Freedom from Sugar

Six or seven years ago I was three days into a pretty arduous juice cleanse when I broke down and decided to “give in” to a seriously ravenous sugar craving. I sliced the last half of the pink lady apple I had in my fridge into thirds, grabbed a paper towel, and plopped down onto my bed to stare up at the ceiling as I savored every crisp sweet bite. That’s when my body reacted in a way I had never experienced before. As soon as the firm white flesh of that apple hit my tongue, my entire mouth filled with saliva. All it took was that one bite for the receptors to SCREAM: It’s here, the sugar is here, we got it!

This reaction, together with what I thought were inexplicable mood swings, served to convince me that I needed a permanent change in my relationship with sugar. For years before that I had been following an “everything in moderation” approach, which I thought was working for me. That was until I returned home from the gym one night, made my dinner, and just about had a panic attack when I realized the few squares of dark chocolate I thought I had stashed in the door of the fridge were gone. I must have finished the bar the night before. It was late. Probably 10pm. I had to be up at 5 for work. It would be ridiculous to leave the house again. But I felt like I might have to. I grew antsy and frustrated, even a little angry. I tore my tiny studio apart, desperate for something that would satisfy my sweet tooth. Finally, in a last-ditch effort, I dug my hand into the front pocket of an old backpack I used to use for work but hadn’t carried for months. I felt plastic! I clutched the smooth wrapping between my fingers and excitedly lifted my savior from the bag: a Kind Bar. It wasn’t a chocolate dipped one, but it’d do. I quickly tore off the wrapper and devoured it in three bites. A sense of relief came over me that was all too familiar.

As an alcoholic, there’s a sort of soothing that comes when that first drink of the night (or day, let’s be real) hits your lips. While I used to look forward to this feeling when I was drinking, it’s become more unwelcome since I’ve been sober for a while. I generally don’t want to need substances to make me feel a certain way, or even just okay.

Since recognizing the type of power sugar had over me all those years ago, it’s role in my life has changed dramatically. While “moderation” for one person might mean a bit of chocolate everyday, for me it means sweet treats are relegated to the weekend and holidays or special occasions. There are sweets around our office all the time. Literally every day. I see my co-workers debating with themselves with each new plate of cookies: Should I be good today? I didn’t have any of the cake yesterday so I can have a half a donut today, right? For me eliminating weekdays from the equation allows me to escape that debate in my head. It also allows me to not sound totally obnoxious when I constantly turn down treats. Saying I don’t eat sugar on the weekdays feels far more realistic and reasonable to people than saying I don’t eat it at all. And–it’s true! There’s no way I could or would live a completely sugar-free life. I love food too much and there’s just so much deliciousness to experience in the world!

When the holidays come around my weekday rule goes right out the window. I let myself indulge and agree to deal with the consequences later. I’ll admit as I get older, my binges get less and less exciting. There was a time where I’d go nuts and eat several donuts in one sitting (second time I’ve mentioned donuts, this is no accident) or I’d devour three or four of these delicious scratch-made dark chocolate peanut butter cups that they sell at the Whole Foods in my hometown. Nowadays though, my body is just not as well adapted to handle the big rushes of sugar. I feel sluggish, groggy, even nauseous at times. My hubs and I notice that after a few days of overdoing it on the sugar our moods are collectively diminished; we both start to feel kind of down and it usually takes us a minute to realize what the deal is. This past holiday we tried to keep a balance of not making ourselves sick, but still feeling free to celebrate with foods we love. After all, what’s Christmas without a few sugar cookies?

When you get sober and you’re in the early days, people tell you all the time: You never have to feel this way again if you don’t want to. They mean that you never again have to go through the hell that is early sobriety; relapse is not a requirement. You can stay, and do the work, and get better, and not have to feel all those excruciating feelings a second time. You have to go through a bit of pain to get past those tough early days, but you’re all the better for it when you come out on the other side.

I think changing our relationship with sugar is very similar. I know a lot of people who think they are lost causes–they drink soda, put sugar in their coffee, need a sweet bite after every meal; they’re convinced the stuff’s got em’ for good. But the truth is, if you can commit to two weeks or so of some serious detoxing–i.e. pain–you can break the cycle. Just like sobriety does not mean one is clenching their teeth for the rest of their life, living without daily sugar does not have to feel like a sacrifice.

I don’t believe in diets. I’m not afraid of fat, I don’t count calories, and I can’t subscribe to a way of eating that I can’t maintain on a regular basis. I have no desire to live on willpower. That’s what people in my office always think I’m doing when I pass on the donuts. They think I’m “strong”. The truth is, it has very little to do with strength or restraint. I actually have no desire for the donuts. Just like yeast, sugar fights to stay alive in our bodies–hence the cravings. If we give in to those cravings, they’ll stay alive, they will always be there. BUT-if we can employ willpower just temporarily, we can shut down the sugar-mill operating inside of us and halt that constant desire for something sweet.

I’ve found the easiest way for me to get back on track is to do a cleanse. Only I don’t put myself through that crazy juice cleanse I was describing to you earlier. I think the only way I would go back to an all juice deal is if I had the money to do a wellness retreat at a spa where you cleanse and get massages everyday and meditate. In my mind, that’s the only environment where that type of detoxing would really be beneficial. Give me three days of nothing but green juice and the stress of daily life and you’ll find me in a closet with a cheeseburger on the fourth day for sure.

This past week I finished two weeks of this cleanse . It’s nothing crazy, it’s shakes, supplements, and two clean meals a day. I’m almost never one to promote brands on my blog and that’s not really what I’m trying to do here. I just wanted to share something that helps me hit the reset button about every six months and allows me to live happily with very limited sugar. Lots of my blogger friends have communicated a struggle with this, especially after the holiday. If you’re like me and you realize that your sweets in “moderation” are sweets you have to have, and you don’t like that feeling, a cleanse might help you get out of that cycle. I find this plan especially useful because it can aid in identifying allergies and problem foods. I have more than one friend whose done this cleanse and stopped eating dairy after they realized how much better they felt after two weeks without it.

Obviously diet is super personal to each person. I don’t have a perfect body or a perfect eating plan. I’m not a health pro and I don’t pretend to be–all of this is just my experience, not advice. That being said, I love food, I love eating, and I love health and nutrition. After spending most of my youth gripped by eating disorders and much of my young adulthood trying to get skinny in a “healthy” way, feeling this good about food has not come easily and I feel compelled to share my progress when it feels appropriate. I thought I’d chime in now when lots of people might be struggling through resolution diets. There are ways of eating that don’t leave you longing and feeling deprived. 


How about you? Have you done a cleanse you felt was helpful in resetting your eating patterns? Do you diet? Do diets make you tired? How do you feel about your relationship with sugar? Have you ever tried to get off of it and realized you were more addicted than you initially thought? I LOVE to hear from you!









header: anda ambrosini