When I told someone the other day that I used to eat cookies for breakfast, they thought I was joking. It took them a couple minutes to realize I wasn’t. It dawned on me that most people don’t know how I became interested in nutrition. So today I decided to share part of my story with all of my readers.
Growing up, sugar was a very important household item. While we got most of our produce from our farm, we would always top a lovely, wholesome dinner off with a delicious homemade desert. From a young age, I learned to appreciate sweets. In fact, I liked them so much that one day when I was five I sneaked a candy bar to bed only to wake up with half of it stuck in my hair!
My cravings for sugar did not get better during my teenage or early college years. In high school I hated breakfast, but I never said no to a few cookies in the morning! At the age of twenty-one, my breakfast usually consisted of a cup of black tea with three teaspoons of sugar. By 11am, I would be starving, so I would buy a Coke from the vending machine or munch on a chocolate bar to tide me over until 12. It never occurred to me that my diet was affecting my health. I assumed most women experienced chronic headaches, anemia, severe PMS, chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, and frequent colds. During that time in my life, I would wake up completely depleted of energy and need two cups of black tea to get me out of bed, even after sleeping for ten hours.
I hiked Spencer’s Butte maybe once in four years of living in Eugene, panting the entire time and fighting splitting headaches. By the time I finished my undergraduate studies, I was completely worn out. After this there were only more daunting tasks ahead, like finding a job. I began making the connection between food and health soon after graduating completely by accident. One day I ran out of sugar. Since I couldn’t drink tea without sugar, I opted for two large glasses of water as my morning beverage.
The results of my minimal change was no headaches for the rest of the day! So instead of running to the store to buy more sugar, I got a nalgene and began drinking water through all my cravings for candy bars, cokes, and sweet tea. The next day I felt worse, but after a few days the fog slowly began to lift. I found a job soon and began leading a more active life.
I would like say that I gave up sugar completely… but I didn’t. After I began feeling better I started eating it again but never in the same quantities. In fact, if I overdo it my headaches come back regardless of how much water and sleep I get. These days, I love going on long backpacking trips. I always thought that I wasn’t built for it, that I had a weak constitution. Now I know it is all about what I chose to feed my body on a daily basis.
However, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are interested in cutting down sugar, start slowly. There have been many times when I felt disappointed or angry at myself for choosing to eat it. I sometimes placed even more stress on my body than the sugar did! I quit sugar a few times cold turkey. Some times I was ready for it and sometimes I wasn’t. As soon as I realized I was too anxious about it or that I was too miserable, I quit. A failed attempt is still a wonderful achievement! You will be surprised how much easier it will be next time. This time around might be my fifteenth time in three years. So far this week I have done well. Today is day four and I have been able to handle the temptations with relative ease. This time, I have had a great support network, as opposed to other times when I have tried to do it alone. Thank you Carol, Jennifer, Jackie, Madeline, Kristen, Amanda, Gabe, and others for your support and encouragement! I am so grateful!
I would like to end with a few ideas on what has been helpful for me when I am trying to avoid sugar:
1. Don’t do it alone.
I have never been able to complete more than three days completely off sugar all by myself. Ask your best friend, your spouse, your co-worker, or a fellow blogger to do this with you. It is a tremendous help
2. Choose how long you will do it for.
Start with a week or even less. It is so helpful knowing that such a radical change is not permanent.
3. Choose a goal for yourself.
Why are you doing it? If you don’t have a specific goal you will become less motivated to continue. Every piece of cheesecake will call your name.
4. Plan ahead some delicious snack ideas.
I love having kale chips, lemon water, freshly ground ginger tea, celery sticks, bell peppers, or cucumbers at hand when I am not eating sugar. Before you embark on your journey, buy a few healthy snacks to avoid temptations.
6. Always have a ginger root in your purse.
I know it sounds weird but it works! I have discovered that it makes people uncomfortable when they are eating desert and you are sitting next to them with nothing on your plate. Instead ask the host for some hot water, and grate or slice some ginger to make some delicious ginger tea! It is a wonderful after dinner digestif and it helps suppress cravings. Plus it has a delicious spice to it. By the time everyone is done with their desert you will be completely satisfied too.
5. Let you family, friends, and co-workers know you are on a sugar free diet.
Allow the people in your life to love and support you. I am not saying you should ask everyone to be on a sugar free diet with you, but allow people to cheer you on and encourage you. I always thought that it would be burdensome for people to know. It can feel very vulnerable to be so open about food and diet. No one wants to be rejected, scoffed, ridiculed, or made fun of. Those are all legitimate fears, but in reality, most of your family and friends will do exactly the opposite. This time around I have made my week-long sugar-free diet public. I let everyone know. The responses I have gotten couldn’t have been more gracious and loving; from bringing me delicious sprouted almonds at work to helping me decide on healthy beverage options for my late night study sessions, to my mother in law telling me that I inspire her. It has been a great lesson in humility.
To read more about the no sugar for a week campaign go here.