First confession: I went back to eating sugar (you’ll see why at the end of this post). Second confession: I have a legitimate sugar addiction.
Food is a notoriously tough topic for me to talk about openly. I feel a lot of shame around my overeating. A lot. I had a moment recently that’s stuck with me for weeks. I found a diary of mine from 1996 (I was in middle school) and in between the poems about my undying love for various boys (hey, I was a teenager!) was something even more startling. Pages upon pages about feeling out of control with food, wishing I could just not eat so much and hating my stomach (I even drew a picture of what I felt was the perfect looking stomach).
Unfortunately, not much has changed 18 years later. I dabble in journal writing every now and then and in every single beautifully bound notepad is the same story – my deep, unending struggle with food. So much self-loathing. So much embarrassment.
I’ve suspected that I’m extremely sugar sensitive for quite some time. It’s always sugary foods that I go for, that I overeat. When I’m in the throes of my sugar addiction (as I admittedly currently am), I hide what I’ve eaten out of shame, I’m uncomfortable eating in front of others, I feel completely out of control with food. I can’t even eat just a little bit of sugar because it ALWAYS starts me down a path of overeating.
But it wasn’t until about 8 months ago that I decided to experiment with actually removing sugar from my diet. I stopped eating all sugars except those that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables and in no way restricted myself otherwise (although I also removed all artificial sweeteners too). No calorie counting, no watching my portions. I just wanted to see what would happen if I removed what I believed to be my biggest food trigger. And I did it out of love for myself, not out of desperation or pity. That was key.
And for 6 full months I remained sugar free. And this is what I learnt about myself.
1. I am a sugar addict. I know some people don’t really think sugar addiction is an actual thing. But science is starting to show that for some people, addiction to sugar is absolutely real. Like I said earlier, I kind of thought I might have a problem with sugar but I wasn’t 100% sure. Removing it from my diet showed me, very clearly, that I’m extremely sensitive to it and that my body responds to it like a drug. When it was no longer in the picture I didn’t struggle with food anymore. For the first time in a very, very long time (clearly at least 18 years) I felt free. I didn’t obsess about what I was going to eat next and my body started to naturally regulate itself. I didn’t need to purposefully control my portions because I started to recognize when I was full (which rarely ever happens when I’m consuming sugar).
2. My body is much happier when I’m not eating sugar. I noticed pretty quickly after I stopped eating sugar that my skin cleared up (hello, why doesn’t anyone tell you that you can still get acne in your 30’s?). I started sleeping much better. I had boundless energy (I really did). I remember telling my husband that if I ever decided to start eating sugar again that I wanted him to remind me of all the positive things my body experiences by not consuming it. I felt really good. More emotionally stable. Just really, really fantastic.
And I actually got to a point where I didn’t crave sugar anymore. I could actually sit and watch my daughter enjoy frozen yogurt with yummy toppings and not wish I was eating it too. That is huge for me, huge.
3. Overusing sugar impacts how I treat others. This became really clear to me. When I’m overeating sugar I become really grumpy. It impacts my mood and it makes it harder for me to be the kind, compassionate person that I strive to be. When sugar isn’t in the picture, I feel much more like my true self. When I’m not in a sugar struggle, I’m a much better wife (because honestly, most of my grumpiness gets directed at my husband).
So, with all these positive conclusions, you might be wondering why I’m back to eating sugar? It’s because, after 6 months I thought maybe, just maybe, I could eat a little sugar and it would be OK. I was very wrong. A little sugar, as always, turned into a lot of sugar and now I’m back to the starting point again. I’m working on not feeling like crap about myself for messing up a wonderful 6 months of feeling better.
Knowing that my struggle with food is not fully psychological, that it’s in most part biological, helps me feel better and lets me see much more clearly that removing sugar from my diet is something I have to come to terms with. Learning from those 6 months is what’s necessary for me to truly, finally, honor my body.
Photo credit: Vox Efx, Flickr Creative Commons