🐒 My Monkey Life 🐒

The #NASTY Challenge:

Quitting Added Sugar for a Year

April 3, 2023

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bowl of sugar






So, I thought it would be clever to make an acronym out of this challenge.

I've been struggling with sugar most of my life. Actually, that's a lie. I didn't struggle with it until I knew I needed to stop eating so much of it. I've honestly loved sugar as long as I can remember. From Culver's custard to Oreos and gummi peach rings, I've tried a lot of different treats over the years. I long considered myself a "candy connoisseur".

Alas, my body blessed me with the resilience of my youth, only to betray me in my early 20s with the formation of my first gut. I actually lost my "freshman 15" when I was in college, only to gain my first 30 pounds of stress weight in my 4th year. I'm sure it had something to do with work, almost not finishing my 4-year degree, and the relationship I was in at the time.

Then I gained some "happiness weight" after I met my now-wife in my 5th & final year of college. I believe I added another 30 by the time I started seeing a nutritionist a few years later to start addressing the root cause of my weight gain: overconsuming sugar. I tried a multitude of strategies, diets, exercise regimens, and none of them seemed to stick. And when something failed to work, I returned to old habits. With the way I was eating, my health was essentially in a downward spiral.

I became deeply unsatisfied with my inability to continue doing some of the parkour movements I used to enjoy. I'd let myself go to an extent that I couldn't push or pull my body as I once could. As a result, 3 days before my peak weight, on May 12, 2022, I sustained my first major parkour injury when I kong-vaulted over a metal picnic table and bashed my patellar tendon on the edge because my hips were not high enough during the vault. All in all, I ended up ballooning from 200 lbs. in 2016 to 255 lbs. at my peak on May 15, 2022.

I took this as a wake-up call that I needed to get my weight handled or I'd have no future with the activity I loved. I wanted a way to get my life back, and to return to my parkour practice stronger than I'd ever been before. So far, I've been able to shed about 20 pounds since last May, but I still have about 30 to go before I'm back to that 200 lbs. mark.

I just turned 29 on April 2, and it made me realize that I had 1 more year to finish my list of "Before I'm 30" goals. On the night of my birthday, I hatched a scheme that was so crazy it was kind of scary. And that's just the sort of challenge I'm excited to try. I'd done the #100DaysOfCode challenge popular in the self-taught dev community. Twice. I loved that sort of timeboxed challenge that seems doable but difficult. So I came up with this 365-day-long challenge where I won't eat any food with added sugar.

The strictness of the "no added sugar" rule is subject to my own judgment. I'm aiming for 0g per day, but there may be times where the only food options available have added sugar in them. I figure, if the added sugar is small enough to not exceed the "25g per day" limit, recommended by the FDA, I can use my judgment to determine if I want to consume that food. The way I see it, I'm going to be avoiding every major offender in the book, from candy & cookies to ice cream & soda. If some manages to slip into my diet in small amounts, it likely won't be adding up to a problematic quantity and I'll still see the health benefits I wanted out of this challenge in the first place. And most importantly, I won't quit this challenge before the 365 days are up. I'll just keep treating every day as an opportunity to hit the 0g goal until I turn 30. And of course, exceptional circumstances apply to anything (like, for example, an international vacation).

I'm going to continue to update this blog with entries about how it's going. My aim is to make 1 entry per day, so I can process any feelings or thoughts I have day-to-day and spot trends in hindsight later on. With that, onwards and upwards! 🚀

Update - 9/18/2023

This has been a lot harder and a lot easier than I thought.

The hard part was getting started. The easy part was continuing on after a few weeks of success.

The 2nd hard part was wanting to continue in spite of slipping up a few times. All in all, the days I've had more than 25g of added sugar comprise less than 5% of this entire journey, which is why I've been able to lose a definitive 30 pounds this year. But it didn't change how I felt about cheating myself. That said, I had the discernment to recognize that if I quit because of a few slip-ups, I'd never make real progress or keep any results I achieved in the long-term.

After accepting that I would need to be OK with small amounts of sugar in my life as a realistic inevitability, I relaxed about it. I've already fundamentally changed the way I interact with sugar in a way that I see as permanent. There's a level of trust I'm permitted to have with myself around the occasional snack.

The 3rd hard part was hitting my plateau in June. I lost 20 pounds fairly rapidly all because I was avoiding sugar and including some cardio & strength training during the week. It only took 3 months to lose the 20 pounds that came after this no-sugar challenge started. But then I hit a wall because there are still other food choices I'm making that are holding me back. My nutritionist points to the refined carbs & fried food that I'm still eating. I'm also definitely missing out on another 5 pounds of weight loss just because I'm not staying within my calorie requirements every day. I go over by 500-1000 calories on average.

All of this said, I started the year at 246 lbs., started this challenge at 238 lbs, and I'm currently sitting between 215-218 lbs.

Even if I'm stalled for now, I've broken through plateaus before:

  • Plateau #1:
    Jan-Feb 2023
    Started seeing a nutritonist, tracking my weight, and tracking my calories

  • Plateau #2:
    Mar-Apr 2023
    Started restricting my sugar intake

  • Plateau #3
    Jun-Sept 2023

This has been the longest plateau yet, though, at least while I've actively been trying to lose weight. I don't enjoy the thought of it, but I will likely need to make another major change to how I'm eating. I've tried the exercise approach before, but training for a half-marathon in 2022 and biking to work once a week the past month have not changed how much I weigh, only my ability to tolerate endurance workouts.

I'm going to need to keep exercising to maintain my muscle mass & cardiovascular fitness, but if I want to see the scale change, I need to start another chapter in my nutrition journey. Not sure what I'm willing to commit to yet, but the one that feels most obvious to me is completely eliminating fast food for 30 days to see if that does anything.