cubicle neighbor thinks I’m insane and my bank account is empty.
I eat a pound of diced melon, wheat crackers and almond butter for lunch, raw veggies for a snack and go home to eat a dinner comprised of brown rice, tofu, cilantro avocado Greek yogurt dressing, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. I follow that up with… sugar cravings. Really bad cravings. I stave them off with two mugs of hot lemon water with honey, but they’re really bad and even though I try to read a book, I can’t concentrate at all because all I can think about is doughnuts. I give up and go to bed early.
Day Two. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with my lack of sugar, but I oversleep by two hours. Yikes. I’m late for work and almost give up and throw some pre-packaged sugar-laden snacks into my purse for lunch but my resolve is strong. I make a breakfast smoothie (more kefir and frozen berries) and pour it into a to go cup. I have the same lunch and snacks as the day before. One of my coworkers brought chocolate chip pumpkin cupcakes to work, and another is passing around a Girl Scout Cookie order form. These people clearly hate me.
Dinner is leftover tofu, rice and vegetables, and I snack on Triscuits with natural peanut butter. Mando comes over to watch Netflix with me, and he starts eating from the aforementioned bag of chocolate chips. I kind of want to kill him, but I don’t, because murder is illegal and also he’s been really encouraging of me so far. So I make more lemon water with honey.
Day Three. At this point, I’m bracing myself for the crash. It should be coming soon, right? Nothing yet, though. I still have my resolve. I enjoy another berry kefir smoothie, snack on a brown rice cake with almond butter, eat another pound of fruit for lunch and realize that my diet is going to get very old, very fast. I eat some half-popped popcorn and a stick of string cheese before going home and having — surprise! — the same dinner as the night before. Cooking for one is a drag sometimes. Without Mando to distract me, I’m back to having those day one sugar cravings, so I decide to get really creative I end up with honey-caramelized banana slices topped with toasted cinnamon oats and peanut butter. It’s actually surprisingly really good.
Day Four. The crash! Here it is! I wake up with a splitting headache… though, to be fair, I’m not sure if it’s caused by sugar withdrawals or the thought of going to work on Inauguration Day. I spend yet another day eating nuts, brown rice cakes, fruit and almond butter throughout the day, and then decide to head to the Whole Foods hot bar for dinner.
Surprisingly… almost everything pre-prepared had added sugar. Of the three non-salad buffet tables, only seven or eight dishes didn’t have added sugar. I ended up with slim pickings on my plate and a bottle of dry red wine to bring home for the night.
Day Five. Aha! It’s a weekend day, which means that it’s time for be to be a big pain in the ass to everyone around me because I certainly cannot dine out like a normal person. Breakfast is Greek yogurt topped with naturally-sweetened granola… which is actually incredibly hard to find. Lunch is scrambled egg and avocado over wheat toast, and a Larabar goes into my bag in case I need a snack. I decide on an impromptu meet-up with friends at the Billy Goat after helping a friend look at apartments, and realize that — after scarfing down a bag of potato chips — I have to leave the bar and walk to Whole Foods to get an actual dinner. Short of Day Four’s probably placebo headache, no actual severe sugar withdrawal symptoms yet.
Day Six. It’s Sunday, and Sundays are for brunch. Thank goodness my ever-accomodating friend suggested Tweet, which is known for its incredibly extensive menu favoring gluten-free and organic options. Sure enough, my server was incredibly helpful, and as soon as I said “no refined sugar” he rattled off several menu options that would fit my (obnoxious) dietary restrictions. I had black bean cakes with salsa and poached eggs, fresh fruit and a side salad.
I had a baked potato smothered in butter, salt, Greek yogurt and green onions for dinner, and the apple variation of my honey-caramelized-fruit-with-toasted-oats combo for dessert.
Day Seven. I probably should have gone grocery shopping on Day Six, because I’m down to slim pickings in my work snack drawer. I can’t tell if I’m finally suffering from the sugar withdrawals, or if I’m just experiencing side effects of general hunger on a Monday. I’m tired and listless and can’t concentrate all day. I graze on almonds, rice cakes and wheat crackers, and as soon as I get home, I eat an entire bag of Snapea crisps and half a block of cheddar cheese while waiting for my dinner — brown rice, tofu, avocado cilantro dressing and lemon-garlic green beans — to cook. I carried that massive headache until the end of the day, but for the first time in a long time, the thought of a triple-layer chocolate cake didn’t make me salivate before bedtime. Huh. Weird.
Day Eight and Nine. Honestly these days are just a blur of tofu and vegetables.
Day Ten. It’s been one hell of a week at work since the inauguration, so I decide to have a glass of wine (or two) at City Winery. And then another glass (or two) at Rootstock. And then, in a somewhat wine-fueled haze, I realized I had inadvertently started eating the white bread and blueberry jam on the cheeseboard in front of me. Nooooo! This was the first — albeit only — time I slipped up.
Day Eleven through Thirteen. Another blur of tofu and vegetables. More Whole Foods hot bar picking. More analyzing everything at Mariano’s for my weekly grocery shopping and getting some incredibly strange looks.
Day Fourteen. And, we’ve reached the end! Honestly? I could keep going — with the no-sugar thing, not this post. I know you probably haven’t even read this far. I’m no longer getting cravings. I feel great. I’m more focused. But, the amount of time, money and forward-thinking that has been going into my diet the past two weeks is insane. It’s one thing to avoid a piece of chocolate cake, but it’s entirely another to spend three-times as much time and money maintaining a refined-sugar free diet, especially when you have a job and a social life and half of the food you put in your mouth is pre-prepped and packaged. I definitely have a much better understanding of why low-income individuals often end up with unhealthy diets, though.
Have you ever tried giving up refined sugar? Seriously, let me know in the comments. I want to know your story!