A few weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to quit sugar. No added sugar for a week, meaning no cookies or pastries or chocolate. Fruit and bread products, such as pasta, were OK (yes, I know refined wheat is quickly converted to sugar, but one painful week at a time, OK?). No brown sugar on my oatmeal, no fruit juice.
To be clear, I am not the type to binge on sweets. I don't gobble down an entire cake in a sitting (I don't even really like cake), and I defy that stereotype of the woman needing her chocolate fix; I could take it or leave it. So you may think giving sugar up for a week would be no big deal for me. However, I consistently give into a craving for cookies or a pastry. Every. Single. Day.
It isn't just that I think something sweet would be nice; that would be manageable. I literally salivate when I think of certain items on my go-to-sugar-fix list. When that feeling kicks in, there is no turning back, no such thing as willpower. Only the voice in my head saying, "I ran 3 miles today / ate a small lunch / deserve it because I work hard and have two young kids." The excuses vary by day.
The first day of my "experiment" went by without incident. I was fueled by my determination to reach my goal. I even resisted the donuts at work (we bring in donuts for every new hire, and we evidently hired a half dozen people that day).
Day Two was a different story. The donuts were still there, but my resolve was faltering. I found myself coming up with the same excuses and using sheer willpower to drown out those voices. I was miserable, and it was only Tuesday.
The next couple days were no easier, but I was starting to realize something: my cravings were rising during certain emotional states. Primarily, stress.
From the minute I enter the door to the moment I put my toddler and preschooler to bed, it's nonstop action, whether that means cooking, cleaning, playing, or acting as a human barrier between tiny swinging fists. Walking downstairs after getting the last one tucked in is pure relief--I got through another day. And I am so exhausted, so tense, so deserving of a cookie. My husband had so thoughtfully made sugar cookies--I couldn't hurt his feelings by not eating just one, could I?
I'd like to say that completely eliminating stress would end my cravings--that probably would help--but it will likely be a fixture in my life until my kids can fend for themselves. As I've aged, my tolerance for stress has decreased. I no longer pride myself on my ability to thrive under pressure. I just don't have it in me anymore, perhaps because I am in a constant state of physical, mental, and emotional movement. I'm basically a walking, talking, ticking time bomb some days; one additional stressor, even a small one, can set me off.
My latest approach is simply trying to reduce the impact stress has on me, rather than try to reduce the number of stressors. My only option besides prescription drugs (not off the table, mind you) is to find natural methods to deal with stress, thereby curbing the killer cravings. I started taking a hot yoga class two weeks ago. Some may find it odd, but I find the sweltering, tropical, 100-plus-degree heat to be calming and refreshing at the same time. Granted, I slipped on my sweaty mat last week during downward dog, but that's just par for the course. If I can commit to going to class, it may be a while before I notice any effects on my stress levels.
I've also started running again. Putting one foot after the other can be very meditative. My runs along the Willamette River are slow and steady--I've been passed by men in their 60s--but they give me the time to work things out in my head. I arrive back at work refreshed and ready to face the last half of the day.
I will keep working on the magic potion that will make me impervious to the emotions that drive me to sugar. Until I find it, I am trying to not let sugar abstinence rule my life. Instead, I'm doing my best to reduce stress and find solace in a walk or a cup of herbal tea, as cliche as that sounds, but not killing myself if I slip up. I have enough stressors to answer to these days; adding another voice to answer to might end in an all-out cookie-dough gorgefest.