What Happened When We Quit Sugar and Caffeine For One Month
My mother did her best to limit our sugar intake growing up. Soda was for special occasions, sugary cereals were non-existant-rare, and while we had a supply of ice cream and cookies, the more obvious sugar-laden products like candy and Hostess could not be found. Nevertheless, (or perhaps because of) I have always had a massive sweet tooth. I went off the college feeling “free at last” and graduated in four years with a Bachelors degree, four cavities, and a root canal. From the bulk breakfast bins of Lucky Charms, to the late-night exam-cramming candy bars, I ate a lot of sugar during those years.
At the risk of sounding very cliche, it wasn’t until the birth of our first daughter that we decided to change our eating habits. The diet change was focused on eating more wholesome plant based foods so by habit we ate less sugar than say in college, but really our sugar consumption wasn’t something we thought about.
Fast forward several years to an evening in September when my husband and I sit down to watch “That Sugar Film” (with a bowl of ice cream of course). It’s an Australian film that shows what happens when Damon, whose been sugar-free for 5 years, decided to eat the average Australian daily intake of sugar for 60 days. This humorous, light-hearted, but extremely informative documentary really stuck with us. You see Damon didn’t eat the obvious sugar culprits like soda and candy, but instead he ate products marketed as healthy (fat free, organic, juiced, low calorie, etc) and found that sugar is hidden in nearly every supermarket product.
Here are some numbers to get you thinking:
- Four grams of sugar = one teaspoon
- The average american eats 22-32 teaspoons (88-128 grams) of sugar per day (or about 130lbs a year)
- The American Heart Association recommends we eat only 6-9 teaspoons (24-36 grams) of sugar per day.
Which means you could only have…
- 1 regular size Snickers Bar (6.75 tsp)
- 12 fat free swedish fish or twizzlers (6 tsp)
- One 12oz Starbucks Pumpkin spice latte (9.25 tsp)
- 4 tablespoons of KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce (6 tsp)
…for an entire day..never-mind what’s in all your meals…
***UPDATE: Want more eye-opening numbers, facts, and motivators to reduce your sugar intake too? The students of an ImprovEDU group showed me these three GREAT articles : 15 Foods You Wouldn’t Expect To Have Dangerous Amounts of Sugar (the oatmeal one really surprised me!). 10 Disturbing Reasons Why Sugar Is Bad For You (a motivator!). Slideshow:The Truth About Sugar Addiction (love the recommendation to reduce your sugar intake by an item per week to gradually change your tastebuds).
So you know where this is going…
“Hey, Let’s try cutting out all sugar except for the max 6-9 tsp per day. Oh and since we want a new plastic-free coffee maker, let’s throw ours in the dumpster (literally, we did that) and cut out caffeine too, so we can see if we really even need to buy a new coffee maker.”
Our goal was one month and then we would have an overall evaluation of what habits we wanted to keep or not keep.
Life BEFORE We Quit Sugar and Caffeine
Well you already got the idea of how much I like sugar. Coffee though…I LOVE coffee. I worked in coffee shops for years. Both my husband and I have quit coffee at different times for various reasons (me mainly pregnancies) but we always picked it back up.
In our day to day life, we are both NOT morning people. We struggle to get up each morning and it takes a while before we feel awake enough to fully function. By the afternoon we’re tired and rundown. My husband’s long commute home is often a battle to stay awake and at home my patience with the kids is waning. In the evening there seems to be a direct correlation between the sun setting and a lack of focus, productivity, and brain function. After dinner we’re dead-on-our-feet exhausted and done for the day.
Sounds kinda bad when I type it out like that, but we assumed that was the price of being a parent, got used to it, and accepted it as the “comfortable” norm.
Life WHILE We Quit Sugar and Caffeine (Our One Month Goal)
- Lots of failure.
- Coffee Maker goes in the dumpster yet both hubby and I manage to continue to drink coffee from sources other than our home for the first few days (Hey I didn’t say we were going to be perfect).
- By mid-week we both quit coffee and instead have MASSIVE headaches that last for days (Yay…I really regretted quitting caffeine cold turkey..would not recommend).
- We are both VERY tired and craving sugar.
- Hubby is able to get his sugar down to the 6-9 tsp by mid-week but I am utterly failing at reducing my in-take. Originally I thought reducing sugar would be easy because I always prided myself on how few sugary products/snacks I THOUGHT we kept in the house. Boy was I wrong! After this test, I absolutely believe the studies that say sugar is AS ADDICTIVE as cocaine because when I wanted sugar I was able to find EVERY forgotten stash and sugar containing substance in my house (kinda scary actually). I also became REALLY angry/irritable at the fact that I “couldn’t” have sugar. It took me the full week to get my sugar in-take down to the 6-9 tsp.
- Lots of POSITIVE changes.
- Both of us are now down to only 6-9 tsp of sugar a day, and completely caffeine free.
- Major headaches are gone. Hubby gets mild headaches and I instead seem to get this back of the head/neck tension especially in the evenings.
- Our levels of productivity and patience increase.
- Mid-way through the week, I woke up one morning, BEFORE my kids...just opened my eyes and felt a complete sense of CALM. I am a person with anxiety whose mind charges ahead of me a thousand miles an hour while multitasking 10 different subjects. Yet that morning…and in general all the days from that point on, my anxiety was lower. Hubby, whose over-active mind comes in the form of ADHD, noticed the same reduction and adds that his thought process is clearer.
- Getting up in the morning got easier. We no longer had that morning fogginess that before would make us drag our feet and be slow to feel awake.
- By the end of the week we also notice that we are not as exhausted as we used to be after a long day. We are still tired, but no longer “eroded” feeling, as my husband put it, and not as “cranky/grumpy/irritable.” Yet on that same note, I can now see that when I get tired, my first thought is “I need caffeine” or “I need sugar” and not the obvious, “I need more sleep”. Kids throw temper tantrums when told to go to bed. Growing up I always viewed the greatest perks of being an adult to be 1) Driving, and 2)Going to bed whenever you wanted. If someone tried to tell me now as an adult, when I had to go to bed, I’m pretty sure I would immediately regress to a pissed off child and join my toddler in her temper tantrum. Plus, as a parent of young ones, it often feels like the ONLY time I get to myself is AFTER my kids are asleep. Despite feelings of exhaustion, I’ll often stay up late just to savor the silence, the alone time, and the “me” time. Yet without sugar or caffeine to help me, I decided to put my stubbornness aside and go to bed earlier. I bumped my sleep up from an average of about 6 hours, to more around 8-9 hours a night. Logging these extra hours dramatically decreased my irritability and lengthened my usual short temper. I notice the difference most when after several nights of more sleep, I stay up late one night and get less. The next day I comparatively feel like a monster that’s highly sensitive to noise yet always yelling and completely un-fun to be around.
- I still crave sweets but I notice that I’m not so much craving straight sugar, as I want chocolate. This got me looking into the sugar content of chocolate and I found that the darker the chocolate, the less the sugar. So I began to try quality organic, fair trade extra-dark chocolate bars. The intense, often bitter taste of of these of 70-80% bars meant that I didn’t want to eat more than a small square but that small square completely satisfied my desire for something sweet and allowed me to stay within my 6-9 tsp a day goal. Post coming soon about all the different organic fair trade dark chocolate bars!
- I relapse. While cleaning out the chest freezer I find a jar of homemade chocolate sauce. I leave it out on the counter to thaw so I could wash it out and re-use the glass jar (I swear that was my intention). While the kids are napping that afternoon I remember the jar and decide to taste it…I get through half the jar (not kidding) before I cap it and hide the jar in the back of the fridge. Total fail. The next morning I can’t wake up. I’m a complete zombie through the morning routine and my head is back to being cloudy all day. I feel like crap, but having experienced a CLEAR impact of high sugar consumption I am now completely motivated to keep sugar OUT. After my slip-up the week continues on with no caffeine, and the 6-9 tsp of sugar a day.
- We’ve begun to develop new routines, like sipping herbal teas at night, which caused us to spend more time hanging out together and catching up (since now we’re actually awake enough to formulate coherent sentences).
- Food smells and tastes better...which makes a lot of sense when you think about, because we’re no longer comparing every low-sugar food to the heightened deliciousness of a high-sugar food. We are able to both notice and appreciate that natural sweetness in whole foods like corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc…food in the past we never considered “sugary”.
- Our general sense of well-being has noticeably improved and we feel great.
- Headaches, severe, mild, and tension are all gone.
- We caved at the beginning of this week and I dug out my old single-serve french press that hadn’t been used in years. We sat that weekend morning and savored every sip of what tasted like the best cup of coffee ever. A much different experience from 3 weeks ago when we would gulp down cups of coffee in a desperate frenzy to have the “awake” feeling the caffeine provided so that we could have the momentary confidence that we might make it through the day. We had no desire to return to that dependent state but decided to maintain a “coffee on the weekends” routine just for great taste and the pleasant nostalgia of coffee that we both love.
- Our kids have finally stopped hounding us for the familiar processed snacks we once stocked in the house. They now beg for grapes, clementines, bananas, and other sweet fruits, the same way they used to pine for cookies/candy/snacks. It takes our picky eaters another few weeks for their palate to adjust to the point where not only are they trying new foods (shocking) but are also liking and eating other healthy foods (astounding)-post coming soon! During this month I made it a point to be more observant of my 3 year olds’ seemingly constant state of hyper activity. I don’t know for certain that I saw any huge shift in fidgeting levels with lowering her sugar in-take. I did however notice that she was far more hyper/aggressive after watching TV and that if she watched it within 90 minutes of bedtime, she had a very hard time falling asleep. Not about sugar I know, but it’s a connection I wanted to share in case it helps any fellow parents out too.
- More creative. An odd one I know, and maybe more so a result of having more patience, less fogginess, and feeling more productive, but those were results of less sugar/caffeine so I say it counts. We started tackling many household projects this week that have long been on a “to-do” list by thinking of creative/less common ways. For example we needed lights in our livingroom so hubby thought up and executed a tree-branch light display that looks amazing (post coming soon!)
- In week two I mention that I helped stifle sugar craving with pieces of extra-dark chocolate. This week I notice that now I even crave chocolate less and it gets saved for the occasional overly stressed out moment, or for when I want something sweet after dinner.
Beyond A Month
So the one month mark came and went. We felt no need to have an epic count down to the end where we could gorge ourselves on cookies and rush to buy a 12 cup coffee brewer again. We had no desire to resume our old habits and our old life. We continue to maintain all the positives that emerged from decreasing our sugar and caffeine consumption: more patience, higher productivity, lower anxiety, calmer mind, clearer thinking, easier time waking up, less exhaustion, decreased irritability, increased senses of taste and smell, boost in creativity, less headaches, more alert, not so foggy or heavy feeling, and overall happier.
We still have not bought a coffee maker. We are content with our single-serve french press because we have no desire to drink coffee at the frequency and volume that we used to. We save it for pleasant weekend mornings when we’re all home together. I tend to make my cup mostly decaf after noticing an immediate spike in my anxiety levels when I have caffeine (and I have no desire to repeat those withdrawal headaches!).
We continue to be conscious of sugar in products and seem to never cease to be amazed by what products we find have sugar in it, or by how much sugar.
Recently Thanksgiving week passed, and while I opted to not make my usual marshmallow candied sweet potatoes this year, we did indulge in a lot of other sweets. We also drank more coffee and a lot of alcohol. (During the one month trial we hardly drank alcohol at all because of the high sugar content.) After the holiday binges, it wasn’t coming back to decreased levels of alcohol and coffee that I struggled with, but with lowering my sugar. This made me feel like I’m addicted to sugar because it took me a few short fun days to get hooked again so bad that I had to repeat a full 2-3 weeks of withdrawal to break the intense cravings. Once again I felt extreme irritability and anger over not being able to just consume whatever I wanted. I mean of course I could, but now I know AND have experienced better, so while I wanted sugar, I didn’t REALLY want sugar. It took a whole lot of self discipline and determination to bring my sugar levels back down long enough to feel the benefits so that I no longer wanted the excess.
Going back to the movie we watched “That Sugar Film” I can’t help but remember Damon’s declaration that sugar=materialism. You feel the effects of eating something sugary almost instantly and those effects being: instantly satisfied, pleased, happy, whatever makes you want to eat sugar again. For example, I feel irritable, I eat an ice cream sundae, I feel fantastic. A change that probably didn’t even take 10 minutes. You get used to this immediate response/solution scenario and suddenly everything else in life seems to take too long. Remember how I said in the past 4 weeks that my racing mind slowed, that we developed new routines capitalizing slowing time and savoring the moment, and that even food tasted better? In a way, dramatically cutting our daily sugar intake, gave us more appreciation for, and allowed us to find more enjoyment in, the simple things in life, and not just the really sweet ones.
Hi there! I’m Kaley, prevailing parent and wife, but also just me; stubborn lover of DIY everything, outdoors, and chocolate. Read more about myself and my family under the “Parenting” > “About My Family” tabs.