I just finished 40 days of fasting sugar and for me that meant cutting out all forms of processed and “healthy” sugar options and sticking with only fresh, frozen and dried fruit. It wasn’t like I had candy hiding around the house, but I would add honey or maple syrup to my coffee, tea and oats, snack on granola, chips or a square of dark chocolate and then more dark chocolate after dinner. (Maybe there was chocolate hiding, but I hadn’t labeled it “candy” because dark chocolate is good for you, right?) But what made me decide to do this was to become more aware of habitual eating I may not have paid much attention to, and to intentionally let go of a substance that doesn’t offer much in return.
It started when I saw this opportunity to join an online group for the 40 day fast with daily encouragement and accountability. Guess what? My husband decided to join me, and he’s used to having a soda and several sweetened teas at work and then an afternoon trip to the candy bowl and joins me for a square of chocolate after dinner. With a little creativity on my part, we both made it through without too much fuss. It is interesting what we learned and how we’re feeling now.
To begin, we committed to drinking more water whenever we had an urge for something sweet, and then to having a piece of fresh fruit. Apples, oranges, kiwi. pineapple and berries filled our fruit drawer. My husband, Barry, would take fruit to work and make his own unsweetened tea. I drastically reduced my coffee, because I don’t like bitter coffee and drank more herbal and green teas which tend not to need sweetener. The first couple days I used a few stevia drops in coffee, but I really preferred plain tea to the coffee with stevia . For my typical winter breakfast of oats, instead of adding the honey or maple syrup, I just loaded it with a chopped orange and some raspberries, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Delicious!
I did need to find a way to only use fruit in the granola I make, which is what Barry takes for breakfast. So instead of melting coconut oil and mixing it with maple syrup, coconut sugar and vanilla to pour over the oat, nut and seed mixture, I blended a half banana, two apples, a couple dates and cinnamon with a little water and poured that mixture over the oat, nut, seed mix and then baked. It was a little less sweet than my original. but nicely flavored.
I also kept a small jar of dates soaking in water in the fridge. I would use the water to sweeten some things (coffee, if I really wanted it) and the soft dates in a recipe I was making if it needed a sweetener. But for the most part, I cooked simply, enjoyed a little more fruit than I usually eat and did not bake, except for a date sweetened chocolate birthday cake for Barry, (It was good!).
When I wanted a crunchy snack, I had mixed raw nuts and seeds on hand, as I always do, and I made some kale chips a couple times. But I really missed the after dinner chocolate square. So as a fruit based replacement, I pitted 6 dates and put a small scoop of almond butter in the center of each and kept those in the freezer. Oh my! They have taken the place of the chocolate, at least for now.
I think doing the fast helped both of us think and be more mindful of what we were eating and at the same time, reflect on why we were inclined toward sugar. Reasons like boredom, avoidance, sheer habit and feeling down surfaced. Also sharing a little more sweetness and more hugs with each other helped too! We both benefited by feeling less achy and slept better and Barry lost a couple pounds and saw improved focus at work.
We haven’t returned to our pre-fast behavior and plan to keep a better balance on the use of sweeteners. Whole fruits really can be used in place of sugar and sweeteners in most recipes and I’ll be putting some sugar free recipes together if you need some inspiration. But if this is something you’re interested in doing, I encourage you to go for it.