Today begins a brief, unsweet experiment. My husband and I have decided to give up sugar. Not forever. Just until Thanksgiving. Through Halloween, and my birthday. And several friends’ awesome annual parties.
Of course, when I say “my husband and I” I really mean “I, with the hesitant acceptance of my husband,” and when I say “sugar” I mean, of course, “added sugar.” Sweets. And. Alcohol. And only the fact that the authentic German Marzen lagers of Oktoberfest are no longer on our local grocery shelves has even remotely secured that hesitant acceptance of said husband. He has a special wine he’s been aging that we were planning to open for my birthday, but Thanksgiving will not be far away, I reasoned. And of course, since it will be MY birthday, everybody has to do what I say anyway. Since I’m Mom, that’s generally the case in our house.
Ah, yes. And herein I will mention the three unwitting (and were they to wit, unwilling) victims of our experiment: Bear, the five-year-old who (usually) eats her greens, but since the start of Kindergarten takes them with a side of sass. Boo, the three-year-old, who for the past eighteen months has been successfully running his own experiment entitled “How long boy can live without vegetables,” and Bitsy, the sweet baby who has just discovered that she is a toddler, and no longer wants anything we offer her unless we offer her a graham cracker.
OK, so, why are we doing this, and what are the “rules” we’re going to follow?
I’m no Eve Schaub. We’re not looking at a year with no sugar. We did just finish watching “That Sugar Film,” which, despite needing a more catchy title, was rather good and ends with a spectacular and hilarious music video, Mr. Sugar. But everyone knows sugar is bad for us. My husband and I both know it has snuck into an alarmingly important place in our family’s life. I think it is excessive. Why is a day without sugar so incomplete? What does it think it is, coffee? Why does EVERY night need a glass or two of wine and half a bar of 72% dark chocolate? From a personal and spiritual perspective, I think of my current relationship with sugar as an epitome of gluttony and slavery to sin. I am not “detached” from it by any means. I hide in the kitchen so I don’t have to share with my kids. Boo saw me sneaking chocolate syrup—the awful, “chocolatey flavored” corn syrup—into a pint glass of milk when I was stressed last week. “What are you making? Is that coffee?” The kid had never seen a bottle of chocolate syrup before. Why? Because I don’t want them to suffer the same fate I have, and I keep a pretty tight lock on the pantry. The chocolate syrup was an impulse buy: “Hurricane Supplies” for a storm that dissipated before it could reach us. Along with Snack Pack (it’s nonperishable!) and when the storm was obviously clear I ate three of those snack packs standing in the kitchen at ten o’clock at night. Guiltily I stuck the sole survivor in my daughter’s lunchbox. The next afternoon at Kindergarten pick-up my five-year-old actually asked me, “What was that yummy treat in my lunch today, mommy? Was it ice cream?”
I think that makes me a hippo-crit.
When I look at the calendar of the year I see about fifteen days that I think definitely deserve or warrant some sweet, yummy sugar: Christmas Eve and Christmas, New Year’s, Boo’s Birthday, Bear’s Birthday, Easter Sunday for cryin’ out loud…Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Hubby’s Birthday…even the Fourth of July… But the problem is not the holidays, holy days, and special family days. The problem is the other 350 days in the year.
The American Heart Association currently recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women, and no more than 9 for men. What they are not explicitly recommending, as far as I can tell, is a daily allowance of all sugar—fresh fruit and tomato slices included! If that 6 teaspoons (roughly 24 grams) is total sugar for the day, though, we’re in for a boatload of trouble. According to their website, it recommends that those 24 grams be the max in the added sugar of “discretionary” calories. Frankly, I thought free will and PMS made all calories discretionary, but I digress. So they basically assume you will eat a perfectly “healthy” day—whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and then you’ve got 24 grams (or 32) to spend on, say… a quarter cup of raisins? Or a candy bar?
Let’s set aside that the definition of “healthy” varies wildly across this country (Vegan? Paleo? Weston Price?) and just tell you what my family plans to do for the purpose of this blog.
- Nix white flour. This is not sugar, of course, but it might as well be once it hits your bloodstream. We aren’t gluten-free or gluten-sensitive, and although I am trying to resuscitate the Starter, we won’t be soaking or fermenting our grains or eating solely sourdough.
- Avoid any processed food with sugar in it. We don’t actually eat a ton of processed food. Almost everything, including ketchup, has been on my “make this” list once or twice. Homemade mayonnaise is manna from heaven. But as long as Trader Joe’s sells “Real Mayonnaise” without sugar in it, I can spare myself the finger strain (from holding down the pulse button of the food processor, natch) and still make myself a turkey sandwich. Bitsy ate the last graham cracker today, and with sadness did I watch it crumble. ** EXCEPTION ALERT! Whole Grain Bread. What am I, a saint? I’ll take my Spring Mill Organic Onion Dill Rye with a tablespoon of honey on the ingredients list, and I’ll take it sliced, please. Make that two.
- No juice. It’s poison in a bottle, right? No alcohol. It’s not poison,* but I am thinking for the month if I don’t say no alcohol, I will subconsciously replace my after-bedtime (the kids’ bedtime) sweet consumption with more alcohol, and probably end up an alcoholic. Plus, it’s a good way to fortify self-discipline.
* Dr. Awesome has here corrected me to assert that alcohol is, in fact, a mild
poison. So pick your semantics– and your poisons– carefully.
- Stop baking. Stop breathing? As much. No, the purpose of this experiment is not to tear my eyeballs out. I often bake a big batch of muffins because that makes a quick breakfast so much easier on school mornings, when I don’t have to hear the Arlington Whiners’ Chorus renditions of “I don’t LIKE milk. I DON’T eat Cheerios anymore;” “NO EGGS! NO TOAST! JUST PEANUT BUTTER!” and “WAAAA!” depending on the child. There are some mornings, I kid you not, where I DON’T EVEN HAVE TIME TO MAKE COFFEE. And magically, a warm homemade muffin is something they all agree on. However, for the purposes of this experiment I will stop making partially whole wheat chocolate chip pumpkin muffins with slightly reduced sugar, and start making all whole wheat pumpkin muffins (no chocolate chips) with half the sugar. And then I’ll watch two of my three children skip breakfast in protest. There will be no cookies. There will be no cake. There will even be no pie.