21 Days Without Sugar

I have complete and total vegan envy. How is that connected to 21 days without sugar? You’ll see.

Tonight I watched the recent Oprah episode where her staff eliminates animal products from their diets for a week. (Yes, I TiVo Oprah.) I reacted to the show with the same frenzied  fascination as the time Oprah had Alicia Silverstone breeze onto the Harpo stage to boast about her vegan-induced glowing skin, endless resources of high energy, and quality poops. SOLD. Sign me up. Make my skin young and dewy forever. Eliminate “bloated” from my vocabulary. Save the cows and all that good stuff.

Four seconds later I remembered cheese. Sushi. Chicken wings. Cream in my coffee. Omelets. My new over-the-knee leather boots. But mostly cheese.

Veganism and I–not going to happen. Yet, I’m left with the nagging desire to do something good for my body, to clean up my diet. I’m wondering if perhaps I’d enjoy a smidgen of the high energy and general glow of the vegans if I wasn’t nibbling on sugar, like, ALL DAY LONG.

Exhibit A: Tonight’s “snack” after dinner.

Listen, small pieces of chocolate and a little peanut butter never hurt anyone, but I find myself indulging in little treats like this throughout the day. It’s become something of a ritual, even a physical need. I don’t want to depend on sugar that way.

I’m not saying I’m giving up sugar forever. Because then I’d just be delusional, or a liar. But I’d love to transform into one of those people who indulges in dessert a few times a week. Just like I hypocritically tell my kids on a regular basis when they ask for junk food or the Leapster, “It’s not a treat if you have it all the time.”

Which brings me to 21 days. I don’t know who decided this, but 21 days is the magic number for breaking a habit. I’m going for it starting today (Friday), and I’d love YOU to join me. (No matter which day you want to start.)

It’s amazing what a little public accountability can do. Ten days ago I committed to writing at least two pages of fiction a day, and I went from a measly 560-word draft to a 5400-word one. A novel is about 80,000-100,000 words so I’ve got a ways to go, but I’m astonished at my progress. I’m absolutely on my way, and I have my blog readers and Twitter followers to thank for cheering me on and sending me loving messages like “sit your ass in the chair.”

I’m so curious what my body will feel like without the sugar highs and lows. If you want to join me, say so in the comments section below. I’ll write another post in a week on my progress, and you can let us know how you’re doing too. I’ll do the same for week 2 and at the end. That is, if I haven’t gnawed off my own fingers in a fit of sugarless rage rendering me unable to type.

(An important caveat: I’ve read about sugar cleanses before, and I’m personally not worrying about salad dressing, ketchup, soup, marinara sauce, etc. My issue is purely in the dessert category. If on day 7, I’m hiding in the bathroom  pouring Italian dressing down my throat like some kind of maniac, then we can revisit the issue of hidden sugar in non-dessert-esque foods.)


Jump to “The Dessert Police: 4 Days In” or “The Dessert Police: Day 10

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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41 Responses to 21 Days Without Sugar
  1. Lara Taylor
    February 4, 2011 | 12:27 am

    Nina, first of all, I love peanut butter on everything! It’s especially good on top of any cookies that have chocolate in them! (thanks Mom!)
    Secondly, I too was very recently a sugar-all-day kind of girl!
    Thirdly, I too have a mad crush on the vegan lifestyle!!! Getting rid of bloating would be fabulous! I don’t think I can get rid of cheese! lol I can cut back but there’s no getting rid of! I also have stomach issues and shouldn’t be eating things like marinara sauce (anything high in acid) but I do anyway….*sigh* why is changing our diets so stinkin HARD??
    I cheer you on, however, I am doing the 31 days to building a better blog and I don’t think it would be a good time for me to try and cut sugar from my diet! LOL I’ll monitor your progress closely though! haha!
    Good luck!!

  2. annegreenwoodbrown
    February 4, 2011 | 6:09 am

    Aw, heck, I’ll give it a go. Although the image of you sitting on the toilet guzzling salad dressing has pretty much ruined my appetite for the rest of the day so this should be a piece of cake. (oh, darn. cake…)

    • Nina Badzin
      February 4, 2011 | 8:54 am

      Okay, Anne! We can do this! If you can get a 2-book deal from Random House, then YOU, my friend, can go three weeks without sugar. Knowing you, you’ll write the entire sequel with all that renewed energy.

      And P.S. I meant “in the bathroom” more as a closet kind of thing, not on the toilet!!

  3. Amy Sue Nathan
    February 4, 2011 | 6:43 am

    I’m in. Shoot. Is today Friday? I’ll start tomorrow (no, really) because I have to see what’s in the house that need to have soap poured on it. For me, I’d love to eliminate the white flour culprit as well. I eat pretty healthfully, but I can definitely be found eating a few Weight Watcher treats or portion controlled sweets and I’d like to knock that out. My bday is in 3 weeks, so it ends then — or at least it pauses for that weekend.

    I did pick up a bag of Vegan cheese shreds at the grocery store yesterday. I put it back and bought the real stuff. But I did think about buying it. Does that count?

    • Nina Badzin
      February 4, 2011 | 8:56 am

      Woo-hoo! Amy is in! Start any day you want! So funny about the vegan shreds. Good intentions! 😉

  4. Beth
    February 4, 2011 | 9:04 am

    I’ve tried this before and what is interesting is after about a week you won’t crave sugar anymore. It is just getting past those first few days that is hard.

    I’ll attempt, it but no promises….being stuck inside with snow and no chocolate sounds like a terrible combination.

    • Nina Badzin
      February 4, 2011 | 12:18 pm

      Beth! Hi! I hope that’s true about the few days thing, but it reminds of this: I worked at Confection Connection in high school and people used to promise I’d get sick of the candy. Guess what? Not so much!

      I hope you’ll join me!!! :) (and I hope you get out of the house, too!)

  5. Nancy Fink
    February 4, 2011 | 10:40 am


    I want to be in!!! But can’t we start after this weekend :-)

    • Nina Badzin
      February 4, 2011 | 12:20 pm

      Hi Nancy! You can start whenever you want! I thought it would refreshing not to wait for a Monday for once. Looking forward to harassing about this next week to see how things are going.

  6. galitbreen
    February 4, 2011 | 2:48 pm

    Good for you, Nina! And I mean that- it sounds healthy. And admirable. And a good idea. Can I get back to you on that commitment part, though? I suck at that! But good luck lady and I agree 100%- there’s NOTHING like public accountability- that’s why it’s so scary!

  7. Ali London
    February 4, 2011 | 3:00 pm

    This post is talking to me… I LOVE my nightly sweets after dinner. I have also been known to indulge in some goodies during the day while working. I should be joining you in this act, BUT I don’t think I am quite ready to jump in. I am going to follow your progress and may be I’ll be SO inspired that I’ll have to join you on this adventure…just may be. Good luck!

  8. Bekki
    February 4, 2011 | 4:10 pm

    You go girl! LOVE the image of you chugging Italian dressing. As for me…um, I’ll read your report in a week and re-evaluate (as I munch down a donut for lunch dessert — donuts are really low on my sugar preference list, but they bring them in at my work on Fridays. I actually grudgingly grabbed the piece for dessert, wishing it was a more desirable form of sugar). Anyway…I did Atkins for a month or something, and I think I did lose the cravings and the energy highs/lows, so I think it’s a good idea. What about fruit??

    • Nina Badzin
      February 5, 2011 | 11:41 am

      I’m not worried about fruit. This is really just a pure dessert issue. The day I stared ODing on apples and oranges will be a good day. 😉

  9. Jack
    February 4, 2011 | 6:15 pm

    Enjoy it and while you do I will enjoy my sugary treats.

  10. Jennifer K
    February 4, 2011 | 7:20 pm

    Day 1 Success. I feel okay.

  11. Rachel
    February 4, 2011 | 10:23 pm

    Well so far soooo wanting sugar! I’m going to force myself to brush my teeth asap so I want run to the freezer where my stash usually resides. How’d everyone else’s day go? Nina??

    • Nina Badzin
      February 5, 2011 | 11:43 am

      The first day was easy (I’ve done a few days in the recent past). I know it’ll be hard this weekend with all the weekend festivities. (super bowl, etc) But it’s kind of “fun” to attempt something like this on the weekend rather than waiting for a Monday!

  12. liz
    February 5, 2011 | 6:39 am

    We’re anti-HFCS and other artificial sugars in our house, and I can honestly say that when you cut back/out that stuff, your body really does feel different!

    OK, and seeing your picture of a tub of PB with little Hersheys next to it, totally made me laugh. :)

  13. Jorie Malk
    February 5, 2011 | 4:12 pm

    That picture of your little “snack” made me laugh out loud! I am in! However, I am starting on Monday and after all the baking I did today – I really wish you were too! 😉

  14. Theta Mom
    February 6, 2011 | 7:14 am

    Ok, so where would wine fit in throughout this sugar process? Would that have to be cut out completely as well?

  15. Nina Badzin
    February 6, 2011 | 8:46 am

    Hi group!! TM- I don’t worry about wine. I have on average two glasses a week, mostly just one so I’m not eliminating it even though I know it’s technically sugar. My issue is dessert so that’s where I’m focusing. Same goes for fruit! Nobody ever got addicted to bananas.

  16. Rachel
    February 6, 2011 | 9:58 am

    Superbowl Sunday means lots of eating and yummy desserts! Be strong everyone! Sissy you can do it! We’re all rock stars! Make sure you have lots of fruit to serve during the game. Almonds are also a great and healthy snack.

  17. Jennifer K
    February 6, 2011 | 9:59 am

    day 3. So far it is going well. I think I did not realize how much sugar I was actually eating – a peppermint patty here (those are low-fat right??), a muffin top (no pun intended) there, etc….I feel slightly delirious, but good. Will keep you posted on my progress.

    Tonight is superbowl. Stay strong.

  18. Sara
    February 6, 2011 | 6:41 pm

    I’ve been meaning to do this! I am going to try to join you within a week. Last week’s snow days and this week’s busyness is not going to let me plan accordingly for a sugar-free week. Good luck to you! Also, if you watched Dr. Oz, you would have gotten the news that hard cheese (like gouda) has cancer fighting properties. Hooray for cheese!

  19. Jana@An Attitude Adjustment
    February 6, 2011 | 8:40 pm

    Nope, not joining. I like the idea of moderation, but complete absence? Not possible. Denying myself something only makes me want it a whole lot more.

    Speaking of which, we’re reading Women, Food, and God at my book club, and it’s about women’s approach to food. (Don’t worry, not about any particular version of the divine.) I wonder what the author, Geneen Roth, would say about your plan here? I think she’d tell you to follow the eating guidelines. If you want to eat chocolate, she’d say to do it sitting down, without distractions, and savor it.

    By the way, good luck with the book-writing. I’ll be enjoying watching your progress, since I also want to write a novel. But I have no solid ideas for one yet.

  20. Nina Badzin
    February 7, 2011 | 1:14 pm

    Sara–welcome! And so glad to hear that about cheese. :)

    Jana–I have read that book and she for sure would not approve of this. However, it’s not really as extreme as it sounds when you see “21 days.” I’m not being literal about sugar (not worried about carbs, wine, fruit, etc). I’m talking strictly candy, ice cream, desserts. I want to reset to a place where I can enjoy dessert in the dignified way Roth suggests rather than sticking my hand mindlessly in a bowl of M&Ms. I’m doing this 3 week thing to get out of the habit of filling my down time with sugary snacks. I’ve seen–even in this short time–that I tend to want that stuff right when I put my kids down for a nap in the afternoon and when they go to bed at night. So I guess it’s some sort of relaxation thing for me?

    I enjoyed Roth’s book though! I’m sure your group will too.

    As for waiting for a good idea for YOUR book . . . I did that for awhile. Then I went ahead and wrote two books with mediocre ideas. I’m glad I did though because as I’m working on what I hope is a great idea now, it’s nice to have a little practice under my belt. It’s not the worst thing to just dive in sometimes. . . you risk analysis paralysis.

    • Jana@An Attitude Adjustment
      February 7, 2011 | 2:12 pm

      I see what you mean. I bet you the reason you want the sugar is because you’re tired. I’m the opposite. If I take an afternoon nap, I wake up wanting chocolate. And if I eat a carb-y lunch, I want chocolate after. Chocolate is apparently something people crave when they’re sleep-deprived. When I was a new mother, candy all the time.

      So could that be it? More sleep for you? Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

  21. Nina Badzin
    February 7, 2011 | 1:18 pm

    DAY 4 . . . so far so good! Super bowl was hard last night, but I happily crossed of day 3 on my little chart with no mishaps. It’s been interesting to see (like I said above) when I crave sugar. I’m sure I’ll notice more patterns as time goes on. I’ll write a full post on day 7 or 8. Keep it up group! And feel free to report in here! I’ll be checking. :)

    • Pop
      February 7, 2011 | 2:21 pm

      I’m a bit late to this but I may just have to join you later on. Currently, there’s just too much sugar in the house (recently visited Trader Joe’s and I may or may not have bought 3 different chocolate treats), and I’m far too cheap to throw it all away – that and I would probably shed a tear.

      Good luck!


  23. Rachel
    February 9, 2011 | 1:28 am

    Hey all! Feeling pretty good so far. I have found some new found energy and stamina (is that why I’m still up @ 11:30 pm or is it because I’m obsessed with the laundry and have to switch the clothes before I “do” go to bed??). I can’t believe we have made it this far but can’t also believe we have a looongg way to go. How is everyone doing?


  24. tanya
    February 9, 2011 | 12:06 pm

    I wish you had an OMG ME TOO button like in confessions because I watched the vegan episode of Oprah and went through the exact same though process. I have a lot of vegan friends (there is a bizarrely large vegan community here in slc) and so I know that I could never go vegan. Heck I couldn’t go vegetarian if I wanted to, which I don’t. I love your idea of cutting sugar. I’m sure I could do it easily until I got to the end of the month. You know that time. I’d never survive it. I’m already evil then I’d proabably be arrested if I tried to go without sugar. Good luck. I’m going to stick to my resolution to exercise 3 times a week. I hate exercising but I love eating more.

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  26. Kara Thom
    February 18, 2011 | 7:10 am

    Can I tell you how many times I’ve considered doing this–and on the exact same level as you (I mean, you can’t give up wine AND dessert). Yeah, watched that same Oprah, too. I can run a marathon but I can’t give up sugar. What gives? I’ll see how it goes for you… I’m loving all your Twitter tips by the way. I wouldn’t be on Twitter without Jen Erickson’s loving hand-holding. Thanks for the continued coaching!

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