There are a million and one opinions out there on the perfect way to eat.
The reality is, lots of different things work best for lots of different people, but none of us need more sugar.
I decided after Christmas that I would take a break from sugar, just to see how it felt. I don’t eat a lot of it on a day to day basis, but all of the Christmas treats had left me fighting fatigue and headaches more often, messing with my sleep and skin. And so I took it out. I still ate fruit, and occasionally put honey in my tea*, but skipped all the rest. Then, randomly one day I opted for a super-sweet chocolate chai soy latte and thought I might never sleep again. My mind raced, my heart raced; I felt like some crazy cracked-out hummingbird. And then I crashed.
And then…I wanted more.
The thing is, sugar is an intense food. Set aside whether it’s good or bad for a second and let’s just talk about the fact that it’s intense. When we look at the foods on a spectrum of yin and yang, expansive and cooling versus warming and grounding, sugar is at the uber-yin end of things. We like it not just because of the sweet taste, but because of the expansive, expressive high that it makes us feel. Having that feeling can be a wonderful, necessary thing. Getting it from a substance that causes inflammation and disease to flourish in our bodies is not.
The sweetest thing you can do for your body is to give it a break from sugar—and consider giving it up for good.
I am often leery of recommending people cut out any food or food group completely, unless there is a specific allergy or intolerance. But consider this: 50 years or so ago, our grandparents didn’t eat sugar at every meal. They didn’t have spaghetti sauce with sugar added. They didn’t consider 20+ ounces of soda or juice a serving. If we reserved sweet treats for special occasions (and opted for more naturally sweetened, homemade or locally made treats) it would return to being enjoyable, instead of a constant burden on our health.
To make quitting sugar easier:
1. Approach it as an experiment, not the law.
The fastest way to want something is to tell yourself you can’t have it. I learned this trick from a good friend, and it’s helped me enormously in many areas of life: get curious. Ask yourself, “what would this be like?” and try it out for awhile.
2. Drink more water.
Seriously. And then drink some more. Thirst often masquerades as hunger.
3. Eat (and drink) your greens.
Leafy greens have the same lightening, expansive property that we look to get from sugar, without all the nastiness. They may not taste as sweet, but they give us the same perked-up feeling, without a giant crash.
4. Eat enough protein and fat.
Your “enough” and my “enough” might not be the same amounts, but if your protein and fat needs are being met, the physical cravings for sugar are usually much less severe.
5. Get enough rest.
Lack of sleep is a sure recipe to send you scrambling for sugar or caffeine to pick yourself up. If you are trying to cut out (or cut back on) sugar, pay extra attention to your body’s signals that you need more rest.
Dance. Paint. Go for a bike ride somewhere beautiful. Make a snowman. Blast some great music. Laugh. Notice all these little things that make life sweeter, without making us feel like crap when they’re over.
A sweet treat that your body will thank you for:
Vegan Cherry-Coconut Fudge
1/2 cup Coconut Butter (I like Artisana, but there are many good ones out there.)
1/2 cup frozen cherries, thawed and pureed.
1 tsp. unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder.
Melt the coconut butter in a double boiler (or in a glass bowl inside a pan of hot water) until softened.
Mix cherries and chocolate in and stir until blended.
Pour into pan, refrigerate and cut into pieces once hardened.
This recipe fills the bottom of a small loaf pan, but can easily be doubled to make a 9 x 9 pan of “fudge.” If you want it to be more chocolatey, you can up the amount of cocoa to a tablespoon. Enjoy!
For the past two weeks, without even realizing it really, I’ve fallen into old habits and old haunts.
My rabbit hole, some would say.
A huge amount of time alone, the dark, cold days of winter and me, in my rabbit hole, struggling with my darkness. As my discomfort and doubt and rage and ugliness push their way to the surface, I have been using food and wine and sugar to push them back down.
I am afraid to sit here, in this place of discomfort. I am afraid to think the thoughts I think and I’m afraid to be who I am because some days I don’t know who that is.
Do you know what feels better?
Vegan donuts. Vegan poutine. A bottle of wine over a weekend. Anything but sitting in this place and allowing the thoughts to surface. Better than moving my body and allowing my memory of a thousand different fears to be released from their hiding places.
I like to think I’m nurturing myself by “listening” to what my body needs—but as it turns out, it’s my inner brat leading the show and demanding the things that feel-good-in-the-moment and not the things-that-are-good-everyday.
I’ve convinced myself that “I’m giving myself permission to fall apart” and that as long as I’m doing it consciously, then I’m allowed to. But the truth is, I am too smart for my own good. I know how to manipulate myself and I know when I’m being honest—and I know when I’m not.
(Plus, my inner brat know my weak spots—she knows my darkness and she knows how to play me.)
OK: I know how to play me.
We argue a lot, she and I; when I put my foot down and say apple and almond butter instead of a donut, her eyes well with tears and she plays with heart strings. Why are you trying to punish me? she says, a big juicy tear drop sliding down her face. I’m only trying to make us feel better.
In the end, I feel better for a moment—and then my feelings of guilt and shame rise up and I’m back where I started.
So my practice becomes this: how can I be kind and love myself (all parts of myself, brat included) on the darkest days, when I feel worthless and lonely and unloved and ugly—without indulging in things that make me feel worse?
This is a tough one: I forgive myself. It’s not easy and I can feel myself fight the forgiveness, until I have no choice but to surrender into it.
Kate has shared some great ways and to her list, I would add this:
7. Commit to a daily practice: Meditate, read, write, pray, unfurl your body on your mat, breathe, have a bath, move, love, repeat.
(What I choose to practice might change daily but what does not waver is my commitment to myself.)
And this really what this all about—committing to ourselves as living, breathing beings with beating hearts.
What this is really about is learning how to love ourselves over and over again.
*What does it really mean to cut out sugar?
It looks different for different people:
1. Some people choose to cut out refined sugar and products that contain it, but still include things like maple syrup, honey, agave or stevia.
2. Some people choose to cut out all sweeteners, including the more natural ones, or limit them to holidays and special occasions.
3. Some people choose to limit or omit fruit as well. This might be beneficial for those who have had trouble being moderate with sugar in the past, or those who have auto-immune, diabetic, or other health conditions affected by blood sugar levels, but is best discussed with a health care provider, especially if your intention is to make this a long-term change.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Sara Crolick