For many of us, our sweet tooth makes most of our eating decisions. At least for me, I would have easily chosen a syrup coated pancake versus a well balanced omelet for breakfast. Not only does it taste deliciously better, but at my age and my size, I can handle a lot of unhealthy food. Or at least that’s what I used to tell myself.
To paint a better picture of myself, I am a 25 year old woman measuring at 5 foot 4 inches tall and I weigh a whopping 102 pounds (if I’m lucky). Let’s just say, there’s not much to me. Growing up I was always one of the smaller kids in class. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I was much tinier. Not only was I not growing in height, but my small bone structure was staying pretty much the same. Not to mention I couldn’t keep one ounce of fat on my bones. I know some of you reading this are shaking your heads in disgust, but you have to understand, I was different. And being different in grade school can be brutal to say the least (But that story is for a whole different article). Basically, the teasing played a huge role in my obsession over my size.
While some people went on diets to lose weight, I was putting myself on “fat diets”, as I liked to call them. My mission: Eat as much food as possible. This meant I had no limits on what food I was eating, when I was eating it, or how stuffed I was making myself. All I really cared about was consuming as many calories as I could, whether they were good or bad. No matter how much food I crammed into my face, my body didn’t retain any of it. When my fat diets failed, I resorted to eating nothing but junk food. Surely I would gain some weight right? Wrong.
At this point, I was attending college. While I was still insecure about my weight, I found a better appreciation for my size. Even though I wasn’t obsessing over my appearance anymore, I was unknowingly obsessing about sugar. I had been eating poorly for so many years that I had mistakenly become dependent on all my sugary goodies. Mountain Dew for breakfast and my midnight pop tart were just a couple of my bad daily food habits. Of course, I had no idea that my eating habits were that unhealthy. All I thought was, “I’m young and I can’t gain a pound. Why not eat whatever I want?”
Right after graduating college, my sugar habits began to catch up with me. I still appeared healthy on the exterior, but it was inside that I felt like an overweight turtle. I was sluggish and slow with little drive. Also, my skin began to change. I had always had bad skin in high school, but it cleared up at age 16 when I was eventually put on the drug, Accutane. While it kept my skin clear throughout college, my acne ended up coming back to haunt me. Not only did I start suffering from my skin issues again, but my depression and anxiety sky rocketed. I felt like a walking billboard for bi-polar disorder. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens had me exhausted. Even when my brain had a moment to catch up with my emotions, my insomnia managed to sneak up on me and bring me back down. It’s safe to say, I was a wreck, both physically and mentally.
It wasn’t until I saw the documentary, “That Sugar Film” by Damon Gameau, that I began to correlate my health issues with my eating habits. The amount of sugar I had been consuming for all of those years was causing my brain to be unable to function properly. Sugar became the underlying drug I craved without even realizing it. When my lows hit and I didn’t have much sugar in my system, I felt awful. I had no ambition, no productivity, and overall, I just wasn’t happy. But once I gave my body the sugar hit it had been yearning for, I felt hyper, awake, and alive. But was it really that simple? Sugar was to blame for my daily fogginess, my highs and lows, my bad skin, and my overall unhappiness? I had to find out for myself.
My first step: Get rid of all of my contraband. My pantry had been stocked full of sugar filled products. I found sugar in items I would have never thought like pasta sauce, baked beans, and even in canned vegetables. That’s right, vegetables. Products with natural sugar were fine to keep, but it was the added sugar items that became banned in the house. After my overhaul, my pantry was just about bare.
This led to my second step: Buy products with zero sugar or that only contained natural sugar. This step turned out to be harder than I could have imagined. Never in a million years did I think I would have to learn how to correctly read a food label. Before, my average grocery shopping trip would take me about 10-15 minutes. It was easy; I knew what I wanted and I knew where it was located. But now, I spent over an hour reading labels. I was amazed at not only the amount of sugar in our every day products, but that sugar was the second ingredient in so many items!
My third step (the most obvious of them all): Eat my new healthier diet for the next 30 days. I knew it would be challenging. Considering i’ve been teased by my family for eating chocolate fudge while still under the covers in bed, I was going to have a tough time. Sweets, chocolate in particular, had been my life. I had never tried thinking of life without them. For so long I had this idea in my head that I was one of the few people in life that was physically able to consume whatever I wanted. And to have that thought wither away after watching a movie was actually a scary moment for me. Had I been hurting myself all these years? It didn’t matter how bad my cravings and withdrawals got, I was going to make it those 30 days.
Saying goodbye to my sweets like chocolate, cake, and candy was hard enough, but to take away things like ketchup, honey mustard, ranch, barbecue sauce, and sour cream and onion dip? That was brutal. I must say the 1st day sober of sugar was just okay. I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel like death. On day 2 and day 3 is when the grim reaper came knocking at my door. I knew all I needed to do was grab a coke and my migraine would dissipate in minutes, my aches and pains would subside, and my nausea would fade away. But I pushed through. And even though I called out of work one day, I still considered it a win. I may not have had a brownie to reward myself with, but my carbonated lemon water was going to have to be good enough.
After about 4 days, my withdrawal symptoms went away. I still had cravings but they weren’t nearly as bad. Did I mention my 30 days started less than two weeks before Christmas? Talk about temptation everywhere! The only thing harder than saying no to chocolate pie and christmas cookies, was convincing my family that I was serious about saying no. I don’t know how many candy dishes and pies I got sent home with. Just because I had the will to say no to my once beloved goodies, didn’t mean I didn’t struggle with the temptation. Needless to say, those deserts got tossed in the trash. I needed the support from my family, not the temptation.
And finally, my 30 days were up. Had it really only been a month? It felt more like 6. I had a much harder time than I had originally anticipated. High amounts of sugar has always been prevalent in my life so I may need more than just a month to feel its true effect. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely felt the changes. The amount of energy I had on a daily basis was inspiring. I didn’t know life could exist without a 2:00pm crash. I also didn’t know you could fall asleep within 5 minutes of laying your head down at night. My insomnia had haunted me for so long that falling asleep naturally felt odd at first. In the beginning, I would wake up in the middle of the night panicking once I realized I hadn’t taken my sleeping aid. Only then I would have a sigh of relief remembering that I didn’t need it! Not only did my energy and sleep improve, but my overall brain function was positively different. I felt as though I always had a clear mind. Before, I had trouble remembering simple words or phrases. I’d be in the middle of a sentence and completely go blank. During my month without sugar, I don’t recall ever having those issues.
Another amazing change I noticed was my increased appetite. Before, I was described as a newborn or a bird when I ate. Every two hours I was hungry and I wouldn’t eat much. But after only a couple of days with no sugar, not only was I finishing my plate, but I was getting up for seconds. Also, I wasn’t needing to snack every hour or starve till my next meal. I was feeling full and staying full. Lastly, right along side my appetite, my tastebuds changed. Talk about surprise! I had always considered most fruits sweet, but when fruit became almost my only source of sugar, they tasted just as sweet as a pack of Skittles! (Well, that’s a little exaggerated, but you get the point.) I’ve never been a fan of cantaloupe, but during my 30 day diet, this gal became a fan. It was usually my go-to food when I experienced relentless cravings. Another tastebud change was my love for my old time favorite southern drink, sweet tea. I had always wanted it sweeter when out in public. My level of desired sweetness caused my mother-in-law to make me my own pitcher when at family gatherings. But after occasionally drinking unsweet tea at restaurants for 30 days, having my ice tea sweet wasn’t necessary anymore. To test this change, I took a sip from my husband’s sweet tea one night. Holy sugar! I immediately responded, “Wow. That is way too sweet.” Funny thing is, he explained back, “This isn’t even that sweet compared to other places we’ve been. Before you would have complained about how unsweet this tea is.” Honestly, it was hard to believe. What I had just tasted was far too sweet for me to handle at that moment. I can say that my tastebuds are different, and I’m proud.
Interesting thing is, the effects I didn’t experience(yet) were the actual reasonings for me starting this diet in the first place. I wanted to see a change in my depression/anxiety and my skin. I hence the word “yet” because I do believe those effects will come with more time. Also, to be quite honest, I had numerous personal things going on, so my stress level and hormones may have been raging during that 30 day period. Not to mention, I had also recently been taken off my antidepressants, which is probably a huge factor. I’m confident that I will, slowly but surely, expect to see a positive change while I continue my healthy low sugar level diet.
So to finish things off, I would say my added sugar free diet has been a success. It may have been difficult in the beginning, but it was well worth the results. There were a few times I wasn’t sure I could fight the temptation. The cravings were strong and the need for something sweet was almost unbearable. But with my mind over matter, I was able to fight through. Not much is changing with my diet even after these 30 days. The only difference will be that I am allowed to enjoy a Christmas cookie if I want to. I don’t have to completely cut out deserts, as long as I have them in moderation. Basically, I don’t plan to give up sugar entirely, but I will certainly be more aware of my intake.