Week 1: Motivation (Or How I Survived a Trip to the Fair)

Well, I’m one whole week into my reduced sugar challenge and I have to say it hasn’t been quite as bad as I expected. But that’s probably because it’s only been seven whole days and my motivation is still pretty high. I’m pretty sure that’s what got me through a couple of really big challenges this week, but as I near the end of a stressful week I am starting to crave sugar more and more. We’ll see how I feel around April 21!

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So, what challenges have I encountered, you ask? Let me tell you! First was a trip to the Arizona state fair with my parents while I was visiting them in Yuma. Now, before you say “Well, it’s just a fair, how bad can that be?” Let me remind you that THIS is a common sight (and smell!) at state fairs:

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Also, I should add that at this particular fair the claim to fame is the $5 jumbo cinnamon rolls, for which there was a line that wrapped around the huge warehouse hanger! A 20 minute wait! So….yea. I was a whole two days into the challenge so I was still pretty motivated. So while it was definitely a challenge, it wasn’t a true test-the-mettle challenge. But my experiences at the fair paved the way for me to distill my first lesson from the April challenge:

Lesson One: When you can’t have sugar, fat is your friend.

Yes, fat. Not too much fat, of course, but the right dose of the right fat can help me fend off those powerful sugar cravings. Fat, that precious substance that our bodies need to keep healthy but has been so demonized in our culture in the past few decades, triggers the same kind of satiety response in our brain as sugar. Our bodies crave fat in similar ways as sugar. On this challenge, I’ve learned that a moderate portion of some kind of fatty food is enough to stave sugar cravings for a while. Of course, since I’m trying to opt for whole and minimally processed foods that means that the fat I eat is not derived from potato chips or nachos. But a half avocado can do wonders for my sugar-starved brain.

Of course, there isn’t usually a fresh farm produce stand at most state fairs. So I coped with my time at the fair (and the excruciating time in the cinnamon roll line) by opting for choices that I figured would satisfy my urge without busting my sugar limit. While we were there, I opted for a couple of carne asada tacos, a dill pickle, a locally-made dried beef stick, and the most fabulous ear of roasted corn I’ve ever tasted.

tumblr_mcd171gnbs1rsfae9o1_400After my weekend to the Arizona was over, I came back and settled in for my daily routine sans sugar. Now, before the challenge my typical morning routine entailed making a (sweetened) cup of coffee and eating a (sweetened) cup of yogurt, which packed a whopping 22g of sugar. So this routine obviously had to change, and for the past week I’ve been opting for plain, no sugar added Greek yogurt and coffee with cream but no sweetener. And the result has not been that bad! I’m starting to taste the natural sugar in my yogurt as my tongue and brain get more sensitive. Also, this change in my morning meal has altered another fundamental part of my food habits, leading two the second lesson of the challenge.

Lesson Two: When coffee is not a liquid dessert, it becomes less appealing.

Before starting this challenge I would typically drink 3-4 mugs of coffee in a day. One when I woke up, another around 11am, another around 3pm, and sometimes another around 5pm. I have been under the impression that I’m just a caffeine addict who has built her life on caffeine stilts. But in the past few days I have only had a single morning cup of coffee, and nothing more, leading me to think that maybe my coffee addiction isn’t so much about coffee as it is about all the sweeteners I put into my coffee. Now that I’m not making my coffee into a dessert, I’m not only finding in slightly less satisfying, I’m also craving it less. I sometimes feel a need for a  pick-me-up in the 3pm slump, but I don’t feel beholden to coffee throughout the day as I usually do. But don’t get me wrong, I still love that morning cup of coffee. And I’m also starting to appreciate the taste of coffee as coffee even more.

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A weird development that I’ve noticed is that I am consistently staying under my 30g limit every day. In the past week I’ve clocked in anywhere from 10-15g of added sugar every day, so less than half of what I’m allowing myself. But, I don’t necessarily think this is cause for celebration. Because not only am I allowing myself natural sugar (in moderation) I’ve learned another sneaky lesson.

Lesson Three: What’s the difference between sugar and refined carbs?

I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is not a damn thing! After all, sugar is a simple carbohydrate. And I’m pretty sure that sugar and refined carbs are basically doing the same thing – giving us a big energy spike that sets us up for a big energy deficit. I discovered this lesson when I was having some strong sugar cravings and was stranded on campus without food. I needed to make a decision on what to eat, so I stood in the campus market and picked up an apple, a turkey sandwich, and some sparkling water. And while the sugar craving may have been defeated by just eating something, I noticed that the bread in the turkey sandwich was immensely satisfying. In fact, anytime that I have eaten bread in the past few days it sends little tingles to my brain and, sure enough, eventually I’ll crave bread AND sugar.

So, for me the answer is to just limit refined carbs too, because they make my sugar cravings much MUCH worse. And to be honest, bread just isn’t worth it.

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So, I’m seven days in and three lessons wiser. I’ve also noticed some positive changes too. First and foremost, I actually feel much more energized throughout the day (even without the extra coffee!). This is probably a combination of having stable blood sugar (which means I don’t crash) and opting for water or sparkling water as my go-to beverage. All this daytime energy is also helping me sleep better at night – I’m falling asleep faster and waking up feeling better. This creates a positive energy cycle: The stable blood sugar and water give me more energy, helping me to sleep better at night, helping me to feel more rested and have more energy the next day, and so on it goes.

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I also think I’m noticing positive differences in my skin, but it’s really too early to tell. I’ll know more next week. Also, the past two day have been R-O-U-G-H in the cravings department. I’ve never wanted a gummy bear more badly in my ENTIRE LIFE. So I have a feeling this next week is really going to kick my ass. But, I still have a pretty high level of motivation, so I think it will be okay. I hope!

Also coming up next week: an update on my challenge co-participants! I can’t wait to hear more about how they are coping with the challenge and share that information with you.

Till next week, friends!

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