I’ve written about my sugar problem before, though perhaps not as frankly as I’m about to, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid to share this struggle so truthfully with the world. I’ve been trying to slowly reduce my intake over the last several months, but aside from a few lifestyle changes (no sugar in my coffee, no candy, and no chocolate bars, unless it’s organic dark chocolate), I haven’t been particularly successful at it. Every day after lunch or dinner I crave something sweet. And every day I give in to that craving. Sure I generally make good choices about what I feed my addiction – homemade treats sweetened with honey, maple syrup, or dates; high quality chocolate; raw vegan desserts – but that still doesn’t make it an acceptable way of being. And now that the heat is on here in Toronto, I’ve been having gelato whenever the mood strikes me on top of whatever else is coming out of my kitchen.
Granted, this isn’t new behaviour. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. Worse, actually, since when I was a kid I ate piles and piles of heavily processed, overly sugary confections at every opportunity. I’ve come a long way in that regard. But it frightens me that I still feel like I need something sweet after a meal. And how hard it is to ignore that need.
I’ve also been putting on weight over the last few months. A few pounds only, but it’s a lot on my relatively small frame, and considering how healthy my meals are and how hard I train at the gym, it’s pretty damn frustrating. My only conclusions are that a) I’m getting older (30 is just around the corner) and b) my love for sugar is catching up with me as a result.
I finally reached my breaking point last week when I checked in with my personal trainer, and after a month of doing some majorly gruelling new workouts and running more than I ever have in my life, all I had managed to do was put on fat and lose muscle. I don’t think excessive cardio agrees with me, so I’m shifting my focus back to weight training with short, intense intervals of cardio, but clearly, my diet needs to change too – and it’s not dinner that needs the makeover.
So. I am changing my diet. I am absolutely not “going on a diet,” because that implies a beginning and an end, and only results in playing yo-yo with your health and weight. What I am doing is working towards a complete, sustainable lifestyle change. And documenting the process for you here.
Earlier in the year I tried to cut sugar completely, after a naturopath told me it was the only way to improve my digestion. I lasted a week, during which time I was literally shaking with the need for sweets, and after which I overindulged to make up for lost time. It was not good. But since I started this new approach to sugar consumption a week ago, I’ve been doing pretty well.
I can think of three major differences between then and now:
1. I am not employing an “all or nothing” attitude, so I never really feel deprived. It’s not humanly (or humanely) possible for me to have zero sugar, ever, for the rest of my life. Even if I wasn’t a food-loving food blogger, I am still a person in this world who socializes and eats out and wants to enjoy everything life has to offer. I just need to practice moderation in this one area of my life, and keep practicing it even after I slip up. Old habits die hard.
2. I am in a much happier place in my life than I was before. At that time I was working a job I hated, stressed and exhausted all the time. Now I love what I’m doing, my stress levels are pretty low, and I’m well rested.
3. I have meditated every morning for the last month. I challenged myself to do this as a means of managing what stress I do have and learning to ignore the negative messaging in my head. Poor digestion is linked to stress, so I thought that if I made meditation (along with a cup of hot lemon water) a part of my morning routine, I might reap some physical benefits. And I have. I’d also like to think that this new practice has given me the mental fortitude to take on this challenge.
My plan is to enjoy meals as I usually would but avoid desserts except for special occasions. I don’t really eat any packaged foods so I don’t need to worry about added sugar in my meals, and I don’t drink pop or juice. To satisfy cravings I will look to fresh fruit or small portions of high quality dark chocolate. Since it’s so hot out I pretty much want ice cream all the time, so I will also have the occasional banana ice cream (literally just frozen banana + raw cacao) instead. Other options for after dinner will include having a small piece of goat’s cheese (it’s easier to digest for people who have a problem with dairy), a brown rice cake + hummus or nut butter, or something else that is savoury rather than sweet. And lots of herbal tea.
1. There are no rules. There are guidelines which I will attempt to follow, but will not punish myself for failing to adhere to.
2. Avoid baking for at least the next month. This way, if I do have a dessert, it will be one portion rather than half a dozen consumed over the course of a few days.
3. Avoid fried foods for the next month as well, so I can gauge the true effect of this experiment on my health and digestion. But I can eat as much clean, whole foods as I like. If I’m full of vitamins, minerals, and all the nutrients my body craves, I should (theoretically) feel satisfied after a meal. No “leaving room” for dessert.
4. Limit my consumption of high sugar fruits – this includes bananas, pineapple, mango, dates. A banana in my daily smoothie is the major exception – have you every had a green smoothie without banana? It’s not pretty.
5. Opt for low sugar fruits to satisfy cravings, like berries or apples, perhaps along with some plain, spiced yogurt.
6. Avoid artificial sweeteners – these still stimulate the reward centres of the brain. They do not help eliminate cravings, only calories.
7. Dessert must not automatically follow lunch and/or dinner. Dessert is special and should be treated as such.
8. If I’m feeling desperate, I will start with a cup of herbal tea. If I still want something after that, a small portion of high quality, extra dark organic chocolate is fine. It is low in sugar and has many proven health benefits. Milk “chocolate” with processed cocoa and white sugar is the problem, not the real stuff.
9. If I’m having friends over for dinner or going to a restaurant for a special night out – I will feel free to enjoy the experience. On these occasions I can make dessert at home or order one at a restaurant. This “rule” does not include things like going to a coffee shop to do work.
10. I will forgive myself when I slip up. I will make conscious choices and own them.
I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a detailed description of Days 1-3 of my experience! And I’d love to hear about your own struggles with this crazy substance.