Giving Up Sugar for Lent

I gave up refined sugar for Lent. Fat Tuesday was coincidentally a particularly indulgent day; I had large fry bread as part of my lunch and an ice cream cone as a snack. Guilty and concerned, I gave up refined sugar, not for religious reasons—I’m an atheist—but because I was curious to see how abstinence from refined sugar would affect my body and because I “enjoy” denying myself pleasurable things during a culturally appropriate time. Doing this experiment during Lent meant I wouldn’t have to explain myself. I could just say, “I gave up sugar for Lent.” No one would accuse me of being a health nut or hypocrite or not understanding how sugar works—I still allowed myself honey, maple syrup, inverted sugars, and artificial sweeteners. I consumed more artificial sweeteners in this period of time than I probably have in all my adult life.

Lent is 40 days long. Longer if you aren’t religious and don’t know that Lent doesn’t include Sundays and give up refined sugar for all the days between February 18 to April 2 (Lent 2015 according to Google). Despite my Fat Tuesday gluttony, I don’t typically consume a lot of refined sugar in a day—usually an EmergenC and a bit of chocolate. I didn’t think giving up sugar was going to be too hard. I knew it would affect my drink choices. I could no longer order my favorite whiskey ginger, because sugar would come along for the ride in the ginger ale. But there are many subtle sources of sugar hidden in unlikely places: medicine, bagels, piecrusts, hot sauces, salad dressings. I ate many of these anyway. Did I really want to stop the wait staff each time I went to a restaurant and ask about the ingredients in each item of my order? “Hey, is there sugar in either the crust or the sauce on this pizza?” No. I did not want to be that person.

I had occasional sugar cravings. I had a surprising dream about cookies where I could taste them around week two. I can never taste in my dreams, but this one time they were so sweet. I was convinced that chocolate was a miracle food that would solve all my mood-related problems. When my boyfriend bought ice cream he was usually kind enough to get it coffee-flavored because he knew I hated coffee more than I liked ice cream. I sometimes had to ask friends to stop talking about cake.

Giving up sugar was more annoying than difficult, especially when I traveled to the UK and wanted scones and tea. Scones are essentially sugar biscuits (with the American meaning of biscuit) and the English/Welsh don’t serve honey as a tea-sweetening option. I couldn’t eat to-go yogurts. And why do they love cake so much? Must they flaunt it?

I broke my sugar fast on April 2nd with my sister in Wales. She had bought a couple kilograms of Easter chocolate for us. I not only discovered that I couldn’t eat as much sugar as before, but I also didn’t find sugar to be a very rewarding flavor. I could only have a few bites of on-sale cheesecake at a time. The Indian food we ordered for Easter dinner was too sweet. But my sugar resistance is declining quickly. On the Monday after Easter I was able to eat a scone, have sugar in tea, and eat half an ice cream cone. By the end of the week, I’ll likely be able to eat an entire ice cream cone.

At some point I have to tackle this fabulous dark chocolate Easter egg from Wales that my sister bought me.

Oh well, I’m sure my body enjoyed the low sugar intake while it lasted.

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