My name is Heather, and I’m a sugar addict. Actually, I have a propensity to become addicted to many things: exercise, productivity, losing weight, coffee, chocolate, sleep, cereal, diet soda…the list goes on if I don’t keep things in check. However, sugar is my biggest challenge.
As I have aged, my body has become less forgiving of my food indulgences. It takes much longer to “undo” poor choices. Maddening and unfair!
The truth is that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet, no matter how old you are. Your body just holds a grudge longer when you are older. Truthfully, foods like sugar fuel this grudge and cause big health problems. I wish this weren’t the case, believe me.
Every January I set out to see how long I can keep sugar out of my diet, mostly in the form of desserts and processed simple carbs (i.e., breads, pastries, cakes, cookies, etc.) I take a zero tolerance approach, because as I shared earlier, I’m an addict; I can’t eat just a little. This post shows you how the concept of moderation with sugar works for me –it’s not pretty. In 2017, I made it over 180 days –roughly 6 months. I documented what happened during that time and here are some highlights…
- The first 2 weeks were the toughest, especially coming out of the Christmas season. I definitely had to get all of the temptation OUT of my house. It wasn’t a good time to try to gut it out in the midst of tempting foods –a recipe for failure.
- Moods evened out and PMS-related symptoms (irritability, anxiety, depression, bloating) significantly decreased.
- Less grumpy. Enough said! Sugar makes me grumpy but I didn’t realize it until I removed it. I always joke that it’s a “happy now, sad later” scenario: feels good going down and then later I’m a hot mess, full of chagrin and regret because I feel like poo.
- Improved muscle tone and loss of inches around the waist and hips. This is because eating sugar increases insulin. When insulin levels are elevated, our bodies store fat –up to 72 hours after eating it! Keeping insulin in check allows the body to burn fat. Other foods, like simple carbs, can achieve the same insulin response in the body, which is why “low carb” diets tend to be effective.
- Improved blood sugar, as measured by A1C – went from 5.4 down to 5.3. Under 5.6 is considered “normal,” but I start to get concerned if mine gets to 5.5. Honestly, I’d love to see it closer to 5.0 because I have a family history of diabetes.
- HDL Cholesterol (good) went from 77 to 91. HDL is cardio-protective, so it’s beneficial for this number to be higher. Some references suggest that over 39 is optimal, while others raise the bottom of the healthy range to 50.
- LDL Cholesterol (bad) went from 152 to 114, which is ALMOST in the optimal range, below 100. This was so cool because I have a gene that makes my body more susceptible to having high LDL cholesterol. I outsmarted my genes!
In addition to cutting sugar, I made sure that I was eating a source (1/4 cup plus 3-4 teaspoons) of healthy fat every day. Excellent sources are: avocados, salmon, eggs, nuts (especially walnuts), seeds (especially flaxseed, chia, sunflower), dark chocolate (85% cacao or higher), olives and olive oil, unsweetened coconut and coconut oil. It’s highly likely that my lipid profile improvements resulted from both cutting sugar and consuming healthy fats.
Am I telling you that YOU have to develop a zero tolerance approach to sugar? Nope. I often use myself as a guinea pig and share my observations. I will say that if you are an addict like me, and approaching sugar in moderation doesn’t work for you, it might be time to try an experiment of your own. AND, if you have a tendency towards a high LDL/low HDL profile, this could be extremely beneficial to your health. If you decide to experiment, I encourage you to track your weight and waist/hip measurements, track your moods, and get before/after lab work done.
After my experiment, I ate sugar here and there, but found that I craved it much less. Naturally, it snuck back in during the holidays and here I am at the beginning of 2018, choosing to cut it out again. I’m not perfect, but I’ve learned a lot about my body and what feels best for me.
I’d love to hear from you if you are trying to cut sugar. Does moderation work for you or are you an addict like me?