- I blogged about this over two months ago and managed to stay sugar-free for another few weeks, until we went through a very busy time when our whole family lived on such delicacies as sandwiches and frozen pizzas. The interesting thing is that I thought it would be easier to go back to no-sugar after having done it once. It isn’t. I’m posting this today, after someone in a group I’m a member of asked about eliminating sugar from their diet, after reading the book Year of No Sugar. I thought my experiences might help. I’m even more helpful that by posting this now, it will help ME stop eating sugar once again!
In a recent research study, 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose between cocaine and sugar water chose the sugar water… even if they had been previously addicted to cocaine.
Another study found that rats who were conditioned to receiving a painful electrical shock after hearing a sound signalling it, would stop eating regular food after hearing the signal, but would continue eating sugar even when they knew they knew a painful shock was coming.
The same study discovered that when researchers removed junk food and gave the rats a healthier diet, the rats refused to eat, starving themselves for two weeks after they were cut off from junk food (!!!).
I’ve read a LOT of diet books. Studies like this are not new to me. But it wasn’t until I saw the video linked above that everything I’d ever read made sense…. and became meaningful and helpful in a way that nothing else has been.
The basic premise of the above video is that sugar is not only addicting – it’s a poison. And in addition to causing the diseases associated with the metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.) it also works in very specific ways to trigger food cravings, increase hunger and promote excess fat. His research shows that, where sugar is present in the diet, obesity is not a choice, but a manifestation of the body acting on a chemical function (which, in the presence of sugar, becomes dysfunctional) that is designed to make you eat. In is book Fat Chance, he writes:
If you’re leptin resistant (which is what obesity is: leptin resistance,) do you really think you have the willpower to ignore both the starvation signal and the reward signal, when every food outlet you pass by provides you with sight or smell cues to chow down?
For those whose bodies are working correctly, food intake sends signals to the brain telling it that the body is full, so you don’t feel the need to eat anymore. When you consume sugar, however, not only does your brain not get the signal during that particular meal, but sugar consumption over a period of time leads to several problems that interfere with that signal on a regular basis. So even if you’re eating a “healthy” meal that doesn’t contain sugar, you’ll still find yourself eating more than you need to, if sugar is a regular part of your normal diet. Worse, if you go on a “low fat” diet full of processed foods, or even a “whole foods diet” that includes large amounts of “natural” sugar (ie. honey), the problems are still there and continue to get worse. No wonder diets don’t work! (And forget about exercise… exercise without a significant dietary change does virtually nothing [walking for 30 minutes is enough exercise to burn off one cookie.])
When I watched this video, it all made sense. Although I’d heard the “sugar is poison” statement before (I’d even read a book on the subject) it wasn’t until this lecture that everything fell into place. Sugar is a highly processed food. It isn’t present in high amounts in any natural diet. Why does the paleo diet work so well? Because in its truest form, it eliminates sugar (although some paleo followers allow for honey, in it’s natural state honey is very hard to get to and would have been used RAW [packed with vitamins, nutrients and enzymes that are not present in processed honey] and sparingly, if at all, during the paleolithic era.) This is the same reason the Atkins diet (high protein, low carbs), the Japanese diet (low protein, high carbs), and the Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, fish and oils) all work. They all eliminate the very thing that nature never intended man to get much of – sugar. In the 1930’s a man named Weston Price traveled the globe studying the diet and nutrition of various cultures. What he found is that regardless of what people ate (from a diet consisting almost entirely of fatty meat and virtually no fruits and vegetables, to those whose diet almost excluded meats in favor of fruits and vegetables), as long as a culture stuck to it’s traditional whole food diet, obesity and disease were uncommon. But as soon as the Western Diet was introduced to a culture (processed flour, white rice, white sugar, etc.), disease and obesity rates skyrocketed.
I currently have two of the problems associated with metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure) and symptoms of a third (hypoglycemia,) all of which are, according to Lustig’s research, the result of consuming sugar. I’ve tried to follow the traditional advice of “lower calories and increase exercise” and while I had a lot of success with it in the past, the weight came creeping back when I got pregnant and has continued its upward climb for the last two years (although I can say, in retrospect, that the diet I lost weight on consisted of virtually no sugar, and as soon as I got pregnant I started eating whatever I wanted [sugar!] in small amounts, and then bigger and bigger amounts!) And while I won’t go so far as to say that traditional weight-loss methods don’t work (although Dr. Lustig says just that,) I will say they’re difficult to sustain (statistically, over 80 percent of people who lose weight gain it back again.) After watching this video, it makes perfect sense why this is so. God didn’t design us to eat sugar, and we’re eating TONS of it, (the recommended daily allowance for sugar is no more than 9 teaspoons a day for men and no more than 6 for women. As a nation, we are currently eating an average of 40 teaspoons per day. Of a substance that has no nutritional value whatsoever.)
So two weeks ago, I decided to do something about it. I decided to stop eating sugar.
My goals in giving up sugar are fourfold, although if I can achieve even one of them, I’ll be happy:
- Lose weight. Not necessarily on the scale, but if things go well I ought to lose a good amount of “belly fat” (which is the “bad” fat that wraps itself around your internal organs and leads to all kinds of problems.) I’m not going to weigh or measure myself, but I should start to notice a difference in my clothes.
2. Lower my blood pressure
- Stop having hypoglycemic attacks (sugar bottoming out, leaving me feeling dizzy and ready to faint while at the checkout line [this used to only happen when I was pregnant, but had recently been happening again.])
4. Reduce asthma symptoms. (Supposedly this can also be a sugar-related problem.)
To achieve this, I’m giving myself only two rules:
1. No processed foods
2. I’m resisting my sugar intake to 5 grams (of added sugar) per day, eating none at all whenever possible. This will enable me to eat things like ready-made sauces or deli chicken on occasion. I’ll try to remain completely sugar free most of the time, but not obsessive about it.
And I’m allowing myself two exceptions (and one sort-of exception):
1. If a friend cooks for me, I’ll eat whatever is prepared for me.
2. Once a month, I can have ONE “free” food containing anything I want. So if I find myself craving doughnuts or chocolate cake, I wont (in theory) feel so deprived knowing I can choose them for my “free” food that month. I want this to be a change I can stick with, and forswearing sugar entirely and forever just doesn’t seem sustainable (or pleasant. After all, I still want to enjoy life!) That’s why the title of this post is “30 days of no sugar.” I don’t really see any way I can go back to eating sugar again (at least, not on a regular basis) knowing what I know, but I doubt I’ll be blogging about it forever, either. Surely it gets easier… Surely!
3. I will allow myself one packet of stevia each day. This isn’t technically a sugar, but I don’t want to start down the slippery slope of artificial sugars (and the like), either.
Other than that, anything is fair game. I started writing about my experience last week and will be publishing those articles weekly. I’ve been disappointed to see that there isn’t much information out there from others who have done this (unlike Atkins or Paleo.) Those who have written about it have usually only gone sugar-free for a week, which hasn’t been very helpful. (One major exception to this was the book A Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub. I really enjoyed reading about her experiences and it really did inspire me.) So hopefully writing about my experience will help others, too. It hasn’t been pretty, in fact it’s
a little very embarrassing, but I was honest with myself about what I was experiencing, and I hope that will help someone else who decides to do this. As of right now, it hasn’t gotten any easier, but I’m still believing that it will (surely!) So as not to overwhelm, I’m posting each week separately, on Mondays. For now, here is week one:
Week One (May 1 – 7)
Day one: Confession time: I don’t think I eat the way normal people eat. It’s embarrassing to say this, but when I eat sugary foods, I don’t eat just one piece of pie, or even two. I eat half of an entire pie. Never in my life have I been able to keep cookies in the cabinets, because if they’re there in the morning, they’ll be gone by evening (who am I kidding, they’ll be gone by 10am.) I’ve often eaten until I made myself sick, and then eaten some more. Sometimes I’d even plan my eating around times when I could lay down because I knew I’d feel awful after eating so much. It’s so incredibly hard to admit that, but I want to be honest in my account about all of this. I can’t imagine I’m the only person in the world who does this, so maybe admitting it will help someone else.
Whether we want to call it an “addiction” or not, the fact that I overindulge in food is beyond dispute. For me, eating is a ritual. At night, when the kids are in bed, I curl up on the couch with a good book and something yummy to eat… and eat… and eat. It’s part of a whole ritual that equals “relaxation” for me. It has nothing to do with satisfying my body and everything to do with satisfying my mind. I imagine others do the same with a glass of wine or a cigarette at the end of the day. Only I never seem to have just “a glass” (or, in my case, a piece of cake or a chocolate chip cookie [does anyone eat just one chocolate chip cookie?!) We can argue whether this is a true “addiction” but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. I have a habit, built up over the course of practically a lifetime, that has to be broken.
Day two: Today I ate tons of high fat foods – cheese and sour cream on EVERYTHING, and tonight when the kids went to bed (when I always find myself hungry for chocolate – and usually indulge to my hearts content), I made oatmeal with banana and raisins and ate it like cereal with full cream instead of milk (seriously.) For now, I’m fine with that. My theory is that as my body gets used to not eating sugar (and presumably stops craving it,) I won’t feel the need to eat everything in sight anymore.
Day three: Things are going really well… considering all the high-fat things I’m eating right now (that I usually don’t eat) this really hasn’t been too bad. Jon took my blood pressure and it was 120/90. Not horrible, not great.
Day four: Took my blood pressure again and I expected it to be pretty high since I’d just used the inhaler. To my surprise it was 115/83! What?! Obviously, asthma is still an issue.
Day five: It seems that the asthma is getting worse, instead of better. I’m using the inhaler much more often. Could it be the increase of fat, triggering it? Gluten is also supposed to be a trigger, but I’m eating very little of that. Just googled the subject and apparently high fat can be a trigger. Not planning to make changes in that regard just yet. One crisis at a time.
Day seven: One definite positive, so far: I don’t wake up feeling hungover anymore. Even if I eat late at night, and even if that meal contains tons of fat (and it usually does,) I don’t wake up feeling like I swallowed a basketball and stuffed my mouth full of cotton during the night. When I wake up, I feel good.