Originally published: January 12, 2016
You walk into your colleague’s office and grab a Starburst from his candy bowl. You grab a donut from the reception desk. You have a free drink from Starbucks so you decide to treat yourself to a Venti Peppermint Frappuccino. You have just entered a sugar-induced roller coaster and it’s affecting your life in many unseen ways.
I recently read the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. In the book she makes the case for keeping animal fats, including butter and cheese, in your diet and points to sugar as being the real culprit of an overweight society. I digested that for a few weeks and finally started to take sugar and simple carbs (bread, pasta, and my much beloved pizza) out of my diet. I started with breakfast. I used to eat a high fiber cereal and a flavored yogurt. It’s virtually impossible to find cereal without any sugar and flavored yogurt has as much sugar as a hot fudge sundae. And I was eating that every day. I decided to make a smoothie from frozen berries (without any added sugar), raw almonds, whole Greek unflavored yogurt and chia seeds. The most important thing was to not have a sugar spike that would creep up on me two hours later causing me to feel hungry. I also abandoned all fake sugar like diet drinks and sweetener because it’s still tricking your head that there’s more food coming which causes hunger down the road.
After the breakfast changes, I started eating arugula and cheese for lunch. The first few weeks were just like quitting smoking for me. Headaches, fogginess, sweating and chills. All from quitting sugar. Makes me think we might need rehab centers for all the after effects! I survived it, and now, some 4 months later, my sugar addiction is long behind me.
But you’re wondering why you should even go through the hassle. Here are the unexpected benefits:
1. My mind is sharper. Once I came out of the fog of addiction, my mind is much more focused. I sit down to complete a project or task or writing a blog post like this, and I have complete focus. I’m not getting up to grab a cookie from the pantry or rummaging through the fridge for a yogurt pick me up. As Rick Foster wrote in his article for the Huffington Post, “I’m aware of being far more able to focus on a task and get it done. My tendency toward distraction has reduced dramatically. What I would now describe as jittery, nervous energy after big doses of sugar through the day, has been replaced by a sense of focused calm.” This for me was the biggest surprise.
2. I sleep better. I don’t know why but I sleep much better. I used to wake up with night sweats due to menopause but this has subsided dramatically since going off sugar. I go to bed at 9 or 9:30 and drop off immediately to sleep and wake up at 5:30 usually without an alarm.
3. I’m more adaptable. I don’t understand this at all but I feel like a last minute crisis doesn’t rattle me as much. Maybe because I’m not going up and down in glucose spikes but I roll with the punches much more easily. And I am able to fit in tasks when before I would have procrastinated. So let’s say I need to get an article done in the next 10 minutes or wait until later. I try and get done what I can get done in the next ten minutes. Before I would have sat on my phone going through Facebook notifications instead of tackling the task.
4. I’m rarely hungry. I can go 6 to 7 hours without food. I remember a health coach instructing us that even if you have that one piece of chocolate or mint, it turns you metabolism on and your body immediately starts calling for more. When I eat protein-rich foods like eggs and bacon, I rarely want to over eat. I eat what I want and don’t think about food again. I lost 20 pounds without starvation. I have to say I never expected this.
5. I have less inflammation. I walk every day. It used to be I would start up the hill of my driveway and I would feel pain in my joints like my hips and knees. About a month after not eating sugar, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in any pain any more. I used to have bursitis in my hips and shoulders that required cortisone shots or physical therapy. There has been no need ever since giving up sugar.
6. I have energy throughout the day. I used to dread being the afternoon speaker on a team off-site roster. Now it’s no big deal. As long as I’m not binging on potato chips and chocolate chip cookies or downing a Pepsi at lunch, I’m coasting along on an even keel without any fog or sleepiness.
This post is the perfect example of my non-sugar lifestyle. My son is home for the holidays and last year I would have pestered away the morning waiting for him to get ready to go out to the store. But instead I have proactively written the post and feel accomplished before 10 AM. I’m not saying it’s easy to give up sugar and you definitely feel the barrage of sugar exploitation every time you are in the checkout line for the first few weeks but once you are free? It’s life changing.