Sugar: A Social Drug – The Detox Begins

file000902066316My dear friend since childhood lovingly called me a health diva the other day when I told her I am trying to eliminate sugar from my diet. It seemed ridiculous even to me, considering anyone who has shared a meal with me knows I eat like a saint, but after my last doctor’s appointment I realised I had little choice.

My doctor calmly asked me “what is going on?” The amazing progress I had made with my adrenals and thyroid when I had seen her three months previous took a turn for the worst when I saw her at the end of June. My blood sugar was low (which is in fact caused by too much sugar which causes blood sugar spikes, followed by crashes as well as insulin resistance), my blood pressure was frighteningly low and my hormone levels were way off again.

Three months earlier we were both so thrilled that I had made substantial progress after so many improvements and then one long plateau. The healing journey is not for the faint of heart. What most people don’t know is that sugar is toxic for the adrenals and thyroid. While most of us can get away with it for a time, anyone with adrenals or a thyroid that is already compromised is playing with fire with every added teaspoon of sugar they consume. When I had made the amazing progress three months ago I had almost completely avoided sugar for four months. I had made the odd batch of gluten free muffins and pancakes taken from Diane Sanfilippo’s cookbook ‘The 21 Day Sugar Detox”  which only uses honey or maple syrup as a sweetener.

Then something happened which most can relate to. I started having a sliver of cake or pie at birthday parties or outings. I felt okay and within weeks I started allowing myself to eat a slice of cake saying to myself “everyone else can do it, why can’t I?” and “I felt not too bad last time.” A few weeks later I was eating three slices of cake at my parent’s house—it was gluten free after all. I had sworn off chocolate for over a year since chocolate and caffeine are kryptonite for fibrocystic breast. In the past year my lump had almost completely disappeared. Then I started saying “why not?” to chocolate as well and not surprisingly within a month my lump had returned. After all it was just one piece, then two, then three and well, you know how it goes.

My number one rule with eating is that the single worst thing you can do is to feel guilty or ashamed of your eating habits because that then leads to the What’s the Point? Diet.. Never judge yourself or anyone else’s dietary choices. We’re all in this together. If eating was a religion, I would believe “Let he who has no indulgences, point the first finger”.

I believe in the Practice-Not-Perfection-Diet. Nevertheless, I went down that path myself recently. Even though I was eating my regular clean breakfasts, lunches and dinners I was constantly snacking on treats that I knew were not in the best interest of my health. The way I justified it was that the treats I was choosing were way healthier than what most people were eating and if they can eat that, then I should be able to eat this. Sometimes I start to believe what some people tell me from time to time—‘that it’s all in my head’. I got away with believing this for a time. Then I started feeling the effects; my IBS was back as was extreme fatigue, muscle and joint aches, dizzy spells, anxiety and worst of all the hypoglycemia (pre-cursor to diabetes).

Sugar is insidious. Research is finding that not only does sugar mean more calories—it is in fact poison. I know. Now you’re thinking I’ve just switched hats from health diva to health drama queen. But it’s true. Sugar suppresses your immune system, robs your body of minerals and vitamins, wreaks havoc with your hormones, causes everything from mood swings to mood disorders and makes saturated fat turn into high cholesterol (to learn how eggs, butter and animal protein is good for you read: ‘The Good – Saturated Fats’ ). More importantly, sugar is also highly addictive. In his recent study Dr. Leri, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph, found that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Are you surprised now why it is so hard to say no after one cookie? Stop beating yourself up that you don’t have enough willpower. It’s not about willpower–it’s about being addicted to sugar.

Sugar is insidious not just because one bite turns into twenty and that it is highly physically addictive, but sugar is a huge part of our culture. It is everywhere and in everything. It is present at almost every event, social gathering or meeting. After alcohol, it is the ultimate bonding experience. So when you can’t or choose not to eat sugar, it can be a subtle, but clear social insult. It seems that to reject sugar, is for many people, to reject them. Just as no one wants to be left out of the rituals and bonding experiences of their culture by declining dessert, no one wants to be rejected or feel judged by the health-righteous foodist, who declines dessert.

One does not have to be off sugar long to learn just how taboo it can be to regularly turn down dessert or a piece of chocolate that is being offered in friendship. Accepting any gift is rewarding not only for the receiver but for the giver. Every person who has food intolerances or a specialized diet knows the rejected look or insulted ‘vibe’ of someone whose dessert or treat was just declined. Of course there are many people who don’t bat so much as an eyelash, but there are those who unfortunately take it personally. This is the last feeling we want to leave anyone with who is offering something in friendship and goodwill.

I can’t speak for others, but I know for myself that I am never judging someone who eats two slices of cake or a poutine for lunch (that used to be me actually!!) In fact, I am envious that they can eat the delicious social and comfort foods without feeling sick.

The truth is that I want to be normal. I want to be able to eat pizza and cake with everyone else and not feel like the food freak or that I am insulting the person who took the time to bake the cake when I decline. I want to be able to eat just one serving of dessert and not have it affect me for days after. I want to be able to decline the dessert, even if it’s just a small piece of chocolate and at the same time I don’t want to insult anyone, but I also don’t want to be that annoying person who feels they have to  justify or explain all their ‘quirky’ health issues every time they turn down food.

When I don’t eat sugar I don’t miss it once the initial cravings subside. I have more energy, less aches and pains, a stable mood and I sleep incredibly well. I like to do things quietly in my life; I want to quit sugar quietly as well (except on this blog of course…) without insulting anyone and without the ‘isn’t that a bit hardcore or over the top?’ remarks. So to my improved health—the sugar detox begins.

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