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 Peanut Butter Cups Experiment

Awareness plants the seed of change.

I found this sentence in my Notes app today. Can’t remember where I heard this. Peloton? WW? A wise friend? Instagram? Or did I come up with it myself? Anyway, it’s an appropriate statement for day 308.

I consciously fed the sugar monster today. Seduced by a carton of peanut butter cups while grocery shopping on an empty stomach (mistake numero uno, that!), I decided to make a little experiment of indulging my recent sugar cravings. I paid for my groceries and returned to my car. As I popped open the plastic container (delayed gratification has never been my thing), I felt the giddiness of dopamine release. It takes eight minutes to drive from Whole Foods to my house. I decided I would eat four peanut butter cups on my drive home – that way I would still have a chance to be within my points today, as I had a zero-point lunch and low-point dinner lined up.

Do you think I was able to stick to just four? I probably could have, if I had chosen to exercise discipline. But I chose not to today, for a variety of reasons. As soon as I finished one peanut butter cup I reached for the next. I tried to eat them slowly, but I still managed to have about ten(ish?!) by the time I pulled into my driveway.

As I ate them, I focused on enjoying them and did my best to be present and brush aside the guilt that was hovering, threatening to crush my sugar buzz. I thought about Annie Grace’s video of herself consuming an entire bottle of wine, and how she used that footage to motivate herself to stop drinking – and how much it motivated me back when I was doing TAE over a year ago. I mentally zoomed out and looked at myself, again trying not to judge, just observing myself indulging a strong sugar craving. I noted how the first peanut butter cup tasted (amaaaazing), versus the fifth (yummy with a twinge of gross), versus the fifteenth (because yes, I kept eating them throughout the day).

The verdict? The peaut butter cups were delicious. I’m proud of myself for not beating myself up for eating them. But my belly is so bloated right now I look pregnant. And I miss my frozen mango! I really do!

Awareness plants the seed of change. I think my sugar habits – ingrained more deeply than my wine dependence, because sugar came into my life long before booze – may actually be evolving. Because those peanut butter cups, as yummy as they were, did not taste so much better than frozen mango that I am willing to sacrifice feeling strong and svelte. I have felt so good the last couple of days. I have been eating well, exercising, and hydrating. Today’s sugar binge has made me feel completely bloated, tired, and dehydrated.

This is definitely reminiscent of when I went back to drinking after taking a one of my initial booze breaks. I knew how good I felt without wine, so going back to drinking was not as pleasurable. I no longer had the tolerance – for the alcohol itself, but also for the way it made me feel (yuck).

Today’s conscious peanut butter cup binge is a reminder of how good I feel when I do NOT cater to the sugar monster. I did still enjoy the chocolate – but less than I would have in the past. I choose to see progress here, not weakness. Yes, I succumbed to the peanut butter cups. Yes, I ate too many of them. But I did it all with awareness and without judgement. And I learned from this experience.

I don’t think I will ever fully give up sweets. But I would like to be able to eat them in moderation and have the sugar monster be a less dominant presence in my brain. I don’t think moderation is possible for me with alcohol – and with each day that passes I become less interested in drinking again at all. But sugar, for me, is different. For now. We’ll see.

A Grenade, Not a Balm

The day started delightfully enough. Eight hours of sleep, and then my son woke at 7 and I snuggled him back to sleep for an hour. Alas, by 2pm I was hiding in the pantry eating Bark Thins that I could only half-taste because my congestion has worsened again. Ugh.

What sent me into my pantry was a big wave of life malaise that unexpectedly engulfed me this morning. My kickboxing class was cancelled, and my allergies blew up as I ran errands in lieu of working out. As I was driving around town, I was consumed by an overwhelming, sinking brain fog: I don’t want to be home, I don’t want to live in New York, I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t even know where to start getting back on top of things. It was intense and uncharacteristic and scary.

Here’s what I did: I finished my errands, came home to relieve my babysitter, and let my kids watch TV so I could do a Peloton ride. I was hoping for an endorphin boost but the ride didn’t do it for me. So I resorted to chocolate.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t use this as an excuse to start drinking early. I refuse to dive into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to distract myself from the discomfort of feeling these disturbing and depressed feelings. Yes, I fed my foggy melancholy with chocolate. But for me that is a much better choice than booze.

I finished the bag of Bark Thins while my kids played remarkably nicely. And then I started to get myself together a bit. I made an appointment with my PCP and also with an allergist. I got through a bunch of emails and updated our family calendar. I drank some water and took my vitamins. And I started to feel a bit better. My allergies also calmed down after spending a few hours inside.

The day improved from there. I made things easier for myself by taking kids out to dinner so I didn’t have to cook. I’m planning to go to bed with a book as soon as I post this. This day is definitely ending on more solid footing than I found myself this morning.

As unnerving as it was, I’m proud of myself for staying present with my sad state. I didn’t deny it, didn’t try to run from it. Bark Thins notwithstanding, I allowed my mood to just be, and I took the steps I could take to help it pass.

For years, I turned to wine in times like this. And that is how I lost myself. I thought wine was the solution to melancholy and anxiety. I thought wine was a balm to soothe my stress-induced cracks. To fill my life’s fissures until they healed.

But instead of putting me back together, wine broke me apart. Wine was a grenade, not a balm. Alcohol broke me into so many fragments it got too hard to piece myself back together every morning. So I stopped trying. And started living as an incomplete version of myself.

I could not operate at my full potential because I was not full. Pieces of me were cracked, broken, misplaced. Some pieces of the puzzle that was me were jammed into the wrong spot, warping the overall image and making it impossible to complete.

No one really saw this, I don’t think. But I knew it. Wine shattered me. I’d pick up enough pieces to get through the day, only to be reshattered again that night.

I have spent the last thirteen months painstakingly – but joyously – gathering and repairing and rediscovering the whole picture of me. It’s hard work, but besides carrying my two babies it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

Today, the picture I see is someone who has color back in her cheeks but is nonetheless run down, anxious about my upcoming leg procedure, and tired of not feeling my best. I let my fatigue, anxiety, and frustration get the better of me for awhile. But I trust in my ability to come back from all this and I know I’m finding more of my pieces along the way.

Outshining Broken Bulbs at 150 Days

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree is one of my least favorite tasks of the year. Not to sound Grinchy, but I always end up doing it by myself, getting poked by myriad needles while trying not to be toppled by a nine-foot fir.

Tonight, my daughter asked if she could help me. And, lo and behold, my little stringbean ninja turned out to be the key to successful light-stringing! The process was painless (save for a few inevitable pokes) and a fun bonding moment. I was grateful to finally have a wingwoman to support me through this dreaded but critical Christmas task.

Then she plugged in the lights. And the top 1/4 of the tree did not work.

I could consider the whole effort a failure. I could give up, rip the lights off the tree and let it ruin my night. I could buy a new strand of lights to try to hide the broken ones. I could.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. I talked about it with my daughter and she said, “Well, it’s still a great tree even if some of the lights don’t work.” And she’s right.

I’m struggling with eating right now. But I do not consider myself a failure. I am not going to give up and let the sugar monster ruin my night. I am not going to try to hide the fact that I am struggling. And I know that I am still great even if my relationship with sugar is not working.

A year ago, I was struggling with drinking. What if I had given up then? What if I had let the wine witch ruin my night, and eventually my life? What if I had continued to hide the fact that I was struggling?

I didn’t, thank goodness. I found Connect and appealed for support and received it in spades. As low as I felt, somewhere inside I knew I was still great. I knew I deserved better, and my #sobersisters on Connect helped me strengthen that belief.

I have so much more confidence now than I did a year ago. So much more faith in myself. I have overcome a soul-crippling, dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I know I’ll figure out sugar too.

Sometimes I still feel alone in my struggles. But I know I’m not, and I never was.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone. There is support for you here. Believe that you deserve to receive it. Let us help give you the boost you need. You are not a failure. Do not give up. Do not hide, from us or from yourself.

You are great. We are great. We may have a few wonky bulbs, but our light shines beautiful and bright.

On Finding Grace

I am not having a particularly grace-filled day. So I am writing this post in the hopes of finding some.

This has been a day of ticking off boxes as resentment and frustration start to simmer.

Why am I frustrated?

I am frustrated with my husband’s fever that he can’t seem to shake. I miss his presence and partnership, especially during these routine-less summer days when life seems to be injected with extra insanity and we are stuck in this relentless weather cycle of blazing sun-soupy humidity-severe thunderstorm-drenching rain (seriously, Mother Nature, from one mama to another, give us a break already!).

I want to be able to do it all and I know that’s not possible but it’s still frustrating. I want to be able to do the exercise, the healthy eating, take great care of my kids and my husband and my dogs and still have energy to keep my kitchen counter clean and stay on top of, well, life.

I am also anxious about the fact that if – WHEN – I get to lifetime and maintain it, stuffing my face in stressful times like these really is no longer an option. I know that’s a good thing. But I have relied on food since I can remember and it’s a little scary having both food and booze – my two trusty coping mechanisms – off the table.

So what is left: I go for a walk. I exercise my dog and clear my head. I identify what’s really bothering me (e.g. I’m not mad at my husband, I’m mad at his fever). Instead of distracting myself with food or alcohol, I actually think my feelings through. Huh.

***

I wrote the first draft of this post dictating into the Notes app on my phone while out walking Fred. And guess what? By the time I got home I felt better about all of it. Because instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips or a bottle of wine at 2:30pm (because weekend), I actually dug through my pile of mental rubble until I got down to brain bedrock.

And what did I uncover? Fear. Not exactly a twist ending. Pretty predictable. As I navigate this year, with its ups and downs, I will likely often discover that the complex emotions that I used to smother with booze and junk food are grounded in fear.

I no longer accept a foundation of fear. Time to start chipping away.

I came home, put my lips to my husband’s forehead, and told his effing fever to skedaddle. My husband apologized for being sick and “abandoning you with those lunatics” and I said, “My love, I actually believe you would choose me and our lunatics over being bedridden and feverish for four days, so no need to apologize.”

Weight lifted. Frustration processed and dismissed. SmartPoints and sobriety intact. Face unstuffed.

Grace found.

No Day But Today: Day One of My OYAF*

*One Year Alcohol-Free

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.