I had a strong response from the post I did about going a month without refined sugar. Many people have said, “Good for you, but I could never do that!”, even though they are interested in trying it. I want to fill you in the backstory of how I came to cut out refined sugar for a month. I have always loved sugar, always craved sugar and wondered how anyone could utter the words "oh this is too sweet". My journey of healthy eating started about 10 years ago and naturally, after about five years I felt it was time to start kicking the sugar addiction. Find out how I finally shook its firm grasp on me.
I remember when Adam, my husband, and I first started dating we had this jar, where we each had a list of things we were trying to cut out and if we ate them on any day but Sunday, we had to put $5 in the jar. We tried this for probably two years and it was only partially successful. But it was a small step in the right direction and made us more aware of what we were eating. For quite a while, I tried to cut out sugar during the week and ate it only on weekends. I tried that for quite a while (4-5 years) and it definitely helped. It was definitely a baby step. I would eat sugar on the weekend and if there was any left over from the weekend during the week I would either throw it away Monday morning during a moment of strength and after feeling the effects of bingeing a bit on the weekend, or I would eat it all to get it out of the house. Up until January 1, I would eat pretty minimal sugar Monday through Thursday, which I think is a great place to start for anyone who’s trying to reduce their sugar consumption. It just sometimes becomes hard to stop on Monday and often times, you feel like crap from eating it on the weekends.
I can’t stress enough how much changing your nutrition habits are a process. I’ve always had gut discomfort off and on because I have IBS (I largely have it under control with nutrition, sleep and exercise), but the later part of last year (and I think the stress from planning a wedding and honeymoon threw my gut microbiota off), my gut discomfort got much worse. I was getting terrible heartburn after dinner, and was extremely bloated, which was exacerbated when I drank water. I was particularly frustrated because I really was eating quite well. I would have a smoothie in the morning, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruit for lunch, and meat, baked veggies, rice and avocado for dinner. I was really tired of feeling so crappy all the time, basically everything I ate gave me a stomachache by the end the day. As I mentioned, this was all post wedding, and it really shows how a stressful (albeit fun!) event can really disrupt the gut microbiome. Taking a round of antibiotics can also throw off the gut microbiome for months or even years, if reestablishing your gut afterwards isn't addressed.
So, I really quit eating sugar out of desperation to be honest, but after only a week I felt so empowered to continue. Sugar is the one thing that’s had a really strong grip on me. And I was always just thinking, “okay, I do well during the week, there’s nothing wrong with having some on the weekend”. Which is true and is an amazing place to start, however, there is also nothing wrong with taking a break from something that has a strong grip on you. This enables you to create a disconnect from the constant reward stimulation you are giving your brain every time you consume what you’re trying to give up. In the case of sugar, it re-sensitized my palate. I had to take a real break from sugar in order to reset my mind and body. And it absolutely worked. Now whole foods taste really delicious and I can fully appreciate them again, and I crave them all the time.
It also motivated me to also get back to eating little/no wheat. I choose not to eat wheat because I have had my genome tested by 23andme and discovered I have a genetic predisposition that increases my risk of developing Celiac Disease. Wheat also makes me feel bloated, makes my sinuses hurt, my eyes puffy and can make me feel like I have a hangover, despite not consuming alcohol. Cutting out wheat as well as refined sugar then give me the strength to eat a low-FODMAP diet. This is a pretty restrictive diet but it has made the most improvements in my gut discomfort. It was finally the low FODMAP diet that really started to make me feel better. I am able to eat dinner and not feel super bloated. My heartburn has mostly gone away. All of which has been extremely motivating for me to continue.
Another aspect is that I’ve learned so much about how bad sugar is for you; your whole body and mind. Refined grains and sugar really do cause inflammation, even in small amounts, and this has great implications for your gut health, which in turn has great implications for your mental state and energy levels. One thing I forgot to mention in the last post is that I have experienced far less anxiety; the general kind that is just sort of there, without you being able to pinpoint the source. And having experienced an absence of this inflammation, dips in mood, energy and anxiety, I am further motivated to continue.
I think the moral of this is that you really really have to want to cut sugar out in order to be successful. And if you are interested, it’s totally okay to take small baby steps. Don’t think about cutting it out forever, because that can be way too overwhelming, just consider 1 or 2 weeks or a month, and allow yourself at the end of that period to then decide what's next. It may be that you’ll allow yourself to go back to how you ate before. But I really think that if you go a month without sugar, you will crave it much less and will have a much healthier relationship with it. I really am so happy that I have shook the grasp of sugar and it was really really worth it. I honestly don't feel like I'm missing out anymore.