I Survived Two Weeks Without Sugar

Two weeks with no added sugar and no artificial sugar (except for one accidental sip of my husband’s sweetened cold brew coffee): done. And it was pretty darn doable!

I have my Lifetime weigh-in tomorrow and will report in then on how these two weeks affected my weight. More important, of course, is how these two weeks affected my brain and body. Here are some takeaways from two sugar-free weeks:

Increased awareness
Sugar. Is. Everywhere. As I prepared for these two weeks, I went through my snack bin in my pantry and ended up banishing the entire thing to the top shelf. Gone were the obvious – the Smart Sweets and dark chocolate – but other items unexpectedly contained sugar as well. Bye, roasted broad bean snacks. My precious SkinnyPop microwave popcorn and PB2, how could you?! All that remained from my snack stash, alas, was seaweed.

Looking at labels at the grocery store was also a revelation. Sugar pervades packaged food and condiments more than I ever would have thought. But I have made some heartening discoveries as well. Some Larabars and Epic bars have no added sugar and have been helpful in a pinch. Brands like Primal Kitchen offer a wide variety of dressings and condiments to help me fend off FOMO. I have replaced PB2 with real almond butter and crappy low-point bread with sprouted grain. I feel more satisfied with and appreciative of the higher-point options than the low-point stuff.

Decreased cravings
This has been such a pleasant surprise. Unlike my alcohol cravings, which lingered for months after I started my OYAF, my junk sugar cravings disappeared fast unless faced with extreme temptation (like yesterday when my now second-favorite kid waved my favorite bakery cookie in my face). Stepping out of the vicious cycle of sugar craving-consumption-crash-repeat has been positively liberating.

Increased energy
Whole foods + healthy fats – sugar = steady energy. This is simple and life-changing and a welcome escape from the constant spikes and dips in my energy when my diet was sugar-laden.

Decreased puffiness
No more sugar hangovers, no more sugar bloat. I am still working on this one, as the changes in my diet have confused my bod a bit. But I trust the process and have definitely de-puffed.

Fat is my friend
Nuts! Avocado! Oil! I used to hesitate to spend points on these things because I was trying to save up for dessert. Now I believe that healthy fats are a very worthwhile investment.

Food has flavor
Being unable to drown my salads in low-point dressings (all my go-to’s contain some form of added sugar) has given me a renewed appreciation for being able to taste my ingredients. The char on a nicely grilled chicken breast. Smooth, creamy avocado. Feisty red pepper. For the last two weeks I have used Whole30-approved dressings, which seem to compliment rather than cover the taste of the food.

I may be making this up, about being able to taste my food better, but I don’t think so – because I felt the same way when I first gave up wine. Going out for dinner without wine felt a little awkward, but truly tasting my meals was an immediate, huge plus. Samsies for sugar, I guess.

Phew! A lot learned in a short time!

Starting tomorrow I am going to loosen the reins a bit, but just like when I first stopped drinking, I can’t un-know what I know about sugar, and I can’t un-feel how great I have felt without it. I’m happy and proud of these two sugar-free weeks and I know they won’t be my last!

A Dear Sugar Letter

Dear Sugar*,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it IS you, you tantalizing tempter. You crave-inducing killer. You are always delicious and occasionally truly divine. You are simultaneously ubiquitous and stealthy. You have always been there for me, yet were never what I actually needed. And that is exactly why I need to take a break.

You have been part of my life since I can remember, and some of my fondest memories are forever intertwined with you. Pan di Stelle gelato in Sorrento while on vacation with my husband. Cadbury chocolate straight from the factory in Uxbridge while on a field trip with my MBA class. Chelsea buns in Cambridge. Scones with clotted cream in London. The world’s best homemade ice cream and fresh waffle cones a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ home in Massachusetts. The jar of Nutella I would buy every week at Shaws after mommy-and-me class, my infant daughter snoozing away in her stroller as we walked home to our apartment in Boston’s South End. My son’s ninja-themed, Oreo-buttercreamed birthday cake, which he sliced (while supervised) with a samurai sword when he had just turned four.

Sugar, I will always love you. But right now I gotta say bye.

See, you taste so good but you hurt so bad. You send me soaring but are never there to catch me when I fall. You never fail to delight my senses, but neither do you fail to bloat my belly. You make me feel like a million bucks, then leave me feeling less than. A moment of ecstasy, then you’re gone – and I’m inevitably bombarded by an onslaught of dehydration, fatigue, and guilt.

Oh the guilt! How have I lived with it all these years? I’ll tell you how. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel any better. I kept coming back again and again in the myriad moments where I felt weak and out of control and powerless and fat and stressed and tired.

I know better now. And you can thank your friend the wine witch for my newly enlightened state. I’ve traded guilt for grace. I know your secrets. I know how the mere promise of you releases dopamine in my brain, making me feel pleasure before you’ve even passed my lips. I know that you will always leave me wanting more. I will never be satisfied as long as I seek satisfaction from the likes of you.

So I need to look elsewhere for awhile. I need to remind us both who wears the leggings in this relationship. Yes, I will most certainly fall into the embrace of your natural counterparts. But frozen mango has more to offer than your empty promises (and calories).

I will also be looking beyond food. I will write. I will track. I will be present. I will move. I will hydrate. I will strive to become an amateur urge-surfer. And I will progress from there.

Sugar, you will always be part of my life. I can’t imagine celebrating my one year alcohol-free on July 4 without you. But it’s goodbye for now. Because I’m worth it.

With love, will, and grace,

Jen

*Added and artificial, not natural. I’m not that much of a masochist.

The Wine Witch Returns

I had one of the strongest booze cravings tonight that I’ve had in a very, very long time. I’m happy to report that I surfed the urge like a boss, but it was nevertheless unsettling.

Today was a loooong day. “No-school November,” as we call it around here, is a challenging time. The kids don’t have a full week of school until the last week of the month, so our tenuous fall routine has once again fizzled before my eyes, leaving me with two stir-crazy siblings-turned-frenzied-frenemies.

We managed a few successful diversions today. Kickboxing class for me (brought to you by the iPad, which kept my kids entertained for those precious 45 minutes); play date for my daughter (bless the mom of her friend, who let the girls frolic in a giant leaf pile); and a birthday party for my son (bless those parents who hosted the party at one of those bouncy castle places). But any time they were in our house my kids were either at each other’s throats or just plain rude, to each other and to me. Ugh.

By the time the witching hour finally rolled around, I had a sink full of dirty dishes with which to do battle as I attempted a new recipe which I must have botched because it turned out pretty nasty. I felt defeated by culinary chaos and exhausted from the resolve it took to not just scream my head off at my whiny, ungrateful children all day long.

My frayed nerves must have given the shriveled wine witch newfound life because all of a sudden, there she was. “You know what would make this better? Wine. A cold, crisp glass to help you escape this craziness. To help take the edge off. You deserve-”

Nope. Not happening. Scat! Go back into your hole! Bye, Felicia.

She retreated. And I began to “surf the urge.”

Why was I craving alcohol? A mountain of dirty dishes plus a particularly soul-sucking day of parenting? Welcome to Trigger City, where the streets are lined with sauvignon blanc and tequila grows on trees.

Would alcohol make anything better? No way. That’s an easy answer these days. It would have made me impaired, numb, dehydrated, and even more short-tempered than I already was. Most importantly, I would be showing my children that the answer to stress relief is alcohol. I don’t want them to grow up with that message like I did.

What could I do to improve my state of mind instead of boozing? Eat! My kids and I sat down to dinner and even though mine was pretty gross, my son ate his sugar snap peas without whining (!!!) and we ended up having a rather civilized and even – gasp! – enjoyable family meal.

But the dish mountain remained. To ward off the emboldened wine witch – well, first I ate a piece of chocolate in the pantry in the dark by myself (keepin’ it real y’all). Then I asked Echo to play the “Doing the Dishes” playlist – which is full of catchy pop music – and I got down with my dish pile while my kids funneled the last of their crazy energy into a rather adorable dance party.

I quashed the wine witch and I rallied to create something positive out of this slog of a day. And I’m proud of that. My kids are sound asleep and I am heading up to bed as soon as I finish writing. Tomorrow (a new day! Hallelujah!), I’m spinning at 6am and then I have my monthly weigh-in. So this mama needs to recharge her superpowers. That sounds better than getting my beauty rest, doesn’t it?

Either way, I am going to sleep with clean dishes and a clean conscience. Take that, wine witch!

Alcohol-Free Football Season Game Plan


Football season is upon us. I am giddy thinking about everything Fall. This has always been my favorite season. I love that the crisp weather necessitates jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt. I love taking our kids to the pumpkin patch and apple-picking. Having grown up going to college football games and coming from a family of diehard fans, I love watching NFL games on Sundays. And I love all the treats of the season, of course: fresh apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin beer –

Oh wait. There won’t be any of that this year.

Right. Alcohol-free Fall. Lazy sober Sundays watching football. Hmm. This will be… different.

In years past, pumpkin beer was a seasonal staple. Before I joined WeightWatchers in 2017, a typical Sunday evening spent watching the game would include a couple of pumpkin beers and half a large pizza, and then half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and maybe some wine. I would go to bed feeling buzzed and looking like I was well into a second trimester of pregnancy, my belly bloated to its max. I would wake Monday morning feeling gross, guilt-ridden, and paralyzed at the thought of having to start a new week.

Those days are behind me now. Half a large pizza is now one or two slices on the Sundays I choose to indulge. I always have a huge pile of veggies or a big salad along with it. And Enlightened ice cream occupies Ben & Jerry’s former freezer drawer. I feel good that I’ve reformed my eating habits. And I do not miss that pizza-and-beer-belly.

But I’m a little nervous about facing my first-ever alcohol-free football season. I felt momentarily sorry for myself walking past the pumpkin beer at the grocery store yesterday. So I decided, much like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, I’ve got to get my head in the game. Time to strategize how I’m going to not just survive – but enjoy! – football season without booze. No pity parties allowed at this sober tailgate, people.

Here is my game plan:

1. Exercise – I have been doing #Peloton rides on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Gotta keep this up because it puts me in a healthy mindset to start the day, and it’s easier to stick to good habits when I’ve worked out.

2. Hydration is everything! And now that it’s getting cooler I will start drinking tea again. Water, tea, seltzer, and the occasional Propel when I want something sweet make for a deep and diverse beverage line-up.

3. 1-SmartPoint hot dogs and 3-SmartPoint chicken brats – I discovered these at the grocery store and the brats in particular are delish! A great substitute for the fattier stuff. I’ll add sauerkraut for the probiotic benefits, and to help to offset the small batch artisanal tortilla chips I refuse to give up.

4. Fruit and veg – Load up on ‘em! Always.

5. Most importantly: remember why I really love football season – I don’t love it (just) because it’s an excuse to eat small batch artisanal tortilla chips. I love it because football is entertaining and provides plentiful opportunities for family snuggles and relaxation. We love teaching our kids about the game and our favorite players. Watching a game together on a Sunday afternoon is a welcome pause in the action of the school year and busy extracurricular schedule. Football time is family time, and that is why I really love it. I never loved it for the booze. I just had football and booze intertwined in my subconscious. Let the re-wiring commence!

So, as much as I am feeling a slight pang of longing for pumpkin beer, I am feeling a deeper pang of excitement at the thought of experiencing our family football bonding – and everything else I love about Fall – with complete clarity and presence.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

Tracation* Contemplation

*Tracation, noun: a period of time spent away from from home with small children and possibly family pets that is more restful than a trip but less restful than a vacation 

We are back from our week-long trip – not “vacation” because kids and dogs. One of my friends on Connect suggested the term “tracation” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Because it was not just a trip either. There were relaxing moments. I read one-and-a-half books and, like, four magazines! But traveling with two kids and two dogs is, on balance, more tiring than rejuvenating. So. Tracation.

But here’s what’s great: we stayed for a week in a small beach-y cottage off the beaten path in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and by the end of the week we all still liked each other! WIN!

Oh, and it was also my first alcohol-free tracation. Which is a big deal. I have to remind myself of that. I am now happily over 50 days into my 365-day alcohol-free journey. I still think about booze on a daily basis but usually it’s a thin, frail desire that flickers for a moment and fizzles out just as quickly. “Ooh, wine. Nope. Ok.” Just like that. Usually.

But not always. Day 50 was tough. Because we were tracationing in her neck of the woods, we went to visit my mother-in-law. The kids and I hung out with some fun cousins while my husband, his mom and his brother did some sad and surreal and strange gathering and tying of the loose-ends left in the wake of my father-in-law’s death last month.

[Death is weird, isn’t it? On one level, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Circle of life and all that. On another level it’s achingly sad, of course. And it’s also a logistical nightmare. Weird.]

It was a long day, Day 50. A not unwelcome, but strange, but necessary interruption of our regularly scheduled tracation. It was a bit stressful. We all ate too much ice cream in giant waffle cones, which helped until it made me feel worse (as always – a lesson I refuse to learn, apparently).

There was also an ever-so-slight but noticeable crispness in the air that was unmistakably the first hint of Fall. My favorite season. Hoodie sweatshirts, blue jeans, football, pumpkins, pumpkin spice, pumpkin beer, wine… oh wait. Nope. Not this year.

And all of that was just enough to make the craving for booze stick around. Tracation interruptus. Resurfaced grief. Sadness for my husband and his loss – it’s a loss for us all, of course, and size doesn’t matter, but it does, and his is the biggest and I’m very, very sad for him. The first inkling of Fall. The realization that part of my love for my favorite season is intertwined with my love for alcohol. Amped-up anxiety as a result of that realization.

Nothing earth-shattering, and I never felt in danger of actually imbibing and breaking my commitment to this booze-free year. It’s just never fun to feel yourself taking two steps back, especially after I’ve been leaping ahead lately.

To recap:

Our tracation was successful. Day 50 was hard. Death is weird. I achieved my first alcohol-free trip and I mostly didn’t miss booze at all.

And now, we are happy to be home. It’s almost Fall. And that will be alcohol-free too, as I continue to move forward through this year of self-love and self-discovery and everything else it will come to mean to me.

Fall In

A beautiful quote from my Peloton “Feel Good Ride” this morning with Ally Love. Some days it’s easy to “fall in” to self-love. Other days, like today, it feels impossible to surrender to that empowered ideal. Even though I know in that surrender is the contentment I crave.

Today, I ended up crying through my kids’ swim class after getting a speeding ticket on the way there. It’s not about the ticket, but the mortifying experience of getting pulled over with my kids in the car pushed me over the edge. I am crippled with cognitive dissonance right now. I am stuck in the shift from school year to summer and I’m letting it get the best of me.

One broken mama

Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to resort to old coping mechanisms to ease this tricky transition in our family routine. But junk food and a glass of wine make me feel so much worse. SO much worse. They always did, but I didn’t notice it as much when I was stuck in my wino-life, because I never knew how good I could feel.

But I am not fully equipped to fill the void left by booze and junk either, and that’s what broke me today. Can’t drink, can’t stuff my face with chocolate. What else do I have? Foam rolling. Tea. US Weekly (though that’s fairly toxic too). Writing. Seltzer. Stretching. Breathing…? But I just want a jar of Nutella! Is that so wrong? Yup. F.

I know this is a process. And I know I’m too hard on myself most of the time. I get lost in one bag of tortilla chips and lose sight of the long game, in which I’ve already scored more goals than I ever thought possible.

So let’s zoom out of this pity party for a moment.

This was a tough week. My daughter was crushed to have her kindergarten year come to an end. My husband was out three nights and has been renovating our garage all weekend. I haven’t had enough time or space from my kids to be able to digest the end of the school year. Oh, and I had a heinous case of PMS.

I have a kid who finished kindergarten. This is a big deal to me. A milestone in my motherhood journey. My little girl is vanishing before my eyes, and in her place is an increasingly poised, articulate, compassionate, curious, independent big kid with real feelings and opinions and the ability to express them.

She has also arrived at a point in her life where she will have legit memories. And here are her dad and I, at the helm of our family craft, doing our best to steer both of our kids through what they will hopefully remember as a happy and fun childhood while navigating the tricky waters of adulthood ourselves.

We are all first-timers here. And we are all going to stumble along the way.

After her swim lesson today, my daughter could tell I had been crying – luckily my 4-year-old son was oblivious so I only had to contend with one conversation, which of course turned the waterworks right back on. She looked me directly in the eye and wanted to know exactly why I was so upset and what she could do to help me feel better.

My kid shows compassion beyond her years. And she loves me so damn much.

I need to show her that it’s just as important to love yourself as it is to love those closest to you. I need to give myself a break. I need to show her that when things get out of whack, love brings us back to where we should be.

Oh wait. She already knows. Fall in, Mama.

My Alcohol Experiment: 100 Days of a Changed Life

It has been 100 days since I started The Alcohol Experiment. One. Hundred. Days!

I feel slightly strange marking this milestone, given that I have not gone completely sans booze. Over the last 100 days, I went sober for the first 74. Since then I have had four drinks total on three separate occasions. I have been alcohol-free for 97 out of 100 days.

On the three occasions I did drink, I was completely in control and acting within my non-negotiables. I decided before going out (because I have not had any booze at home since the start of TAE) how much I would drink, and made sure I pre-tracked the booze. So while I have not been 100% alcohol-free for the last 100 days, I have been 100% in control of my drinking.

And that feels pretty awesome.

I can’t help but wonder if I would be feeling more accomplished if I had gone completely alcohol-free for all 100 days. While that would have been an incredible achievement, I am content to not be contending with the anxiety around when or if I would have a drink again. I feel no guilt about the fact that I am celebrating an alcohol-free milestone that has included four drinks. Because that has been part of the process for me. This is my path, it’s what feels genuine to me, and as long as I maintain that authenticity it’s all good.

What am I taking with me as I move beyond these 100 days? From all the content Annie Grace graciously bequeaths us in TAE, what have been the most useful tools for me?

Non-Negotiables my non-negotiables that I initially set on Day 29 are becoming more and more deeply etched in my brain. I take this list very seriously. The structure provided by my non-negotiables is the main reason why I am cautiously optimistic that moderation will be possible for me.

The Power of Positive Thinking and Self-Talk – I didn’t realize how negative my self-talk was until I examined it through the lens of TAE. Allowing myself grace, making a conscious effort to nix negative, critical thoughts and instead treat myself with the same level of kindness with which I treat people I love has been such a gift – to myself, but also to those around me. My kids will now grow up with a mom who cherishes herself, her body, and her life. And I hope they will never struggle with negativity and self-criticism the way I did.

Gratitude for My Body – see above, and also that letter I wrote to my body on Day 11? Life-changing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now at the best level of fitness with the healthiest body I have had since my wedding. My bod and I are BFFs now and it shows.

The Critical Role of Connection – Connecting with my husband and kids. Connecting with mom friends and old friends. Connecting with my mom. Connecting virtually with amazing #sobersisters on Connect. Connecting with myself. All of these connections are more authentic, nourishing and rewarding when experienced with a clear head and heart.

Chemical Knowledge – Alongside all of this self-examination and -improvement of the last 100 days is a keen understanding of the chemical effects of alcohol on the body. Being acutely aware of the whole process, from craving to consumption to digestion and detoxification, has definitely helped me conquer my cravings. And on the three occasions I chose to drink during the last 100 days, my awareness of what was happening in my brain and body helped me stay in control. Is drinking less enjoyable because of the knowledge I now possess? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Nope!

As I cross the 100-day threshold, what is my plan from here? To keep after it! To keep doing what I’m doing with regard to alcohol. To keep reading, listening to podcasts, seeking support from my #sobersisters. To keep writing this blog. To keep learning and sharing. And to stay positive and kind and grateful, always.