sugar cubes

Confessions of a Sugar Addict

It took me a few times of committing to cutting sugar out of my life. The first few times I barely made it past the first week. But an amazing thing happened after I got past the initial crankiness of withdraw headaches and sugar-craving attacks. After just a few weeks of no sugar, and less than 50 carbs a day, I was sleeping through the night, less irritable during the day, and virtually headache free. A month later, I couldn’t remember why I loved sugar so much in the first place.

I’ve had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember

Sugar was my bestie. In grade school I was always asking my grandma or auntie for another cookie or piece of chocolate when we’d visit – my mom did a good job of keeping “junk food” out of our house. When I was a little older and had a part time job I would reward myself after a long day with a bag of skittles or heath bar.

Now, I had been raised in a granola-loving-add-flax-seeds-and-wheat-germ-to-EVERYTHING household. So, I tended to stay as far away from that “hippie” stuff as much as possible. Granted, those things were actually healthy but when you grew up having wheat germ in chocolate chip cookies and flax seed sprinkled on top of most meals you don’t realize the heath benefits of it. To me these things just ruined what would have been a smooth creamy bowl of mac and cheese, or made cookies taste weird and grainy.

Photo by Karley Saagi

So, like any strong-willed stubborn kid, I decided “when I grow up, I’ll eat whatever I want!” I completely rejected any of the good healthy habits my mom had tried to instill in me. Thinking I knew better because… well I had no reason to think I knew better. No adults around me that ate copious amounts of junk were healthy. Most had health problems, heart disease, obesity, diabetes 2, etc. But I was gonna prove science wrong and eat all the sugar I wanted and be just fine! (silly kids we are sometimes)

Sugar is Addictive (duh!)

Needless to say, by my late 20s there was a constant flow of sucrose in my bloodstream. Co-workers would see the candy dish on my desk and warn me of diabetes and I would just shrug it off. I worked out, I maintained my weight pretty well. I wasn’t gaining weight, and all my blood labs always came back “normal”.

This progressed through my adult years into a full on sugar addiction. I didn’t notice it for a long time. In my mind I didn’t over do it per se, I would responsibly eat only a few pieces of candy at a time. A bag of Dove dark chocolate would last me a month by myself. I could control myself with candy and cookies and things of that sort. I knew the amount of sugar in cookies and candy should only be taken in moderation.

So I justified my sugar habit, and didn’t see much reason to change it.


Addiction, unchecked, only gets worse

It wasn’t too long before I was drinking more sugar than I ate. Mostly because I never thought of how much sugar was actually in those drinks. I would drink diet soda half the time, and regular soda the other times. That usually meant 5 full sugar Mt. Dew or Dr. Peppers in a given week. Then the mother-lode of liquid sugar bliss entered my world. Thank you Starbucks! Almost daily I would get one of those smooth frosty coffee frappes – with extra caramel or chocolate (or both) drizzled on the top, with skim milk of course.

I had the benefit of still being young, with a mesomorph body type and great metabolism. I was able to maintain my figure, go out with my friends all night, had energy and felt fine. I’d easily wake up in the morning and go to work, sugar-laden coffee in hand. Hit the gym after work, and grab some frozen yogurt on the way home.

Not a day went by that I didn’t have sugar in some form or another. Not a few teaspoons of sugar mind you, we are talking at least 5 times the recommended dose. I was a functional addict you could say.

“Adulting” is hard enough, it’s worse when you’re a sugar fiend

Then the lovely 30s hit me like a freight train. With in the first few years of being a real “adult” I had developed and beaten cancer, was diagnosed with migraines, and my insomnia was at an all time high. I had trouble sleeping and felt tired and generally uncomfortable all the time.

After work I just wanted to go home and sit on the couch or even go right to bed sometimes. I never associated any of this with sugar addiction. I still didn’t actually realize what sugar does to our bodies. How out of whack our metabolism gets when we get “That 2:30 Feeling.” and reach for a quick fix of caffeine or sugar, or both.

So I did what I had learned in the Army and I started to work out more and watch what I ate. Following that food pyramid that we now know is a bit antiquated, I ate what I thought was balanced. Whole grain bread, salads, sandwiches, low fat meals became a larger part of my diet. I still always allowed myself to indulge in a small morsel of sugary snacks daily, cause everything in moderation was my food motto. Of course, I made sure they were always low fat snacks, cause that was what made you fat, right?

Keep this in mind 1 tsp of sugar, equals approx 4.4 grams. The American Heart  Association recommends for woman 100 calories per day which is 25 grams or 6 teaspoons.

Sugar is in EVERYTHING

Admittedly, I was ignorant to the amount of ADDED sugar in the typical American diet. Just about everything I ate was processed, so it had all kinds of additives including various sugars. Dextrose, maltose, corn syrup, the list of other words for “sugar” goes on and on when checking ingredient lists. Things like wheat bread and yogurt that were supposed to be “healthy” had added sugar. Even ketchup and marinara sauces apparently had tons of sugar in them too!

Over the next decade my weight slowly kept creeping up. A few pounds this year, 5 lbs another year, sometimes loosing a few even. Before I knew it, I was about 40 lbs more than my ideal weight. When looking at my family, most were a little overweight comparatively so I brushed it off as just part of getting older.

I had stayed in the same 20lb or so weight range almost 20 years, even with working out and eating “right”. Regardless of my weigh though, I was enjoying life less and less because I never felt “good” anymore. It wasn’t just the weight that concerned me. On top of the extra weight, I was always exhausted, battling chronic migraines and what seemed like a constant tension headache. Insomnia came and went for weeks at time, leaving me tired no matter how much “sleep” I got. I still had little to no energy, and I had long forgone the idea of going to the gym regularly.

Photo by David Garrison

My focus was getting out of pain

The migraines were really the reason I finally sought help outside of the normal western medicine realm and looked at alternative methods. My migraines had developed in basic training when I suffered a minor fracture to my C1 and C2 that went un-noticed for months. Since getting out of the military, I had been on a combination of pain killers, anti-depressants, and various sleep aids and migraine “prevention” treatments. All pharmaceuticals, no behavioral or holistic health protocols. In 10+ years nothing seemed to really work. The pain killers would either put me to sleep or make me loopy, so I couldn’t work those days. Some months that meant missing work 2-3 times, which is unacceptable even for a “medical” issue. Almost every pill I was taking was related to the same problems – headaches and associated symptoms or side effects of the other medications.

I needed to find a better way to stop migraines from happening, not just treat them when they showed up. Researching alternative treatments for migraines led me to try things like CBD, Magnesium, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. All of these did help ALOT. My migraines went from monthly occurrences to a few bad ones a year. It was a HUGE improvement.

Fighting food with (better) food

However, my overall health didn’t improve much. The tension headache was still there more days than not, insomnia would come and go, and my energy was still almost always depleted. Hope was sparked in me though. If alternative medicines could help with something as serious as the migraines, there had to be something natural/behavioral that could improve my other issues as well.

At the height of the Keto craze, sugar had become a “bad” word. Not just the white refined empty calorie sugars, but also the foods that break down into glucose in your body. Even what had been considered “healthy” grains still became sugar in the end. I was intrigued, having spent a few years learning how chemicals in the brain work and how much of our “brain” is in our gut, not just the head.

Digging deeper I found research on how sugars impact not only migraines but insomnia, pain, exhaustion, anxiety, fibromyalgia and a whole slew of other ailments. It seems the Keto-crazies were on to something. Unrelated to weight and body fat, reducing sugar could help in so many other areas of life.

Adjusting to a new lifestyle, not a “diet”

Diets are temporary, and I had lived with these issues for decades. I didn’t need a diet, it wasn’t about losing that extra 20 lbs or fitting into my 20s jeans (which I do still have in the closet). My body, mind, and soul needed a more permanent solution.

Cutting sugar was HARD. The first few days it SUCKED. It seemed my headaches were worse, and on top of that I felt light headed and cranky all the time. It was hard the first time, and again the second, and yes, the third time even. But I kept working at it, kept going back “on plan” until it became more normal. Learning to instill discipline in an area I had vowed to myself to “be free”. What I learned in the end is that sugar was not my friend.

And trust me, it doesn’t suck forever. This too shall pass!

It took me a few times of committing to cutting sugar out of my life. The first few times I barely made it past the first week. But an amazing thing happened after I got past the initial crankiness of withdraw headaches and sugar-craving attacks. After just a few weeks of no sugar, and less than 50 carbs a day, I was sleeping through the night, less irritable during the day, and virtually headache free. Months later, I couldn’t remember why I loved sugar so much in the first place.

Photo by silviarita

Loving the Low Carb Life!

Of course going low carb isn’t a cure-all for everything that ails us, but it helped IMMENSELY in so many areas that I wouldn’t go back to those sugar-fueled days for anything. I still get the occasional migraine, lack of sugar doesn’t heal nerve damage or broken bones. But I can say my overall health is much better. I feel and look younger at 40 than I did at 30, and I feel great more days than not.

I’m continuing on this sugar-free journey, but learning to do it my way. By bringing more healthy fats (gasp) into my life, adding more leafy greens and less rice and pastas. I still have my coffee every morning but now its enhanced with MCT oil and sugar-free caramel. Those lovely freshly-baked blueberry muffins are not off limits, they just need to be made at home with low-carb ingredients instead of from the chain coffee shops.

I am thankful today for all the Keto and Gluten-Free chefs out there who experimented with different ingredients like almond and coconut flours and shared with the world all the happiness there can be in a sugar-free / low-carb world. My stomach is full and satisfied, but my mind and body is healthier than ever!

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