Guest Post: Amy of Maisy Mak, on How to Beat Sugar Addiction

photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc
photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

Amy of the Maisy Mak blog pretends to live by the ocean.

It’s easy to do. You just take a lot of pictures there and put them on your blog. Voila. Been to her blog before? Her About page is one of the most memorable ever. She interviews … herself. And asks all the tough questions.

She describes her kids as a “wily flock.” Don’t you just love that?

Her space is a wonderful 10 acres of mothering madness that includes such thoughtful topics as the 9 minutes in your day that have the greatest impact. Read that, seriously. It’ll change how you parent to some degree, guaranteed.

Amy’s smart, quirky, and eloquent.

But she also broke up with sugar recently. If you’ve paid any attention, you know cookies and me have that Bogey and Becall love affair that endures through the ages. She’s here today to tell a little about that break-up.

Give her a warm CD welcome, and be sure to check out Maisy Mak, if only to find out why in the world her blog is called that.

photo credit: Shandi-lee via photopin cc
photo credit: Shandi-lee via photopin cc

Are You an Addict Too? Saying No to Sugar and Saying Yes to Life

In January, sugar and I had a bad break-up.

For days I found myself trolling around the house at 2 in the afternoon craving an Almond Joy fix. At one o’clock daily, my mouth watered for Diet Coke on ice. In moments of desperation, my standards dropped. I began dreaming of old Easter candy, mango-flavored jellybeans, and gross marsh mellow Peeps.

The cravings lasted for days, until suddenly, they stopped.

I had to face the facts: this is what withdrawal looks like. I was a sugar addict.

The experiment of no sugar lasted one month as part of a self-imposed diabolical experiment. The process was one of the most eye-opening and empowering experiences of my life. (You can read more here).

Really? What’s the big sugar deal, you might ask. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal either – until it happened to me one cold month in the middle of New Hampshire. Introspection made me a bit chagrined. I’m a mom, a coach, a runner. I was already healthy…right?

pieSadly, my mantra of “moderation in all things” wasn’t really moderate. It’s only uttered when rationalizing another piece of pie, taking a Tootsie Roll at the post office, sampling three desserts at a pot luck, and using it as bribery. I don’t think I’ve ever uttered that phrase when eating mushrooms.

You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide!

In (my) defense of parents everywhere, the road to addiction is a slippery one. As kids, we didn’t know that highly processed (and sugary) carbs like Pop Tarts, Frosted Flakes, and Little Debbie brownies could wreck our health.

We know better now, but it’s not so easy to quit. Our habits are engrained. And maybe we don’t care enough.

I was struck by this cultural sugar shift as I read Little House on the Prairie the other night with my daughters. Gone are the Laura Ingalls days when a few pieces of peppermint candy Christmas was a huge treat…sigh…

“Treats?” What’s that? Treats aren’t that special anymore. Treats are really more of a food group.

For a fascinating look on our love affair with sugar, read this National Geographic article: (“Sugar: A Not So Sweet Love Story.”)

All this white sugar love? The love is everywhere!

photo credit: Bob.Fornal via photopin cc
photo credit: Bob.Fornal via photopin cc

We use candy as a positive reinforcement for behavior at home, school, and church.

Children are encouraged to bring cupcakes and cookies to school for their birthday. It’s a “special occasion!” (that’s a lot of special occasions).

Sticky fruit leather, Gatorade, and juice boxes are handed out on field trips.

Lollipops are tossed out during Sunday School for correct answers.

We serve sugar at every book club, sports banquet, and Lego club.

School and club fundraisers are typically giant chocolate bunnies, candy bars, and Girl Scout Cookies. I even drive my children around to solicit the neighbors.

A candy dish sits at the bank register.

The sugar is even at the town dump! Every time my children help me throw trash away, the very nice man who operates the large machine hands each of my children a bite-size Kit Kat bar. The positive reinforcement sure works – never have my children loved dumping trash like now!

Did You Know? Sugar is As Addictive as Cocaine:

The American Heart Association doesn’t actually recommend any daily allowance of sugar, but no more than 6 teaspoons for an adult woman.

Guess how many teaspoons are in ONE coke can? TEN.

But even if you’re careful, sugar-loading is deceptive. Most packaged foods have that much (or more) in one meal or snack. Some of the biggest culprits are seemingly “healthy” foods like low-fat flavored yogurts, tomato sauces, fruit juices, granola bars and cereals. Ack!

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

We’re so addicted, that for the first time in history, our children’s life expectancy is lower than ours.

Sugar is addictive as Cocaine (Read This: “The Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward.”)

Sugar increases your risk of heart disease. (Read this study)

Sugar ages the body and causes wrinkles (Read studies here and here, and here.)

Sugar increases your risk of cancer and uses sugar as fuel (review )

The white stuff makes you fat  (Read this article)

Hyped up on sugar, we know our children don’t concentrate as well in school.

The most frustrating part? We as parents are serving all these horrible addictions and diseases up on forks and spoons.

How We Stop the Madness:

photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc
photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc

Once, when I asked my friend how she got away with not buying Easter candy at Easter she looked at me and said, “I just don’t buy it.”

When I imposed some personal rules in January, guess what? I didn’t buy it. And if this mom doesn’t bring it into the house, everyone eats less sugar.

What if we said, “No, I’m not going to contribute to your future heart attack.”

What if we made sugar a treat again? What if we only ate a brownie once a week instead of handed it out at lunch time and then served cake and ice-cream at dinner? What if the only snacks our children could trade were hummus or green pepper slices?

Here’s what I believe: If you’re the person primarily in charge of buying and cooking food, then you are the single most powerful nutritional influence on your children.

I Can Do It, You Can Do It

Trying to reform my old ways, I now try to ask myself one question before I eat or serve something to the small, growing bodies in my house: Is it nutrient dense?

The answer to this question means avoiding all the middle aisles in the grocery store and saying no to most free food. Bummer. But hey, I feel so much better now!

There’s some good news too: After enough exposure, taste buds change. Which is why I now think vanilla yogurt is way too sugary and only eat full-fat plain Greek yogurt, flavored with a whole-fruit orange. Yeah, I’ve come a long way, baby.

Here are some recent alternative to family life and celebratory events:

The Leaning Tower of Fruit Cake (oh, it’s lovely!)

Maisy Mak

The Healthiest Birthday Cupcake (it’s a sock! And it was a hit!)

Maisy Mak
Maisy Mak

The Kale Bouquet (Happy Birthday, Grandpa!) (want image?)

kale bouquet

What to tackle next?

Well, there’s always Valentine’s, Easter Baskets, Thanksgiving to Christmas, Christmas stockings…every major holiday, birthday celebration…

But we’re parents. We’re creative. We know how to find solutions for difficult problems.

I’ll Leave You With This

Perhaps the most eye-opening part of this whole experiment was the realization that addiction enslaves. I struggle like every other American parent, to feed my children in a land of such plenty. So many choices can be paralyzing.

But this is the great double-edged sword of modern life – choice. To quote Steven Pressfield,

“…the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.” From The War of Art.

I think that includes that perfectly engineered Twinkie that was scientifically created by neurosurgeons to trick your brain into saying, “MORE.”

Let’s choose free 🙂

dine well


  1. I am the worst at this and I admit I love my fair share of sugar. I try my best in moderation, but still I do have my troubles with this one. I definitely admire you for quitting cold turkey and sharing it here. And Eli, you Bogey Becall reference totally made me smile and for some reason now I can’t get that scene from an old episode of Seinfeld in my head where Elaine is eating a piece of vintage cake she stole from Peterman’s fridge, because she needed her sugar fix! 😉

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I remember that one! There are many incredible scenes of me getting that fix in ways that I’m just not ready to talk about publicly. Plus, my lawyer …

    2. maisymak says:

      Hilarious! My sneaky moments almost always involve sugar 🙂

      1. Eli Pacheco says:

        Sometimes my sneaky moments with sugar ain’t so secret.

  2. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me says:

    A great post and a great choice, Amy! Kudos to you!
    I can’t say this family is totally sugar-free, but a couple of years ago, I did take our eating habits by the reins and pull some bad ones to a halt. We eat far less sugar than we ever did and we avoid processed foods like the plague. None of us can stomach fast food and “junk” and I’m OK with that. You know you’ve won a huge battle when your four year old daughter asks for a fruit cake (kind of like the one in your photos), caprese salad skewers, and chilled summer berry soup for her birthday party menu. My Kidzilla did that and I’ve become pretty skilled at the carved fruit cake because that’s what she wants every time! I could go on, but I won’t. Just here to say it’s completely possible and anyone would be amazed at how quickly tastes and cravings change!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I should take it as a sign that my girls’ idea of a fun day with dad always involves junk food!

  3. ksbeth says:

    great post and fortunately i’m not a sugar addict though i do love to bake for others. my weakness lies in the salty, greasy, crunchy, starchy carbs. )

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I just imagined a tasty treat that involves all four of those pillars of horrible goodness.

      1. ksbeth says:

        don’t even tell me, because i will seek it out immediately )

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        my secret (and more for me).

  4. ProteanMom says:

    Not only is it addictive, it’s often a crutch for emotional eating (totally guilty of this myself).

    Time to plan some changes, rather than mentioning how I want to change it once again without any follow up.

    Step one: I’m going to say NO to the soda for lunch today.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      *hides wrappers from chocolate coins under his keyboard* What she said!

  5. NotAPunkRocker says:

    I really need to do this but for various reasons I have to meet with a medical professional first. I am a fan of things that unfortunately have the sneaky sugar in them. Who knew yogurt was that bad?

    I don’t even get to use my kid as an excuse. He doesn’t care for sweets and hasn’t wanted a birthday cake in years; it is usually birthday pizza instead. Sure, bunch of carbs, but slightly better than the alternative.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      We grew up being told Froot Loops was part of a nutritious breakfast, though.

      1. NotAPunkRocker says:

        Made with real froot.

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        I wish that counted. I love me some Froot Loops.

  6. Julia Tomiak says:

    Wait, I’m a mom, coach, and runner- that doesn’t grant me an “automatic healthy” card? 😞
    I admire you Amy. I’ve tried to cut back but you’ve made me realize how far I have yet to go. Thanks for all the resources and inspiration.
    Um, Eli- doughnuts?

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Yeah, doughnuts … shh. Wait until Amy’s not looking and I’ll go halfsies.

  7. tamaralikecamera says:

    I actually thought I’d read this and then grab a cookie, but the description of hummus and green pepper slices sounds much better, actually!
    And it’s late night – I’m a buttered organic popcorn kind of girl right now.
    Ask me tomorrow.. though.. and I worry. I grew up with treats being treats. “Dessert” was cheese. Or fruit. Or.. buttered popcorn. (for real!)
    Cake and cookies and ice cream and Lucky Charms were birthdays and holidays.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Unfortunately, my girls often ask for dessert – after lunch.

  8. Nicola Young says:

    I quit sugar too. We don’t eat processed food and although I don’t make my kids give it up altogether, I make low sugar treats for them instead. The main thing that people don’t realise is that fruit and fruit juice is just as bad. Even if you account for the fibre in the fruit, it is still a large dose of fructose.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      There’s a good reason a cup of fruit juice can keep your blood sugar from tanking!

  9. firebailey says:

    I admire your commitment. I gave up Diet Coke for the 2nd time this year. I lasted 3 months the last time. I am now on month 2 and still miss the taste (not to mention the wake me up benefits). I have not been able to give up M&M’s though. I think the biggest issue is sugar is in every freaking thing. So to be total sugar free would be a huge lifestyle change. While I admire those who can do it, I try to stick with moderation and am trying to teach my girls to know what a treat is and is not.

    Great post, thanks for prompting me to think about how much our children (and we eat).

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      The thought of going without caffeine … I’d fear a complete system failure.

  10. I’ve done ‘no sugar’ experiments now and then and it wasn’t that hard for me.. but trying to get my kids to eat less sugar is quite another matter. Even if I don’t give them any sugar at home (I do my best), there are always birthday cakes at school, cupcake fundraisers, parties, grandmas, uncles, my husband who loves ice-cream…

  11. Soooo true, sweets aren’t a treat anymore, but a food group, and I am guilty of always having some cake or cookies around the house.
    January sounds like a good time to cut back, cause right now I just came home from the States where I did some serious Halloween candy shopping. Decoration, too.
    What do you think of brown sugar, is it just an evil disguised drug, or is it a little bit healthier?

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I feel like World’s Crappiest Dad if the kids don’t get dessert after dinner.

  12. Rorybore says:

    “just don’t buy it” POINT ON! That was my single most powerful lesson learned in my own home: I usually buy the groceries, so just don’t put it in the shopping cart. I realized one day that they encounter the white stuff almost everywhere else: I don’t need to have it at home. And I loved to bake — but most of my recipe book? desserts. I became better friends with my crock pot instead. They still manage to find a lot of sugar – in no small thanks to the very grandma who tells me they are so hyper and then shows up with 5 different kinds of bulk candy – what?! help a mother out here.
    I find just not buying or baking it for home, leaves us the only option of those special occasions. So I don’t feel too bad if grandma is here after school once every couple of weeks and hits the Timmie’s drive thru for some Timbits.
    Personally though — do NOT set any jelly beans in front of me. Seriously. I can’t stop. it’s bad. It was actually my nick name in high school.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      You were called Jelly Bean? That’s kinda cute.

      And kinda good that beanie weenies weren’t your weakness.

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