Here’s why I’m doing it, and how I plan to make it through the sugariest time of the year. 
Credit: Greg DuPree

I’m a self-identified sugar fiend. I snack on candy practically every day, I had a four-month stint where I ate a bowl—yes, a bowl—of cookies for breakfast, and my nightly meal isn’t complete without some form of chocolate. I know my sugar-chowing habits aren’t the best, but I justify it by the fact that my lifestyle is otherwise pretty healthy. I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and I exercise on the reg.

Yet I’ve often asked myself, especially in light of research published over the past few years that reveals just how toxic sugar is for our bodies: how much better would I feel if I could kick my vice?

This holiday season, I’m attempting to find out. In a challenge that would be difficult for most folks, let alone a chocoholic like myself, I’m giving up added sugar—including sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners—for an entire month. The challenge started on Black Friday and continues until Christmas Eve. You’re probably asking: Why are you doing this during the most sugar-infested time of the year? Can’t you wait until January and just make it a New Year’s resolution?

Well, I figure if I can kick the habit under the most difficult of circumstances, I may have a shot at permanently reforming my ways. Also, my editor kindly asked me to do it. 

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In general, I’m normally not one for super restrictive diets. I believe that depriving yourself of something only makes you want it more, and this usually leads to a vicious cycle of bingeing, guilt, and shame. But sometimes, when bad habits are as entrenched into your lifestyle as mine, and one little taste unleashes an avalanche of cravings, quitting cold turkey is really the only viable strategy.

I coerced three family members to join me in the challenge (I strategically, and perhaps unfairly, asked them after Thanksgiving dinner, when everyone was feeling particularly over-sugared), so I’m hopeful that having group accountability will keep us all on track.

That said, it’s not going to be easy. Attending my mom’s birthday, our family’s annual cooking baking party, and a dessert-themed open house will be especially rough. I’m going to need to exercise some serious self control and perhaps employ creative mental tactics (like pretending brownies are really slices of cow dung) to keep the streak intact. I’m already plotting which morsels I’ll stuff my beak with as the clock strikes midnight on December 25.

Between now and then, I’m hoping two things will happen. The first: I’ll learn that I don’t need that handful of peanut butter M&Ms at lunchtime, or that spoonful of cookie dough after dinner. Though I don’t plan on being sugar-free forever, my wish is that after this challenge, I’ll be able to exercise much more moderation with sweets and consume them as an occasional indulgence, not an everyday treat. In the process, it’d be great if I notice improvements in my energy levels, skin health and overall wellbeing, too.

The second anticipated takeaway: I’ll have a greater awareness for just how much added sugar is in, well, everything. I’ve already gotten a glimpse of this just three days in to the cleanse. My favorite coffee creamer, Trader Joe’s Soy Milk Creamer, for example, has 1g of sugar per serving, and it’s not even a “sweetened” creamer! Since I’m not big on dairy, I had to find a dairy-free creamer that doesn’t have any sugar, which was a lot harder than I expected. (Many of the “unsweetened” creamers have at least 1g of sugar per serving.) Luckily, I came across a sugar-free, plant-based half & half by Ripple that fits the bill, and I’m crossing my fingers that my local grocery store won’t run out of stock for the next four weeks.

Beyond that, many of my go-to snacks and pantry staples, including pretzels, crackers, pasta, bread, sauces, and dressing—all things that we typically categorize as savory—also contain the sweet stuff. In some ways, I think eliminating these sneaky sources of sugar will be the hardest since they’re just so numerous. I haven’t found great substitutes for these items yet, and as of now, plan to just scour the grocery store shelves for what I hope will be sugar-free varieties. Lastly, to combat the hardcore sugar hankerings that inevitably await, I’ll plan to eat even more fruit than usual, and rely on naturally sweet things like cinnamon, sugar-free almond butter, and yams.

Like I said, this sans-sugar month isn’t going to be easy, but I hope the payoff to my health will be well worth it. I’ll be writing another article once it’s over to let you all how it went. Until then, please wish me luck—and savor those holiday cookies!