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The One-Year Challenge

The One-Year Challenge

New Year’s Eve is a few weeks away and the pressure is on to come up with a resolution that will dazzle. In anticipation of this, I am reading books written by people who have embarked on a one-year challenge and recorded their experience. As consistency is not my strong suit – I am neither a good diarist, dieter, or daily exerciser – I am amazed by people who have the fortitude to stick to an austere regimen.

Meet two ordinary families who may inspire you to try something new in 2016. One cut sugar out of their diet for a year. The other made no purchases.

YEAR yearofnosugarOF NO SUGAR by Eve O. Schaub

In 2011, Schaub, along with her husband and two young children, made a decision to eat no sugar for a year and blog about it. Their journey began when Schaub came across a YouTube video called Sugar: The Bitter Truth by pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig. Lustig argues that an increase in sugar consumption has led to an explosion in obesity, diabetes and other health maladies. He goes as far as to label sugar a poison to the human body. The problem: Eliminating sugar from your diet is akin to eliminating the color blue. It is everywhere and, frankly, you kind of like having it around.

The family sets some ground rules to help them stick with the plan. They allow one sugary dessert a month. (If it’s your birthday, you get to choose.) And each family member gets one personal cheat food. Diet Dr. Pepper for dad, Mom gets her wine, and jam for the kids. (Am I the only one who thinks Mom strong-armed them into that one?)

They soon discover that sugar hides in their food in many forms. While it may be easy to avoid sprinkling sugar on your cereal in the morning, the situation becomes much more complex when you discover there are six different sweeteners in the cereal itself. It is easy to put fruit on your pancakes instead of maple syrup. But what about the sugar hiding in the glaze in the bacon next to it? Molasses, cane juice, agave nectar, coco sugar, fructose, sucrose, sorghum. All sugar and it all had to go.

Did they make it through the year? Or, more importantly, did they make it through the year with sanity intact? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will warn you: Get ready for a lot of obsessing about what goes into their mouths. You won’t even want to see the word sugar again after reading this book, much less eat it.

The author does share some interesting ideas for treats with no sugar. (I look forward to trying her banana ice cream recipe.) She also has great ideas on how to handle the glut of sweets on major holidays. My favorite: A few days after Halloween, invite the “Switch Witch” to your house. The Switch Witch takes the remaining Halloween candy and replaces it with non-sugar gifts. A brilliant new tradition.

yearwithoutapurchaseTHE YEAR WITHOUT A PURCHASE by Scott Dannemiller

Dannemiller’s journey begins on a mission trip to Guatemala. For a year he and his wife stay in a home with no toilet, no television, no Internet, no video games, no La-Z-Boy. They burn garbage to heat water for bathing. With modern-day conveniences taken away, they learn valuable lessons on how to rely on each other and their community. They come to a better understanding of what they actually need to live a happy life. During this time they write a family mission statement articulating their desire to live lives of integrity, appreciate what they have, and serve others.

Fast forward five years: The couple is back in the United States raising a family in suburbia. Their focus has shifted to “acquiring shiny junk” and “transforming their home into the envy of the neighborhood.” The family’s mission statement? It has been preserved as a $500 shabby chic art installation in their living room. A rather tangible piece of evidence as to how far they have fallen.

With the same gumption it took to become missionaries for a year, Dannemiller and his wife decide to readjust their lives with a one-year challenge. A year of no purchases. As with all challenges, it has its ground rules. 1) They may only purchase items that can be used up within a year. Food, gas, hygiene products. No new clothes. 2) Fix stuff that breaks. 3) Gifts must be in the form of charitable donations or “experience gifts.”

Once again, I will not offer any spoilers as to their success or lack thereof, but I will point out a couple of things about the book. One, the author’s purpose here is not to reduce debt or pad his retirement fund. His goals are almost exclusively spiritual. This book is written from a Christian perspective and that shapes the family’s choices. And, two, the book is so funny! The author reminds me a lot of Clark Griswold of Vacation movie fame. The hapless yet well-meaning family man doing his best. Dannemiller’s description of his efforts to fashion an athletic cup out of a single-serving yogurt container…more entertaining than a trip to Walley World.

Amid the humor is the profound. This book asks many excellent questions. Are you living a life in alignment with your values? Is how you’re utilizing your resources building positive connections in your community or is it disconnecting you from others? What in your life is helping you? What is holding you back?

Wonderful things to ponder at the onset of a new year.

ADDENDUM: I took an informal poll, questioning people as to which endeavor they would find more difficult – no sugar or no purchases. The result? A year with no sugar, and it wasn’t even close. (75% no sugar vs. 25% no purchases) Oh, that sweet tooth.

Wishing you the very best in 2016.

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