By Nereesha Patel; photograph by Riana Vogel
How hard could it actually be?
My decision to get healthy was an excellent sentiment, but honestly, going without sugar in my tea for two weeks made me die inside. Exaggeration? Maybe. But for me, a sweet-dependent soul, it’s a stone-cold fact that needs no (ahem) sugar-coating.
Let me explain: I love Ceylon tea. Nothing gives me more joy than a tall mug of bold, steaming hot goodness … well, if I think about it, it actually doesn’t. It just gives me an excuse to consume the two heaped teaspoons (and a bit, for luck) of refined white sugar that I add to it. And when I take into consideration the countless cups of tea I drink per day (especially at work, where there’s enough tea bags, milk and the Devil’s favourite sweetener to make my cup runneth over by a tenfold), that adds up to lot of sugar. A loooot. In all likelihood, there’s probably actual sugar crystals rushing through my bloodstream in lieu of glucose molecules.
Can I be blamed for my sweet tooth? At my house, drinking tea or coffee is an institution, and Lord help you if you don’t partake in it. One of the perks of having visitors is asking them, à la Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, if they’d like to have some tea just so I can put the kettle on and make tea for myself. Once the tea bag is spooned out, there’s always an opportunity to leave my beverage sugar-free. The cut-off time is when I pour in the milk. After that, there’s no way sugar can dissolve properly.
Alas, I always find myself dipping my spoon into the sugar bowl, heaping the wretched stuff into my mug and stirring madly until my tea practically gives off a saccharine scent. In my mind, my madness mantra is stuck on repeat: Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down …
It’s the realisation that I’m mentally singing a line from a Mary Poppins song that makes me reconsider my situation. That, and the other realisation that my sugar consumption is high. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars (table sugar, for example) you should eat in a day is 25 grams. That’s six teaspoons, enough for three cuppas. I know full-well that I exceed this amount by tablespoons, let alone teaspoons! I indulge far too much in sugary teas, and I’ve made no attempt to cut down on either the amount of cups or spoonfuls used. Until recently, that is.
No sugar in my tea for two weeks – how hard can it be?
This Is Hard
My first sugar-free cup of tea tasted awful. Its full-bodied flavour was foreign on my tongue. I could no longer take solace in my favourite beverage. Suddenly, the kitchen at work – where the jars of tea bags and sugar would greet me with metaphorical open arms (and lids) – became a place of despair and sorrow. I felt like I was under surveillance, my colleagues unknowingly policing me as I drank. Laying my head down on my desk, with an empty mug at my elbows, and sighing the minutes away seemed like my only option. Nothing could be worse than this self-induced purgatory that I was putting myself through.
A Storm In A Tea-Cup
As if I wasn’t dramatic enough – after I finished my tea, my immediate thought was to give up tea altogether. My line of reasoning, daft though it seems now, was at the time flawless:
– I gave up drinking tea before, I can do so again.
– We’re in the midst of a water crisis. Water shouldn’t be wasted on unnecessary cups of tea.
– I need to think of my bladder. Also, imagine how much water I’d be saving by not constantly going to the bathroom and flushing.
A great logical progression, but an even greater delusion. There’s no conceivable way that I can cut out any and all liquids, which would either contain water or some sort of sugar any which way. I ended up drinking another bland cup of tea because I was incredibly thirsty.
The Fruit Loop(hole)
To deal with my sugar withdrawal, I took a cue from a children’s show (don’t judge me) and adopted what I dubbed the ‘LazyTown Approach.’ The gist of it is that I could only eat foods that contained natural sugars instead of refined. The idea was for me to chomp on Granny Smith apples and yogurt when I felt the urge to sweeten my tea. The problem? Plenty.
– I kept on forgetting that I brought an apple and yogurt to work.
– Refined sugar is in everything I eat: bread, peanut butter, chips from the street vendor, etc.
– I was attending a bridal shower and a wedding on two Sundays in a row. It would be rude not to eat the food the bride and groom provided.
– I was hungry all the time.
To quote Charlie Brown, “Good grief.”
Nearly Falling Into A Honey Trap
I was faltering something fierce. Or rather, I was a spoonful (more like two) away from a sugar-added drink. I needed a stimulant, and a sweet one that. Desperation held the reins on my rationale: I told myself that if I couldn’t take white sugar, what about a healthier alternative instead? That sounded justified. I contemplated my options:
– Brown sugar: an energy-booster like white sugar, but it’s still sugar, though.
– Honey: contains traces of minerals and vitamins, but it’s mostly made up of sugar.
– Xylitol: looks and tastes like sugar, but I just don’t like it.
Guess I have to contend with a cup of ‘sugar honey iced tea’ just a little while longer.
It was a slog, but I got through the two weeks of drinking tea without sugar. The trouble was that I supplemented myself with refined sugar from the foods I ate regardless. I sought the comfort of home-cooked food and nibbled on chips to pass the time away on the bus-ride home. Also, I let myself go during the bridal shower and the wedding reception, where I gorged myself silly on sweet treats and soft drinks. Even if I did choose to use a healthier alternative (barring Xylitol), I would probably overdo the amount needed.
I think it’s a matter of moderation, or reducing the sugar needed rather than stopping altogether. Overdoing it, of which I’m guilty, is where the problem lies. Otherwise, I’m sort of glad that I managed to stick to a sugarless Ceylon blend for what seemed like an era.
But to be frank, it’s just not my cup of tea.