Tag Archives: challenge

No Sugar Tonight: Two Very Different Experiences


I was working at a recent race, managing the Zero Waste program as usual. This is a very active job – lifting, moving things around and such, but mainly a lot of walking from place to place. And as typically happens at such races, I got hungry, early and often.

The food provided to the athletes is available to race workers, but I don’t want to rely on it or overdo it. So I brought along a large bowl of oatmeal with pecans, hoping it would sustain me a while. It did, until the cooking table started up and I was offered “taste tests” of the breakfast burrito. And a pancake. And boxes of cookies lay in plain sight, begging to be consumed. And ice cream, and so on. All par for the course, except on a warm day I was washing everything down with coffee instead of water.

Things did not end well.

So I lost my water bottle at mile 15 and it was a cupless race, you see…

By early afternoon my digestive system was in full revolt, and with cleanup and takedown left to do, there was nothing to do but gut it out. (I’ll stop with the puns now, as I’m guessing you don’t have the stomach for it.) Things settled down that evening, but the next day I ate very simply and drank only water. And again the next day. I stuck to basic foods, with nothing processed.

I felt fine, not even feeling any cravings, so I wondered if I could go an entire week this way. That’s right – no pastries, no chocolate, nothing with added sugar. And I did. I even made it through my weekly D&D game and Saturday long run this way, breaking my sugar-fast on Sunday in style with part of a whiskey-chocolate fig from Grocer’s Daughter.

From their Facebook page. The photo does not do it justice.

This brief foray into a sugarless diet was far different from the first time I tried it several years ago. I’d accepted a “challenge” by a fellow blogger who wondered if his readers could go a month without any sugary foods. I’d tried, but after only a few days I’d given it up, explaining that “I missed my chocolate.” I accepted his ridicule because, well, I had my chocolate to console me. This time all went smoothly.

I WON’T give up chocolate! You can’t MAKE ME!

What made the difference? I think mainly the source of the challenge. The first had been for a month, not a week, but I’d quit so fast I’m not sure that mattered. Rather, it was its external nature. The motivation was extrinsic – sugar is bad, so stop eating it at all – an attitude that didn’t resonate with me anyway. I had no incentive to stick it out, other than the praise of someone I didn’t even know.

This time the challenge was internal. No one put me up to it, or even suggested it. From just wanting to recover from my digestive fiasco, it turned into an experiment to find out how I could fare without my usual junk foods. It was a personal test, similar to how many pushups I can do or how far I can run. Instead of a burden, it was interesting and fun.

I also noticed that week that I didn’t miss the sugar itself. Rather, I missed the habit of eating it. Mid-morning coffee didn’t feel the same without a piece of chocolate or sugary snack to go with it. Fruit or savory snacks proved acceptable substitutes, or even going without. How about that?

And yet, with that week over, I’m back to eating the things I enjoy, whether or not they contain sugar. As a small part of an otherwise balanced and healthy diet. It’s nice to know, however, that I am not addicted to sugar or dependent upon it.

Although I refuse to give up chocolate.

Those Four Little Words

Being a man can be tough.

Now this is not some chauvinist rant about how women under-appreciate all that men do, or get mad when we don’t share our innermost feelings, or fail to understand our need for fire, football, and grilling dead animals. While all that may be true, this is more a case about what we men do to ourselves.

Last week I was at Body Specs for a regular workout. As part of my warmup exercises, I was assigned reverse incline crunches. This involved lying on my back on an inclined ramp, knees higher than the head, then raising the upper body to about a 45 degree angle, while holding a medicine ball. I then spiked the ball to one side, retrieved it, and laid back down. Repeated for three sets of 10 crunches each.

The proper starting position for the crunches.

The proper position for holding the ball during the raise.

I’ve done these before with a ten-pound weighted ball. But this time it was twenty pounds. After just a couple of crunches I knew it was going to be a struggle. But I found that if I began the crunch by pushing the ball outward a bit, I could gain some momentum and ease the load on my abs. I asked my trainer if it was all right to do this. Her reply was deadly.

“If you have to,” she said. “But it’s best if you keep the ball tight the whole time.”

Oh, the damage those four little words can do to a man’s ego.

If. You. Have. To.

She wasn’t going to stop me from doing it the easier way. But I wouldn’t be following the proper form. And I would be admitting to her – and myself – that I wasn’t capable of doing it the correct way. Well, we all know what that translates into for a typical guy:

Female bullfighter

So I gutted through the three sets of ten crunches, doing them the correct way. Then it was off to the “real work” of the session.

My abs yelled at me the rest of the week.

This is the kind of situation men face every day. You’re given a challenge, and if you turn it down, you feel less than a man. Doesn’t matter if the situation is risky, even reckless. Alcohol only amplifies this, which is why so many “famous last words” stories begin with, “Hold my beer and watch this!”

Hans and Franz meme

The Body Specs incident was my own fault, of course. I asked about the right form and was quite properly corrected. And I was there of my own free will; heck, I pay these people to do this to me. I want to keep a high level of fitness, to continue the activities I enjoy and for overall quality of life. And improvement, by definition, involves pushing beyond what one is currently capable of. In other words, no pain, no gain.

But is it really “a man thing”? Probably not. Based on who else I see at the gym, and the people I see out running and cycling, women are just as interested in becoming and remaining physically fit. And yet, I think men more then women suffer from being perceived as less than up to the task. Admit to needing a lighter weight? Nope, not here!

Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!

Take that! I laugh at your puny twenty pounds!

The story has a happy ending. The head trainer came up to me at the end of the session.

“Good work, Jeff,” he said. “You brought it today. But you always bring it.” It made me feel, well, manly. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.