When I announced to the world on January 1st I was giving up sugar in 2019, quite a few people scoffed/mocked/harrumphed me. I don’t blame them. But as they say—nothing ventured, nothing gained. What seemed like an impossible, insurmountable task at the time has nearly come to fruition. I’m less than two weeks away from my goal—uh, frosted Xmas cookies be damned.
Even though I’ve tried my best to detail my journey along the way, I found out folks were way more curious about my trials and tribulations than I thought. In fact, when I asked the social media universe if y’all had any questions, you peppered me with a slew of ‘em. Here’s the 411—my who/what/when/where/how of giving up sugar, sweeteners, starches and gluten.
1) Was it worth it?
Absolutely. The pros outweighed the con. Yes, con—singular. When I say I was in a homicidal rage for the first three months of this year, I’m not even kidding. It was ugly. Despite my murderous tendencies, I stuck to my guns. I knew at some point these ever-present cravings would subside—and, sure enough, they did—around April. By that point, the benefits of going sugar-free were starting to stack up. I was sleeping like a rock. My constant aches and pains had completely subsided. My hair was growing like a weed. My libido had seen a resurgence. And weight was falling off me. That was only the tip of the sugar-free iceberg.
2) How did you get started?
I was smart. I enlisted the help of Evolve Paleo to create my meals for the first three months. It was foolproof. No fuss, no muss and because their menu changes weekly, I never got bored. I found myself drawn to things that had lots of crunch/texture and, oddly, as my taste buds matured, I gravitated towards spicy foods. The spicier, the better. Weird, eh?
3) Did you truly go cold turkey?
Cold. F*cking. Turkey. But I went out with a bang. In fact, I ate 23 frosted sugar cookies on New Year’s Eve 2018. I probably would have eaten more, but I only ordered two dozen of ‘em. Imagine how pissed I was when I realized the bakery shorted me a cookie. Bastards.
4) What could you eat?
I am on a keto-centric diet—meaning meat, veggies and dairy are legit. Trust me, a bacon cheeseburger (sans bun) was a near-daily staple for me. I had an “eat this, not that” guide courtesy of my dietician/life coach. It was overtly specific. For example, I could have blueberries and raspberries, but not blackberries. I don’t make the rules, people—I just followed ‘em. To a T. Like a crazy person.
5) How did you navigate restaurants? Or going to parties?
Two words: Charcuterie trays. Once I discovered that everything on a charcuterie tray is typically fair game (minus crackers, duh), I would gravitate towards it. I now have a particular affinity for a well-executed charcuterie board. Bonus points for pickled veggies, artisanal mustards and overwhelmingly odiferous bleu cheeses.
6) How bad was withdrawal?
I figured the first week would be hell. It was. And so was the second. And the third. And the fourth. Searing headaches, insane mood swings and unexplainable itching were the norm up until about Valentine’s Day. The worst though? One week in, my bod gave up. I curled up in the fetal position awaiting certain death. “Don’t be so dramatic,” my dietician said. “This is normal. It’s known as the keto flu.” My body—which was typically fueled mainly by sugar and carbs—was slowly switching over to being keto-friendly and running on fat. (Read that: reducing my carb intake forced my body to burn ketones for energy instead of glucose.)
7) Any surprises along the way?
As I got more entrenched in this no-sugar journey, I quickly became disenchanted. Processed sugar is in everything.
Every. Last. Damn. Thing.
A seemingly harmless cauliflower pizza crust? Added sugar. The hot sauce I wanted to use on my eggs. Yep, sugar. That non-threatening can of Wasabi almonds. 6 grams of sugar. And don’t even get me started on salad dressings and condiments. They’re laden with the white stuff. Hell, even gum has sucralose—an artificial sweetener made from, you guessed it, sugar.
8) Is there an ingredient or product you’ve introduced into your diet you now absolutely swear by?
Where do I start? Spaghetti squash. Egg white omelets. Fattyhead Keto Crust. Gorgonzola cheese. Unsweetened Nutzo. My newfound, yearlong obsession with guacamole is well documented. Instead of chips, I’d wolf it down with carrots or celery sticks. And I drank so many sparkling waters that I really should have invested in La Croix stock.
9) Did you cheat?
Yes and no. I was militant about not eating processed sugar or anything disguised as sugar. The thing I missed most, though? My beloved foo-foo coffee drinks. “You absolutely, positively cannot have those,” my dietician admonished. “Nope. Nope. Nope. Those are sugar bombs disguised as coffee.”
Eventually, my dietician and I made one lone concession to this f*cking diet, er, lifestyle choice. She would allow me one—and only one—small dollop of honey in my tea in the morning. She did it begrudgingly. She also did it because I threatened to murder her entire family in their sleep. Not. Even. Kidding. If you consider that cheating, fine. But in the interest of transparency, I wanted to be true to myself. That lone blob of honey was my lifeline between successfully completing this experiment and ordering another 24 frosted sugar cookies.
10) No, seriously. That’s it? You had to cheat more than that …
My beloved father passed away in May. He always had an unholy obsession with pineapple upside-down cake. As an ode to him, I served the delectable dessert at his visitation. It was a huge hit. I’ve never seen cake elicit so many smiles and tears in one particular setting. When I got home, I was a withered husk of a human being and I made a conscious decision to eat a piece of his cake in Dad’s honor. Was it cheating? Yup. Was it worth it? Yup. I hacked off a generous slab and ate it alongside my friends at my Dad’s house. (No one said a word. My friends are wise.)
A half hour later I found myself violently throwing up in the bathroom. My body had gone sans gluten and sugar for five months and was currently in complete revolt. That piece of cake—which was oh-so tasty going down—was a shock to my system. It was also a wake-up call that my body could no longer stomach—figuratively and literally—sweets.
And, yes, I had a slice of pecan pie at Thanksgiving—because pecan pie. Fight me.
11) Now what? Do tell! Is sugar still off the table in 2020?
Here’s the deal, people. I’m going on a cruise the first week in January and all bets are off. I’m going to eat whatever the hell I want and relish in it. Will I probably get sick? It’s likely, but I don’t care. I’m going to enjoy that cruise to its fullest. When I get back, I’m having a big ol’ hunk of Chef Jasper Mirabile’s famous homemade coconut cake. I’ve been fantasizing about it for a solid year. After that, it’s back on the wagon. Same rules apply.
12) What the best part about all this?
I’m down 52 lbs. since the first of the year—without really trying. But weight loss absolutely, positively was never the goal in this. The goal was to see if I could actually do it, be true to myself and write about it as I went along. Willpower is a strange beast. I seemed to be blessed with it.
But if you want the absolute highlight of the last 12 months, I’ll tell you. The biggest unexpected winner in this experiment is my skin. I haven’t had so much as one blemish, blot or breakout in nearly a year. It’s laughable how much better my complexion has become. Who knew?
13) I’m obsessed. I want to know more.
Well, good on you! I’m writing about all 12 months of my experiment—the good, the bad and the homicidal urges—in February’s upcoming edition of IN Kansas City Magazine. I’m slaving away on it as we speak. I hope to put the finishing touches on it after the first of the year. Believe me, I have a lot of good material. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll desperately want a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Oh, and it’s going to win a Pulitzer prize.