Day 3 Sugar and the joy of craving berries

Some people, they say, have a sweet tooth, meaning they really like sweets. That’s me. The fewer processed sugars that I eat, though, the better I feel. A marvelous thing happens when I don’t use any added sugars, not even maple syrup or honey. When I’m not using sweeteners, the food I eat becomes so much sweeter. Fruit is obviously sweet, but greens, too, especially broccoli, become sweeter. I cook the onions a little longer to bring out their sweetness. Baked sweet potatoes begin to taste like candy.


I’m inviting you to give up refined sweeteners for the rest of the month. Let go of cane sugar, beet sugar, coconut sugar, all those sugars that have to be processed with heat to become crystallized. Let go of agave syrup and brown rice syrup. If you’re daring, go without any added sweeteners, choosing not to add honey or maple syrup either. See what happens if you’re not eating artificial sweeteners, too, which means giving up diet drinks and chewing gum. 


How about ten days? That’s long enough for your sense of taste to change. It’s also long enough that if you crave sugars, those cravings will pass. Some people get headaches when they stop eating refined sugars. Some people feel sad. Some people feel free. 


Sometimes it’s interesting to change our diet just to see how we respond when we go outside our habits.  I recently read a quote that has been sticking with me. Andy Potts is an Ironman athlete. The Ironman is a triathlon with a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 (marathon) run. In Outside magazine, Potts said, “You don’t have to push past your limit -- you just have to reach it more often.”


I thought about that with my running. I’ve been building up my miles so that I’m running 15 - 20 miles a week, 4 - 8 miles per run, three times a week, usually at a pace that feels easy to me. My legs are working hard, but I have not been pushing fast enough to feel my heart race and my breathing become more effortful. 


Last Friday, though, I pushed a few miles at a faster pace and realized that I’d been missing that. I did it again Sunday, pushing myself to a pace that was 30 seconds to a minute faster per mile than I’d been running for the past few months. I warmed up for 1 1/2 miles and then for the next 3 1/2 miles, I pushed. I had to keep cheerleading myself. I set goals (I’ll keep this pace until I reach that next tree) and once I hit that goal, I realized I had enough power to reach for another goal. I also stopped to walk for a few paces, take in some water, and then gather my resolve to run again. 


I don’t have to reach my limit all the time. Some of the time, though, I should push hard enough to feel as if I’m going as fast as I can sustain for a few miles. Truth, I could go harder. My goal is to stay free of injury and to recover quickly enough that I’m happily dancing and teaching Nia the next day. So my limit is defined not just by the condition of my body but the conditions of my life. 


Sometimes our spirit has limits, too. There are times I absolutely cannot let go of added sugars. I just want them too much. Sometimes I give myself a break and do not push myself to the limit, the emotional or spiritual limit, with sugar. Other times, I push to my limit: no honey, no chewing gum, nothing that isn’t a whole food. I like how my body and spirit feel when I do this, though my emotions vary from “this rocks!” to “wah, wah, wah.” 


I know I’m eating too much sweetener when I begin to crave it instead of craving fruit. I enjoy my vegetables less and I’m less likely to crave them when I’ve been eating honey or coconut sugar every day. That’s part of why I’m inviting you to go without sugar. I want you to experience the joy of craving berries or craving greens. 


You’re going to enjoy your fruits and vegetables a lot more if your taste buds do not have to compete with the heightened sweetness of sugar. If you can, if you like, consider going without maple syrup and honey, which are natural, whole foods and full of nutrients. Though they’re great in small amounts, it’s easy to overdo them. It’s easy to eat cereal or granola with added sugars in the morning, yogurt with added sugars for a snack, bread with sugar, tomato sauce with sugar, really, so much of the foods we eat have added sugar. 


Try it for the month, or for 10 days, or just five days, or just a day. Experiment and see how it may change your relationship to fruits and vegetables.