Hello, there, cake. It’s you again. I see you didn’t come alone. You’ve brought your friend, apple pie. And he’s brought several bottles of wine.
You think I’m tempted, don’t you. You think this will be like all the other times I’ve tried to quit you and gave up, all the times I thought I could “just cut back” on sugar and succeed, only to search the cupboards for a chocolate bar later that night.
Not this time. This time, I’m winning.
Truth be told, I didn’t start this Whole30 on August 1 to defeat my sugar cravings, which I hadn’t realized had grown out of control. I’ve made dramatic changes to what and how I eat in the past six years (working at a health and wellness magazine will do that to you), and since January, I’ve been ever more conscious of how I was eating, working in new recipes and trying out new meal plans.
The thing is, I’m a human being, and I have similar challenges that we all face to eat well, exercise, and avoid the food that doesn’t set us up for optimal health. I like sugar in most all its forms — our brains are wired to like it, hence the struggle.
When I’m exhausted after a busy work day and playing with my active toddler, when I feel a crash coming on midafternoon, as a human being I want to choose the easy, quick-energy options: caffeine, sugar, refined carbs — whatever is ready to consume fast and gives me a boost at lightning speed.
It doesn’t matter how many studies I read or what new research comes out condemning sugar, I still want it, and most likely will crave it for all the days of my life. It’s a wily little monster, that sugar, and it knows its power. And the food companies, too, know its power over the human body and brain.
The food manufacturers are so hip to our sugar cravings that they put it in the darndest places: marinara sauce, ketchup, salad dressings. And, as I learned last night, even in taco seasoning.
Really?! A spicy powder mix — and yes, even an organic brand purchased at the natural market — needs cane sugar? Why?!
Because we human beings love sugar.
For me, it had long sounded too difficult to embark on a Whole30, a program developed by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig, in which you cook and eat whole foods for 30 days. There are a few keys rules (read them all here):
- No grains
- No dairy (clarified butter or ghee is allowed)
- No soy
- No legumes (green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas are allowed)
- No alcohol
- No sugar (including artificial sugar)
I bought the book back in March and have been staring at the list for months. Each time I’d consider starting the program, a different rule seemed more of an obstacle than the others. Sure, I’ve given up dairy and gluten before, I’d think, but cutting out all grains, altogether? Impossible! Or, with all the summer get-togethers, how on earth will I avoid alcohol without the inevitable “Are you pregnant?” question? Can I field these without feeling annoyed?
The biggest, baddest rule of them all, no sugar, was one I didn’t even contemplate. It seemed like I’d have to transform into a whole new woman, one who’d fight the sugar monster with meditation and deep breathing. I’d have to drink a peppermint tea for my “dessert” instead of eating that cake and pie, the very ones that stared me down at a family party last weekend.
You know what happened? I became that woman. I choose tea instead of a nighttime snack. I enjoy fresh berries with coconut when sugar comes calling. And that cake and pie last week didn’t entice me enough to break my plan.
Following a set of rules for the program has made a difference in my mindset, sure, but I bet all the whole, fresh foods and healthy fats have kept those cravings at bay, too.
Who knows how I’ll feel after 30 days? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.
Photo by Courtney Lewis Opdahl.