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I quit eating sugar around half a year ago - this is my story and personal reasons
"I don't eat sugar."
Even though a very reasonable thing to do, a lot of people still stare at me in disbelief when I share that I quit the consumption of added sugars about half a year ago. Meaning no white, no brown, no cane sugars and entirely no glucose, fructose or corn syrup. While I am wondering how a lot of us still aren't worried about a daily intake twice, or three times as much as recommended I get asked: "Why would you do that?", "Why go sugar-free?." Over and over, again. So I thought writing about a sugar-free lifestyle/diet on my blog should probably be introduced with the WHY. (Before we ever dive into the HOW.) To do so, I want to share my reasons and personal story with you.
I was QUITE the sugar addict. Like with any addiction, sugar leaves you with that constant feeling of craving it. Tricks you into seeing it as the ultimate solution and reward whenever something goes sideways, you achieve a goal or well, you are bored. Chocolate, ice cream, baked goods - you name it. I devoured it all. Needed it. LOVED it. I had no interest in confronting myself with the downsides of those masses of added sugars I consumed. The only thing I did not crave were sodas, but in all honesty, that's about it. My absolute fav? Cotton candy. The pink, huge, fluffy, street booth kind of cotton candy. So if you had told me, a year ago, that I would quit sugar by summer, I would have heavily objected.
I had even watched the alarming and frankly disturbing documentary 'that sugar film' (highly recommended!) in which a healthy young man embarks on a self-experiment to find out what a high sugar intake does to his health - after three years of living entirely sugar-free. (By only consuming food thought of as healthy, by the way.) I was in shock afterward. So much so, that I needed a big fat ice cream (three scoops in a waffle) to calm myself down. (I swear, this happened!) I actively decided to ignore what I had just learned and continued buying high-fructose-corn-syrup breakfast cereals, ketchup, licorice, candy bars, glazed donuts and all the other allegedly awesome stuff.
And then everything changed.
Not because I intended to - it was 'by accident.' My husband and I started ordering 'eldum rétt' - an Icelandic cooking service where you get the ingredients and recipes for three meals delivered beginning of every week. We ran out of ideas on what to thaw up for dinner, simple as that. You can only have pizza and pasta for so long before you get fed up. We opted for vegan since none of the meat-loaden other options sounded good to me (and I've never been much into meat, anyway).
For the first time in like, uhm ever,
I found myself in the kitchen, preparing meals, fresh veggies, unprocessed goods. My stomach, who I had been sick with for almost all my life, started getting noticeably better after a few weeks. I found myself to be a little less tired, a little more 'balanced' and somehow, those three meals a week (and three lunches, we always had leftovers) got me thinking. Could food be impacting my health that much? I finally began to look into it. I started reading. Watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, downloaded and devoured studies. I got obsessed.
My mind -> blown
I got so interested in the field of nutrition, that I even started a second education in autumn last year (I already am a certified event manager) - as a vegan nutritionist. Weird mix, I am aware. 😀 I am now a few months in and am learning new facts about our body and health every single day. Diving deeper and deeper into what the wrong diet does to us, and how much we can affect our wellbeing by opting for fresh, real, nutritious food.
Before I now go ahead and list all the reasons, which made me decide to stop consuming all refined added sugar, let me finish my story real quick: After two weeks of intense studying, I decided to give it a go. To see what would happen, if I cut those sweet, sweet rewards out of my life. I will write another article about how exactly I pulled it off, how I coped and what I've learned helps if you want to stop eating refined sugar. But for now, let me say this - I slowly turned into a better version of me. I had fewer mood swings, way more energy, no need for afternoon naps, clearer skin. And my stomach got SO much better. The flare-ups got noticeably less, no swollen tummy at night. I felt fantastic. So much so, that I decided never to eat that devilish powder, ever again.
As I more and more adapted to a whole food, sugar-free, mostly vegan diet, got my way around restaurant situations, hiking provision issues, and camping meal struggles - my body turned into this bundle of energy. I started running and for the first time, did stick to it. (Until today, whoop.) I found loads of recipes for treats with natural sugar (or a pinch of maple syrup) and they were just as good, if not better than all the highly processed *excuse me* crap I used to stuff into my belly.
I was happier - in a more consistent, relaxed way. My blood sugar didn't crash, and my blood pressure that for the first time in my life had slowly started to rise was back down to normal within a few weeks. I felt healthy, genuinely healthy. By then I knew I would never be in danger of going back to eating a highly processed, high sugar, poor western diet.
I don't regret my decision a single day. I do not have any trouble sticking to my mantra of a sugar-free life. (I also don't hate on myself if I consume a few pieces from a nice box of chocolates or try some home-baked cake if someone offers). On a regular day, I eat a healthy breakfast (like chia pudding, oatmeal or a shake) which always contains fruit and nuts. For lunch, I'm having last night's leftovers, and a huge plate of veggies, legumes, grains for dinner. I make bliss balls and granola bars for snacks, bake naturally sweetened banana bread, cinnamon rolls, and even cookies. We found THE most amazing sugar-free chocolate in a store close-by (with dried blueberries, heaven) and I love having a hot and spicy chai tea before I go to bed. I bake bread; I try different cuisines from all over the world. I never feel like I am missing out - on the contrary. A year ago almost all food had started to taste bland. Now, nearly every meal I prepare tastes insanely good. There is variety on my plate, not just in color but also in flavor.
And that's my story.
How I went from sugar craving mood-swing Linda with a chronic gastrointestinal illness to healthy eating energy filled me.
So what exactly convinced me to really give sugar-free a go?
I think that ultimately most of us know by now, what sugar does to our health. The recommended daily intake varies from country to country but is overall somewhere around 25 - to 30 grams of added sugars with the tolerable upper intake level at 50 grams. Instead, the average European/American consumes 35+ kg of sugar per year, that translates to somewhat around 90 grams of sugar a day. Three times as much as recommended, almost twice as much as tolerable. Drink one can of coke, and your daily intake limit is reached. We're all aware. And yet, we look the other way. I don't blame anyone. I was exactly like that.
Mass consumption of sugar can not just lead to obesity but also diabetes type II, clogged arteries, heart issues, fatty liver, kidney diseases and more. Even though you might experience none of those sicknesses, you will most likely be acquainted with the following: spike and crash of your blood-sugar, afternoon fatigue, cravings, snacking, unwanted weight gain and difficulties to lose it. Or you are like me and battle constant inflammations. The thing with sugar is that bacteria and yeast feed on it and find their surroundings super cozy the more of the stuff you consume.
It's not only your inner health, though. It's your skin, as well. Acne, premature aging - it can all be caused by that sweet, sweet love of ours. And so much more. Tooth decay, obviously. Gum diseases. Brain function. Heck, the incredibly high sugar intake of today's highly processed western diet is even connected to cancers (like esophageal, pleural and small intestine). By now, children fed with said diet often have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. More and more are obese. Or suffer from diabetes at the age of three. It's heartbreaking.
What sounds like me citing from a horror story (and you might even believe to be exaggerated) can be researched within minutes. It's the simple truth nobody wants to hear. Added sugar is terrible for you, period. If we would all at least reduce our intake down to what the World Health Organization recommends, we would be in so much better shape, health-wise, as a population.
Sugar does not only affect your body and appearance, it affects your mood, as well. Have you ever tried quitting sugar for a few days? I (and all the others who have tried it, that I talked to) experienced the same: headaches, shakiness, outbursts of anger, massive cravings and other typical signs of quitting a drug. That was the first time I truly believed what I had learned about sugar (addiction). I experienced symptoms of withdrawal, and it sucked.
There are quite a few studies by now claiming that a high intake of added sugars can lead to depression. Like often, there is probably some bias, but I would tend to believe those results. Being personally aware of how much the consumption of sweets affects your mood and behavior I no longer doubt that certain kinds of anxiety and forms of depressions might very well be connected to added sugars.
Sugar releases dopamine in your brain which makes you feel super duper mega good. In an amount that natural sugar (like in fruits) never could. The more candy you eat, the more you get used to it's rewarding 'high' which leaves you craving an even larger amount to get the same feeling. It's a doomed cycle and like with every drug, hard to break out of. Sugar also raises your blood sugar levels fast, and you're crashing just as quickly, afterward. Such a crash can leave you feeling anxious, shaky and lightheaded - the feeling you might know from when you didn't eat enough. It's the same way the other way around. When our blood sugar drops, the body releases tons of hormones - just like as if we were under massive stress. After eating sugar, the blood sugar spikes and that spike can leave you feeling just as weird - shaky, anxious, irritated, foggy.
Of course, the overall change in my diet is what ultimately cured my chronic gastritis (that and probiotics - I promise to tell you all about how I healed myself in another article), but sugar played a huge factor, as well. Today, I immediately feel if I ate a more significant amount, like a piece of cake or drank a sweetened beverage. My stomach gets upset, I get shaky, sometimes even anxious. And most of the time it is way too sweet for me to eat, in the first place.
I wanted to be healthy. And when I realized that changing my diet and cutting out the crap would lead to me being pain-free for the first time in over 30 years, I no longer had any trouble to commit fully. So my biggest WHY to cutting out sugar was my ever-inflamed stomach. And the fact that I realized I was, indeed, addicted.
Sugar comes in many forms. So be cautious, even if you can't spot the word 'sugar' on a food label - it might be hidden away under one of its many aliases. Like Maltodextrin, Muscovado, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Saccharose, Fructose Syrup, Glucose, Barley Malt, Maltol, Golden Syrup, Malt Syrup, Rice Syrup, Maltose, Dextrin, Turbinado and SO MUCH more!
I don't want to point my finger at you. I'm not going to tell you what to do with your body and what's best for you. I just wanted to introduce the sugar-free living category to my blog by writing down MY story and MY opinion. You can indulge in some treats if you feel like it. You don't have to enslave yourself to a particular lifestyle. I just hope that maybe I could get you thinking. About how much sugar we consume, even though we might consider our diet as healthy. About how we could at least try and stay within the guidelines that are deemed safe for us to consume.
I'm never going to try and talk you into something because I think it's the right thing to do. I am not you, and you are the boss of your body. But if you would ask for my advice, I would say: stick to natural sugars! It works wonders for your health, body, mind, and skin - I learned it first hand. I'm never going to go back to burying my face in candy, that is for sure.
If you are now asking yourself the following questions:
- I want to try that, what exactly do I have to expect?
- How did you manage fallbacks, cravings and withdrawal symptoms?
- How do you sweeten your food now, what would you recommend?
- What do you think about artificial sweeteners?
- What exactly CAN you buy in the supermarket when you avoid all things heavily processed?
- Can you share a few recipes? ...
I will answer all of them in a lot of upcoming blog posts. 🙂
We're in this together!
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