a peek inside the fishbowl

17 Jan, 2011

A long and rambly update with lots of bullets about Sugar Fast II.

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Yaktivism

First of all, did you know I’m hosting a very cool giveaway? Check it out and enter before time runs out!

Second I wanted to collect a few thoughts regarding my second foray into the Land of Very Little Refined Sugar and Flour.

Many of you will remember the first Sugar Fast. What you may not have realized at the time, is that the troops were starting to mutiny by the end of it. I was not willing to put them through again, so I was very much on my own this time around.

For the last two weeks I have been eating:


  • eggs
  • meat
  • dairy (plain yogurt, milk, cheese, sour cream)
  • All-Bran Buds and soy milk (for breakfast), because my colon told me I had to
  • brown rice (I think we had it two or three times with dinner)
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • steel cut oatmeal (more on that later)
  • nuts
  • bacon

I was not eating:

  • pretty much anything contained sugar on the ingredients list (like salad dressing, ketchup, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, fish sticks)
  • bread (not even whole grain)
  • white rice
  • potatoes (baked, fried, or in chip format)
  • sweetened desserts
  • artificial sweeteners
  • juice
  • processed meats (sausages, hot dogs, ham etc. But yes, I ate bacon.

I know some of you are reading that list and thinking, OMG, I can’t go a single day without eating sugar/bread/potatoes/whaterver. My answer to you is this: YES YOU CAN.

Was it worth it? Yes. It was a bit of a slog for the first couple of days, but it got easier. Was it a lot of work? Not really. The trick for me was to actually make a weeklong meal plan (something that doesn’t always happen), a complete grocery list, and stick to the list. The kids didn’t really know what was going on half the time, because of the kinds of meals I prepared. If I made roasted potatoes, I just had extra veggies. And sometimes there just weren’t any startches on the table at all. For example, for dinner one night I made oven-baked chicken and tossed salad. There was no sugar or flour or potatoes or bread involved at all. And no dessert. :)

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were a few rough spots:

  • We ordered Chinese food at my in-laws. The reality is that there are few healthy Chinese foods ona typical menu (no surprise there, really) so I ordered a mushroom/egg drop soup I’d never tried before. A happy discovery was made. It was delicious! I also had a heaping plate of stir-fried veggies and plain shrimp. I don’t actually know what the ingredients were in those items, they weren’t saucy but there could have been corn starch involved in some respect. I’m just going to pretend it was all ok.
  • Speaking of Chinese food, soy sauce contains sugar. At some point during week two I made a dish that called for Ponzu (a type of soy sauce) and instead of beating myself up about it I decided to eat it.
  • This past weekend Sarah and I went to Starbucks while waiting for Emma’s art class to end. I ordered her a hot chocolate and a promised cookie. She chose a white-chocolate macadamia nut cookie. My fave! But I didn’t have a bite. NOT ONE. Instead we broke it in half and saved it for her sister.
  • At one point Mark actually pointed a cookie at me (a different cookie) and said C’MON JUST HAVE ONE BITE. Gack. It’s got to be all or nothing with me.

There were a few more, but that just about sums it up. *sigh*

This is the part where I dip my toe into a world of medicine even though I am totally unqualified to make any such statements. We can’t deny that as a society we’re getting fatter. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s not because we’re eating more butter or prime rib (ok maybe prime rib does factor in a little bit) but it is primarily because we’re eating more processed foods than we ever have before. And that includes sugar and white flour.

A big point of interest to me is this: how have our collective tastes changed? People in the 1950s for example, somehow managed to get along with less sugar. Allow me to speculate why: (a) it wasn’t as cheap and widely available in all its glorious forms as it is today (like glucose/fructose, a.k.a High Fructose Corn Syrup and (b) they ate more homecooking.

Studies have shown that sugar is addictive, and it also holds true for carbs because they essentially have the same effect on our bodies. More than anything, this experiment showed me that if I ate sugar and carbs I craved more of the same. It’s downright weird.

Where do I go from here? How have I changed?

I’m not going to eat less bacon.

I have always believed that less is more. Eating high quality food means you need less of it to feel satisfied. Have you ever made your own ice cream? It’s incredible. It’s made out of cream, milk, and sugar, and whatever flavouring (say strawberries, cocoa, vanilla). Why is it that I can only eat a ½ cup serving and be STUFFED and happy? Yet almost any other kind of ice cream else keeps me wanting more. The same goes for chocolate. One small piece of really great chocolate is more satisfying than a giant Mars bar.

There is room in my life for Good Food, and this includes good quality sweets and treats.

But I can’t let myself get hungry.

This was an eye-opener. I’ve always been a staunch believer in the “three square meals” way of eating but it doesn’t actually work for me. I have had to set an alarm on my iPhone to remind myself to eat. This is sad, but true. It goes off at 8:00, 10:45, noon, and 3:00 p.m. If I eat this way, with a little bit of protein in each meal (including snacks) I’m not ravenous at dinner, and at night.

Also: I flava flave it

Hot sauce makes ho hum meals really zing. And zing makes me happy. And I am lucky I love vegetables as much as I do. I can honestly heap a plate half full of veg and happily dig in.

Things I will continue to think about as I go along:

  • I only have one body. I have to be nice to it.
  • When I am well-fed, well-watered and well-rested, things are easier. And by THINGS I mean it’s easier to do the grocery shopping. It’s easier to find the energy to take the dog on an extra long walk or play monopoly with the family. This is what I want more than anything.
  • I will sit down to eat. No more grab a cookie and go. I’ll have that cookie with my tea, sitting down.
  • Life is too short not to eat bread. But I will make sure it’s good bread.
  • Sugar changes my taste buds. Using less sweetener (or ketchup or mayo or whatever “additions” you add to your food) means that the true taste of the food really shines. No big shocker there. Naked food is good food.
  • Michael Pollan is right: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Some eating is totally mindless, isn’t it? I can polish off half a bag of Cheezies in front of the TV without even thinking about it. This is not great. I need to be more mindful of my choices. There are things I don’t need to eat ever again because I really don’t care about them, like storebought pastries and marshmallows, yet there are times I eat them just because they’re there. What’s the point of buying them? Or eating them if they’ve not my absolute favourite?

What is a carb craving anyway?

In my head it goes something like this. I’m watching the news. The craving speaks:

“What are you talking about?”
“You want some.”
“What? Now? It’s 10:30!”
“Yes. Toast. With butter. And peanut butter. It’s hot and melty and SO GOOD. You want it. You know you do.”
“YES. You are hungry. And it will make you feel good. See, you’re salivating, just thinking about toast.”
“I don’t think I’m hungry. We had a pretty good dinner and…”
“NO BUTS. You are hungreeeeeeeee.”

It is hard to argue with THE CRAVING. But next time it hits I will think about a few things:

Am I really and truly hungry? How can I be hungry when I just ate a few hours ago?
Am I thirsty? Maybe. [And follow up with a glass of water or cup of green tea.]
What else can solve this problem? A healthy snack? A walk around the block? Jumping jacks?

A craving is nothing but my body sending me a desperate message in the throes of withdrawal, and the message is this: you haven’t given me what I really want, so FEED ME NOW.

Smokers get the same message. And I get the message when I haven’t had a chance to have my morning cuppa joe.

Here’s the thing: I can choose whether or not to listen to the message. I have the power to disregard it because the message is essentially a lie.

Cravings are chemistry. If you’re feeling tired and run down, the first question you need to ask yourself is (1) have I been taking care of myself, followed by (2) what the hell have I been eating? I don’t think people realize how much food affects their moods.

If I’m tired, and I often have been, it’s because I haven’t slept well or had enough sleep, I haven’t had a coffee, or I haven’t eaten well. When I eat a high carb snack – let’s say that Starbucks cookie – my body jumps for joy. It jumps high. Yipeeeee! But when it jumps, it needs to fall, and it does so quite regularly between 3 and 4:00 p.m.

Hear that? It’s the sound of my body going into nosedive mode. And when I’m nosediving, I’m reaching for another cookie because it’ll make me feel good and then… repeat repeat repeat.

Isn’t “eating well” a lot of work?

Maybe at first it is, especially if you’re not used to cooking from scratch. If you’re looking to change a habit that has been deeply ingrained over a lifetime I think it might be challenging at first, but it will get easier.

The question remains… will I keep going?

I might not be as strict as I have been these past two weeks. I will allow some ketchup and mayo back into my life, but overall, I think I’ve seen the light.

19 Responses to "A long and rambly update with lots of bullets about Sugar Fast II."

1 | Ross Brown

January 17th, 2011 at 4:02 pm


Glad to see you didn’t give up bacon. I could never do that either (http://bit.ly/e5kBLU).

My wife tried that diet for a week last year. She came away feeling better and I’ve considered doing the same this year.

Thanks for sharing your story!

2 | Jennie Maynard

January 17th, 2011 at 4:06 pm


Good for you!! I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions. Having had weight loss surgery in 2009, I have had no choice but to restrict my portion size and when you can only eat 1000-1200 cal a day, you make each one count. With guidance of a super bariatric specialist, I eat like you do – 5-6 small meals (or 3 meal and 2-3 snacks) that are protein centred and lower in carbs.

Rather than the “all or nothing” / diet-centric approach others I know have taken, I have gone with your approach – less is more. I’d much rather have 2-3 bites of high quality dark chocolate than a Mars bar, etc. A bite of high quality ice cream quenches a craving over half-a-cup of “cheaper” ice cream (er… ice milk? frozen milk product?)

We are eating more home cooked unprocessed meals – with protests from the kids – and overall, I think we are making better choices in the sort and long term.

Keep it up!

3 | Mary @ Parenthood

January 17th, 2011 at 7:18 pm


I probably haven’t read through your post with as much attention as it deserves (and it’s taken me two tries even though usually I read pretty fast).

But I wanted to say that I found it very interesting. I think too that people used to use less sugar because it cost more! I’m a lot more mindful of the sugar I injest since the sugar fast thing last year.

I don’t eat that much processed food (although I have to confess that I feed my daughter way more processed food than I like to eat myself). The inventors of goldfish have a lot to answer for!

I usually brush my teeth right after dinner with my daughter and I find that helps cut down on the snacking. I tell my craving that I’ve already brushed my teeth for the night and usually that’s enough!

Drinking more water helps a lot too. I read somewhere that drinking a glass of water 20 minutes before a meal cuts the average number of calories consumed significantly. Seems to work for me!

4 | Patti

January 17th, 2011 at 7:21 pm


Hi Andrea,

I enjoyed the post – and I read it all the way through! – and I’m in a similar frame of mind.

I’ve been reading ‘Your Best Body Now’ and while it’s not advertised as a sugar free way to live it is clean eating which is why I was attracted to it. I’ve realized that the only way for me to be successful at any of this is to go slowly and not expect it to be an easy change in just one day.

I’ll be interested to read along as you continue the fast.

Best of luck!


5 | Ryan

January 17th, 2011 at 8:42 pm


Congrats! Good to hear you made it, and thanks again for the welcome and interesting insights on the modern diet. It’s encouraging and inspiring.

6 | Tiana

January 17th, 2011 at 9:47 pm


Ha! Bacon has it’s own bullet point apart from meat? funny

I hear making your own mayo is pretty easy and you don’t have to add sugar. Probably the same for ketchup.

I never felt better than when I was eating “nothing white” but I just don’t have that kind of resolve during pregnancy/breastfeeding times. I plan to get back on it when I’m done though. I’m not THAT far off. I switched from Haagen Daaz to Pascale’s ice cream! ;)

7 | Sarah (mrsgryphon)

January 18th, 2011 at 4:03 am


I admire your resolve. Anything is better as long as bacon is involved, though ;)

8 | Vanessa

January 18th, 2011 at 8:59 am


Way to go! I wouldn’t stress too much about the “hidden” sugars – as long as you’re making a conscious effort most of the time, you’ll have improved your health significantly!

And I fully agree about the ‘quality’ sweets. I get MUCH more satisfaction from a good quality chocolate, or special home-baked treat than from a commercial chocolate bar or junky treat.

I thought I was the only one who’s toast spoke to her? Mine asks for butter (not margarine) and brown sugar… yeah.

9 | Jen_nifer

January 18th, 2011 at 9:39 am


I’ve been working on eating more mindfully. So far that has meant keeping a food diary for the last two weeks. I’m trying to keep myself just to tracking, and not overwhelming myself with changes yet. It’s worked pretty well so far. I used to regularly drink 1-2 Cokes a day, now I’m down to 1 Coke every two days. I haven’t stepped on a scale yet though…

10 | Lee

January 18th, 2011 at 10:02 am


Congratulations on completing your challenge to yourself!

I’m curious if you’ll notice how much sweetener is in stuff as you slowly add it back to your diet.

I’m disappointed that in your life “The reality is that there are few healthy Chinese foods on a typical menu” because, in my opinion, there are a plethora of healthy Chinese dishes.

11 | andrea

January 18th, 2011 at 10:18 am


Jen_nifer – It is interesting to see it written down. I think everyone should try it at least once. It takes a bit of work, but it’s worth it! I’m not a big pop drinker myself, so I feel fortunate not to have to contend with that hurdle!

Lee: I think my tastebuds are permanently altered! I can totally notice the sweet much more than I ever did before. And it is sad about the Chinese food, isn’t it? I guess the typical menu consists largely of “North American” Chinese food, with lots of chicken balls and egg rolls on it. Also, if I was ordering for myself it would look a lot different than what my family orders! I’d be ordering the eggplant for example. :)

12 | andrea

January 18th, 2011 at 10:18 am


Mary: I love your suggestion about brushing your teeth after dinner!!

13 | Steel cut oatmeal >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 18th, 2011 at 11:20 am


[…] yesterday’s post I mentioned oatmeal. I would like to expand on the oatmeal for a little […]

14 | Liisa

January 18th, 2011 at 12:42 pm


Whenever I see the word “fast”, I am immediately skeptical. It’s the same with “cleanse” or “detox”. I just don’t get it.

However, after reading where this process has led you or where you go from here, I get that this was perhaps a way for you to achieve personal balance – kinda like the pendulum swinging back and forth and landing in the middle.


P.S. Eggplant and black beans – Yummmm

15 | Sherry

January 18th, 2011 at 3:12 pm


Congrats on making it through, and thanks for all the insight!

I’m with Lee though. If you’re ordering in North American-ized Chinese take-out, yes you’ll get a lot of questionable content because a lot of it is fried or heavily battered. However, if you get true Chinese food much of it is very healthy. If you look at people in China there’s really not much of an obesity issue over there.

Sometimes we order in from a local place and I eat it because it tastes *okay* but it’s nothing in comparison to the total delights that I can get by going into the city and hitting up Chinatown. The food is much better, fresh, and batter is not so prominent. I’ve often found that if you find a Chinese restaurant where actual Chinese people are willing to eat regularly you’ll find far tastier and healthier options!

16 | Sara

January 18th, 2011 at 4:29 pm


Hooray for finishing the two weeks!! As I continue to examine our eating habits, replacement for store bought breads and bagels will be next on my list. I’m baking snacks now but have a bread maker gathering dust in the basement. The kids don’t eat sugar cereal or dessert everyday etc but its the hidden sugar that is probably more of an issue since I don’t even think about it. Great post!

17 | Rachel

January 18th, 2011 at 11:05 pm


I did 10 days of the same type of cleanse at the start of the month. Love how it reset my taste buds. I am back to just a bit of milk in my coffee, no sweetener, and way less processed foods and salt. I’m still not eating bread thinking about continuing with that.
I’m also so proud of how much produce we are going through each week. I don’t think my husband has ever eaten this many vegetables.

18 | Barbara (OttMomGo)

January 20th, 2011 at 3:55 pm


I’m going to tackle the sort of elimination program you describe above but I want to bring my hubby and kid with me. Why should they not get the same healthy food as me? Well, other than the complaining, I mean. That’s where I’m stuck – how to convert them into believers. I can’t decide if going cold turkey would work better than a gradual reduction. If I figure out which works better, I’ll definitely let you know.

19 | Barbara – Week 23 – Roller coaster | Losing It In Ottawa

January 27th, 2011 at 7:26 am


[…] has been bouncing up and down around the number it’s been at for about 3 weeks. I read about Andrea at Peek inside the Fishbowl’s sugar fast and decided that would be a good way to change my focus  on what I’m eating. Sunday was […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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