Before we start our 10-day sugar fast (inspired by the film Fed Up), my tween and teen don’t care about the now-hidden Halloween candy (four days post holiday), but I freak out. At the store, I can only find one loaf of bread with no added sugar. I buy four energy bars even though I won’t be packing them as the girls’ school snack. My husband reminds me to breathe and to not go overboard. We don’t need to cut out every bit of sugar, just the sugar added to packaged foods.
The first three days are like a minor miracle. My teen tells a friend her mom is making her give up essential food, but she lets it show that she’s actually pretty excited about this imposed family challenge. She praises me for the kale chips that I make from scratch and helps make pretzels for an after-school snack. I pack the leftovers for school lunches, glad to be out of my yogurt (so much added sugar, I discovered!), lunch meat and energy bar rut.
My tween attends a birthday party and I bend, telling her to enjoy the sugar-laden celebration. The first complaints roll in: I’m so easy on the tween, says the teen who claims she is suffering with no access to the Halloween candy. Meanwhile, my husband never gives up the occasional glass of wine or after-kids-bedtime beer. I have adhered to the fast strictly; I marvel at how good I feel.
The next school week starts and I think about how my plan to visit PCC and indulge in a huge stock-up of fruit, dried fruit and dazzling vegetables just isn’t going to happen. I’m laden with work deadlines, so I cook from scratch from a nearly empty kitchen. I recall nutritionist Jennifer Adler’s advice to eat more protein. Nuts in the lunches, peanut butter with the after-school apple. I use a teaspoon less sugar than our chicken teriyaki recipe calls for and try not to lose it when I realize the reason my teen says she suddenly loves soy milk is because it has added sugar.
Day 8, Veteran’s Day
The teen complains loudly to a friend about her no-sugar life during our fun no-school outing. The tween’s not far behind, asking me every few hours when this no-sugar business is over. Still, we visit a tiny market and exclaim over the grape samples. As we buy some, we tell the clerk about our diet.
“Maybe they are so delicious because you’re not eating [added] sugar,” says the clerk.
“Probably, but my teen will never admit that!” I reply.
After school I let them pick out an after-school snack and I beam as they pick out fresh fruit, no-sugar and low-sugar dried fruit. We are all eating new foods and stretching ourselves. The tween helps make a shake (frozen raspberries and strawberries with milk and seltzer water), and I silently bless the friend who dropped her blender on our porch after I told her we needed some shake relief to make it through the final days of our challenge.
Still, as day 10 winds down, I give up early, just as school gets out for the day. Let’s be clear: The house is nearly empty of food, with my workload nixing a relaxed grocery store run, and the natives have grown restless. I’m listening, not wanting to push hard enough to send them into a boomerang downward spiral once they have their Halloween candy back in their open hands.
The tween is gleeful as she eats toast spread with Nutella. The teen relishes her vanilla shake and the Dick’s hamburgers I buy for her after sewing club. I skip the shake but love my cheeseburger and the convenience of take-out dinner on a night where we face an event that begins at 5:30 p.m.
The 10-day Fed Up Challenge brought food conversation to our family table and for that, I’m so grateful.
Weeks after our 10-day challenge has ended
I’m still not eating much added sugar, although I add sugar in to our from-scratch recipes without remorse. The school lunches look much different: no yogurt, more fruit and dried fruit, crackers and bread selected based on label reading. (Tip from the trenches: Buy fresh bread and slice it yourself! Pre-sliced bread has much more added sugar, I learned).
It took the teen two days after our fast was over to find her Halloween stash, and now it’s back in her room. Still, as the main lunch packer and weekday dinner maker, I’m inspired, reading labels at the market and remembering my job is to provide wholesome food for my family. My girls get to decide what to eat, and the 10 days we went without processed and added sugar are yet another educational experience to grow from as they grow up.
I’m most surprised at how much this experiment has made talking about how we eat a regular occurrence now. I’m the only one in the family to outwardly admit how much better food tasted during the diet, but last night the whole family made a meal plan for dinners this week. The 10-day Fed Up Challenge brought food conversation to our family table and for that, I’m so grateful.
P.S. Six weeks later
For the first time ever, the teen tired of her Halloween candy and said yes when I asked if we should get rid of the rest. Meal planning as a family is a new muscle we continue to grow. We’ve also started baking bread some weekends. And at Starbucks one day, the teen grabbed a soda, we read the label together talking about how it contained a full day’s worth of sugar rations, and she put it back and ordered an unsweetened iced tea. It’s not that we don’t make dessert (the holidays found us baking sweets almost daily for one week straight), it’s more that we’ve made the conversation both more casual and more scientific. Nutritionist Cynthia Lair says people should think about how they are going to spend their daily sugar intake, and now we talk about just that. My worry has been replaced with my children’s knowledge, which was gained through our 10-day food experiment.