A week ago, I was going to write this as the worst experience ever. But the other night, when we were getting dinner with my sister and her friend, a strange thing happened. Colleen’s friend and Peter both ordered dessert and Vic’s was this amazingly massive chocolate chip cookie covered in ice cream. Peter was eating flourless chocolate cake, and Vic offered me a spoon to dig into her dessert.
And I said no.
This might be the first time in my life I’ve ever casually refused dessert, especially when everyone else was eating it—even Peter, the anti-dessert man who doesn’t actually *want* wedding cake. (I know, what’s up with that?!)
But I digress.
About two months ago, my travel had hit an all-time stressful high (and in Europe, where croissants and Nutella are pretty much everywhere), and then, my cycling hours had a huge increase. My winter travel had already taken a chocolate-heavy toll as I snacked my way through Spain, France, The Netherlands and Belgium, and when I finally landed in California and started riding again, my appetite for sweets went a little haywire. I was eating a lot of treats.
And there’s nothing wrong with treats—I’ve written a lot about how treats in moderation are actually totally fine. But this wasn’t really moderation. This was my sweet tooth rearing its ugly head at an age where I can no longer afford to let the sugar monster out. On the last day of the camp we coached, I found myself munching on cookies in the van after having eaten some pie on our last ride of the day. Not a cookie, multiple cookies.
So, I stopped. Just, stopped. Peter was shocked when I actually threw out my bag of Reeses (my chocolate of choice), and I don’t think he realized how miserable I was going to make the next week for him.
Going off baked goods, chocolate and pretty much anything of the sugary-sweet variety was pretty much the worst, for the first few days. I’d gotten used to post-ride treats and post-dinner desserts (and, to be fair, I was burning as much as I was eating with all the riding I was doing). But I wanted to be eating a cleaner, more veggie-and-lean-protein heavy diet that focused on foods that would help my riding, not weigh me down. After all, I just wrote a book to this effect!
Stopping cold turkey may not work for everyone, or be necessary for everyone. Most people can cut back. I am not one of those people. I needed to cut myself off, to ‘reset’ what I think of as treats. The first week was definitely the hardest. The second wasn’t much easier. But I hadn’t cut off my favorite foods entirely—tortilla chips were still fine, as was wine and the occasional margarita. (Hey, I’m human!) So having more savory/salty foods to focus on when a craving kicked in helped, and because I wasn’t full-on depriving myself of all of my favorite snacks, I wasn’t really unhappy. Nights were toughest, since unwinding with chocolate for dessert was my normal end-of-day routine. But after a couple of weeks, it started to feel less abnormal.
It’s been nearly two months since I made the decision to cut down, and after a month of being well-behaved, I loosened the reins a bit and am back to the occasional cookie. But now, I stop at one, not four.
Last week when I drafted this, I had a much grumpier outlook. I *really* missed cookies. I think I’ve turned a corner though—I’m in a coffee shop writing this, and didn’t even think about ordering a cookie with my coffee (gasp!). I haven’t craved a chocolate bar at night, and skipping that dessert with our friends didn’t feel like I was depriving myself. It turns out, you can kick a sweet tooth habit.
My sister was in disbelief, I should add, when I told her I hadn’t had a baked good in nearly two months.
So, if you’re like me and have a massive sweet tooth that you’re desperate to kick, here are a few of my tips:
- Tell someone. You don’t have to make it a huge deal or post it on the Internet, but I know for me, when I told Peter I was going to stop eating desserts and baked goods, he a) was stoked because he cares about my long term health, not just the short term, and b) while he wouldn’t have really minded if I cracked, telling him made it more of an ‘I’ll show him I can do it!’ kind of thing… even if he didn’t really mind if I couldn’t.
- Don’t give it all up, at least not at once. Make sure there’s still something in your diet (like I said, for me it was wine and salty snacks) that feels indulgent. I haven’t been chowing down on potato chips (a former favorite) since I started, but the fact that I *can* somehow made it easier to not eat cookies.
- Notice the small changes. I haven’t dropped 10 pounds in 45 days or anything drastic. And I admit, as someone who loves a good makeover montage, I was hoping to be able to say that my skin suddenly was glowing, I was down a dress size and my threshold had increased by 30 watts. That… did not happen. But I did notice that my mood and energy are much more even, probably because my blood sugar isn’t as up-down-up-down as it was a couple months ago. Even Peter says my general mood is better. And I do feel a bit more productive, and less brain-foggy in the evenings.
- Embrace other routines. When I stopped having chocolate at night, I went heavy on drinking tea instead (I love a good lemon-ginger tea before bed!). Finding something to substitute those less-than-healthy rituals really helped keep me away from them. That, and an earlier bedtime.
- Stay away from triggers. For me, that meant for the first couple weeks, I just didn’t go into coffee shops so I wouldn’t be tempted by baked goods. (Peter always says if you don’t want a knife fight, stay off the streets, and I get it now!) Now that it’s been a couple months, it’s easy to walk in and not order cookies.
- Stick with it. If you’re like me, a setback can be a huge motivation sucker. If you can have a setback and just get right back to healthy habits, I salute you! But for me, it was a huge deal to not cheat—because once I went there, I knew it would be a downward spiral. After a full month, I’ve started occasionally indulging and it seems OK, but I did notice last week that after having one Coke on a hot day at Sea Otter, I had one the next day… and so I stopped cold again and reinstituted the ban.
- Don’t substitute. I know I said you should have an indulgence you keep, but that doesn’t mean swapping chocolate for a low cal version, or cake for gluten-free cake. I’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t end up breaking the sweet tooth habit, and the minute I didn’t have access to the fancy/low-cal versions, I was right back to the real stuff. Plus, gluten-free cake is, sadly, not any better for you than regular cake. Sorry.
- It’s really not that bad, I promise. Habits take around 21 days to form but are a lot harder to break, so think about it as forming a new healthy eating habit, not getting rid of a bad habit.
Let me know if you’ve ever cut down on sweets, and how you did it!