Recently, my two oldest boys and I gave up sugar for a month. And when I say “sugar,” what I really mean is happiness, because people who have to turn down soda and cupcakes and candy at every turn are sad.
Different people have different reasons for going sugar-free, and some are more hardcore about it than others. I had been worrying about my kid’s eating habits for a long time, long enough that I agreed to my husband’s idea that we wouldn’t have sugary drinks, candy or treats for four weeks. (I know some people who do a “sugar fast” give up carbohydrates entirely, but I didn’t think that was realistic for my growing boys. We just cut out things like all sweets, sugar cereal and white bread.)
My husband offered the boys $20 each to sweeten the deal. And then, inexplicably, he said he wasn’t going to personally participate. (And I quote him: “I don’t need to give up sugar.”) This attitude would make me so angry over time that at one point during the month I actually spit on the mint brownies he brought home to eat. Well, I was going to spit on them. But then I decided licking the tops would be a better punishment. You can bet he suffered.
Going at it alone, my two oldest boys and I got off to a fairly good start. When they got home from school on Day 1, I asked how things had gone. Both said great, no sugar. Then my kindergartner mentioned it had been a really awesome day. A friend in class brought king-sized Snickers bars for a birthday celebration.
“Well, did you eat one?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
At that point I realized my kindergartner had absolutely no concept of what he’d just signed up for. In fact, the most surprising part of the process was how clueless my kids were about what was full of sugar. For example, three weeks into our little “experiment,” my boys banged and banged on my shower door until I got out to answer the question of whether sausage had sugar.
(The answer, by the way, was yes. Sugar is added to a shocking amount of foods. Your best bet for avoiding it is to eat a diet of only raw foods and proteins you cook yourself. Sugar makes our modern world go round.)
At school, my kindergartner had some funny exchanges with his teacher, who I kept forgetting to tell about our sugar fast. For example, when a kid brought donuts for his birthday, the conversation went like this:
Teacher: “No, they are glazed.”
Another time, Tyler: “Is this candy sugar?”
Teacher: “No, it’s a Starburst.”
Duly satisfied that he’d met the requirements, Tyler ate both the donut and the Starburst candy. In fact, I’ve learned that while I can control what we eat at home, it’s much trickier at school. There’s always a birthday or PTA celebration or holiday on the horizon.
The month passed by slowly, painfully and for me the sugar cravings never really went away.
But I did learn some important lessons: It’s easier to afford expensive produce when you aren’t buying candy. Kids will eventually eat boring, high-fiber cereal when it’s the only option.
But the most important lesson, and one I hope that my kids will internalize for the future, is that one can do hard things, that the mind can overcome the body. That, and too much pineapple really hurts your tongue.
The night our sugar fast was ending, my boys made big plans. My kindergartner set out a bowl of mini 3 Musketeers candy bars to eat when he woke up. My third-grader made himself an “On Sugar” sign that he wanted to tape above his bed, just in case he forgot to consume something sweet immediately upon waking. I ate a mini Twix candy bar minutes after coming home from the gym that morning, which is pathetic, but there it is.
Post-fast, I’m hoping to find a moderate approach somewhere between sugar abstinence and living in our prior Candyland. I’m not going to keep sweets in the house, but I’m fine with an occasional ice cream outing or dessert with Sunday dinner.
And if a classmate brings donuts to school or a neighbor drops by with cookies, I’m OK with family members eating one. Like happiness, when sweetness happens to come into your life, I think you have to open your heart (or mouth) and accept it.