My 40-Day Sugar Fast: One Dietitian’s Surprising Experiment

Sugar is evil.  

sugarOr is it? So many people have walked into my office telling me they need to detox or fast sugar altogether… because it grabs us with its sticky sweet hands and doesn’t let us go until we are hooked – addicted.

Last December, I decided to join a 40-day Sugar Fast at the beginning of the year. While I didn’t feel addicted to sugar, I like most everyone else had enjoyed some extra treats during the holidays and I wondered what it would be like to totally eliminate added sugar and sweeteners from my eating plan. As a Registered Dietitian who shines a light on the diet deceptions and myths, this was a decision really born out of my own curiosity, not conviction. And, without wanting to over-spiritualize this, I prayed a simple prayer,

God, show me what you want me to see. Shed light in darkness. Teach me what I don’t know about stewarding my body.

I invited a friend to join me in this 40 Day Sugar Fast. We signed up for this free challenge with Wende Speake along with thousands of other women.  January 8th was my first day without sugar.

So Long, Sugar!

christian livingThe foundational message of the challenge was this: Fast from sugar, feast on the Word. We were invited to eliminate all processed added sugars, but the boundaries we set from there were entirely up to us. I decided to eliminate all added sugars (processed and unprocessed like maple syrup or honey) and all sweeteners like stevia.

What I allowed:

  1. A little bit of honey/sweetener in homemade salad dressing or when cooking a recipe like this one.
  2. Homemade muffins without added sugar (like these blueberry muffins sweetened with dates) and stewed fruit (like this blueberry ‘syrup’)

Modifying My Meals

As I assessed my diet for added sugars, here is what I found. I add about 1 teaspoon of sugar to my coffee each morning. I occasionally grab a handful or 2 of granola, often without even thinking this decision through.  About 1 time per day, I have some tea with a packet of stevia. And chocolate – I like to have some chocolate chips or a square after lunch and then again as a bedtime snack in some plain yogurt with a few walnuts and raisins and bran flakes for crunch. These 40 days lasted through Valentine’s Day, so I also declined any sweet treats and desserts around that holiday too.

I did get clever and made a batch of this blueberry syrup on a morning when we were having whole grain pancakes for breakfast. A few times I declined muffins (my own recipes) because while they were low in sugar they still had added sweeteners.

The post-lunch chocolate treat was what I missed most, but I stuck to my guidelines and didn’t fudge. About 3 weeks in, I talked with my friend and shared that I didn’t really ‘feel it. I knew the purpose of this entire experiment was to fast on sugar and feast on God, but I didn’t feel that was happening. Was I doing something wrong? I wasn’t running to God, eager to talk to Him or needing Him more each day. And, while I did miss the sugar here and there, I didn’t feel the loss like I expected. Most days I read the sugar fast devotional article that showed up in my inbox looking for some revelation or insight. It just felt like I was trying to be ‘good’ and follow my own rules – rules I’d set for myself.

The 2 Tweaks That Changed Everything

Deeper – that conversation with my friend helped me process what I was feeling along with my unmet expectations. God was waiting to refresh me with grace and insight, but I didn’t know it. My idea didn’t sound like rich revelation. It was really just an idea that popped into my head one of those moments when I was wondering why this sugar fast didn’t seem to be working, why I didn’t feel any closer to God than when I began.  

Two thoughts came to my mind and lingered…

  1. Eliminate my bedtime snack.
  2. Eliminate listening to podcasts.

The idea of getting rid of these 2 behaviors felt like torture to me. And then I knew – it was never the sugar for me.

Harmless Habits?

stay energized with breakfastSugar may not be my Achilles heel, but I have coping mechanisms, too. These behaviors actually appear harmless, but not really. Surrendering them felt like a big ask. Didn’t God know that listening to podcasts helps me to like my life a little bit more since I am obediently staying home with my little girls?! Didn’t God know that my snack at night is the ONLY time I actually get to eat something I enjoy in peace and quiet – without having to teach table manners, clean up a mess, or reminding my 3-year-old for the 7th time to get back in her seat?!

Didn’t God know that these 2 things were helping me cope with parts of my life that I don’t really like right now?!

Didn’t he know?!

All too well.  

These innocent sounding rhythms had become so much a part of my life that I was white knuckling them – coping strategies I clung to. I had pushed down some negative feelings into dark places of my soul. Maybe because I didn’t want to feel them.  Maybe because I didn’t’ think I should feel them.

Podcasts had become my escape. I could drown out the noise in my head and my home by putting on a podcast – always an uplifting one that would challenge and equip me, but noise nonetheless. My bedtime snacks weren’t unhealthy. It wasn’t the food or the sugar. It was the fact that it was a necessity – whether I was hungry or not, I had to have my time and my special snack.  It was one thing I could control.  And it was one moment in my day when I could breathe easy and enjoy the simple pleasure of eating good food.

My posture had moved to survival and these were my tools, the joys I looked forward to each day.  

This 40-day sugar fast was a catalyst for change in my heart.  It didn’t end on day 40. God uncovered some unhealthy habits and idols I have created and day by day He is drawing me closer so that I want Him a tiny bit more than my faux comforts I have used to cover up the feelings I don’t want to feel. He reminds me daily that I can trust Him with all of my feelings, not just the pretty ones.

There are still many days I want to run from my feelings of discontent. There are moments when I want to escape motherhood and all the responsibilities and messes and patience. And those moments when I am wiping up spills in the middle of my meal – those aren’t fun.

So is sugar bad?  Good? Indifferent?  What will a sugar fast do for you?  Maybe the better question is, “What will God do in you during a sugar fast?”  

It probably has nothing to do with sugar or snacking or podcasts.  It has everything to do with your heart because a heart fully surrendered may feel vulnerable, but it is in the perfect place to get filled with the only One who satisfies.

So, what is the play call?

Maybe sugar has captured your heart, your mind, and your taste buds. Or maybe it is something entirely different. We can continue to demonize sugar and processed foods or we can remember that the enemy is crafty and uses whatever tools necessary to capture our heart and attention. He doesn’t want you to have freedom. But God does.

Here is where you can start:

  1. Begin with this simple prayer: God, show me what you want me to see. Shed light in darkness.  Teach me what I don’t know about stewarding my body.
  2. Expect that God will speak. He won’t withhold from you. Then, write it down.

Whether God takes you on a journey to a 40-day sugar fast or has you make a 2-degree course correction, He will show up and can’t wait to partner with you.

God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. Psalm 34:4-5 (MSG)

 

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