I know it’s hard to believe that something you’ve eaten your whole life could be deadly, but sugar is just that.
Excess sugar consumption is a major factor behind skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, cardio vascular disease, dementia, and type 2 diabetes.
This is the story of a how a sugar-addict kicked the habit - this is my story.
You may be thinking “I don’t sit there eating handfuls of sugar” - but if you eat packaged, processed, or fast food, that is essentially what you are doing. Almost all packaged, processed foods and meats contain sugar. In fact, you may have noticed that sugar is everywhere!
You may also have thought that because sugar is used in so many food products, it’s impossible to avoid. But I’m here to offer you a new way of looking at food, and hopefully help you kick sugar to the curb for good!
Like most of you, I grew up eating pretty much whatever I wanted. If that meant toast slathered with Kraft peanut butter and grape jelly, washed down with a big glass (or 2) or orange kool-aid, then that’s what I ate. I was particularly fond of chocolate, cakes, cookies and pastries. I loved chips and could devour an entire bowl of popcorn myself - and you know that was dripping with margarine (that’s right back when we believed margarine was a healthy choice). In my teens I began to explore fast food options and when I moved away from home in my 20s, that was pretty much what I ate. I was a busy teacher and had no time to cook. Besides I thought it was hard to cook a nutritious meal for one, so I ate out a lot.
Can you relate?
As you can imagine, I was overweight, developed numerous health problems including osteoarthritis and hypothyroidism, and ended up on different medications. Growing up, my mom and sister struggled with weight issues too, so when I was a kid, we’d go on diets together. We’d lose some weight then gain it back and try again. It was almost expected that weight loss would never last.
Then I met the man who would later become my husband - Joe. I cleaned up my eating habits but, as you probably know, habits are often hard to break. We moved across the country, got married, and continued our busy lives, trying our best to eat well when we could and indulging on the weekends.
Then my life changed in 2012 when Joe was hit by a car while cycling and, among other things, sustained a traumatic brain injury. My life basically came to a stop as I took care of him and tried to learn everything I could about TBIs so that I could help. After traditional treatment plans kept failing to produce results, we started looking toward nutrition, and discovered that the brain prefers fat for fuel over carbs. He started a high fat, very low carb diet and cut out a lot of foods, including grains, sugar and legumes. It didn’t take long before he started feeling a bit better and encouraged me to do the same.
Now I am not one to accept change easily. I like comfort. I like routine. I like to know what’s going to happen next. Any time I am presented with a new idea I think foreign or out of may comfort zone, I initially resist. Then I mull it over and decide if I’m willing to take a risk.
This was no different. I enjoyed food, I mean I really enjoyed food! I loved toast, I liked my morning cereal, and I was used to eating my burger in a bun. But life has a way of turning out differently than expected. Change was forced upon me yet again. As is often the case with brain injury survivors, my husband was impulsive - he’d do things without thinking it through, or realizing that his actions may affect anyone else - including selling our vacuum cleaner one day without letting me know.
So imagine my surprise when I came home from teaching one day to discover Joe knee deep in a mound of food piled high on the kitchen floor. Puddles had formed from melted ice cream and all my favourite foods had been dumped into a huge garbage bag. There was my favourite cereal - a newly opened box of crackers, bags of flour, cans and jars of sauces and snacks - everything! Needless to say, I was in shock - and there he was, declaring that we shouldn’t be eating any of this garbage. But in my mind everything was still good, nothing was spoiled or rotten, yet there it all was - heaped in a mound on the kitchen floor and declared junk.
He later told me he’d never forget the look on my face that moment I stepped into the kitchen.
I’ll never forget what happened next.
Living with a brain injury survivor has its moments - and this was one of them. In his impulsivity, Joe had decided for both of us what was going to be.
And so it was.
The idea of giving up all the foods I loved was overwhelming. But what I decided to do was try it for 2 weeks.
That was it. I was going to commit 100% for 2 weeks and see how I felt. After that, if I wanted to go back to my old eating ways, then I could. But until then, I’d put all my energy into resisting all breads, cakes, cookies, and sugar for just 2 weeks.
And let me tell you, it was hard. It was harder than I thought. It was hard to drive by the coffee shop I’d stop at occasionally for a latte or muffin. Every time I’d pass by, I wanted to turn in. And I wanted it even more now that I couldn’t have it. But I resisted.
Staff rooms in schools are often filled with treats, someone’s baking, or candy, and as the school year was ending grad functions saw leftover cupcakes ripe for the taking. But I didn’t do it. I’d look away and I avoided the staffroom, but I didn’t give in to temptation.
Then one day, almost 2 weeks into the hardest challenge of my life, I walked into the staffroom one morning to see the remnants of a giant chocolate slab cake leftover from a grad celebration the night before.
And something was different. I could smell that familiar sugary sweetness, and from memory knew exactly what that cake would taste like. But for the absolute first time in my life, I didn’t want any.
That was my defining moment.
I saw the cake, I could smell it, and I could even taste it but for the first time, EVER - I didn’t want it. The signals in my brain were not firing - and that was a completely foreign concept for me. I never even knew it was possible to not crave a sweet treat. Nor had it ever dawned on me that people could be walking around on Earth and actually not want or crave a piece of cake that was staring at them.
I call this my defining moment and it may sound silly but for some of you, I’m sure you can understand. I craved sweets my whole life - I could pass them up if I was strong in the moment, but I’d still walk away feeling like I wanted it. And for the first time in my life, that yearning - that wanting - that craving was gone.
I recognized that moment right away and must have walked around the rest of the day with a permanent grin on my face. I kept reliving that moment over and over again where I didn’t actually want a piece of that cake. And I’d smile. I even made of point of going back to the staffroom a short time later to see if it was still true - if I was still immune to that sugary chocolaty smell. And I was.
That day, I became empowered - another new concept for me. I was always shy and introverted. I went along with what other people wanted in order to please. I was generally not a decision-maker. But in that very moment I became someone else.
I became strong and knew I had to stick with this. I realized I had actually been addicted to sugar but never recognized it as an addiction because it was always there. I knew nothing else. I thought everyone felt the same way. Besides, I knew people could be addicted to cigarettes or heroine, but sugar? I even wondered if it was possible to have been addicted to sugar.
Now I know that it is. And that I was. And more importantly, that I no longer am.
My life changed again with that realization. I knew I could never go back - and I never wanted to. I never wanted to have to go through that withdrawal process ever again and I vowed I’d live without sugar from that moment on.
My two week trial without sugar and carbs was the best thing that could have happened for my health and wellbeing. Those 2 weeks turned into 2 months then 2 years, and more. I have been free of my sugar addiction for over 4 years now, and I have never felt better! Throughout that time, I have basically stuck to a paleo or ketogenic eating plan and know this is how I am meant to eat. I have lots of energy. I am more relaxed and calmer than I’ve ever been. My sleep habits have improved and my mind is clear. My memory seems to be better than it was, and I wake up feeling ready to take on the world every day. Even my hormones have rebalanced themselves, and I have not taken thyroid medication in almost 3 years.
In fact, my once full medicine cabinet has only seen one antibiotic prescription bottle in those last 3 years. Even though I still work in schools and am still around sick kids, I don’t catch whatever virus or bug is going around any more. And if I do start getting tired or weak or feel my sinuses start to swell, I listen to my body and take the time to get more sleep. I also have a natural protocol I use for a day or 2, then all is well again. I know that cutting sugar and wheat from my diet has given me a new lease on life with a stronger immune system and more resolve.
Experiencing that level of empowerment has changed more than just my health - it has also made me a stronger, more resilient person and given me a level of confidence I never even knew was in me. So much so, that I decided I want to empower other people to feel the same about themselves.
That’s why I embarked on a 3 year journey to learn more and to gain accreditation as a natural nutritionist. I still love teaching, but I want to share my story with others even more, so that I can help those who feel desperate or alone and don’t know where to start.
For those of you wondering if you may be addicted to sugar - if any of my story rings true for you, than I hate to say it, but you probably are.
Still not sure?
Do if you crave sugar or carbs or sweets to the point where you get moody or grumpy?
Do you binge eat on sugar?
Do you find yourself hiding or sneaking things you know you shouldn’t be eating when you are alone?
Have you noticed that you are no longer able to taste the sweetness in fruits, or your morning Double-Double may just not be cutting it any more?
Do you start making excuses to eat sugar? Halloween is just around the corner and you may think it’s okay to indulge because it only happens once a year so we rationalize it and take a free pass - besides those little treats are so tiny they don’t count! Or maybe you think that because they are so small, you are entitled to eat several… so you reach for another and another, and before you know it, a small pile of wrappers has formed in front of you.
Do you beat yourself up for doing such a thing then feel depressed? What better way is there to feel better? Pop another treat - besides you think you have already blown it for today so what’s a few more?
Well these are also signs of a sugar addiction. The good news is that if I could kick my sugar habit, you can too!
Now why, you may be wondering - why should you care about kicking the addiction? Let me fill you in on what sugar actually does to our bodies - and when I say sugar consumption, I’m also referring to starch consumption, as our bodies convert all starches into sugars. We may not be eating handfuls of white refined sugar, but your body breaks down starches and carbohydrates like bread, cereals, whole grains, rice, and donuts alike into simple sugars.
In fact, any food that causes blood glucose to rise is not conducive to good health.
Ever looked at the granola bar wrapper or container of yogurt you were eating and glance at the ingredient list? Have you ever seen the words “High Fructose Corn Syrup” staring back at you?
Well, fructose and high fructose corn syrup are probably the most destructive sugars. When eaten in large amounts as part of a high-calorie diet, they cause insulin resistance and weight gain while stimulating appetite. Usually, when we eat a high-calorie sugar-laden diet, processed, packaged, and fast foods are a big part of that.
I’m sure many of you working moms and dads out there think you’re too busy to make wholesome snacks from scratch, and I know the packaged snacks are easy. They are so easy to throw in a lunch bag or send to school with the kids, and food companies make it too convenient by wrapping everything individually. Unfortunately, almost all packaged food is devoid of nutrition, even those often labelled “healthy”. So what happens when we eat them? Our body doesn’t receive nutrients from these foods, so it demands more food to try to fill the void. This encourages overconsumption and leads to even higher blood sugar levels and potentially even insulin resistance.
It’s also important to think about what happens when our kids eat sugar, too - too much sugar provides empty calories and actually displaces the nutritious foods kids need. If you’ve ever had to deal with the effects of a post-sugar meltdown, you know what I mean. Or maybe your child gets shaky or sluggish or has a temper tantrum after eating sugary foods or too much fruit juice at a birthday party. Then you’ve also experienced first hand the effects of what happens after elevated blood sugar levels crash.
Believe me - I’ve seen it many times in the classroom! Ever wonder why classroom parties usually happen on a Friday afternoon???
Not only is sugar to blame - heavy starches like rice, bread, wheat, and corn also spike glucose levels. Sugar is still sugar - whether it comes from a banana, a can of soda or a piece of bread. Though, it’s true glucose is vital to life, our bodies have built-in mechanisms to ensure we have enough. Our amazing liver, among its many other jobs, converts proteins and fats into glucose as needed.
You may have heard of “essential fatty acids” and “essential amino acids” (proteins) but have you ever heard of essential carbohydrates?
Still wondering if sugar may be affecting you?
Have you ever noticed that you need more and more sugar in food or in your morning cup of coffee in order to taste its sweetness? This happens when our taste buds gets used to higher and higher levels of sugar and our palate actually weakens!
Have you ever craved something, eaten it then felt better leaving you wanting more? You’ve just triggered the reward centre in your brain. Dopamine, the feel good hormone, was released - and you liked the feeling it produced, making you want it again - and who wouldn’t? This is the same reward centre that is activated if we were to have taken a hit of cocaine. If you have experienced this pleasure from eating sugars or carbs, then you have become addicted.
Have you ever felt so worn down, tired or sluggish that you just can’t seem to muster up the energy to hit the gym or take the dog for a walk? This can happen when our liver get overloaded by toxins - the same toxins, chemicals and bleaching agents used in refined sugar during processing. They accumulate in our bodies and clog cells, making us sick and tired.
Do you find yourself catching every cold, illness or flu that seems to be going around - like I once did? Well once again, sugar could be the culprit - it stops cells from being able to repair themselves, which causes a weak immune system. This weak immunity allows us to get sick often, and can lead to even worse problems like chronic inflammation and disease.
Have you ever experienced brain fog? Driven yourself in to work only to realize you have no recollection as to how you got there? Or opened the fridge door and completely forgotten what it was you went there for? This can happen because sugar depletes the B vitamins needed for proper cognitive functioning and memory.
Do you feel as though you are in a perpetual state of stress - always on edge, unable to rest or relax? Does your brain become active at night and keep you awake with never-ending chatter? Do you feel as though you are constantly on the go? Repeated blood sugar imbalances, the highs then lows we experience every time we eat sugar or starch, leads to chronic high cortisol levels, which leaves our bodies in a state of constant stress.
Do you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, chronic inflammation, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, or cancer? Does someone you love suffer from any of these degenerative diseases? Any of them could have resulted from becoming become insensitive to insulin after consuming too much sugar over a long period of time. Our cells stop responding to insulin signals so excess glucose is pushed into our cells for storage, causing us to pack on the pounds.
Aside from all these negative health consequences - as if this weren’t bad enough - for Joe and I, what was even more important was sugar’s detrimental effects on the brain.
For someone who’s brain cells are already damaged, sugar will cause even more significant impairment as it slows down the brain even more, resulting in the frequency and severity of those trips to the fridge with a blank stare increasing, pauses between words is prolonged as he searches for the ones he wants to say, and the fatigue and heaviness in his head cloud and disrupt all thinking.
Speaking from personal experience, my husband is living proof of just how detrimental sugar is on the brain. He found that eating sugar, processed foods, fast food or even having a few sips of wine, caused his migraines to worsen and the pressure in his head to increase. The connection was undeniable for him, so he stopped. No more sugar, no heavy carbs, and definitely no alcohol. He found these triggers made him feel much worse than he already did, and the brief amount of pleasure these foods may have brought, was not worth the consequences he had to suffer.
Now that you realize sugar is even more detrimental to your health than you probably originally thought, you’re probably wondering what you can do about it.
First (and I’m sure you knew this was coming…), I suggest you eliminate sugar - all forms of sugar - from your diet, including refined white sugar, sugar alcohols, coconut sugar, artificial sweeteners, high-sugar content fruits, and heavy starches like bread, grains and rice that convert to sugar when we eat them.
Impossible you think?
For part II of Confessions of a Sugar Addict click here
If I could do it, you can, too!
Come back next week to read about how to live a life without sugar, so that you can experience your defining moment and the freedom of knowing you don’t have to be a slave to sugar any longer!
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