I Took the 20-Day-No-Dessert Challenge—Here’s What Happened
The cookies called and the brownies beckoned, but I lived to tell the tale.
I’m engaged, so like most brides, I’m trying to drop a few pounds to look great and feel confident in my dress. I’m proud of the small steps I’ve already made—like eating more veggies and trying to work out more frequently—but I still have a major sweet tooth, especially late at night.
In an attempt to conquer my sugar addiction once and for all, I decided to try cutting out dessert for 20 days. I’m not sure if this experiment makes me a masochist, or if I just really wanted to fit in my wedding dress, but I thought to myself, “20 days with no dessert? How hard can it be?”
The answer? Really effing hard. Here’s how it all played out.
I make it all the way to 10 p.m. and think "this is going to be a piece of cake." Then I start thinking about the life-changing piece of coconut cake I had the week before. Why did I use that metaphor? I push the thought out of my head, and decide to go to bed early to avoid temptation.
After a solid day of healthy eating, I make chicken and roasted veggies for dinner and feel pretty good about my choices.
But after dinner, I start to crave something sweet. I’m still hungry, so I open the fridge, only to see chocolate pudding stared back at me. I... opt for a bowl of strawberries instead, and think about how health experts say eating fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth.
After my first strawberry, I decide they’re definitely wrong.
My fiancé, Nick, and I go out for date night: I have a piece of fish and a big Greek salad for dinner, and then we go to see the musical Kinky Boots. During intermission, Nick comes back with a box of M&Ms.
Out of habit, I grab a handful of candy, instantly remember I’m not supposed to be eating it, and then give them back to him, one sad chocolate shell at a time.
New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.
I’m doing all right until I scroll through Facebook and see a Southern Living video on “How to Make Banana Pudding Cheesecake.” Dear God, it looks delicious. I can practically taste the creamy filling. I want to run out and buy every last ingredient. Alas, I have a challenge to fulfill, and banana pudding cheesecake is not on the agenda.
If I’m referencing the pain scale chart they have hanging in the doctor’s office, today is a solid 8 or 9.
I’m walking around an outdoor shopping mall, MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS, when I see a cupcake food truck.
I think to myself, “Is it really considered dessert if I have it at 2 p.m.?” I decide it’s definitely still dessert, and move along. Today makes me realize three things: You always want what you can’t have, absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, and depriving yourself really sucks.
I eat an early dinner, but I’m still ravenous. I try drinking water and pretending my hunger will go away, but my mind wanders to a container of homemade cookie dough I have sitting in my freezer.
Why am I like this? I muster on.
I wake up with a renewed sense of self. It’s been almost a week, and I haven’t had any dessert! I breeze through the day, and everything is right in the world again. Pain scale chart? 0-1. I feel like the picture of health.
Today is the College Football National Championship Game. I live in Alabama, and I’m a huge fan of the Crimson Tide.
I’m watching the game, and Alabama starts to lose...badly. I absentmindedly stress eat some peppermint bark. I take about three bites before I remember I’m not supposed to be eating dessert, and shamefully put the rest back.
A solitary tear runs down my cheek as I watch Georgia score, and I don’t have any chocolate to console me.
(Editor’s note: Thankfully everything turned out alright, and Alabama won. Roll Tide!)
After dinner, my fiancé has a craving for “something sweet” so he orders Insomnia Cookies.
He savors his two warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies in front of me, and for the first time in our relationship, I look at him with pure, determined hatred.
Why do cookies have to be so damn fragrant? This is my personal hell.
I am still thinking about how delicious those cookies looked (and smelled) last night. I push the thought out of my mind and take my dog on a long walk as a distraction. I come back in a better mood and my craving has (thankfully) subsided.
I've learned a cool new trick: If I do something after dinner besides loaf in front of the TV, I am less likely to want dessert!
I head out to a post-dinner yoga class and don’t think twice about it. I came back so zenned out that I crash before 10 p.m. (aka before the dessert urge strikes).
I do not have a yoga class to distract me tonight, and I’m really craving something sweet.
I help myself to an extra serving of veggies, and it does not do the trick at all. I don’t know who this is fooling.
I briefly think about killing my editor for making me do this experiment, and quickly decide that the lack of sugar is turning me into a horrible monster.
Not only did I have a long day at work followed by a bunch of wedding planning, but my dog is getting sick. To deal with the stress, I decide to bake cookies.
Afterwards, I may or may not have blacked out, eaten four, and fallen into a sugar coma by 8:30 p.m.
Hours later, I wake up on the couch, still in my work clothes, my shirt dusted with cookie crumbs. This is not my proudest moment.
After the previous night’s episode, I decide that I need to hold strong for the last week of my challenge. I’m a little embarrassed that I couldn’t make it 20 days without eating dessert, but I’m also motivated because I know I’m going shopping for wedding dresses at the end of this week. I’m in the home stretch now.
I’m on model behavior for the rest of the week and do not touch a single dessert product.
My fiancé asks me if I want fro-yo one night, and I nearly bite his head off. Other than that, it is smooth-ish sailing.
I learned several lessons throughout this process:
1. I don’t “need” dessert every night.
In fact, when I thought I was “craving” something sweet, it was usually out of boredom. Going for a walk with my dog, heading to a workout class, or calling a friend made me forget about it about 80% of the time.
2. Depriving myself is terrible and only makes me want dessert more.
Though I don't think it's appropriate to eat brownies and hot fudge sundaes every night, trying to completely deprive myself felt like cruel and unusual punishment. I don’t recommend it.
Plus, there are a lot of healthy dessert options out there. I can satisfy my sweet tooth without going completely bonkers. It’s all about balance.
3. I’m an emotional eater.
When I’m stressed (read: during that National Championship game or after a long day at work), I turn to foods that make me feel good (hello, warm chocolate chip cookies).
After this challenge, I’m more clearly able to identify what triggers me. I can’t say I’m a fully-recovered emotional eater, but I’m definitely more aware and I’m working on channeling that energy into productive tasks (like cleaning my house!)
4. I lost weight.
I lost about 4 pounds in 20 days. This is hard to directly correlate with not eating dessert, because I’m also following Weight Watchers (I usually lose about a pound per week when I’m strictly following the program), but I do feel like not eating dessert most of the time helped me lose a little extra.
5. Saying “no” is a muscle that I’m not used to flexing.
Plain and simple: the more you do it, the better you’ll get. It’s never easy for me to pass up chocolate, but now I’m more aware of when I actually want it versus when I’m just bored or emotionally eating.
6. I need to work on my relationship with dessert.
After reading back through my notes during this experiment, I noticed that I was using negative phrases like “shame” and “temptation” about dessert. Dessert isn’t inherently bad, and one brownie won’t make anyone fat.
I’m trying to be more conscious about the language I use. Now, I’m trying to think of dessert as an occasional treat that I’ll enjoy every bite of, rather than something that’s “bad.” And you know what? Eating a brownie without an ounce of guilt makes it much more enjoyable.