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Shunning Sugar

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“If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part I, II, iv)

Today is day six of my annual April sugar fast.  Well, almost annual.  For some unknown reason that I can’t really remember now, I started this 30-day torture-fest the first April I was here in Austin, in 2010, and continued it again in April 2011 and 2012.  However April 2013 fell at the most miserable point of my most miserable job of all time, and I remember feeling that I was on such the edge of a breaking point that denying myself certain creature comforts that happened to contain sugar really could have pushed me over that edge (so no fast that year).  April 2014 also escaped the fast; I guess I just didn’t see the point, or maybe it was just a low-willpower year, I can’t really recall.

sugar

My April enemy.

But here we are one year later and I decided to give it another go.  The rules of the sugar fast have changed somewhat throughout the years…the first year, it was simply to avoid any and all foods that had the word “sugar” in the ingredient list on the food label.  I wasn’t very savvy then about other forms and wording of sugar that food manufacturers were using and so I’m sure some evaporated cane crystals slipped through the fasting cracks.  I also allowed myself any artificial sweeteners that first year, as well as honey.  The main focus was avoiding added, refined sugar.

The second and third years, I did my research and made a list of several dozen names for sugars and sugar alcohols that can be found on nutrition labels, and avoided any foods with them as well.  I also cut out artificial sweeteners but made a sole sweet allowance for honey, as it is a completely natural sweetener source.  But now I’ve given honey up as well because of its extreme acidity (the dietary regime streams have been crossed).  I do allow myself melons, pears, and plantains, which contain naturally-occurring fruit sugar.  Otherwise no added, refined, or artificial sugar of any kind at any time for 30 days.

It’s hard.  It’s really hard.  Going on the pre-fast grocery shopping trip is always a little depressing.  You have no idea how many everyday foods contain sugar in their ingredient list.  Try finding bread without sugar – bread, which for no good reason should even contain sugar, but 99% of the options do.  The only bread I’ve found that doesn’t have it is sourdough, or you can make your own sugarless variety.  The only breakfast cereals that don’t have sugar of any kind are Shredded Wheat and Fiber One, both of which are akin to eating bite-sized tree branches.  Read the label of that milk or peanut butter or salad dressing or yogurt or spaghetti sauce you just bought; chances are they also contain some form of sugar.  Even many kinds of pretzels and crackers have sugar in them, which is just ridiculous but not surprising that the packaged food industry has added that addiction factor to even the least-suspecting foods – to get us hooked and then keep us coming back for more.

It’s the first seven days or so of the fast that are really the toughest, waiting for the sugar cravings to subside (which are very real…I either have to throw out or stuff way back in the unseeable part of the pantry anything with sugar, because if it’s just sitting around then it’s too tempting).  I really miss my morning tea with milk and sugar.  I buy and eat a lot of plain roasted nuts during the fast, since they are high-protein and fill me up for a long time (I miss my vanilla-roasted almonds though, yes they have sugar in their coating).  I eat more vegetables and fruits during the fast than I normally do, and always hope the habit will last past the fast but for some reason it never quite does.  I also tend to overcompensate with salty foods during the fast, so I’m working on balancing that out as well.

I suppose I do this sugar fast in hopes that it will somehow cleanse my system, a mini-detox and healthy shock to the system.  It’s not like I go overboard during the other 11 months, I’m not eating mountains of chocolate bars in search of the golden ticket; I actually am usually pretty controlled when it comes to avoiding downward sugar spirals.  I seriously can’t remember the last time I had a donut or a milkshake or a soda or even real ice cream; it’s not that I don’t like them, of course I do, I guess it’s just the nutrition degree in me (and the propensity for those calories to be instantly turned into jiggly pounds and artery-clogging solids) that keeps me away from them most of the time.  I do allow myself indulgences when not on the sugar fast – I love Twizzlers licorice, and a perfect mug of rich hot chocolate on a cold night is one of the definitions of happiness, I’m pretty sure.  But it’s those hidden and unsuspecting sources of sugar that we eat every day all the time even in “regular” foods that also cause some damage, and so cutting them out for a solid month has to be a good thing, right?

I also do the 30-day sugar fast just for the challenge of it.  I dread it when it’s time to start, but I like the feeling that I’m still capable of doing something tough and out of my comfort zone (yes I know it’s all relative).  They say it takes 21 days to either solidly form or break a habit, so I could cut it off at three weeks and be done with it.  But somehow those extra nine days of added deprivation really make a difference.  After the fast is over I feel like I’ve really accomplished something, and have proven something to myself.  Just surviving those 30 seconds of a Hershey bar commercial on TV (without then running full speed to the store to get one, or ten) is a victory in itself.  Shouldn’t we all do something from time to time to shake up our routines and remind us what we’re capable of so that we can then celebrate our determination and perseverance?

And I know this is pretty much a first-world endeavor, going on a sugar fast.  I’ve lived in a place before where people had very little to eat, surviving literally on only what they could grow or hunt or find or scavenge, and they would’ve been grateful for anything in the way of food whether it had sugar in it or not.  We’re so spoiled for choice and easy access in America – and we’re sadly so used to accepting empty sugar-to-fat calories that food manufacturers put in virtually everything – that we’re slowly and literally eating and drinking ourselves to death as a nation.  It’s possible to re-train our palates, but it’s not easy.

Well.  I’m off to go “enjoy” my bowl of non-frosted shredded wheat now.  Those of you enjoying your Lucky Charms or Cocoa Krispies, please spare a thought for me.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Life Letters to My Nephews #3: Perseverance

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“I am able to endure much.” ~William Shakespeare (Henry VI Part II, iv, ii)

Dear Nephews,

This letter is about a big word with a big meaning: perseverance.  It’s also a bit difficult to spell, but take the time to learn it – not just because it may pop up in a spelling bee one day, but because it’s a good character trait to have that will help you out in life as you get older.

Persevere

You see, perseverance means that you don’t give up, even when something is difficult or tough.  Perseverance is hard; it doesn’t always feel good at the time, but can often to lead to great things.  However, you have to be the one to decide when to persevere through hard times or through a challenging situation.  No one else can make up your mind for you, because you are your own person and you have your own thoughts and dreams and wishes.  Which means you get to make your own decisions (well, maybe not right now, but you will when you get older!).

When you are faced with hard times, or a tough job, or a situation that you don’t like or enjoy, you’re probably going to have a few different options.  One of those options will be to choose do something else instead.  And sometimes, that may very well be the best option, depending on the circumstances.  Another option however will be to endure the challenge and persevere through the difficulty – this too is sometimes the best option.  How could this be?  Why would you choose to do something that’s hard or not pleasant or doesn’t make you feel good?

choices

Well sometimes boys, you have to go through something bad to get to something good.   You’ll probably hear many people say as you get older that “nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.”  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think it is true that you usually have to work hard and make some sacrifices to get what you want and where you want to be in this life.  And hard work is not usually very fun, but it is honest and earnest and a sign of good character.

But try to keep things in perspective while you’re persevering – don’t lose sight of what’s really important, and keep in mind the end goal of why you’re really doing something.  Seek advice of those who are important to you and listen to what they have to say.  Weigh the positives and negatives of what you’re doing and then make up your mind of whether or not to keep going down that same path, or to take a different road.  If the sacrifices become too great or start to cause harm, you might need to change course, and that’s ok sometimes.

Just yesterday I observed one of you get very frustrated that you couldn’t find a toy you were looking for; you were upset and angry and after only a few minutes, declared “Forget it, we’re never going to find it, it’s just gone and it’s no use searching.  Just never mind.”  It is pretty easy to give up sometimes, but you don’t usually get what you want.  And it doesn’t usually make you feel any better; in fact, most of the time you’ll feel worse when you give up on something important to you.  (And look at how nice it felt when your grandmother persevered and found your toy a few minutes later – she didn’t give up!)

I’ve been in a few pretty difficult situations in my life; sometimes I persevered, and sometimes I chose that other road.  When I lived in Africa during my time with Peace Corps, I thought about quitting from time to time; it was indescribably hot every minute of every day, the work was slow and frustrating, and the flies just about drove me out of my mind.  But those were just the bad parts – there were many good parts too, and in the end, I’m so glad I stayed and stuck it out.  I’m proud of my service there and I feel that I gained as much (if not more) than I gave.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that perseverance is about choice, and you’ll often be faced with what choices to make when you come face to face with things that are overwhelming, or challenging, or just plain hard.  I believe each of you to be strong and creative and capable – capable of doing great things in your lives and becoming amazing examples of character and originality.

And if you ever need help persevering through those tough times, I’m here for you.  Always.

dont-just-fly-soar

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

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