In 2018 I’m doing month long “experiments.” Thirty day journeys into developing habits and routines that I think I may want to implement into my life. At the start of a new year we often have a list of “resolutions” that are vague – things like “lose weight” or “get fit.” These monthly experiments are meant to break a bigger goal down into small steps – steps that will help us figure out if its something we want to add to our routine…or not. Small steps that will help us really develop the habit.
In April my intention was to give up white sugar and white flour. I had my annual health screening at work at the beginning of April. I looked back at my older ones and realized that I have been gaining 5 pounds each year since 2014. That means I’m 20 pounds heavier than four years ago! That was shocking to me. It’s amazing how it can slowly creep up on you.
I’ve mentioned how much I love Brooke Castillo before on the blog, and on her podcast she talks about giving up flour and sugar as one of the first steps when she works with her weight loss clients. So this month I’m going to give it a try and see if that helps me shed some weight around my middle and helps me feel more energized!
The Benefits of Giving Up Flour and Sugar
When I first heard of the idea of giving up flour and sugar – my first thought was, “no way!” Give up ice cream and pizza by choice? It seemed like an unnecessary hardship.
Yet after my realization that I had gained 20 pounds in 4 years, it seemed like just the thing to reset my eating habits. Apparently, consuming sugar and flour makes you feel like you’re always hungry, even when you’re not. So in order to truly be able to tell when you’re hungry, you need to eliminate it from your diet in order to learn what hunger really feels like.
Foods higher in fiber take longer to digest and release glucose into your bloodstream at a slow rate. In contrast, the sugar and starch in refined foods metabolize quickly and release glucose to your bloodstream all at once. As blood sugar spikes, your pancreas begins secreting large quantities of insulin that stimulate glucose absorption into cells and body tissues. According to Kliment (author of Eat Right for Your Metabolism), this insulin overload then causes blood sugar levels to plummet and leaves you feeling hungry, creating a cycle glucose-induced food cravings. Effects of Removing Sugar and White Flour from Your Diet
How the Month of Giving Up Flour and Sugar Went
The month wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I continued to eat oatmeal, rice, and corn flour in the form of tortilla chips or corn tortillas. When I could, I tried to eat brown rice instead of white rice. My husband cooks during the week and he was really considerate in what he chose to make – instead of pasta he made dishes with rice.
I did cheat a few times in the month:
- when my son had a party and we had leftover pizza, I ate 2 pieces of pizza the next night for dinner. It was surprising how heavy it felt in my stomach.
- when my other son made homemade wontons I ate three, and had one of the homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies he made after waiting a day.
- when I went out to dinner with my co-workers I shared an appetizer with bread crumbs.
Lessons Learned from a Month of Giving Up Flour and Sugar
Lesson #1: I had more energy
You know that slump around 3:00 in the afternoon when you feel like you need a second cup of coffee or some other kind of “pick me up”? I didn’t experience that when I gave up flour and sugar.
Lesson #2: Eating with other people gets complicated
As I’m writing this I’m traveling and not at home. I’m finding it much more complicated to stick with no flour and sugar when I’m not in control of the environment or schedule. I am finding it really uncomfortable to impose my experiment on others or inconvenience them in any way, so I’ve begun eating flour again a few days early.
You need to plan ahead if you’re eating out with friends and it’s a communal meal. Will you tell them beforehand about your dietary restrictions? A friend had me over this month and was cooking a pasta dish. She asked if there were any dietary restrictions and I shared that I wasn’t eating flour or sugar this month. She graciously made a separate dish of quinoa pasta. I felt really served and cared for by her extra effort.
Lesson #3: Cutting out flour and sugar has made me more mindful
I realized that I’ve been mindlessly eating a lot of the sugar available at work. If there were baked goods or chocolates, I was eating it and grabbing a few for later. It was the same kind of scarcity mindset I’ve experienced when decluttering.
- “I might get hungry later, so I’ll take a few of these for later.”
- “I might need a pick me up later, so I’ll take this just in case.”
Cutting out flour and sugar has helped me to pause and notice what I’m eating.
- Does this have flour or sugar in it?
- Am I really hungry now?
Lesson #4: Cravings and hunger are just like other feelings – they ebb and flow
About a week after I decided to give up flour and sugar for the month, I got an email from James Clear about intermittent fasting. It made a lot of sense to me so I began doing it along with cutting out flour and sugar. I chose to do daily intermittent fasting, so I planned to start eating at around noon and then stop eating after 8:00 pm. I didn’t restrict what I ate, just when I ate.
I had my coffee in the morning and then waited until noon to have my first meal of the day. I slowly pushed back the time until I reached noon. It was easiest when I was at work and busy. My body adjusted pretty quickly. At first I was trying to eat my usual three meals within that eight hour time frame but I gradually realized that I didn’t need to do that. I only ate when I was truly hungry…and cutting out flour and sugar allowed me to actually know when my body needed food.
My biggest takeaway from this is that hunger feelings and cravings are like any other feelings. They come and go. You don’t have to respond to them immediately. You can notice them, acknowledge them, and make a choice. Eat or not eat. My monthly experiments of yoga and meditation have helped me in this practice of noticing thoughts but not necessarily acting on them right away.
Note: I’m not giving medical advice here, just sharing my own personal experience. Please do what is best for you and your body and get the advice of medical professionals if you’re not sure whether cutting out flour and sugar or intermittent fasting is right for you or not.
Tips for Planning Your Own Monthly Experiment
Decide ahead of time when you will do your activity daily.
This is slightly different than the other months where the activity was once daily. Giving up flour and sugar was a constant activity. If you are going to do this type of experiment, it’s helpful to plan your daily meals and stock up on the groceries that are in line with the foods you are allowing yourself to consume.
If you’re going to try intermittent fasting, decide what your 8 hour window for eating will be. You might be able to wait until 12 noon on the first day, or you might gradually move the time up an hour each day. Listen to your body.
Start small. Consistency is more important.
Whatever your 30 day journey is, evaluate where you are right now, and set the daily goal from there.
If your goal is to drink more water, how much are you drinking now? If you drink 16 ounces, then set the goal above that and add on throughout the month.
If your goal is to declutter everyday and you haven’t done any decluttering, set your goal at decluttering one item a day at first. I’ve found with decluttering that a lot of the training is in recognizing the clutter instead of walking around with our clutter blinders on.
Whatever your goal is, doing it daily is the important part. Start small with the amount and increase as the month progresses.
I couldn’t have done this monthly experiment of no flour and no sugar if I hadn’t already been practicing self discipline with other habits first. I’ve been practicing mindfulness in other ways and that made it much easier to adopt mindful eating practices. I’ve been practicing noticing my thoughts so it made it easier to question if I was really hungry.
When you feel yourself hesitating, say this to yourself…
At one point during my 30 day yoga journey, I found myself saying, “Ugh, I don’t feel like doing yoga.” I was lying on the ground feeling lazy. As I lay there debating, a statement came to me.
“I am a person who does yoga every day.”
It rang true to me. Yeah, I AM a person who does yoga every day. I got myself up and on to the mat.
If you find yourself hesitating, affirm your desire and intention and see if that changes something for you. For this month, my statement was “I am a person who eats when hungry, not just when food is available, or not based on the time.”
Reward yourself daily or weekly
If your task is difficult for you, plan a small reward after you complete it. It will help you stay motivated.
My reward was feeling more energetic and feeling better. It also helped to see my weight slowly go down through the month when I weighed myself weekly. That was a secondary goal, but it was motivating and rewarding to see numbers go down.
After this month, I won’t be as strict about no sugar or no flour from my diet. I will continue to be more mindful though. If I am going to eat sweets, I’ll make sure it’s actually something I enjoy versus something that is just available, and I’ll be intentional about it.
In May my intention is to write every day. I’m going to set the goal of writing at least 100 words a day. I tend to write in spurts when I’m writing longer pieces, so the discipline of writing every day will be interesting.
Have you ever given up flour or sugar? What was your experience like? I’d love to know in the comments!