I normally start my morning with a glass of orange juice. But as part of a 10-day challenge to cut sugar from my diet, I squeezed its 23 grams of sugar from my daily routine. With 60 grams of processed sugar on a normal day, I far exceeded the approximately 45 grams the Cleveland Clinic recommends for adult males, which lowered my energy, increased my likelihood for headaches and put me at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes. The first few days of my diet left me grouchy and sluggish — sugar can be eight times as addictive as cocaine, according to the Clinic — but eventually I had more energy and felt lighter (although my weight only dipped slightly). I cut out bread, gradually ate more green veggies and lean protein, and traded in sugar-coated cereal with milk for oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, chia seeds, raisins, cinnamon and blueberries. Now just looking at the nutrition facts for high-sugar foods makes me queasy. And while I had a glass of OJ the day after the challenge, it was a little too sweet for my liking.
My first instinct upon making breakfast was to pour a glass of orange juice. As my oatmeal cooked, I went to grab the OJ out of the fridge. I had stop myself by looking at the label, checking the sugar content and putting it back. This set the tone for the rest of my day. I learned my diet was filled with sugar I didn't need. This cleanse required firm adjustments — I cut dairy out of my diet, so no more afternoon yogurt — and it made me do a double take on almost everything I ate.
I really miss bread. On certain days, it wouldn't have been uncommon for me to eat four, maybe five, pieces of bread. Cutting raisin wheat toast out of my breakfast made me feel more energetic on the morning commute. At times on my drive in, I could get sleepy and, if today was any indication, it was because I was eating a ton of sugar and crashing before I even got to work. I want this lightness to continue.
Today was the first test of willpower. When I began to think about where I would get lunch, every place I normally went — Rothschild Farms, Heinen's, etc. — was a place where I usually ordered some kind of sandwich. I ended up getting a salad for lunch, with no-sugar olive oil dressing. As I ate it, I felt dually satisfied and hungry. On one hand, I knew that I had made the right decision. On the other, I just wanted a sandwich. I was sluggish and tired by 11 a.m. and thought bread might help. Not caving, though, would be the turning point of my week.
I finally found ways around my sugar cravings. I began making a breakfast bowl loaded with raisins, blueberries and banana that was sweeter, but also healthier, than everything I'd eaten before. Brown rice became a staple of my diet, too, as rice doesn't have gluten or any added sugar. As I ate, I felt full. I felt lighter again and had energy. As I got ready for bed, I realized this was something I could do.
Today I ate my favorite meals. I hadn't had cereal — another one of my favorites — in five days and found a way around it. Rice Chex had no added sugar and no gluten. Paired with almond milk — there's no dairy or sugar in unsweetened original almond milk — and a pinch of cinnamon, I found a hack that I could continue after my cleanse was completed. It led me to research my cereals — Raisin Bran Crunch in particular — and see how much sugar was in each. The results were alarming as Raisin Bran Crunch has 20 grams of sugar in a cup.
I hit my limit today. The Cleveland Clinic suggested eating more green vegetables and making juice out of veggies like kale. So I tried making an after-work kale smoothie. It didn't taste good, but it taught me that I don't need to go extreme to make a sugar-free lifestyle work. I can work within my comfort zone while still trying new things.
I'm starting to obsess about food. At home, I went through almost everything I eat regularly and saw how much sugar was in each item and what kind. Something as simple as barbeque sauce — a condiment I always put on chicken — can have roughly 5 grams of processed sugar in a single serving. I realized I have to be more aware of what I'm eating in order to make this last.
Finally, I had broke free from my need for sugar. At times, I'd felt lighter and energetic and peppier. Then I know I'd made the right decision. At other points, I feel sluggish and my stomach hurts. Where is my bread and orange juice? But on sluggish days such as today, I reminded myself my body was dealing with going from one extreme to another, and I needed time to move past the withdrawal. Day 8 was last day I felt sluggish.
This is the easiest day so far. I'd settled into a groove and thrived on a strict diet that was also flavorful and sweet. I felt no desire to eat sugar, eat a cookie, or even have bread or orange juice. I liked how I felt and liked the differences in energy levels. As I tracked my food and looked at everything I ate, I felt accomplished.
On the morning of the last day, I reflected on my diet. I'd eaten healthier than I had at any point I had at any point in my life. I don't crave sugar anymore. My mother asked me if I planned on eating anything special now that I would be able to eat sugar again. I said no. And then she asked me if I wanted her to buy orange juice. I said no.