Refined sugar has probably been the most challenging food I deal with, even after spending the past two and a half years focusing on eating more nourishing foods. I definitely have a sweet tooth, and always have. I love cookies, caramels, cakes, and ice cream; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like sweets. When I was a little girl and into my early 20s, it seemed like I could eat sugary treats with no limit.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of the affects food has on me. Sugar is the most distinctive and has the strongest physical effect on me, even moreso than white flour.
From time to time I get up the gumption to eliminate refined sugar from my diet. Every single time, I feel better when I get rid of the sugar – I’m calmer and less quick to judge on things, I can concentrate better, I’m more balanced emotionally, and my skin and hair quality improves. I also lose weight. Results are 100% positive.
So, why do I always return to eating sugar? Well, it tastes good, for one. Sugar is also said to have addictive qualities, but I’m not completely convinced on that one (at least compared to addictions like tobacco and heroin). Sugary treats are also a big part of our social traditions – celebration cakes, ice cream in the summer, cookies with milk after school. And I appreciate the skill and tradition behind the pastry arts.
My biggest challenge is handling my desire for something made with sugar with the knowledge of how it negatively effects my body when I eat it. I tend to “conveniently forget” how I feel after I eat it, and down the hatch it goes. Yet at the same time, I have learned that complete denial of anything sweet is a recipe for disaster for me.
One solution to “having my sweets and eating them, too” (aka balance) is to eat things made of unrefined sugars. My body tolerates these sweeteners far better than it does refined sugar, in part because when I eat unrefined sugars, I ingest them in much smaller quantities than I would with a refined sugar.
And I think the quantity is important. Maple syrup, white sugar, honey – they’re all sugar on a basic level and have effects on the body. Whole fruit is fortunate to have its sugars combined with fiber, which helps slow down the absorption.
For me, unrefined sweeteners include maple syrup and honey (usually raw, sometimes not). Sucanat (sugar cane natural) and coconut sugar are pushing it a little bit further to the edge of my body’s comfort level, but in small amounts they are ok. Still, I find that Sucanat has a slight bitter aftertaste, so I have shyed away from it in the past.
Another option I’ve found is carob, which is naturally sweet. I know a lot of people don’t care for it, but I think the key is not thinking about it as a chocolate or cocoa replacement. It’s flavor is much earthier and less sophisticated, but I love it.
Then of course there is fruit, which is naturally sweet and completely unprocessed if eaten out of hand. When fruit is ripe and in season, though, there’s nothing better.
As I’ve learned from Shauna, the Gluten Free Girl, after learning it would be wise to cut certain foods out of one’s diet, focusing on what you can eat is not just preferable, it’s freeing. Obsessing on denial and what I can’t have deflates me and brings me down, making me generally miserable. So why not embrace what sweet things I can eat, that plays well with my body? As I mentioned above, fruit in season is wonderful – and I have a fruit share with my CSA to provide me with seasonal fruit. It’s going to be amazing.
In her words, “say yes”. I love what she says in her recent post, How to Live Gluten Free:
This is your life. This is your body. This is your new reality. If you wake up and decide you’re going to love it (you have no idea how much better you are going to feel without the gluten), then you will.
Accept it. Shout about it with those string of expletives if you want. Allow yourself to grieve. But do that all with clear eyes. This is your life. Accept it.
For me, I replace “gluten” with “sugar” and it’s completely applicable to my life. Although, I already know how much better I feel without the sugar. It’s remarkable.
So, I’ll be focusing on the can instead of the can’t. When it comes to social events, I’ll take each one on a case by case basis. If a friend of family member has lovingly prepared something sweet for me, especially if we are in a celebratory mood, I’ll likely take a small taste (and refuse to feel guilty about it), and be grateful for that’s person’s efforts to honor someone in my community.
For me, it’s all about feeling good and respecting my body, while finding balance. And it’s a journey; I look forward to navigating these next steps.
For further reading: Is Sugar Toxic? by Gary Taubes [NY Times]