Inspired by the 100 days of real food blog, I decided to take the 10 day no sweeteners challenge. I realized that my morning coffee had become a maple syrup delivery system. I was spending about $25 a month on maple syrup, which was mostly to sweeten my coffee, with maybe one or two pancakes thrown in. That’s a lot to spend on something with no nutritional value. I have always been a sugar addict – I love cakes, cookies, pies and I have been known to eat an entire box of milk duds pretty much every time I go to the movies (and since I’m also a movie addict, that’s a lot of milk duds!). I knew that these sweeteners were adding a lot of empty calories to my diet, and that I didn’t need them.

A little background: I have always eaten relatively healthy and cooked a lot of my own food, but about two years ago I took the 10 days of real food challenge from the same aforementioned blog, and it was amazing. The first few days were difficult. So much of the food I ate wasn’t allowed, and I hadn’t planned ahead well enough. But I noticed some fantastic changes, just in those ten days:

1. Sleep. I slept through the night, every night. I woke up feeling rested, and that was something that almost never happened!

2. Energy. I had way more energy than I had previously! I felt full of vitality!

3. Mood. My moods were much more regulated – I didn’t fly off the handle for no reason.

This inspired me to make some more permanent changes. I started baking my own bread, tortillas, and biscuits. I used primarily maple syrup and honey as sweeteners, and only occasionally sugar for baking. I made homemade treats instead of buying them. And one year ago, the biggie, I gave up diet coke, which I used to drink gallons of (not exaggerating). So I’ve already been eating pretty healthy when doing this no-sweetener challenge. A lot of people report losing weight on the “real food” diet, but I did not. In fact, I gained weight. I believe there are several reasons for this, one of which is that I don’t like mediocre food. Food that doesn’t taste really great doesn’t get eaten. Once I started making all my own food, everything was delicious, and I overate. Also, I’m not getting any younger, and I’m pretty sedentary, so that may have been a factor. So if you are looking to be healthier, real food is great, but if you’re looking to lose weight, it’s not a miracle – you still have to eat less. If you eat a lot of junk food and switch to real food, you may lose weight due to all the fiber in veggies and fruits being much more filling.

So, to this current no-sweetener challenge. Many people report “withdrawal” symptoms like headaches, fuzzy-head, lack of concentration, etc., but I didn’t experience any of those things. I didn’t notice any physical effects at all, to be honest. I did notice great sleep the past two nights, but the other nights, not so much, so I’m not sure if that was the no sweeteners or not. I have gotten used to the coffee, but I do miss lots of things I used to eat, like putting dried cranberries on my salad, which has discouraged me from eating salads, so I think the cranberries are worth getting me to eat more salad. Also, I used to eat homemade biscuits with jam or honey, and I couldn’t have that for breakfast anymore. I didn’t like the biscuits with just butter, so I took to eating peanut butter toast (homemade bread with unsweetened peanut butter), which was pretty good. Some days I had breakfast burritos or quiche.  I lost three pounds, but I think that was mainly due to the fact that I consciously reduced serving sizes, and that there were no sugary treats after dinner, so this could be managed without giving up sweeteners altogether. (And I have lost over 20 pounds on weight watchers eating tons of cookies and other sugary things, so I know that’s true for me, whether healthy or not.)

Things I learned:

1) It’s pretty easy to give up sweeteners for 10 days. I knew I could have anything I was craving in a few days, so that made it easy. I thought it would be a lot harder, since people say it’s worse than giving up heroin. I didn’t find it that difficult, but just annoying when I couldn’t have what I wanted right then (instant gratification!).

2) Portion control is easier when there aren’t sweets around. When there are cookies or brownies or what have you, I can’t seem to stop at a reasonable portion. I will keep eating them until either I feel sick or they are gone. So it’s better not to have them around.

3) A little bit of sugar/sweetener is probably ok. If it gets me to eat my greens, I’m satisfied with the small amount of sugar in a handful of dried cranberries. (And yes, I’ve tried raisins, they’re ok, but not as good as the cranberries.)

My plan is to go back to eating the way I previously did, except restricting “treats” to the weekend, or special occasions like birthdays. This should help with overall portion control for the majority of days. I plan to keep up the smaller portions because I feel better when I eat less. I may try going back to organic sugar for coffee, since it is slightly less expensive than maple syrup.

What about you? Have you ever tried to give up sugar?