Abstinence: How Sweet It Is

I’ve been off sugar for a week now – not the naturally occurring stuff found in bananas but the added stuff found in, oh say chocolate bars – chocolate bars that you’ve bought because you rationalize the fact that if they’re DARK chocolate then they’re a health food and if you only eat one piece of this health food then it barely even registers. Problem is you (ok, I) don’t only eat one piece.  I start with one piece and then when it’s gone, I have one more piece and so on and so on until what began as one not-too-bad-for-you piece of chocolate, very quickly spirals into one half a chocolate bar  - gone. Demolished. Delicious.

So with my recent complete absence of willpower, I decided it was time for a monastic plunge into abstinence – not forever, just a short time-out for my sweet tooth.

It really is amazing how quickly my mouth recalibrated and started to taste sugar in all the things I never thought were sweet before. In some cases, I would simply experience something that was mildly sweet as very sweet. But in other cases, even when there was no natural sugar at all in the food, I would still taste it. I made some crepes, with a touch of applesauce on top and I swear I tasted maple syrup. I know it was simply my mind making the association with maple syrup on crepes, but it is astonishing how much influence the mind had over the mouth.

I’m on week two now and it’s actually been pretty easy. Here are a few things that helped ease the “loss  …  if you’re thinking of giving it a try, these might help:

  1. Use Spices: Toss some vanilla powder or extract in yogurt, and use ginger slices on sautéed or steamed veggies (they’ll actually make the veggies taste sweet)Snack on
  2. Seaweed “paper”: My local Whole Foods as well as Trader Joe’s sell them in small foil packs. They are super addictive, very low calorie and totally sugar-free. It’s nothing more than seaweed, olive oil and salt, but it’s like food from the mermaids. (And it’s high in Vitamin A!)
  3. Add slices of orange, lemon or cucumbers to a pitcher of water: They give it so much flavor you won’t be tempted to drink juice or soda.
  4. Use a pinch of Stevia: It’s a pure, all-natural herb, but I’m not a fan of the slight licorice after-taste, so I use it in very few foods, but my coffee demands some sweetness so I add a tiny bit of it to coffee.
  5. Go Bananas: I let them get super ripe, puree them, freeze small portions in ice cube trays and then use them to sweeten yogurt before adding less sweet fruit.
  6. Toss in texture: I eat a lot of yogurt and I tend to miss the sugar less (usually in the form of honey) if there is a lot of texture – I think it distracts my mouth and makes it forget the lack of sugar.  I usually add ground flax seeds or chopped almonds, in addition to loads of chopped fruit.

Any tips you might have for those of trying to lead the not-so-sweet life?

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  • Gary Rhine

    This is no need to abstain from dark chocolate. Try Simply Lite sugar free bars available from Trader Joes among other places. They are made with maltitol (look it up) which has 20% of the calories as sugar and is just as sweet.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marij Mari Elizabeth Hayter

      Fake sugar keeps you wanting the sweet. It’s no more helpful in the long run.

  • Kirsten

    Try cinnamon in your yogurt, coffee, etc. The spice comes across as sweet and it’s delish. Thanks for writing about this topic, I went on a sugar fast a couple years ago and while I now do use a limited amount of sugar, had the same experience where many things still taste overly sweet. It’s amazing how much is in stuff like bread, ketchup, cereal, sauces, etc.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000105062520 Elaine Boston

      I also like to use cinnamon to give a sweet taste to fruit, coffee, etc. However, some varieties of cinnamon are much sweeter. I buy a cinnamon that is Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzys Spices. It is much sweeter and doesn’t have a harsh bite that some cinnamons have.

      • Margee

        I agree, that Penzy’s Vietnamese cinnamon is the best!! It’s completely different from any other one out there, but is a bit pricey so for baking I use Ground Saigon cinnamon from Costco which is also very good.

  • http://lightweighteats.com/ Michaela@The Lightweight Eats

    So many things have sugar in them! One of our favorite barbecue sauces is just absolutely loaded with sugar; I don’t think we’ll be buying it again.

    Savory breakfasts have helped me reduce my sugar intake: toast with olive oil or avocado is a favorite. Getting enough protein throughout the day has also decreased my sugar cravings. When I really want something sweet, I will fry up some tofu with peanut butter and a bit of cinnamon sugar—it’s enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and the protein helps seal the deal so I don’t go back for more sweets.

  • DesertMama

    I’m a sugar addict who successfully has omitted sweeteners of all mono and disaccarride kinds for periods of time. I usually fall off the wagon if I don’t keep my blood sugar levels balanced with other proteins, fats and carbs. My two cents are: get back on the wagon with proactive food prep and intake every two hours, and eat enough healthy, useful carbs to keep short term energy stores level – especially if you’re an active person like me! Otherwise, it equates to unneeded sugar binges!

  • Stephanie

    Its funny that you should post this topic right now. I am on day 26 of my 40 day fast from sugar. I decided my sweet tooth was getting out of control so to reign it back in I thought cold turkey would be easiest. Then I plan to add the occasional indulgence back in slowly. It is amazing how much more I have been able to appreciate other flavors. The first week was tough but now I am very happy with my abstinance from sugar. Great topic!

  • TrishDSugrFree

    I went off added sugar (blood-spiking sugars) to quell a raging yeast infection. I was supposed to do a rigid diet for 3-4 weeks. Once I made it through that, my yeast infection was gone, and my sugar addiction was also quelled! Just didn’t want sugar treats anymore. I taste a bite of something desserty now and then, but I really wouldn’t want more than one piece of that chocolate bar now – because that would feel uncomfortably sweet. (When you get to that stage, Endangered Species makes an 88% dark chocolate that comes in individually wrapped rectangles, about 50 cal. each, and so when the wrapper is empty, it’s much easier to stop – but don’t try this until you’ve gone about a month without sugar.)

  • teti konstantinidou

    Honey and dried fruit contain sugar but they are good for you. I’m not sure I understood if you excluded them from your regime as well. Because I abstain from sugar but still eat plain yogurt witha teaspoonful of honey for supper and rolled oats with milk and a tablespoonful of raisins for breakfast.

  • teti konstantinidou

    Also: I’m one of those people who naturally don’t like sweet taste (I used to eat lemon as fruit when I was very very small) and I can tell you that I was ‘trained’ to like sweet things. (I think we all are because sweets are often eaten at celebrations.) Because I naturally dislike sweets, I can easily detect naturally sweet things and keep them out of my plate. I’m sure you can imagine what these foods are -besides those you have already mentioned: beetroot, zucchini, carrots, lentils, corn, barley, potatoes, even red meat and of course, sweet potatoes that I can’t stand at all. There’s nothing wrong with me but I just don’t like these foods. I usually dress them in lemon to balance the sweetness. So my advice for people who want to abstain from sugar is to eat these vegetables. I find that -more often than not- it’s the added salt that masks their natural sweetness.