I'll just come right out and say it: our American culture can be awfully strange when it comes to the messages we receive about food.
Take the months of January and February, for example. When you open your inbox on January 2, you are inundated with messages about cleanses, new diet plans, insane workouts, and "clean eating."
But if you just wait it out a few weeks, you'll start to get messages about how to make the most over-the-top appetizers for your Superbowl party. Wings. Cheesy dips. Layered dips. Monkey bread. Drinks.
And then as soon as that's done, you start to get tons of messages with recipes for decadent desserts to make for Valentine's Day. Molten chocolate cake. Gooey brownies. Cocktails drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Think that's it? Nope. Because then there's Girl Scout cookie season. Yes, there's a season. And yes, I buy several boxes every year. #teamthinmint
So what do you do when your New Year's resolution to eat healthier is serious and you want to kick off your year on the right foot? Well, if your name is Kate Kirkpatrick, you kick booze and sugar to the curb for a month.
I met Kate back when I was working for Gensler, a very large architecture firm. She always impressed me with her drive and focus at work, so I knew her month of no sugar and booze would be similar. She's also a fellow runner, so we've always bonded over that, too. In fact, when I crossed the finish line at my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon, I looked over and there she was, finishing at the same time.
When I heard that Kate was doing another month of no sugar and booze this year, I had to ask her if she wouldn't mind sending me some of her thoughts behind her self-imposed sugar and booze restriction, especially since it's now an annual tradition. And not surprisingly, she got right back to me, and had some pretty interesting things to say.
So if you're thinking of going sugar and booze free for a month, read on for how it went (and now goes every year) for my friend Kate.
What made you decide to stop eating sugar for the month?
Holiday month of eating everything in sight!
How many times have you taken the month off from sugar?
I've done it every January for four years. Annual tradition now, I guess.
How does your body feel on week one versus week four?
I notice no difference in how I feel, to be honest. Outside of January, I do normally eat ice cream but otherwise I don't eat processed foods or many things with surprise added sugar (jarred spaghetti sauce, store-bought salad dressing, etc) so it's not that big a change for me.
I quit drinking soda 10 years ago, even diet, and I don't do "skinny" versions of anything. Black coffee.
Yeah, oatmeal without that teaspoon of maple syrup tastes terrible but you get used to it. I know people who say OMG it changed my life but to me, the reality is, I feel pretty good all the time anyway so I probably talk myself into believing I don't have a sugar problem to start with! Dairy would be a bigger challenge.
What did you miss the most?
Alcohol! Maybe that's all this is--drying out. I don't think about ice cream when I don't have it in the freezer but wine after a long day, a beer with work pals, and a Sunday night Manhattan are all enjoyable habits.
What happens on re-entry? Do you go back to your regular eating habits or does it change the way you eat the rest of the year?
I don't suddenly start buying Frappuccinos and donuts! This time I did learn that Grey Poupon mustard has sugar in it, so after I finish the jar that's in the fridge, I have a new non-sugar brand to use.
I think what changed for me the most about this over my few experiences is always reading a label to check the grams of sugar. I used to eat Cliff bars--now I don't. I started using garlic chili paste instead of Sriracha, etc. It's easy to avoid when you make your own food but anything that comes from a grocery shelf has to be read. I am surprised that Whole Foods doesn't have a stronger stance on this, actually.
Have you ever considered doing Whole30?
I looked at it and feel like it is all about NO. That's not living to me. I did something close to it once and was just angry and hungry the whole time, plus it was an incredible amount of work to plan/make meals ahead. There's no room for flexibility. I cannot imagine how someone with children would manage it. I love the new "healthy-ish" thing that Bon Appetit magazine has coined (website too) because it recognizes that everyone defines this differently, extremes aren't sustainable, and treats in moderation aren't going to kill you.
Anything to add?
I think this exercise is a useful, enlightening, and less-invasive way to learn more about healthier eating. My guess is that some people will find it shocking and others may be more like me where it's sort of annoying but not like solitary confinement. I love to cook so I buy real food for the most part.
My REAL problem is getting my exercise habits back since I am now lucky if I get in 3 days a week!
I also thought I'd share some of my go-to snacks (aka oops it's 3pm and I didn't have lunch options that satisfied my sweet tooth but not from added sugar):
So, friends, talk to me -- have you ever tried this?
Just your average stopwatch-toting suburban mom, looking to make some locals sweat and curse my name.