It's day 14. You have stuck to this programme for two weeks - in fact longer than that, because the prep phase is also work. It is an amazing accomplishment.
However, I want to be really clear about something: I am not going to congratulate you.
What!?! I hear you exclaim. Haven't I done well???
You have done brilliantly. However externally successful or unsuccessful you have been, even if you have fallen off the wagon, I do not care. You have done brilliantly because you have stuck it out. Once upon a time, I couldn't even manage 14 hours sugar-free (and that included sleep time 😉
However, congratulations are not in order because the very idea of congratulating you is a very, very harmful one.
Why is this?
Let me ask you: when do we congratulate each other?
When we have finished something. When it is over. When it is time to say "Now I can relax".
I want you to be immensely proud of yourself. But do not fall into the trap of relaxing. This is how 99.9999% of people around you are approaching any health change, and it is based on making a false choice.
The False Choice
When people have achieved any important habit change for a short period of time, the novelty wears off and they make the following assumption:
OK, so if I carry on I will reach my goal - but if I want to carry on feeling this proud of myself, I will have to deprive myself like this forever. No more pleasure. The only way to avoid this deprivation and feel this pleasure that has been there for me through all the tough times is to throw the towel in.
They may not consciously think that, but this 'invisible thinking' is powered by a very ancient, survival-driven part of our mind: the primitive, reptilian brain.
Primitive brain is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain for survival, so the pleasure vs deprivation (which is perceived as pain) choice like a 100 decibel alarm screaming "ABORT CHANGE! ABORT CHANGE!"
Unchallenged, the reptilian brain (our survival machine) is far more powerful than the neo-cortex (our conscious thinking machine).
This is why the vast majority of people's efforts to change are temporary. Failed dieters think they fall off the wagon because they are willpower weaklings - but their failure actually has an outdated and confused, but immensely powerful, survival mechanism at its core.
So what can we do?
We challenge the no sugar = deprivation forever assumption.
And we do it by going back to the first principle of giving up sugar (or making any important habit change): The Pauly Principle. Let me hammer it home once more:
If you repeat an action often enough, it will become automatic and therefore effortless.
Let's correct the no sugar = deprivation forever assumption. The truth is:
No sugar = temporary deprivation which leads to effortless freedom from sugar - forever.
This means you absolutely will reach the point where saying no becomes easy, where if you do happen to taste the junk it is far, far too sweet for you to cope with. Where you still wants sweet food, but you reach for one of your replacements without even thinking about it.
As long as you keep going.
Do NOT fool yourself that you have any kind of choice here regarding carrying on or going back to your old ways.
If you go back to your old ways, will you sit around philosophising "Well I have consciously decided that I prefer fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, hormonal imbalance, irritability, big dental bills and a deep sense of inadequacy to continuing this work of using replacements and Cravings Busters."
No, you will not.
Will you feel at ease with this choice?
No, you will not. You'll get a brief holiday from yourself where you bask in the glow of your two-week triumph, while sliding back into the sugar highs and crashes cycle that just feels so comfortable.
Then you will feel inadequate all over again. You will decide nothing ever works because you are just no good and utterly defective.
You will at some point look for the next quick fix.
That, I hope you will agree, is no choice at all.
The REAL choice is this:
Do I want to:
(a)carry on with this effort, which WILL get easier in ........ weeks ( fill in the number of weeks by going back to your Effort Percentage you worked out at the start http://www.theshiftinside.com/the-choice/ )
or do I want to:
(b) go back to the fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, hormonal imbalance, irritability, dental bills and the deep sense of inadequacy that I had around sugar?
Choice (a) FEELS like a herculean effort compared to choice (b) - but remember that it will only feel like that for less than 1% (my Effort Percentage was 0.23% of my suffering time - what is yours?) of the ACTUAL time you have been suffering under the enslavement of sugar.
So which do you choose?
I have talked about the primitive brain as being powerful - and it is. However, it is not fixed, and will respond to The Pauly Principle. It is less like a dictator and more like a blind, confused and very stubborn bouncer. You are in control - you just need to know how to communicate with this bouncer. Whenever I resist any change I want, I see moving through the resistance as sending a message to Primitive Me: "It's OK, we are not in danger". I know that message will not be accepted straight away; I have to prove the change is not dangerous by merely surviving without sugar. Again and again. Eventually the primitive brain works out that the change is not life-threatening (even though the rest of your tribe are still hooked on the junk), and will stop sounding the alarm. This is how saying no to sugar becomes effortless.
Your only choice, your only job now, is to continue.
If it helps, just go back to the beginning of this programme and do these 14 days again. That's all you need to commit for. 14 piddling days. No biggie. No massive commitment.
Then at the end of that time, you will feel stronger and more resilient. More curious about how far you can go.
Then do it all again.
Does another 14 days feel too much?
If so, just go another day.
I double dare you.
One More Thing
For some people, liberating themselves from sugar is more complicated than the dominate-your-primitive-brain-with-Pauly-Principle process I have just described, because their relationship with sugar is complicated. Those little white granules provided some very intensive emotional support that they did not really understand. And forces that we do not understand are always powerful. We feel clueless as to how we can dismantle them.
I was one of these people. Sugar was a powerful way for me to scramble my circuits and keep me from achieving my ambitions. The truth is I was terrified of success. Giving it up created emotional chaos, and I had to face the fact that for me there was no ego-friendly alternative to my sugar fix that would make me feel good 24/7. The increased mental clarity, disappearance of my mood swings and PMT were accompanied by an unwelcome companion: emotional turbulence.
Fortunately I realised this was some kind of release and was happening ultimately for my future happiness. It was a doorway to change. Most of all I kept thinking "this part of me that wants me to go back - the worst it can do is create pain. I won't let it control me."
This week I was watching a thriller and one of the characters was an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. He had forgotten the details of a particularly traumatic event he had witnessed on a mission. The climax involved the leader of his squadron (who was unmasked as the murderer) informing this soldier that he had actually taken part in the atrocities he thought he had only witnessed. The closing credits show the soldier (who has survived the final showdown) remembering the truth at last and crying, devastated by this news.
The lens that the story wishes us to see this revelation through is one of hopelessness. He survives but is completely messed up. I was personally delighted to see this outcome for him. He could not heal what he could not see, and at last he has a chance to process his trauma and possibly make amends in some way - because he now knows what he is dealing with. It is not the event itself that traumatised the soldier, but the fact that he has not processed it. Trauma is no life sentence, and there are ways to successfully transform it and live a full and happy life.
For me - and I suspect many people who have not resolved overwhelming life events - sugar was a way to shield themselves from dealing with pain that their primitive brain thinks is signalling danger. These events do not need to be headline grabbing storylines like this soldier's story. Peter Levine, who is a world-renowned thought leader in this field, is clear on this point. Events like bullying, having a fender bender or undergoing surgicalor dental procedures without being told what is happening as a child can be traumatic - everyone responds differently. In my case, I had got myself into what I thought were rebelliously adult situations as a teenager that were actually abusive - and my primitive brain thought I was still in danger. I was using sugar to shield this truth from myself. If I was blind to it, I couldn't put myself in what my primitive mind thought was harm's way. Coming off sugar was a way to start this dialogue with my primitive mind that allowed me to liberate myself from my past, and it is powerful work that I do with clients.
If you are using sugar to try to deal with your past, then the resistance you have to applying The Pauly Principle is going to be strong. Part of you will feel deeply threatened by this situation. Sugar detoxing for a few weeks was hard...but for longer - are you joking? NO WAY! your primitive mind screams.
The hopeful truth is that this part of your mind has got no more monopoly on the truth than the writers of that thriller. Your primitive mind is just perceiving what it is trying to protect you from.