I grew up thinking I was weak and undisciplined because I couldn’t stop myself from eating all the junk food I had access to. I grew up eating the Standard American Diet – burgers, pizza, pasta, animal-protein every meal with a side of carbs and maybe a veggie garnish. I drank soda, chocolate milk, juices, and syrupy coffee and tea beverages. I was emotionally addicted to ice cream and chocolate, and ate a ton of cake, cookies, pie, doughnuts, cheesecakes, yogurts, puddings, and other sweets. And cheese. I still have a hard time staying away from cheese, even though it makes me literally sick.
During my first pregnancy, I had to change how I ate and monitor my blood sugar levels to protect my baby and my birth. While pregnant, I had to write down every single thing I ate and drank as well as my blood sugar levels two hours after each meal and first thing in the morning before eating. This gave me immediate feedback, and I learned surprising things about how my body handled or didn’t handle carbs. I also tracked my daily walks and saw the exercise bring down my blood sugar levels. I had my beautiful, amazing, painless home birth…and that very night started eating sugar again, because I’d only stopped to protect my baby. At that point in my life, I didn’t care what sugar did to me because I did not understand how sugar affected my mood, energy, ability to focus, or amount of willpower.
Even the first time I went vegan, it was not a choice, not out of concern for my health or a desire to save the planet and reduce animal suffering – I went vegan because animal products gave me stomach flu symptoms for over a year following a bout of food poisoning. Quitting meat and dairy was not a feat of willpower, but something I had to do. It was actually fun, because I’d always wanted to learn how to cook but put it off as something I’d do “when I had time.” Everything else seemed more important, since I could easily buy prepackaged meals, order delivery or takeout, or visit a drive through.
After the food poisoning, I had to change what I ate and where my food came from. There are very few vegan fast food options, so I had to cook almost everything I ate. I studied nutrition, developed cooking skills, and learned how to make vegan versions of all my favorite foods, especially sweets. I learned how to make healthy food taste amazing to omnivores as well as to my own changing taste buds. And my tastes did change. Every few months I would taste cheese, or meat, to see if they still made me sick. They did. And they also tasted nasty. Cheeses tasted like salty wax. The smell of meat made me gag. Eggs smelled like farts. Bleh.
That was 2011. Over the last five years, I’ve learned gluten-free vegan baking and raw food un-cooking skills. I’ve learned a ton about nutrition, and about how food affects my mood and energy levels. I’ve collected tools that help me quickly prepare delicious, nutritious food and treats. I discovered the work of Kathleen DeMaisons and learned what it means to be sugar sensitive and a sugar addict. I began to understand that willpower is powered by biochemistry, and sugar – refined sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, processed crap – screws up our biochemistry. (Her website is www.radiantrecovery.com, and checking it out could help you understand people better. You may find that you are sugar-sensitive too, or that you know people who are.)
So when I got my lab results and learned that they are consistent with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I already had all the knowledge, skills, and resources I needed to quit, cold turkey, just like Dr. DeMaisons says not to do.
The first few days were difficult. I was moody, irritable, constantly hungry and tired, and kept getting headaches. I watched documentaries on Netflix to help me stay motivated. I highly recommend that everyone watch Fed Up and Forks Over Knives. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 1 & 2 were also good for me. (For people who want to cut back on their consumption of animal proteins and fats, I recommend Forks Over Knives and Vegucated. Vegucated was the hardest to watch, so be warned if you have lots of empathy.)
By the fourth day, I was feeling much better, and the cravings for sweets and carb-heavy dishes were nearly gone. By the fifth day I had both physical and mental energy, my mood was steady, the headaches, hunger, and irritability were gone.
By the end of the second week, I felt awesome. My skin glowed. I no longer craved sweets or junk food. I had so much energy and motivation to cross things off my massive to-do list, some things that had been on there for a year! I was overcome with the urge to clean and organize my home. I organized my garage, part of my kitchen, cleaned my room, washed every dirty piece of cloth in the house and garage, scrubbed my bathroom, and cleaned the main part of my house so it looked nice before my roommate got home from Christmas travel.
In the third week, I had a diet soda, which was immediately followed by a migraine that lasted about eight hours. No more diet soda for me.
I had pizza for dinner on New Year’s Eve, because I didn’t feel like cooking and a friend of mi_ne died a couple days before, triggering the craving. The craving was not overwhelming. I could have resisted, but I wanted to see what would happen. It was not vegan pizza, so it gave my tummy issues, as I knew it would. Otherwise, I was unaffected. I enjoyed it that night and the next day I was fine. I did not suddenly crave sugar and crap again. My willpower stayed strong, and it was still easy to choose to eat clean. I proved to myself that I can indulge once in a while without losing control of myself. (I wrote more about the empowering effects of this change here.
During the first couple of weeks, I posted to Facebook for accountability and encouragement. I copied all of those statuses here:
December 15, 2015 at 11:45am ·
Quitting sugar cold turkey today. Pray for me and my family. It's only been 16 hours and I’m already moody and weepy with a headache.
December 16, 2015 at 8:30pm ·
Re-watched Forks Over Knives to help me stay motivated. I think this is the first time I watched it since 2011, when I first adopted a whole food plant-based diet. I could have stuck with it if I hadn't taken up eating ice cream again. Now I have raw food dessert uncook-books and an ice cream making machine. And a Vitamix. So it should be easier.
December 17, 2015 at 4:48pm ·
Sugar-free, Day 3: Irritable, fatigued, starting to get another headache. But the hunger hasn't been as bad. Actually, all of those things have been better today than they were yesterday. Hopefully, I'm through the worst.
December 18, 2015 at 12:39pm ·
Day 4 sugar-free - less hungry, less fatigued, less headachy, down 7 pounds.
December 19, 2015 at 4:19pm ·
Day 5 Sugar-free started with emotional trauma, and I thought about chocolate, but it was more out of habit than genuine craving. It was easy to resist. I feel less fatigued, not at all irritable, and I realized that yesterday and today I've needed to remind myself to eat. The hunger pangs, when they happen, don't last long, and if I'm involved in something, it's easy to forget to eat. I think the sugar is out of my system. Now I just have to be careful not to let it back in.
December 20, 2015 at 3:49pm ·
Day 6 sugar-free. Took a 40 minute walk, a third of it up an incline. Not grumpy, not craving anything, have to remind myself to eat. Made oatmeal raisin cookies and chai scones for Keith and chocolate chip cookies for Aiden from the Forks Over Knives cookbook, which means first I made oat flour, then hemp milk, and then I made almond butter in my Vitamix to use in the recipes. No problem resisting the habit of tasting the batter or finished product. Yay! Also, willingly ate and chewed (shitake) mushrooms today, enjoying them for the first time in my life.
December 22, 2015 at 10:21pm ·
Sugar-free day 8: I did not feel like eating today. My stomach was grumbling at me, but nothing seemed appealing. I decided to make myself a bowl of spicy black bean soup, and that was yummy and held me over until the feast at 8:30 that followed the beautiful solstice ritual at Johnson manor. The only sweet I ate was a date stuffed with a walnut. The only sugar that really tempted me was the red velvet cake, which was my mother's favorite. I used to eat it in her honor, but now I'll just smile at it and walk away instead. Moods still steady, impulse-control still good.
December 23, 2015 at 3:10pm ·
Sugar-free home cooked vegan - day 9: feeling great! My blood sugar just tested at 108 - which is healthy and the lowest it's tested all year! Have to remind myself to eat. Today all I want is soup. Also dropped 9 pounds since I started. Dropping about half a pound a day now.
December 24, 2015 at 8:52pm ·
After today, I will post about being sugar-free weekly instead of daily.
Sugar-free day 10: thanks to the wonderful Britt and Kisha, Aiden and I spent today at Sea World. I brought my own food, mostly raw vegan stuff, and mostly stuck to it. Except Aiden begged me for French fries all day, and after I finally bought them for him, he only ate about a quarter of them.
In hindsight, I should have tossed them. I didn't want them, but I have a thing about wasting food, especially overpriced food. I didn't want to throw away $5, so I ate them. I probably shouldn't worry about it, I probably burned them off with all the walking and stairs and carrying his 46 pounds when he was tired.
Mood has been stable, I was able to smell candy and ice cream without salivating for them, and I am exhausted now but I don't think it's food related. Oh, and I was down another pound this morning, which was a nice start to the day.
December 26, 2015 at 10:31am ·
We had a great day with my siblings and their partners, and had the healthiest Christmas feast we've ever had, which was unintended but awesome! I have met my first weight loss goal as of this morning - not many people get to say that the day after Christmas! Lol
Aiden and I were so wired we barely slept last night. Looking forward to meeting my high school friends for lunch this afternoon. Followed by a nap, I hope.
January 8 at 8:21pm ·
Since I quit sugar, I no longer crave chocolate. I don't even want it when it's in my hand. Aiden is happy about this. More chocolate for him...lol
If you are ready to give clean eating a try, here are some ideas about how to set yourself up for success:
- Try keeping a food journal. Write down everything you eat without judgment. Just write it down with little notes about how you feel, where you are, what’s going on, so you have some data to work with. This will help you determine where you most need support.
- Try switching to whole grains, a meal at a time. Eat brown rice instead of white. Try using whole wheat flour, or the flour of other whole grains, in your baking. Eat rolled oats instead of instant oatmeal.
- Get the Forks Over Knives cookbook, even if you have no intention of going vegan. You can always add meat and dairy to the recipes if you want. Try the recipes that appeal to you – they are all clean eating, and the book has lots of great information and ideas in it.
- Watch all the documentaries that appeal to you. DEFINITELY watch Fed Up. After you get started, watch them again to help you stay motivated.
- Once you get started, keep the tempting foods out of your home, or at the very least, out of plain sight. Load up on tons of foods you love that are not junk, and whenever you have a craving, stuff yourself with the foods you love that are not junk. For the first four days, do not give into the cravings. The cravings will fade more every day – keep that in mind.
- Keep clean food with you so you are less tempted when you are out. The first week especially, keep yourself full of clean food. To the point of discomfort if that’s what it takes.
- Drink at least a gallon of water a day the first week. Or as much water as you can stomach. Your body will need extra water to flush out the crap, and the water will help in several other ways. Staying hydrated is important. You might want to develop a habit of keeping hydrated before you try eliminating crap foods.
- Ask for support – not just accountability, but encouragement, and practical support. Like people not offering your sweets or sweet drinks at work or when you socialize. Like your family hiding their crap food if they aren’t going to quit with you, so that you are not constantly tempted. Sugar addiction is as powerful as alcoholism (in fact, they are related. Check out www.radiantrecovery.com ) You don’t tempt recovering alcoholics with obvious and easily accessible liquor, so don’t tempt recovering sugar addicts with obvious and easily accessible crap foods.