A Year of No Sugar: Postscript 1

Pop quiz: What’s harder than a Year of No Sugar?

Answer: The week after a Year of No Sugar.

Oy! I’m not sure why I was ever, ever looking forward to our release from the world of No Sugar… this week has easily been as hard as the very hardest No Sugar week. Why? Because, while No Sugar may be hard in terms of will power, it was always extremely easy in terms of the rules: “No Sugar” means: No. Sugar.

No, not in mayonaisse. Not in bacon. Not in buns or salad dressing or juice. I will not eat it in the house, I will not eat it with a mouse. Everywhere we went well-meaning waitresses and relatives and friends would politely try to argue “but there’s only a little… look! It says .000001%!…” But the rules as we had made them were simple. “Is it in the ingredients?” I would ask. And of course, it always was.

I love the straightforwardness of that. And I am hating the lack of it now. Sure, on midnight, at 12:01 as we watched Lady Gaga blather on about how magical New Year’s is in New York City, we each ate our treat for the evening (Ilsa: a cookie, Steve and Greta: a Lebanese pastry, me: a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.) But the next morning was when it got complicated.

New Year's Day Breakfast

For breakfast we decided to visit one of our favorite local restaurants, Rathbun’s Maple Sugar House. The last time we had been there was last New Year’s Day, the very first day of our No Sugar family experiment, and before I was fully understanding that a pancake house would be entirely off the table in such a project. (Sometimes, admitedly, I can be a little slow on the uptake.)

Immediately, the questions started coming. “Can we get a hot chocolate?” “Can we have maple syrup?” “Can we have juice?” No hot chocolate. Yes maple syrup- but not a lot. No juice.

And the questions have just kept coming. I certainly can’t blame the kids- they’re simply trying to figure our what the new “rules” are. Trouble is, Steve and I don’t exactly know. “Moderation” is the most elusive term I know.

Monday morning, for example, Steve celebrated our last day of Christmas vacation by making another favorite and long-forbidden treat: crepes, with sugar and butter. Oh, how we had missed those. Sure, it was a lot less sugar than he would’ve ever used before, but I was starting to feel anxious… were things spiraling out of control? It was starting to feel like sugar was creeping in- making an appearance at almost every meal…

And then yesterday I took the girls to the supermarket. “Mom! Can we buy these crackers? And cereal? Actual real cereal?” “Ooo! What about roast beef?” We must’ve sounded like Amish on an annual trip to town. Gritting my teeth I capitulated on the crackers, but demurred on the cereal and roast beef. One thing at a time, I said.

I had even promised them- in a fit of guilt for all my family had put up with in the last year- to get them each a small check-out counter treat on the way out, as we had used to do quite often. This simple task, it turns out, was a fiasco. Did you know that ALL gum these days has not just sugar in it, but also sugar alcohols (maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol) or aspartame… and that most of them have both? Not to mention the phenol tocpherols or whtever toxic waste it is they put in gum these days that actually requires a warning label on the package. We were unable to find a single package of gum in which sugar was the only toxin.

I was astounded. Do we really give this little of a shit about what we’re putting into our bodies, our kids bodies? I wondered. I thought back to the huge sacks of Halloween candy the kids brought home in October- I mean, who knows what was in all that stuff. (Thank God it all sits uneaten in the back of our pantry cupboard. Maybe the kids will forget about it and I can throw it away after they’ve both gone to college.)

Another missed treat: Real BLTs!

And then there was the argument/discussion Steve and I had yesterday at lunch. It all started with me asking Steve not to buy maple syrup, segwayed into whether or not I’ll continue baking with dextrose, and touched on things like whether banana bread and apple muffins count as dessert and whether snacking between meals is okay or not. I imagine some people would think we are giving this whole what-we-eat and how-we-eat-it entirely too much thought, bordering on obsessive, and maybe we are. I really don’t know anymore. It’s exhausting. Personally, right now I’m feeling like moderation kind of sucks- it takes entirely too much thought and energy. I think we may have to go live under a rock and only eat pine cones from now on.

Of course, we can’t do that. And I honestly have no desire to be the dietary freaks of our community who carry their own marinated sawdust or whatever in a pouch with them so them can eat separately-but-equally everywhere they go- no. Yes, I admire folks like Scott and Helen Nearing or Tasha Tudor for being so passionate about their ways of life- they are fascinating to me. But their sacrifice was huge: they had to remove themselves from society in order follow those ideals- which above all sounds pretty lonely. So I guess we’ll have to muddle through and figure this out, tocpherols and all.

It’s almost too bad- there’s a lovely rock on our hill that doesn’t have anyone living under it yet.

6 thoughts on “A Year of No Sugar: Postscript 1

  1. Hi Eve!

    I’ve struggled with the moderation thing quite a bit myself. My compromise is to try and eat about 90-95% real food and to only eat the very best junk food possible for the other 5-10%.

    So I’ll pick two or three meals worth of recipes like the ones in Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier for the 90-95%. Real food our hunter gatherer ancestors would recognize as food. No sugar, grains, legumes, industrial oils, or sugary modern strains of fruit. Very little dairy.

    Then for the other 5-10% or so I splurge. Only the best. Ghirardelli chocolate (who make a very low sugar 80% cacao bar), or a great Greek or French pastry, or a slice of real New York cheesecake. Make the cheat count. Savor it, let it melt in your mouth, pause between bites, milk it for all it’s worth… then go back to eating real food.

    It can be dangerous. A half gallon of ice cream has a tendency to disappear in two or three days. So I rarely buy it and I only buy the full fat favors I truly adore that I feel are worth the empty sugar calories for the enormous taste bud explosion they provide.

    I wouldn’t dream of buying a no sugar or reduced fat treat. That just leads to rationalization and over consumption. No. Either do the real thing and don’t kid yourself or don’t eat it at all.

    Be virtuous right up till you decide to be completely decadent. Then forgive yourself instantly and come back from the Dark Side. The sin is not in the falling, it’s in refusing to get back up!

    Be well,
    Ben Fury

  2. Ben- What a great comment!!
    I want to check out the cookbook you suggest- sounds intriguing- since I can’t imagine right now I cook much without either grains or dairy…
    Thank you for your perspective on “moderation”, which I agree with wholeheartedly: “Make the cheat count.”

  3. Oh, how I can totally and completely relate to this incredibly difficult dilemma and well-written post! In the last couple of years I have gone from being a full-blown sugarholic to almost removing all sugars from my family’s diet. It’s so easy when you just decide it’s no-go! And so, so difficult when you start letting go a little… And although I believe with every fiber of my being that we are much better off without the sugar (in fact I believe that the world would be a better place if people didn’t consume so much sugar!) – but like you I find it hard to be the “freaks” who bring their own food all the time – who won’t eat desserts made by others – it’s just so easy to come off as a major control freak with serious OCD behaviour! And i hate having to ponder over so many different food-decisions.
    Apart from that I just hate the frustration that comes with every single supermarket visit – I mean, do they HAVE to put sugar in EVERYTHING? And like you say – for the most part sugar is only one of many toxic ingredients…
    Luckily our son is only 3 years old – so he doesn’t know what he is missing. He doesn’t know what candy is (yet!!) – he has had cereal in daycare (another big source of frustration…) – but he has no idea that we could actually technically buy it and have it at home 😉

    regards from a like-minded in Sweden 🙂

  4. “And like you say – for the most part sugar is only one of many toxic ingredients…”

    You said it, cuisinevitamin!

    The food technologists go berserk with their favorite chemicals to make us want to eat, eat, eat. And a single “artificial” or “natural” flavoring can contain dozens of chemicals put there specifically designed to make the food item irresistible and as addictive as possible to make us repeat customers. For instance:

    Artificial flavor:
    amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amylketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 % solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, y-undecalactone, vanillin, solvent

    That’s what’s in one little ingredient item called euphemistically, “artificial flavor”. Yikes!

    I try to stick to food items on the produce aisle and meat aisle that are single ingredients instead of having lists. I know what broccoli and beef are even if they have some traces of bad things in them as well. We are all one big free range uncontrolled experiment if we eat boxes and bags full of the “food” ingredients pedaled by the packaged food industry.

    If you make yourself this one promise before you go in the market, your food quality will increase, “I will read every label on every so called “food” item. If the list is long and full of ingredients I can’t identify and feel uncomfortable about, I won’t buy it.”

    Learn allllll the names of sugar. Learn allllll the names of things containing MSG. Just because it doesn’t say SUGAR or MSG doesn’t mean they’re not in there.

    Eat real food!

    Be well,
    Ben Fury
    Better Size Me

  5. yeah, that list sure is scary! and it’s such a provoking thought that the processed “food” (i LOVE the citation marks..) industry people are doing their best to create addicts. and looking into people’s shopping carts at the store it’s evident that it’s, in fact, working.

    and yes – the technique you describe is pretty much the one i turn to when going to the store 🙂 which means sticking to very few different kinds of meat (the ones that i can get pasture raised and/or organic), eating loads of organic free range eggs, cooking dishes based on what happens to be in our weekly fruit & veg box and generally making and baking most things from scratch…

    luckily in Sweden the rules when it comes to MSG are quite strict – it has to be labeled with the code E621 (all additives have a number…) – the same rules apply to nitrites. but for some absurd reason it is apparently still ok to just use the label “artificial flavour” to cover up all the icky stuff they put in snacks etc.
    sugar comes in many forms and unfortunately just everything is sweetened in this country… liver paté, ham, all breads – well, you name it. and not eating sugar and “depriving” your child of sugar, sweets and cakes is seen as extremely weird… bordering to evil. haha.

    and i like that you share my mantra: eat real food!

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