One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is give up processed sugar entirely. Which, for me, meant pretty much giving up all sugar, as I’m not super into fruit.
This was maybe 15 years ago now. I remember it vividly. I was stressed out about my weight and health. Also, I didn’t admit till later, I felt really out of control with sweets. I was so confused about conflicting “best diet” information, and the one thing all authorities seemed to agree on was, “processed sugar is bad.”
So I decided to take action on the one thing I knew for sure. I gave up all processed sugar. I mean, I checked the labels of pasta sauces.
No! None! Not sugar! It was so hard. I loved sweets so much, and I thought about them all the time. I thought after a month or so, the cravings would go away. Uh uh. It wasn’t until 9 months later that I realized I’d gone through a whole day and pretty much not thought about sugar once.
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. There was an intensive period of deprivation, followed by (most of) the rest of my life lived free of the pull of sweets.
Anyway there was something I learned in this process that was really important. It was how much other people can’t stand it when you consciously abstain from something.
I don’t know if it’s that they think they should abstain too, or if they think you think they should, or if their pleasure is diminished if they think you are salivating over their dessert, or what. But they hate it.
A small change in my own language made a BIG difference in how people responded to me.
At first, when dessert time rolled around, I said “I’ve given up sugar.” Big mistake. The most common response I got was something like, “Oh, come on! Treat yourself!”
Did I secretly want to treat myself and desire their permission? Did I at minimum want their sympathy? Or did I just think since that was the truth, that was what I should say?
I don’t know. But one day I hit on what turned out to be the most brilliant solution. I started saying, “I don’t eat sweets.” This is remarkably different from “I’ve given up sugar.” It lacks that wistful quality, whereas “given up” just always carries the notion of your own sacrifice, even if you aren’t feeling it.
“I don’t” is owning it. It’s a choice. It’s firm and it’s final. You don’t never get cajoled when using this line, but it’s more rare. And if you do, just repeat it. By the way, I found the word “sugar” would often spark debate about how “there’s sugar in fruit, and even vegetables…” So switching to “sweets” helped with that. It also clarified that I didn’t want them to make me artificial sweetener cake, either.
Maybe it’s mean, but it actually became a lot of fun to watch this all unfold. Especially when I really had gotten past the pull to cave. People don’t know what to do! They want dessert! They don’t understand that they can eat it – nay, savor it – in front of you without being rude! But, “I don’t” helps them past that a lot better than “I gave up.”
By the way, there’s another brilliant answer! It’s “no thanks, I don’t want any/feel like dessert.” This one may feel more dangerous because it’s so in the moment. It’s actually even better in terms of making your companions feel comfortable eating theirs – but they still WILL try to get you to try a bite, and may even try to get “an extra fork just in case.”
You can always go with “I don’t like sweets,” if you’re with people who haven’t known you long and your truthfulness gene is flexible.
Abstaining from sweets is really good for me. I’m so clear on that. And I am so solid in the habit now, and my friends and family so used to it, that this issue doesn’t come up much. But, in the beginning, my habit was fragile. I needed to protect it, and even if I felt shaky, speaking firmly about it really helped.