It happened so quickly, so suddenly. If I had just turned away from the screen, if I had just said no rather than let my curiosity get the best of me, it could have all been avoided. I felt betrayed, angry, sad, and the one thing I normally turned to for comfort had been the very impetus of my heartbreak. My life had been turned upside down in a whirlwind of confusion and devastation; how could I possibly recover?
Over a month has passed since, and while I’m not sure I’m entirely over it yet, I do feel I am finally ready to share with you…
My break up with sugar.
It began one cheery (or so I foolishly thought) morning: April 30th, 2016. I had just brought upstairs a load of clean laundry to be folded and put away. To help alleviate the pain I feel completing such a mundane task, I reached for my Amazon fire stick and began searching for background noise. Despite whole-heartedly believing in the saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” I do not follow this rule when it comes to selecting movies. It is no wonder when I stumbled upon this cover below that I felt the need to explore it further:
All the pretty colors, a good-looking guy, that wonderfully bubbly font, and a credit from Jamie Oliver saying “A Definite Must See!”- “What could this be?” I wondered.
I pressed play and began folding laundry with the understanding that if the film itself did not live up to its cover, I would simply change it. Within the first 5 minutes, I was hooked. Like “folding and refolding the same shirt before pushing the entire pile to the side of the bed, propping up pillows, and setting up camp for the next 101 minutes” hooked.
Here’s the gist:
Damon Gameau (director, writer, and star) documents the negative effects of sugar by conducting an experiment on himself. Switching from a healthy-balanced diet to one filled with added sugars, Gameau puts his body at risk to bring light to the dangers of our dependency on sugar, the differences of such in various cultures, and the amazing things that can happen if we all just say no to sugar. Very “Supersize Me”-esque, but with sugar.
My biggest take away was not that sugar consumed in excess is bad. I give myself credit, and just about anyone who has taken a health class in their lives credit, for understanding that simple notion. Rather, the most shocking thing was just how much added sugar we consume eating the foods we think are “healthy” or “diet-friendly.” Ignore the cookies, cakes, and ice cream bars-those “obvious sugars” that we know we are consuming while eating. If you go to your refrigerator right now and look at the jar of pasta sauce or salsa or that bottle of 100% Real Fruit juice, or a box of all-natural cereal, granola bars, protein bars, protein powders, marinades, pouches of instant rice, the “less obvious sugars”; it’s shocking how quickly it adds up.
To illustrate, review the following menu (based off of an actual day in my MyFitnessPal):
Breakfast: Coffee with a tablespoon of creamer, 1 Cup of multi-grain cheerios with a 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
Snack: Kashi Blackberry Gram Bar
Lunch: Smart Ones Frozen Entree: Cheese Ravioli, Chobani Greek Yogurt Flips- Almond Coco Loco
Dinner: Fish tacos: 5 oz blackened baked tilapia, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup salsa, 1/4 cup of shredded cheese
Dessert: Skinny Cow Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream sandwich
A month ago, I would have been pretty happy with myself. I’d go to bed guilt-free with no need to resolve for a better-eating day tomorrow. After all, I stayed under my calorie goal as per MyFitnessPal; I said no to that Krispy Kreme doughnut a coworker brought in; I avoided heading to the vending machine for an afternoon Coca-Cola pick-me-up. That Sugar Film brought about a harsh reality that has made me think twice every since.
Take a closer look:
Coffee with a tablespoon of creamer: 5 grams of sugar
1 Cup of multi-grain cheerios with a 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk: 6 grams of sugar
Kashi Blackberry Gram Bar: 10 grams of sugar
Smart Ones Frozen Entree-Cheese Ravioli: 12 grams of sugar
Chobani Greek Yogurt Flips: Almond Coco Loco: 22 grams sugar
Fish tacos: 5 oz blackened baked tilapia, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup salsa, 1/4 cup of shredded cheese: 8 grams of sugar
Skinny Cow Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream sandwich: 14 grams of sugar
SUGAR TOTAL: 77 grams of sugar
Did I mention that the recommended total of added sugar for women per day is 25 grams (37.5 grams for men- pssht double standard).
I had literally tripled the amount of added sugar I was supposed to consume. I ate the amount of sugar I should be eating over the span of 3 days, in one. To belabor the point: I ingested 25 grams of sugar, and then later I ate 25 grams of sugar again, and then a couple hours later, I ate 25 grams of sugar again, plus two grams in addition- and that was on a “good” day!
Even more disturbing? I reached that limit of 25 grams before lunch was even over!
Now yes, not every single one of those grams might have been added sugar. Perhaps sugar in the blackberry jam of the Kashi bar had some naturally occurring sugar, or even the sauce from the Smart One’s Ravioli dish- but let’s get real, I can’t go out in nature and pick a Kashi bar off a tree or dig up a box of frozen ravioli from the ground; both items are processed and therefore we should weary before eating them.
So now what?
With my new information, I proposed to myself a challenge: avoid eating added sugars for a month. I knew like any major lifestyle change, it would not be easy. To succeed I would have to pre-plan meals, eliminate temptation, and build up a willpower I’ve never had when it comes to sweets. A couple rules to keep me on track:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
- Check the ingredients list of anything pre-packaged.
- This was a big one. Before, I was so quick to check the nutrition label when making shopping decisions, but something pointed out in the film was that the amount of sugar on the nutrition label isn’t the enemy; it’s the word “sugar” (or one of its 60+ epithets) in the ingredients list that should be a red flag. For example, take pasta sauce. Tomatoes, usually the main ingredient, have natural sugars. These are taken into account when the nutrition label is created. However, to see if sugar has been added to either enhance the flavor or cut down the acidity, check the ingredients. If sugar (in any of its forms) has been added, that’s a food to bypass.
- Pre-plan meals for the week each Sunday to avoid slipping up.
- Avoid eating out as it’s nearly impossible to know every single ingredient that makes up a meal.
A full month was the goal, and I resolved take it week by week. Beginning the challenge, my mindset was less focused on losing weight and more focused on feeling better overall, both mentally and physically.
May is over, and with the exception of half a cupcake on my birthday, I did it. And guess what? It wasn’t that hard. In fact, when eating the foods that I was, I found I didn’t crave sugar like I thought I was going to. I also ate less in general because the foods that I was eating were so filling: chicken, salmon, avocado (a lot of avocado).
- My skin! I did not have a single breakout the entire month which is unusual for me.
- My body! I never felt bloated or crampy after eating a meal.
- My mood! I was happier because I felt better about my food decisions and each week I practiced will power, I felt a sense of pride.
- My weight! I lost 6 solid pounds without really changing anything else.
- My waist! I’m down two inches on my waste line (over consumption of sugar leads to visceral fat [belly fat]- eliminate the sugar and the belly fat begins eliminating itself).
The biggest difference: my energy level!
It is so easy for me to make a habit out of napping; especially after work. Lethargy sets in on my drive home, and about the only speedy thing I do when I walk through the door is put on my sweatpants and snuggle up on the couch for the next few hours.
By the second week of my challenge, the habit changed. Instead of rushing to put on sweatpants for a nap, I would put on workout crops to walk the pup, or paint clothes to work on a furniture fix up project. I had fallen out of work, eat, sleep rut and into a lifestyle I could be proud of.
Back to the Real World
While my official challenge is over, I have no intention of reverting to my old habits. Once you’ve had better, why go back? With that said, I don’t think it’s realistic to maintain 100% sugar free all day, all the time. After all, I don’t want to turn down the occasional happy hour with friends or the dinner out on date night for the rest of my life. Still, I do feel like this challenge has helped me redefine that buzzword “moderation.” I also think that sugar splurges, when on occasion, should be spent on decadent desserts rather than the unintentional added-sugar variety that sneaks so easily into our every day diet.
Breakups are hard, but sometimes they are for the best. (**Insert additional breakup cliche of choice here if you so wish)
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert- I watched this film and then a few others (Fed Up, Food Matters, Sugar Coated) and conducted a personal experiment. While I am happy with the results, others who try may have different experiences. I guess what I’m saying is you can take this information with a grain of salt (just not a grain of sugar….ha. ha. heh, heh).
Click on the following link for more information on the film: That Sugar Film
This blog post from the same website may be helpful in defining the term “added sugar” if you decide to take on the challenge.