The No Sugar No Booze Challenge
You Up For It?
2022 is merely days away, and like many, I view the new year as a time to assess my physical and mental health. I’m a firm believer that self-improvement is a continuously evolving process. My needs, wants, and goals are drastically different than even just a few years ago. One thing that hasn't changed is a desire to maintain excellent physical health. I’d argue in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, taking charge of one's health and well-being is more important than ever. A few years ago I opted to try dry January, and have done it every year since. Last year I decided to spice things up a bit and remove any foods with added sugar for the month as well, which was decidedly more challenging than just abstaining from alcohol.
The challenge is as follows: no added sugar and no alcohol for the month of January.
That’s it. This isn’t about weight loss, although that will most likely happen. This isn’t about impressing someone else or fitting into a dress or pair of jeans that are a little too snug. The goal isn’t to stop drinking and eating added sugar for the rest of your life. This is about not having a drink or foods with added sugar for 31 days with the goal of improving your health, sounds much easier right? At the end of the 31 days, it’s probable that your cravings for sugar and alcohol will be much less palpable than when you started. I’d wager you’ll notice changes in your physical condition and probably your mental state as well. Sugar and alcohol are both addictive substances, this certainly will not be easy, and at times it will quite likely suck, but that’s the point. Sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term gains isn’t an easy skill to cultivate in a world of instant indulgence, but a necessary one for achieving long-term goals, such as living a long and healthy life.
No booze, no sugar
Should you be in the line of thinking that not drinking or eating added sugar for an entire month is untenable, allow me to relate my situation. I brew beer at home and have been doing so for the past 15 years. There’s a kegerator in my basement filled with homebrew and a mini-fridge stuffed with craft beer that I walk by multiple times per day. I also have two small children, so there is always a package of something sweet in the pantry. If I can do it, so can you. Here are a few methods that helped me stay the course.
Write it down, speak it out
Each morning after finishing up your trip to the bathroom, look in the mirror and say “today I am not drinking or eating added sugar”. Then write it down. In your planner, on your phone, or on your forehead. The point is, writing and verbalizing your intent makes it much easier to follow through. Personally, I write it down in my planner, once it’s there, it’s set in stone, the planner is life.
Tell everyone important to you
The more people that know, the more accountable you are for your actions. Maybe your partner/roommate/best friend will even join you, which helps even more. Last year my wife did the challenge with me, which was immensely helpful for both of us. The caveat applies that some people that you love and care for and who supposedly care for you as well, for reasons I cannot fathom, will encourage you to fail instead of helping you. If you suspect someone falls into that category you certainly have the option of keeping it to yourself. Even with this precaution, there will most likely come a time when someone will be telling you how ‘just one little bite won’t hurt.’ You’ve got a couple of options, politely decline and say it’s not congruent to your current lifestyle and you’d appreciate their support instead, or flip them off and walk away and avoid them at all costs for the remainder of the month, whatever works. The point is, surround yourself with those who want to help you, avoid those who are bringing you down.
Set yourself up for success
Take inventory of all the food and drink you possess, then take out all offending items. As in physically removing them from your property and taking them elsewhere. You can’t eat or drink what you don’t have. Read the nutrition facts label on all packaged products. If you’ve never done this before you’ll be surprised at how much added sugar is in basically everything. The FDA has even helped you out recently by putting an ‘added sugars’ line on the nutrition facts label. Parents, when you finally finish wiping the tears of laughter from your eyes from the thought of having a home with no sugar, I know your struggle. I have two small children as well. Use this moment to teach your kids about discipline and healthy eating habits. Get them in on the action by challenging them to eat fewer treats by explaining how you’re doing something hard and you need their help to reduce the temptation of stealing a pack of Teddy Grahams from the pantry.
Find a substitute
The recent trend of low or no alcohol beverages is your friend here. Athletic Brewing makes non-alcoholic beer that actually tastes like beer. LaCroix is an excellent choice as well, as it contains no real or artificial sugars. My personal favorite is kombucha, which is fermented tea and is filled with good gut bacteria. Even better, it’s pretty easy to make at home as well. Since kombucha is fermented, there is a trace amount of alcohol, but it’s so low as to be negligible. I’d argue the healthy bacteria going to your gut outweighs the trivial amount of ethanol. And of course, there’s just plain water too.
Please, please, please do not take up diet soda either. Does it have sugar? No. Is it still horribly addictive and terrible for you? Yes.
For your sugar cravings, look towards whole fruit as your savior. Oranges, clementines, apples, and pears are in-season items that can get you over the hump. For chocolate lovers like myself, Montezuma’s Absolute Black is an absolute must. What it lacks in sweetness it more than makes up for with a savory, robust, intense chocolate flavor. If you take your coffee black, chances are you’ll love this. Trader Joe’s usually has it in stock and it can be easily ordered online as well. Speaking of coffee, adding some high-quality cacao to your morning cup lends an impression of chocolatey sweetness, and is good for as well.
Once you’ve found acceptable substitutes to pair with the healthy foods you’re already eating, keep eating them. I more or less eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, with minor tweaks according to what I’ve got on hand in the kitchen. Fortunately, I love what I eat for those meals, so I don’t mind eating it over and over again. Once you find a few foods and meals you like, eat them again and again and again. Remember, it’s only 31 days, short-term sacrifice for long-term gains.
The first week is the hardest
If you don’t pay close attention to your diet, there’s a good chance you’re eating much more sugar than you know. Which is really going to suck when your body suddenly stops getting its daily fix. You’ll feel groggy, irritable, have less energy, and probably won’t be much fun to be around. This is your body going through sugar withdrawal and it’s not fun, it happened to me too. I said this wasn’t going to be easy, and this is by far the hardest part. Make it through week one and it’s all downhill from there. The good news is that it will stop and when you rebound you’ll most likely have more energy and feel even better than when you were eating lots of sugar.
To conclude, the task before you is not for the faint of heart. It will challenge you, but simultaneously change you into a healthier, happier, version of yourself. Think of the sense of accomplishment when you wake up on February 1 knowing that you did something great for yourself that will help you for the rest of your life.