So it’s been exactly nine years since — on one especially excruciating afternoon — I quit sugar and caffeine. Or maybe it was a morning.
I’m having trouble remembering the details, but it was definitely February.
Actually, I do have this one very specific memory, but … there’s something really important I have to say before I tell you about that.
The thing I have to tell you.
I don’t often mention the no-sugar thing. Or the no-caffeine thing. Because it’s been my experience that — when it comes up — people tend to think that I’m secretly implying that they should do it too.
So let me state as clearly as I can:
The choices I make in my life are only about my life. You can totally drink coffee and eat cookies all day and I will love you just the same.
Seriously. I could not care less.
Whatever guilt or “shoulds” come up for you, they’re not coming from me. I’m sorry if talking about stuff that goes on in my life makes you feel uncomfortable about stuff going on in yours. That is never my intention.
People vary. What might be poisonous to me could be completely harmless — or even beneficial — for you.
I am not interested in being an evangelist. “You” just the way you are right now? Fine by me. I promise.
Okay, let’s get back to the story.
If you don’t count the week or so I spent curled up in a fetal position, begging for someone — anyone! — to bring me just one piece of chocolate … the first real memory I have of Life Without Sugar is this one:
The end of February. Which I remember because it was my husband’s birthday. It was sunny and beautiful. Tel Aviv. Late afternoon.
We walked past a little Italian café, and my husband bought a cup of gelato — one scoop of chocolate-something and one of pistachio-something. Or maybe it was mint-something. Anyway — it was green.
And when he offered me a taste and the answer wasn’t yes, he looked at me, incredulous.
“You’re really going through with this.”
And I realized for the first time that — yeah, I was.
And then it was a month.
I never intended to stick with it for longer than a month. And the truth is, I didn’t even expect it to make it a month.
I couldn’t even imagine it. Thirty days was pretty much the outside boundary of impossible.
But once I’d gone through that first awful part and come out on the other side … well, things were different. For one thing, I was picking up clues about the nature of my addiction and its power over me.
You seriously don’t realize that there is sugar in just about everything until you try to quit. Then every single thing you crave becomes a clue.
You wake up in the middle of the night, dying for a bowl of corn flakes or a spoonful of spaghetti sauce. A can of corn, a handful of crackers — if you’ve got to have it, expect to find out that it’s loaded with factory-installed sugar.
I’d indulge the latest craving for a couple of days and then eliminate that one as well. It was hard. I didn’t have then the techniques that I have now.
Or the patience.
But I was noticing the sensations that accompany change. And it was fascinating. Painful, yes. And fascinating.
It took a week or so for the fog to clear. But when it did a few things happened.
I would open my eyes in the morning and be absolutely wide awake. Things made sense. The space around me was clearer. The sensations of morning, crisper.
And then there was this energy. The desire to take long walks in the morning, to work and think and create all day, followed by a natural desire to fall exhausted into bed at night.
The holes in my life that I had been filling with sugar and caffeine — they weren’t gone. Other things came in to feed the old patterns instead. I didn’t have the tools to understand that yet.
But I was awake. I was free, or at least felt more free than I had ever been before. And I was noticing so many things about how I interacted with myself. Most of these depressed the hell out of me, but the noticing felt really powerful and true.
What I know now.
When my clients and I work on habits now, we focus on getting to the root of these patterns, to the thing behind the thing. I didn’t know about that yet, so I didn’t have ways to pacify the hurt, to interact with the shame, to meet my pain with comfort and compassion.
If I were going to do this quitting thing again, things would be different. Obviously.
I’d get help. Hypnotherapy. EFT or TAT. Acupuncture. Emergency Calming Techniques.
And then I’d figure out what needs were hiding out inside the pattern I wanted to shift. Needs for sweetness in my life. And comfort. And ritual. And reassurance. And pleasure.
And instead of falling into the old pattern of resenting myself for needing those things, I’d look for other ways to give them attention. And affection.
But I’m not …. I don’t know, tortured by regret or anything like that. The way it happened is the way it happened.
And what I wish someone had told me.
That one month would turn into nine years and it wouldn’t be such a big deal.
That rewriting this habit the wrong way would teach me so much about all sorts of possible right ways.
That — despite my expectation that my whole life without sugar and caffeine would be sluggish, painful and tasteless — I’m actually energized. And my perception of taste has changed so dramatically that now everything is sweet.
A slice of tomato. A handful of raisins. Hazelnuts. Instead of having to look for the thing that will give me sweetness, that sweetness is everywhere. My whole system has re-calibrated itself.
Why I’m telling you all this.
Most of the people I know spend way too much time — completely understandably, of course — feeling guilty about the changes they haven’t made yet.
And about everything that’s getting in the way.
And all I want is to hug them and say that there’s nothing wrong with taking time — even a long, long, very long time — to process all the stuff that needs to be processed to make that change.
The most important thing you can do is to catch yourself doing the guilt thing — and then reminding your guilt that it’s not helping you.
Change through “I think I like you and I want us to feel better” is so much healthier than change through “you’d better get your act together, you lazy, incompetent etc.”
Less depressing, too. And considerably more sustainable.
Honestly? I’d rather see people working on their relationship with their “shoulds” than to see them forcing themselves to make uncomfortable changes because of the old “you need power and discipline, loser” mantra.
Because self-mastery can bite me.
Working on your stuff with patience? And kindness? How completely revolutionary.
I’ll drink to that. 🙂
Oh sweetie, thank you for sharing this. I cried reading it. Not a solitary, manly tear slowing rolling down one cheek, big rivers, I-just-trapped-something-in-my-zipper tears. And it feels wonderful. Yay for the crying! Yay for being kind to stuckness! Yay for chocolate!
About 4 years ago I decided I was done with High Fructose Corn Syrup and artificial sweeteners. I won’t say it was terribly hard, physically, to give that up (though try finding any bottled or packaged foods without it – like, say, BBQ sauce). However, now that my body has lost its tolerance for this what-I-consider poison, I literally feel sick if I have something with HFCS or and artificial sweetener in it. Since then I’ve added hydrogenated oils and any other unnatural ingredient to my banned list, and I’ve never felt better. It’s scary what we’re doing to our bodies with our food “technology”. Natural foods are delicious once you ween yourself off the chemicals.
More to your actual point of the post, I think your advice might do a lot to improve my marriage. Wonderful idea.
As I go back for my second cream and sugar laden cup of coffee, I totally get what your saying. When I became a vegetarian almost twenty years ago, it really changed how I noticed food and my body’s reactions to it. Not a veg anymore, but I still have the lessons.
I like what you say about finding out what kind of sweetness/pleasure we are looking for in our life when we go for the candy. And I totally agree about getting off of the guilt and self destruction cycle. Women particularly are so wrapped up in food as moral judgment it’s a miracle we aren’t ALL anorexic or obese.
rowenas last blog post..Flying Girl and the Fairy Lights, or Seek the Magical
Yaay for non-guilt-induced change. And for time, and patience and kindness. It’s all about cultivating loving relationships with every single part of ourselves: the slow and hesitant, the impatient and self-righteous, and everything in-between.
Thanks for saying this over and over in so many different ways. That we are fine just as we are. That change takes time. That it’s okay to muddle through. That patience and kindness are our friends on this journey, and freedom comes from holding their hands.
Lots of love to you, dear Havi.
Hiro Bogas last blog post..Creative Connection: Where’s Your Muse When the Baby’s Spitting Up at 3 am?
Hey Havi [insert caffeinated sip here], love the post. Yeah, I gave up coffee once and I think I learned a bunch of stuff. I don’t know, I might have been hallucinating though. Anyway, I made it all the way to something like 5pm. Dang, it gave me a headache though. [insert crunching sound here] Dang! I got cookie crumbs in my keyboard again.
Terry Heaths last blog post..Snow White and the Seven Outsourcing Dwarfs
Thanks for this inspirational post. I’m not going to give up caffeine, and I know zero sugar won’t happen – but I think this is the push I needed to make a serious sugar reduction, and probably start hitting the decaf a little harder. Thanks in advance.
I was a little worried that — despite the hedge and the ridiculously long disclaimer — you might still think I was hinting that you should do everything I do. so that’s a relief.
@Terry: love the sound effects. Have a cookie for me too since I can’t have one!
@Carey: hey, that’s awesome. I think it’s neat that you know what you’re aiming for and also what isn’t for you. Excellent.
@Hiro: big hug to you, my love. You actively live all the stuff I teach and model it for me so beautifully… I can’t even believe that we met!
@Rowena: beautifully said. Man, that is so true. We definitely do a number on ourselves.
@Brandon: wow, what a great insight. Agree with you on how one change towards healthy and content triggers a bunch more. And love that you want to apply this stuff to relationships, which makes so much sense.
@Nathan: so much love to you, my dear. You totally get what I’m trying to do here. Which is so amazing.
I enjoyed reading this, Havi. It reminded me that I was able to sustain a ban on caffeine and sugar for about 5 years and I felt very good during that time. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about how sweet food is naturally. I’d love to return to that way of life.
If you were beginning to make this change now, how would you start? I remember that before I told myself that “It’s not nice to fool mother nature” and I eliminated artificial sugars first, which among other things meant kicking a fierce Diet Coke habit. Then I stopped overtly adding sugar to things, and then stopped buying prepared food with more than 3 grams per serving.
It’s coming back to me now. But something knocked me off that wagon and that’s the part I don’t understand. I do hope you’ll blog more about this.
Lisa Firkes last blog post..Tag! I’m it.
Your blog has energized me. I’m not sure if I’m capable of giving up sure just *yet*, but today I’m going skiing for the first time, I’ve been enjoying yoga lately, and I feel it’s got more than a little to do with your blog. Thank you!
Finding ‘the thing behind the thing’… yes… magic and powerful.
Reading a book now that suggests, well, outright states, that pretty much everything we do (and therefore everyone else too) is an attempt to feel unconditionally loved. Seems simplistic at first, and yet, if you think about the contortions we go through to feel right, to ‘make’ others make us feel right, it kinda makes sense. And the more actions we take to this end lead us further and further away from the original need…
It’s THE thing behind the million things. And being able to forgive ourselves for getting so far off the track, missing The thing, and getting into all kinds of trouble for looking for love in all the wrong places… I think that’s a good place to start.
Ginas last blog post..Meandering Around Resistance
Recently discovered your blog thru a retweet, love your voice!
So many things to identify with: I quit sugar (corn, potatoes, rice) Jan 1, 2003 and more recently artificial sweeteners. I am not insane about it, I’ll occasionally have a diet Coke, a small dollop of ketchup on my sweet potato fries, like that.
But I really relate to the unintentional feeling people get that I am judging their sugar eating because it’s not true! While I secretly think most folks would be happier white-carb free, I am by no means evangelizing, it’s your thang, do what you wanna do, you know?
Meanwhile, I don’t get tired in the afternoon like a lot of people seem to, and hopefully I have staved off the possibility of diabetes which I watched my brother self-induce, ugh!
Treating our perceived weaknesses or failures with kindness is something I am always striving for. My mother always said to me, don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to a small child. Have that kind of compassion for yourself. Why not?
Liz Smith (madeinlowell)s last blog post..Felt Beads Necklaces
I love your disclaimer. So true that many times when we share the experience of what we are doing differently from the “norm,” others feel put off or challenged when it’s not about that at all, it’s about being open to a new experience and sharing the joy in that person’s growth in the direction they choose toward better health and a healthier world. I applaud you. Though I’ve limited the sugar in my family, it’s not yet eliminated. I feel good about our changes we’ve made thus far and look forward to what we’ll do for our future. Jack LaLane and you are fine examples of being able to go sugar-free in today’s over-sweetened highly refined world.
Annie – Hip Organic Mamas last blog post..How Has Real Food Changed our Lives?
she’s good, isn’t she?
I’m chiming in with the chorus of folks who say this is an inspiration and motivation.
I love me some homemade cookies, and soft-serv ice cream has always been a heaven-sent treat for me, so I don’t have any plans to forego sugar entirely.
But I also agree that the flavors of things morph from mundane to superlative when the artificial flavors and additives are minimized. I remember the first time I realized that carrots are incredibly sweet. And that frozen grapes are an excellent dessert treat because they’re so potently flavorful and decadent.
And this post was just a nice reminder about those sensations that I all too often take for granted. I’m reminding myself to pay closer attention to them today, and just really enjoy them with some extra gusto. 🙂
Marissas last blog post..The SuperSiblings: Secret Identities Revealed!
I’m sitting in a service station sipping a vanilla latte whilst I read this. Two months ago, I’d have been stood outside the service station smoking a cigarette whilst I read this.
But I’m not, and I feel pretty awesome about that. It’s only been two months but I’m looking forward to my nine year moment.
Hayleys last blog post..Are you Awesome?
Thanks for this post. I did a no-sugar period for about six months at one point – lost a ton of weight because there was so little I could find or knew about to eat with truly no sugar in it. As for where I am now, I haven’t drank any soda pop in two years. I still drink coffee and have other sweets from time to time. I’m trying to change that. I won’t eat or drink anything with artificial sweeteners in it either.
Aspartame is truly a danger to your body.
MoneyEnergys last blog post..Inside the House of Cards – Autopsy of the Crisis
I’ve done the no-sugar thing a few times and yes, once the cravings are gone I feel great. However, I have a big problem here in Spain – EVERYTHING has sugar in it. Unless I want to not eat out anywhere and take the time to prepare everything myself, I can’t do the no-sugar thing.
I did for a few months last year but in the end it just caused too much disruption in my life – I have to find the middle ground somewhere.
Yes, that’s my big someday. 😉
Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Do you double-standard yourself to death?
Figuring out what needs are hiding out inside the patterns I want to shift – without a doubt the most valuable thing I’ve learned from hanging out with you.
That change doesn’t have to be a fight with myself. That it can be compassionate and kind and guilt-free.
Thanks for getting that message out to me and to so many others.
Victoria Brouhards last blog post..A Love Letter to My Blog
I’ve been hoping you’d write about this personal choice, and true to form, your kindness and clarity makes it all seem doable (but not required!) I echo Lisa Firke’s interest in the practical, and Victoria’s gratitude for the revelations and insights into the behind-the-cravings/patterns “stuff.”
You’ve really made me think here, Havi. As usual. What a remarkable asset your writing (or dictating?) is. Thank you.
PS: Great to see all your wonderful list of sidebar coolness — the graphics really make an impact and confirm what most of us know: you’re valuable to a wide range of people. Nice to see the list of featuring outlets that I’m sure will just grow and grow ~
Oh Havi, you seem to have this magical ability to write something with the most amazing timing.
I’m right smack in the middle of changing a lot of my habits for the healthier and this post was just such a great reminder to continue being nice to myself.
I’ve noticed that when I am gentler about it, making the changes are so much LESS painful.
You totally rule. 🙂
Danielles last blog post..Green Therapy Series: My So-Called Green Life.
Love love love this. It makes me want more and more and more. I always want more, not just about you, but about everything i love. I used to panic about that. Sometimes still, but less. (I think the bulimia in my growing up and 20’s had all to do with all this)
There is a voice somewhere in me that says you shouldn’t want so much. Hello there, I say to it. I see that it too has my best in mind, and from its little limited point of view, it thinks that not wanting too much is the answer. It is afraid that I will be disappointed. That I would never be able to get as much as I dream of.
Your post makes me weep. Or me writing here in response, not sure which. But the kindness. Oh the kindness. That’s all that can ever, really, make a difference and make a change that comes from the inside out. The other kind of change? So forced. So violent. Like Cinderella’s sisters chopping off their toes to make their big feet fit into the fairy princess slipper. But that prince wasn’t for them, he was for Cindy! They should just have taken their big feet over to get themselves some groovin’ dansko clogs, and probably a dansko-sporting prince would await them there anyway.
You inspire me, dear Havi! Hugely. I cannot even put my gratitude for that into words. Change change change. Change from kindness. Change from within. It makes me weep for joy. Or for something that feels a whole lot like a wide open heart.
Thank you. *kisses*
Heidi Fischbachs last blog post..Recalculating!
I can’t believe that I didn’t mention Dance of Shiva as the best habits changing technique there is. Hilarious. Moving on.
@Heidi — that’s so cool. I’m with you on the fairy princess thing. Chopping toes has to be the worst solution ever. Big insights. Lots to think about.
@Alex– you’re so right. And balance and a middle ground can be completely challenging. Being sugar-free in Spain is like being vegetarian in Poland, which is not fun either. I have no idea what to advise.
@Hayley — looking forward to celebrating nine years with you. Smoking is totally the hardest. I remember that one too. Wishing you everything you need for that!
Okay, so many questions have come out of this one that we’ll probably need another post or three. 🙂
I’ll do some thinking and some writing and we’ll see where it goes…
Hi. This is a great post. Everything you said resonates with me. I been following your blog about a month. I don’t think I been moved to leave a comment yet….
Your thoughts made me think on something else I wanted to ask you about. What if you know you been doing something for a number of months or years, and every month or year you do it over to get the same results and the cycle repeats. The classic example is yo-yo dieters. How do you help people get to the root of the problem and see they are not really making progress if every year they are doing the same things over and over again? I appreciate your insight.
Jennifers last blog post..Website Wednesdays: Vidhya’s Recipe Blog
The older I get, the more wisdom I find in this gentle, let’s-really-see-what’s-going-on approach is really the way to go. Being raised Calvinist, I’ll admit that it’s reeeeeally hard for me to believe that change can come if you’re not hard on yourself, but I see it proven each day.
I, too, have started to pull myself from the food that promises to make me feel better, but only makes me sluggish and sloppy. Many, many thanks for the funny and dead-on reminder.
There is a lovely synchronicity to this post for me, as I remember that I gave up my own version of “caffeine and sugar” seven years ago in February. Addictions come in a lot of different flavors, but it’s remarkable how similar the sources usually are. Comfort, yes. Sweetness, yes. Intensity and sensation, too.
And you’re right–the first five years are the hardest. Especially when you’re telling yourself you darn well better be COMPLETELY OVER ALL THIS NONSENSE in two years, max. And then three or four years later, you’re still dealing with the thing behind the thing…
Good stuff, as always.
KatFrenchs last blog post..Pay No Attention to that Woman Behind the Curtain
Oh, Havi. I am so glad that I have subscribed to your blog. I read this entry at just the right time.
I’m the heaviest I’ve been (under 200lbs, but way too heavy for my own tastes.) I found this out just a month or so ago, and I’ve been depressed ever since. The last two weeks have been particularly bad.
At the same time, I’ve embarked on a journey to lose that weight and get healthier–I’m just just “crying in my beer,” so to speak. But the emotions are still coming out. I’m using a particular book to help me on this journey and the approach is “loving yourself,” father than “stop eating, you fat loser, and walk a block or two.” LOL! A loving approach, I think, is always going to be more effective than negative self-talk.
Last night coming home from the store, I slipped on some ice and fell out flat. (I’m OK–just some scrapes;) however, the emotional floodgates have opened, and now I’m a mess. I’m barely holding it together at work. I think I needed that “jolt” to release what’s been building up, and I think that as I work through this depression, I will probably find that the weight loss comes pretty easily.
Pretty cool, huh?
Your blog rocks!
Jen M., Maryland
Jen M.s last blog post..Giving more by taking less.
@Jen M. Can you share what book you are reading? I am curious. Thanks.
Jennifers last blog post..Website Wednesdays: Vidhya’s Recipe Blog
Happy too, Jennifer.
@ Jennifer: It’s _Body Clutter_ by Marla Cilley (The FLYLady) and Leanne Eli. I’ve been a FLY Baby for several years, and their gentle, “You need to do this to love yourself, but do it the way that works for YOU” approach is just what I need, I think, to motivate myself.
@Havi: I shared your post with my boyfriend, and you have inspired him. Starting today, he is also attempting to cut out caffeine and added, processed sugars.
Jen M., Maryland
Jen M.s last blog post..Giving more by taking less.
Oh man, I hear you on the cravings thing once you give sugar up for the first week or so. I still haven’t cut the caffeine yet, getting there little by little. It’s my last vice besides cheese.
I get the vivid dreams where I’m pigging out sometimes. One time I ate a mountain of white candies, not sure what that was about. Another time plain spaghetti that dried out, ew. The worst part is waking up in a panic thinking I messed it all up and have to start all over again.
The worst thing that happens to me is sleep hallucinations though. They get really bad. I don’t know if my mind just gets more active or what, but sometimes they happen every night and are actually really frightening. If I eat sugar or a lot of carbs again, they go away. Very strange.
It’s a fair trade off considering how much better I feel during the day though. So, I’d call it worthwhile.
Naomi Niless last blog post..Koldo Barroso’s New Site
This was so inspiring!! I’m currently in the midst of a battle to eat healthier. This post and all of the replies were so enlightening and helpful.
Your discussion of how it’s important to be kind to yourself when trying to change your habits makes me think of something Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love said last weekend when I saw her speak in DC. She said that everyone knows the line, “To thine own self be true,” but she felt it should be altered into “To thine own self be kind, be kind, be kind.” <3
Susies last blog post..fitsandgiggles: @TheFilmStage 1)am looking fwd to "the soloist" as have huge crush on robert downey jr. 2)"sorority row" looks bad, but m/b so bad its good
Thank you for this post! The bit about
‘Change through “I think I like you and I want us to feel better” is so much healthier than change through “you’d better get your act together, you lazy, incompetent etc.”‘
is SO true! It’s funny, it’s common sense that you wouldn’t get good results out of an employee by such tactics. I’m not sure why my inner dialog has taken such a long time to figure out the same thing about me!
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I just LOVE this post.
You’re so right when you say that thing about the “you need power and discipline, loser” mantra. I’m still on that. Thanks to you, I’ve now understood the “I think I like you” part.
This post really has me thinking now. I fully understand the part about not making ourselves feel guilty and incompetent because we haven’t made something happen just yet.
In my coaching practice, I require that my clients have already reached the point where they have decided to do something, come hell or high water, which is why my business is growing so excruciatingly slow.
Most of my clients are not like me. I may think that it would be lovely to cut off all sugar consumption. But I’ve never decided to do it because to me there is no difference between “do I want to eat that delicious cookie?” and “do I want that sugary cookie in my body?” I either want the cookie or I don’t. The clients, however, may want to eat that delicious cookie, but still are saying that they don’t want that sugary cookie in their body.
If only I could only find a way to meet people in that place on the borderline that is close to doing something no matter hell or high water, but not quite there yet. If I could find a way to meet them at that place then business would be so busy I’d be forced to quit my lawyer gig.
Hmmm. Thanks Havi!
ooohooohoooh! I know that a lot of your posts say it, and I’ve read them all, but this reminder ONCE AGAIN –
there’s nothing wrong with taking time — even a long, long, very long time — to process all the stuff that needs to be processed to make that change.
…arghh, i need it so much. I need it every day, several times a day. that i still have a ‘freeze’ reaction to situations where i expect abuse even when none will be coming – it keeps coming up, over and over, and I’m trying so much to work on stuff but in the actual situation it’s like I can never remember and then afterward I am so embarrassed and upset about it… like, ‘I’m 37 for god’s sake, I’ve been in therapy FOREVER, this stupid pattern…’ blahblahblah.
and then I will remember.
kindness to the pattern, even though I don’t want it to be here anymore. I will re-read your post about the pattern you think should be done but isn’t.
yes, the pattern was built over a long long time. it won’t be fixed right away just because I recognize it now. but I *do* recognize it now.
thank you, once again Havi.
In what way are the first five years the hardest – what became easier after 5 years? The appetite for sweet foods or other ordeals as e.g. resistance to social pressure?
You, Mrs. Havi Brooks, are an absolute friggin delight! Just loving your blog-thanks for putting yourself out there.