Sugar Daddy: A Year Without Desserts

by Ryan
Andrews
, March 29th, 2011.
“Without attachment, suffering does not exist. Let go of your
attachments, little by little. By and by you will see the freedom, the happiness
that is there.” – Buddhist motto
On March 22nd, 2011 — almost on the first day of spring, which seems fitting
for rebirth — I ended one year of dessert-free, sweet-free, and candy-free
living. Twelve months. No cake, no candy, no gummi worms, no Twinkies, no crême
brulée — no added sugar of any kind.

Am I somehow a better human being? Do I have exceptional self-control?
Neither.  I simply wanted to explore what it would be like to live without
something that most North Americans take for granted.

Month 1: The initial experiment

This whole experiment started back in March of 2010.  It was my goal to live
30 days without any added sugar in my diet.  [Remember, this means no
added sugars.  I was OK with the naturally occurring sugars in
fruits/vegetables].

At the time, several things were on my mind.

  • I was working on the All About Natural Sweeteners article.
  • I was working on the All About Gluttony article.
  • I was reading about Buddhism and attachments to food, material items,
    alcohol, etc.
  • I was reading about addictions.
  • My sister eliminated most desserts from her life (and she used to eat them
    every day).

Like you and everyone else, I’m a product of my environment. What I read,
what I do for work, and who I hang out with influences what I do.

I also started to notice how I felt and acted around sugar, and I
didn’t like it.

Sugar changed my physical and mental state.  Whenever I ate dessert my energy
tanked, I got really thirsty, and I felt bloated.

Sugar also changed how I thought about food rewards. When I ate dessert, I
wanted more dessert (thanks be to dopamine). And this led to more internal dialogue (e.g.:
Should I have another piece? Life is short – maybe I should? blah blah
blah…
).

I think I spent at least 2 hours each week just debating whether or not I
should eat dessert. Not exactly productive.

Month 1: The initial experiment

This whole experiment started back in March of 2010.  It was my goal to live
30 days without any added sugar in my diet.  [Remember, this means no
added sugars.  I was OK with the naturally occurring sugars in
fruits/vegetables].

At the time, several things were on my mind.

  • I was working on the All About Natural Sweeteners article.
  • I was working on the All About Gluttony article.
  • I was reading about Buddhism and attachments to food, material items,
    alcohol, etc.
  • I was reading about addictions.
  • My sister eliminated most desserts from her life (and she used to eat them
    every day).

Like you and everyone else, I’m a product of my environment. What I read,
what I do for work, and who I hang out with influences what I do.

I also started to notice how I felt and acted around sugar, and I
didn’t like it.

Sugar changed my physical and mental state.  Whenever I ate dessert my energy
tanked, I got really thirsty, and I felt bloated.

Sugar also changed how I thought about food rewards. When I ate dessert, I
wanted more dessert (thanks be to dopamine). And this led to more internal dialogue (e.g.:
Should I have another piece? Life is short – maybe I should? blah blah
blah…
).

I think I spent at least 2 hours each week just debating whether or not I
should eat dessert. Not exactly productive.

Make no mistake, my original sugar experiment had little to do with body fat
and health – well, at least not my physical health, although I
was starting to wonder about my psychological health. I wanted to test
myself and see if I was attached to desserts.

Everyone says they have a “guilty food pleasure.” But isn’t this an
artificial idea created by modern society (and food companies)? Do we really
require a food vice?

In the end, my 30 day experiment was a success. So, what did I do at the end
of the experiment?  Did I spend day 31 crushing cake?

Nope. Instead, I found myself not missing desserts. And really, I felt better
physically and mentally.  So I figured I would roll with the no-dessert theme
and see where it took me.

Fast forward 11 months – past birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas,
and Valentine’s Day — all the candy-centric holidays.  It’s now been one year
and I’ve had no desserts.

During this time I’ve realized a few things. Maybe you’ll find them useful on
your own eating journey.

Lesson 1: Desserts are addictive

Addiction: an overpowering craving to repeatedly
engage in an activity that provides temporary relief at the expense of terrible
consequences.

Yikes. Doesn’t this describe most North American eating? It’s easy to get
attached to processed foods. And by attached, I mean addicted.

  • You crave it.
  • You think about it.
  • You rely on it.
  • The food takes over.

Sound familiar?

As powerful as attachments/addictions can be, during the past year I was
reminded of something even more powerful:

We get to choose what we do.

If we have enough incentive to eliminate a food (or include a food), we get
to choose accordingly. We are in control.

Now, while it’s easy to place dessert in the “addictive” category, I also
realized just how trivial dessert is. Think about it.

  • Not eating cake is easy when compared to raising kids.
  • Not eating cookies is easy when compared to running a business/non-profit.
  • Not eating ice cream is easy when compared to maintaining a marriage.
  • Not eating a candy bar is easy when compared to 60 minutes of box jumps,
    Power Wheel crawls and jump rope.

Seriously, isn’t it about time we put food in its place?

Lesson 2: We don’t eat sugar “in moderation”

The standard American diet is composed of over 60% processed garbage. Nearly
90% of the carb-dense foods we consume are highly processed, and mostly in the
form of refined flour/sugar.

Our view of moderation can get skewed because we often think of eating as
“one-off” occasions. A dessert here, a dessert there.  But these desserts add up
faster than we imagine.

Three bowls of ice cream per week isn’t a big thing, right? Well, three bowls
of ice cream each week means 156 bowls each year.  Is that moderation?  I don’t
know.

Lesson 3: Isn’t this a habit?

From the previous example, it seems to me that eating 156 bowls of ice cream
a year, 3 bowls a week, whether moderate or not, constitutes a habit.

Unfortunately, we don’t often realize the compounding impact of our food
habits until it’s too late (e.g., 42-inch waist, heart attack, cancer,
etc.).

Our habits catch up with us – sooner or later.  And it’s important to make
sure we’re monitoring our habits, making sure they match up with our values and
our goals.

Lesson 4: It’s hard to get fat on whole foods, particularly plant foods

Without desserts (and other processed carbs) in the diet, it’s tough to gain
body fat. Really.

If we listen to hunger/fullness cues and eat, in particular, whole
plant-foods (without added sugars), it’s challenging to get fat.

On average, each of us eats about 4 pounds of food every day.  So, for most of us, if our 4
pounds are made up of whole, energy-dilute plants, we’ll be set.

Another bonus: I found that my hunger/fullness cues were much clearer with
desserts out of the eating equation. With lots of sugar comes lots of drive to
eat. This is great if you are trying to gain weight (or even maintain weight).
But not so great if we want to get (or stay) lean.

During my last physical exam (where I do my annual weight check), after only
a few months without desserts, I was already down several unintended pounds.
Why? I just wasn’t as hungry. Without dessert, you might be surprised how your
appetite changes.

Lesson 5: The all-or-none approach can work

Most of us agree that the all-or-none approach doesn’t work. But I’ve used it
successfully many times in my life. I’ve used it with alcohol, drugs, smoking,
animal products, car ownership, credit cards, cable TV – and now desserts.

But here’s the catch. To make the all-or-none approach work, we need strong
incentives. The all-or-none approach will probably fail when incentives are
weak/superficial. But when incentives run deep, the all-or-none approach can be
a useful tool.

Weak incentive:

I want to completely eliminate desserts to look better in a tank
top.

Strong incentive:

I want to eliminate desserts because it will benefit me spiritually and physically. It will promote peace of mind — I’ll have less daily attachment and internal dialogue.

Maybe Dan John is right: If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not
important, don’t do it at all.

The final bonus of the all-or-none approach is that the thing you eliminate
becomes a non-issue. This eliminates the regular internal dialogue that goes
with it. And speaking of internal dialogue…

Lesson 6: Internal dialogue sucks

Food tension is the worst. You know the self talk:

  • Should I have the cookie? Or shouldn’t I?
  • I’ve eaten mostly nutritious foods this week; I deserve a cookie.
  • The experts say to eat everything “in moderation”. I might as well have a
    cookie.
  • It’s only one cookie (for the fifth time this week).
  • I only live once.

Mayday mayday……

Those internal debates are a bitch. When this tension develops, the way we
solve the tension is by making a choice: eat it or don’t eat it. “Eat it”
usually wins.

Lesson 7: Taste re-calibration is possible

Recently I was at a friend’s house and asked for some peanut butter. The
peanut butter was natural and organic, so I was happy. But after my first bite,
I immediately knew something was different.

It was the “no-stir” variety. Apparently this means there is added sugar and
oil to smooth it out. Holy sweetness. It tasted like candy. The friend I was
with couldn’t tell sugar was added.

Introduce yourself to taste bud re-calibration.

Fruit wasn’t sweet enough when I was eating a dessert each week. Now it is,
because my taste buds changed.  Everyone’s do when they change their eating
habits, especially when dropping certain foods, like I did with sugar.

Eat more sugar and fat and that’s what’ll taste best to you.  Get rid of the
sugar and fat and you won’t even like the stuff if you go back.

Lesson 8: Some people aren’t addicted to desserts/sweets

Yes – it’s true. Some folks can eat a reasonably sized piece of dessert,
enjoy it, and move on to the next thing. I’ve witnessed this first hand over the
past year.

If this describes you, maybe eliminating desserts isn’t something you need to
do.  Seriously, don’t read this article/post and get any weird ideas about
dessert elimination.

My suggestion? Be your own nutrition expert and find what works for you.  And if there’s an area of your life where your attachments are becoming overbearing, perhaps you can apply this article to that area.

Lesson #9: Change occurs at the desire level

I’ve made some substantial eating changes in my life that have stuck for the
long-term. After some reflection, I’ve noticed the following theme among my
successful long-term nutrition changes:

Change must occur at the desire level.

What do most people do when making a food change? They resist. They think
about all of the “off-limit” options they’re missing out on. And deep down, they
haven’t truly acknowledged or embraced that the new way of eating is best for
them and the world.

Most of us desire a cookie but settle for an orange. But what if we started
to desire the orange, enjoy the flavor, and know that consuming it aligns with
who we are and what we believe in?

Back in my bodybuilding days, I’d go 4 months without desserts leading up to
a contest. But I still desired desserts. I dreamt about them at night and
sprinkled packets of Equal on everything to get my fix.

I built up a stash of sweets to immediately consume after the “diet” was
over. Since I still desired desserts, nothing really changed long-term, things
just changed while I was “dieting.”

Now, I choose fruit instead of cookies because that’s what I truly want. And
importantly, desserts aren’t off limits. If I really want dessert, I’ll have
it.

Will I ever eat dessert again?

Will I ever eat desserts again? It’s a good question.  And the answer is that
I probably will.

I just know that for the past year it’s been a privilege to eliminate them
from my decision catalog. But life circumstances change.  And I don’t want to
put the pressure on myself that comes with saying never.

Of course, some of you reading this probably can’t fathom the idea of no
desserts for a week, let alone a year. Trust me, I was the same way.

If you would have asked me 3 years ago to cut desserts, I would have laughed
with you as we held hands and skipped to the bakery.

Fortunately, we can allow our eating to evolve. You never know what might
change.

Summary: What my dessert-less year taught me

In the end, here’s what my year of dessert-free eating taught me.

  • Desserts are addictive
  • I don’t like foods that cause withdrawal symptoms when I stop eating them
  • The more desserts I eat, the more I want
  • We don’t eat desserts “in moderation”
  • It’s hard to gain fat on whole foods, particularly plant foods
  • The “all-or-none” mindset can work to your advantage if you have enough
    incentive
  • It feels good to eliminate internal dialogue
  • We can recalibrate our taste buds
  • The key to making big eating changes is changing at the desire level
  • When we care about something enough, we can choose to do it

Quite a few great lessons there, at least for me.  Well worth giving up a
little sugar.

Don Kirby

www.PilatesonElmwood.com

We offer a personalized approach to wellness.

 Yoga* Massage *Nutrition* PersonalTraining* Thai Yoga Massage

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About dkpilates

Pilates Instructor, Yoga Instructor, Personnel trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Don teaches Contemporary and the Authentic forms of Pilates, in the later 90's, Don began his study of Yoga. His study of Yoga includes the Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, and Astanga disciplines. His other areas of interest in fitness include Martial Arts, Spin, Boot Camp Training, and Weight Training. Don has extensive training and certifications from AFFA, IDEA, MadDog, B-Fit and Polestar. Don Continues his of Pilates education with Michelle Larson in Santa Fe New Mexico. His personal philosophy related to fitness is to aid students in a personalized balance of strength, stamina and flexibility. He is dedicated to design a program specifically for his students independent of the season of their life to create functional movement and help them reach their fitness goals.
This entry was posted in All About Food & Nutrition, BODY, Core, Diabetes appropriate, DIET, HEALTH, LIFE, Low cholesterol, Low saturated fat, Meditation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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