These candy bar stations are almost too pretty to eat....a good way to keep from indulging! Although over the past seven weeks there have been some indulgences (I'll get to that), I discovered that quitting the sweet stuff certainly isn't impossible, and I've even developed some habits that I'm hoping will carry through the next few months and beyond. Here's an overview of what I did to get through, and some of the benefits I'm enjoying from the process.
Things I got rid of - All foods with natural sugar in them (fruit and some veggies), as well as everything that had sugar, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, etc. (you get the picture) on the ingredient label. This included bread and most baked goods, crackers, chips, most condiments and salad dressings, sauces, spreads, certain seasonings, etc. I read more labels than I've ever bothered to pay attention to, and its shocking the amount of sugar (and other unnecessary additives) contained in a lot of the food we eat.
Indulgences I kept - I think that cutting out all the "bad stuff" and not allowing yourself anything you enjoy is a recipe for failure. I'm a coffee drinker, and need my morning java for the day to feel like its started. I've always liked it with a splash of cream and Splenda for sweetness, and although these artificial sweeteners are deemed as "harmful", I didn't give this up because I only drink one cup a day, and because I simply didn't want to.
I also allowed myself the occasional piece of really dark chocolate. I'm talking 90% cacao, and while some people can't stand this and would rather eat no chocolate, I found that the smell and texture gave me the "experience" of chocolate without the outrageous amount of added sugar.
One afternoon during a day when I was craving a sweet finish after lunch, I discovered that SoBe Lifewater is sweetened with erythritol (stevia/Truvia), and since this type of sweetener is "allowed", I drank these from time to time for refreshment and a bit of sweetness.
Helps along the way - I think that one of our main problems in the fight against excess sugar consumption is that we're a society of convenience. We like to eat and drink on the go, and don't allow enough time (if any) for the preparation necessary to eat healthful foods. In giving up sugar, you are forced to give up the "convenient" foods like energy/granola bars, energy drinks/shakes, chips, crackers, cookies and a lot of the fast food choices out there. This is beneficial in many ways, but its not always easy to carve out time for washing and cutting up veggies, preparing salads, or putting together a meal that has enough flavor and spice to satisfy your palate. Some convenience foods that I found along the way were plain yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese and plain instant oatmeal--all with a packet of Truvia to cut some of the sourness. I also loaded them up with cinnamon for added flavor.
I also ate a lot of nuts--mostly almonds, walnuts and pecans, and nut butter as well. I'll admit that I'd never even tasted peanut butter that didn't have a laundry list of added ingredients, but once I tasted the plain stuff I'll never go back to Jif. Its amazing the natural "sweetness" your tongue can detect in plain peanuts and almonds when given the chance!
Low fat cheese was another nice treat, and I enjoyed lots of eggs, veggies and lean meats, seasoned with a variety of yummy spices. Almond milk is a recent discovery of mine, and I can't get enough of the stuff! More calcium than regular milk, and no sugar whatsoever. If you haven't tried it, do so--its great!
I have to admit that I cheated a few times. There was Mother's Day, when I spent all day on Saturday preparing a delicious brunch for my family and in-laws. There was no way I was going to go to the trouble of putting together a gooey dish of baked apple-cinnamon french toast, fresh blueberry and orange muffins, and summer berry fruit salad and not enjoy any of it. So I allowed myself to celebrate my first Mother's Day and have a few sweets. Then there was the rhubarb sour cream crumb pie that my aunt made. No excuse for that one, but I had to have a small slice.....and it was worth it. One more thing I probably shouldn't mention was an unfortunate encounter I had with a 1 pound chocolate Easter bunny. It was in the house and it probably shouldn't have been, and after a few bites and realizing he was becoming a problem I had to throw the little guy out. Problem solved :)
So overall, the challenge of this project was totally worth it, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for a structured way to cut back and experience the benefits of healthier eating. The e-book I followed was such a help--you can download it here. By following a program, you challenge yourself to go "all or nothing" and completing each day "sugar-free" is a small victory that keeps you moving toward your goal. I found that the benefits were instantly noticeable, and I enjoyed having way more energy on a day-to-day basis, improved overall mood and motivation, as well as my skin completely clearing up. I've also learned to appreciate the taste of food in its pure state--especially veggies. There is so much good natural flavor that we forget about when we load our food up with additives. Most of all, I ditched the last pounds of pregnancy weight that were hanging around, and am now under what I weighed pre-pregnancy. Yay! Will I continue to eat like this? Yes and no. I'm introducing moderate amounts of natural sugar back into my diet, and I think that this will make things much easier to maintain over time. I like fruit too much to cut it out completely, and think that all God-created foods (in moderation) are meant to be enjoyed and beneficial to our health and well being. Good luck to anyone who is attempting this type of thing--e-mail me for tips or motivation--I'd love to help!