I love brownies, ice cream, and Oreos, yet I refuse to eat them. Starting on my seventeenth birthday (March 26, 2017), I decided to cut out desserts and candy for a whole year. This fast has gone way beyond teaching me how to make healthier food choices. Practicing self-control in my diet has taught me seven central self-control lessons that apply to all areas of life.
1) Give yourself grace.
We all make mistakes, but we do not have to let our mistakes define us. How we respond to them is what will make or break us. An all or nothing attitude will only lead to absolute failure, every time. When I went on vacation with my family, I made some allowances. I ate flavored yogurt and a blueberry muffin, which I had not allowed at home. However, I went back to restricting those kinds of foods afterwards. If I had seen my vacation time as a failure, I probably would have given up on my sugar fast completely. There’s no reason to beat yourself up. Just get back on track ASAP!
2) Accountability is vital.
My family and many of my friends are aware of my sugar fast and, for the most part, are super supportive. Their encouragement has been critical during heated temptations. A few weeks into the fast I was invited to a birthday party. Of course, there was a delicious looking birthday cake taunting me. I almost caved, but my mom was there and she quickly pulled me out of that ditch. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Unity is power!
3) Make the decision for yourself.
No one has criticized me outright for my decision, but a few people have expressed their shock. One family member in particular conveyed disbelief. She seemed to be concerned about my sanity. After all, only a crazy person would refuse brownies, right? If you know that you are doing the right thing, tune out any naysayers. You need to make the decision for yourself. Never allow other people’s opinions and perspectives discourage you.
4) Self-control is built over time.
In the beginning, practicing self-control is plain grueling. The first few days of the sugar fast were miserable. I suddenly went from gorging on sugary foods to nothing, literally overnight. I was beyond exhausted and pretty cranky. However, over time I adjusted to my new normal. The cravings slowly became less and less demanding and my energy returned. As long as we persist, our resilience will grow stronger and stronger.
5) Avoid detrimental replacements
I expected to lose weight on my new sugar restrictions, but the exact opposite happened. I actually gained a few pounds! I was of course confused. Then I realized that I had turned to carbohydrates, primarily bread, to satisfy my need for energy. It is easy to find cheap replacements for whatever you are fasting. Be on guard. You can undo all the benefits by indulging in something else.
6) Do not be a rigid rule keeper.
I am all for writing out basic guidelines, but we may need to make some allowances and variations along the way. For example, I was originally avoiding any energy bars that had added sugars or chocolate chips. However, there is this one energy bar that has no added sugars (they sweeten their bars with figs), but sometimes they will have a few chocolate chips in them. I realized that eating the energy bar with the occasional chocolate chip was significantly better than the energy bar that had sugar as its first ingredient. The spirit of the rule is still there: the less sugar, the better. The spirit of the law matters; the letter of the law doesn’t.
7) Your actions directly influence others.
My family never set out to fast sugar with me, but my fast has definitely affected their diets. They now eat considerably less sugar, partially because they avoid eating it in front of me. I never asked them to lessen their sugar intake: it happened naturally. Changing our own lifestyles can encourage those around us to change theirs. Actions speak louder than words. Often times our own actions are the best way to encourage others who are close to us.
Without a question, these restrictions have been well worth it. Building self-control isn’t fun, but the mess left behind from self-indulgence could ruin your life. If you know that you need to make some changes in your life, don’t hold back! Seek wise counsel on your decision, and then go for it!