Thursday, March 20, 2014

My So-Called Sugar-Free Life

When you last heard from me a little over two weeks ago, I was preparing to embark on a 40-day sugar fast.
“Oh, yeah, how’s that thing going?” you might ask, maybe even with a chuckle at the complete insanity of it all. I mean, really, what kind of insane person would choose to go 40 days without sugar?
Well, I’m pleased to report that I haven’t killed anyone yet and that my mood hasn’t suffered too dramatically thus far. (You may want to verify that with my family, though. Sometimes they have some pretty creative interpretations of how “moody” mom is. They can be so sensitive.)
I think it’s safe to say that no one is more surprised about this than me. I fully expected this to be a bear of a task, but in reality, it hasn’t been that bad. Yes, I have my cravings. And yes, the cake in our office kitchen that just happened to come from the bakery voted Best in Pittsburgh actively calls my name every minute I’m in the office. But this is a higher calling, and so far, I’ve been good.
So, what have I eliminated on this sugar fast?
·        Desserts and sweet treats of all kinds (cakes, cookies, ice cream, muffins, pastries, chocolate, candy, etc.)
·        Cereal (including granola)
·        Yogurt (because I refuse to eat the unsweetened stuff)
·        Granola bars (my favorite mid-morning hunger-buster)
·        Jellies and jams
·        Syrup and honey
·        Fruit juice
·        Added sweeteners of any kind—even the 0-calorie ones (they still feed the addiction!)
·        Sodas (actually, I gave this one up a while back)
·        Barista-style coffees (cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, Frappuccinos, etc.)
·        All sweetened beverages
Basically, if an item has obvious sugar added, I don’t eat or drink it. I say “obvious” sugar because I am well aware that things like breads and pastas include sugar as essential ingredients, but I haven’t given up all carbs because if I did somebody just might get hurt.
I also say “added” sugar because I am allowing myself the naturally-occurring sugars in fruit. I’m not a big fan of eating plans that eliminate entire food groups, and I think fruit is too critical to avoid altogether due to its high antioxidant and fiber content, so I refuse to eliminate it.
Admittedly, fruit has been my saving grace. When I need a little something sweet, I open the fruit drawer. When I crave a dessert after dinner, I have a banana. When I really need a piece of chocolate, I pop a date ball in my mouth.

(OMG, these are so amazing. You must try them. I promise, you’ll love them.) I’ve also discovered the joy of figs, which I had never eaten outside of a Newton in all my life. They’re actually quite delicious. (One obvious upside to this new pattern of eating—though not a glamorous one—is my newfound regularity.)
At two weeks into this experiment, I’ve found that my cravings have already shifted from chocolate and baked goods to figs and dates—the “candy” of the ancient world, as my brother says. Even on Sundays, when we Catholics are technically allowed to forego our Lenten sacrifices, I find myself avoiding sugar—not out of any sense of pious obligation, but simply because I don’t want it. This in itself I count as a huge win.
So that’s my nickel update. I’ll check in on this topic again at the end of this journey. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy munching my clementine and sipping my pomegranate tea while my coworkers dig into the cake.
Have a sweet day!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Are You Gaining for Lent?

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when Christians are encouraged to reflect upon Christ’s 40-day fast in the desert and prepare for his death and resurrection during Holy Week through sacrifice, almsgiving, and prayer. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you’re likely familiar with the concept. When we were kids, “What are you giving up for Lent?” was as common a question at this time of year as, “Are you buying or packing?”

Despite the solemn and deeply spiritual nature of Lent, I have to admit, I often use Lent for my own selfish purposes—a convenient vehicle for dropping a few pounds or getting a jumpstart on a manuscript with promises of daily writing and the shunning of such time sucks as TV and Facebook. Though the actions fit the basic qualifications of Lenten sacrifices, the spirit behind them wasn’t exactly deep or prayerful.

I’m not going to fool you into thinking that I’ve had some great epiphany this year that has led me to do a daily Bible study or fast on only bread and water for the entire 40 days, but I have given a bit more thought to the season of Lent and how I might mark it in a more meaningful way. And while my choices in part do have something of a self-serving nature, I think they will ultimately help make me a better person and strengthen me spiritually.
So what did I decide to “give up?”

First, let me start with two things I’ve decided to add. First, I plan to begin each day with the practice of yoga and prayerful meditation. This will help bring my mind, body, and spirit into alignment, which will ultimately help me set my daily priorities, cast off my daily worries, and begin each day refreshed and renewed.

Second, I’ve decided to give more selflessly of my time. Specifically, I plan to volunteer both at my home parish and at the kids’ school parish at their weekly fish fries. It’s something I’ve often considered but vetoed because “we’re just too busy.” But in reality, there’s no reason I can’t give a few hours on a Friday. The kids have no activities, we have no place else we need to be. And so I’ll wait tables or wash dishes or do whatever they need, supporting their efforts and being more selfless with my most precious gift—time.

Finally, I am, indeed, giving something up. Sugar. This is as enormous a fast as I can imagine for myself, as I am a sugar junkie. I crave it constantly. I eat it for breakfast in my yogurt and granola parfaits, I drink it between meals in my lattes and fruit juice spritzers, I munch it for my evening dessert and my between-meal snacks. No more. I plan to detox my body of this drug to make room for more healthful choices in order to preserve my second most precious gift—my health.

While I know this will be an incredible challenge for me, I’m not focusing so much on what I’m giving up as what I’ll be gaining this Lent. Health. Balance. Spiritual well-being. 

So, do you observe Lent? If so, how do you plan to mark this solemn season?