HEALTH
Inspiration from Meghan

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Being Sugar-Free: One Year and Counting

 

Have you ever heard of the boiling frog metaphor? The story goes that if you put a frog straight into boiling water, it will reflexively hop back out. But if you put that same frog into regular water and slowly raise the temperature, it doesn't notice that's it slowly being cooked to death. A bit much of a visual, I know, but stay with me because that very same thing applies to our health.

If we went from feeling awesome today to feeling absolutely terrible tomorrow, we'd notice. But if we go from feeling good to a little less than good, to mediocre, to meh, to not so good, you'd likely wake up one day and say, My gosh! How did this happen? I used to feel so great/energized/fit/well/happy/inspired, etc. You'd feel like the degeneration just snuck up on you. This is how most of us operate. And usually, we wait until we hit a crisis point before we take action.

It happens without us even realizing it; reinforcing habits in our lives that day-by-day, week-by-week, and eventually year-by-year diminish our health and happiness. We become the frogs slowly boiling to death. Harsh, maybe, but it's true.

Bad habits, and with it degenerating health, tends to sneak up on us. Last year, I felt it sneaking up on me ever so slightly and it didn't feel good.

I live what I share here through and through. The challenge for me was that the little indulgences like some dark chocolate, a glass of wine, or a homemade cookie, well, all of it was becoming more frequent than I was happy about and combined with a lack of regular exercise and inconsistent sleep patterns since having my son, I was starting to feel tired a lot of the time.

For me, that was all it took. I learned my big lesson when I got sick with Crohn's in 2006. I knew the path of depletion in my body and didn't want to land there again. My increase in fatigue increased my sugar cravings, which increased my anxiety, which further impacted my sleep and thus the perfect storm for degeneration.

I was at my breaking point in March of last year when I resolved to turn the tides, and I feel inspired to share my experience with you. Yes, I live a healthful life, but I don't take it for granted. I am never coasting. Quality of life is at the core of all of my decisions and when my health falters, I am unable to experience life at its fullest potential.

I don't have any dramatic before and after photos for you. I don't have measurements. You better believe I am not posing in my underwear under overhead lighting and taking pictures from every angle. For me, this has always been about how I feel.

Consistent lifestyle shifts do not require drama – it can't. Consistency is the opposite of aggressive dramatic results because it's subtle and it's ongoing. There is never an after because we just keep evolving and doing our best ongoing.

The Simple Change: I Cut Out Sugar And Started Exercising consistently

That was basically it. I cut out sugar. Not just cane sugar (which is mostly a fancy word for white sugar) but also honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and whatever other sugar you may ask me about. I also didn't replace the sugars with the zero calorie or zero blood sugar effect alternatives like monk fruit, xylitol, erythritol, stevia, or whatever other one you can think of.

I cut it all out, cold turkey. Just. Like. That. And the same day, I committed to starting 30 minutes of exercise a day, minimum 4 days a week. That was it.

For years, long before having my son and after, I struggled with the best ways to stay active as my life got fuller and fuller. Sure, I knew how absolutely vital being active was to my physical health (and I learned to embrace and love my body long ago) – but more so, or more acutely, to my mental health.

When I reached my breaking point a little over a year ago, I hadn't been working out regularly for two years since having my son, hadn't been sleeping well, the special treats became daily treats. And then vanity kicked in, too. Why is that always what kicks us the hardest? I was starting to do something I hadn't done in my adult life: the depleting habit of picking apart my body in photos: my shoulders, my belly, the way my face looked from a certain angle. It was rather confronting.

Of course, I also knew but could not separate from the fact that when we don't feel great on the inside, it's easier to pick apart the outside than do the harder work of getting to the root of it.

I knew I needed to make some changes and also knew that it couldn't be some dramatic and complicated process. I needed to exercise and cut the sugar. Done.

And so with my own simple desire to feel well as my cheerleader, I did two things.

  1. I signed up for a 7-day free trial of OBE which I am still hooked on. (Code MEGHAN30 will get you 30% off your first month if you stay beyond your free trial week)
  2. I elected to follow my 7-day No Sugar Challenge guidelines – no added sweeteners of any kind, no alcohol, coffee or chocolate, no dried fruit, and limited grain intake.

I started by committing to these two things for a week. That was my only promise to myself. But then something I hadn't expected happened. I didn't stop.

I committed to that first week of working out and did five workouts. And then I kept going. I did four or five workouts the next week and the next and the next. I kept the sugar out of my life, my anxiety decreased, my sleep improved and within a couple of weeks, I felt physical and mental changes inside and outside.

I Lost The Taste For Sugar

Now this is the craziest thing of all. I haven't had any refined sugar in a decade or so. It's unpalatable to me. I tell people this all the time – that as we move towards a more whole and natural diet, our tastes will change. What I hadn't expected with this recent shift in my own health was for my tastes to continue to evolve.

I no longer crave sweets of any kind, and more than that, I don't actually like them like I used to. Now, I am not strict on this. I've had some homemade fruit crumble, will have a small taste of a muffin or ice cream that I make for the boys in my house, but that's basically it. I have no cravings for dessert, chocolate, or even adding any kind of sweetener to my elixir. I have lowered my set point for sweetness to the point where a few slices of fruit do the trick.

The thing here is that I also don't feel deprived. If I really wanted it, I'm sure I would have it. But I just don't. That's the truth of it.

When You Eliminate The Negotiation With YourSelf, It All Becomes Effortless

Okay, at first it wasn't easy at all (and I've been through a few dietary changes in my life). I was putting in place a lot of new habits. I have long lived by guidelines that ensure healthy living remains effortless. One of the keys is that I make a decision and that is it. I went gluten-free and didn't waver. And this time, I cut out sugar and that was it. Decision made.

If you take the approach of trying your best to eliminate gluten, or dairy, or sugar, or alcohol, or whatever it is you know you need to kick, you are setting yourself up for ongoing stress and struggle. But if you make the decision that this thing – fill in your blank – is simply no longer an option, you force that negotiation to stop. It's no longer a question of 'well, maybe just this once'. It's a simple 'no thank-you'. No decisions to make, no guilt, no feeling lousy the next day for indulging in something that makes you feel lousy. Maybe most importantly, no energy and stress wasted on self-defeating negotiations.

It's Hard to Let Go, But It's Harder To Feel Lousy

I have made a lifetime's worth of diet and lifestyle modifications over the last 16 years since I first experienced the early symptoms of Crohn's. Some have been effortless, some have seemed unfathomable. It's a process.

Let it be a process of learning, experiencing and trying things. Remember – we're not aiming for the aggressive and dramatic here. We're certainly not aiming for some perfect version of health. We want it to be easy, consistent and sustainable.

One of the things people will often say is, "But I love ice cream" or "I could never give up wine".  What if consuming those things that gave you really bad indigestion or triggered a migraine or caused body pain, mood instability, or interfered with your optimal quality of life in any way was also building disease in the body? Once? No big deal. Ongoing? The little deal could become a big deal. Frog in the water.

What if you realized that those symptoms, the result of consuming things, doing things, engaging with certain people, whatever it is that excites some part of you in the moment, was ultimately pushing you down the slope of health, and degrading your well-being with repetition? Symptoms are your body's way of saying something isn't working right. Repeating the behaviour that triggers that response cultivates the potential for a domino cascade of health problems. This, in essence, is what builds degenerative disease. This is the frog slowly being boiled in that pot of water. It's not overnight. It's gradual. Diseases that are preventable by diet and lifestyle are the greatest threat to our longevity and quality of life.

This transition for me, the latest of many I have taken on, has invited me to experience many benefits. The most important for me however is the mental and emotional shift. I feel stronger, and more mentally resilient. I feel freed from the fog of lethargy that had plagued me since having my son in 2017. I am making bigger changes in my life and at work. Most notably, I feel better than I did a year ago. I have effectively halted and potentially reversed that degeneration process. And what was once an overwhelming undertaking, one more challenge to tackle, has truly become effortless.

16 Responses to “Being Sugar-Free: One Year and Counting”

  1. Larisa said… June 16, 2020
    When I don’t use sugar at all in any kind and reduce my fruits, I noticed that my lips start to ship really badly. Will it go away over time?
  2. Erin said… June 16, 2020
    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your experience! I'm wondering what you've found works for you for grain intake. Also continuing with limiting per the No Sugar Challenge?
    • Hi Erin! I'm still eating grains occasionally, but my diet has been minimal-grain focused for a number of years now so that really hasn't changed during my no-sugar period. My main focus was eliminating the sweeeteners!
  3. Pat Merkel said… June 16, 2020
    Your recipes do not reflect your no-sugar diet.
  4. Jennifer Wlodarczyk said… June 16, 2020
    I often struggle with snacks that don’t involve sugar in some form. I default to ‘healthy’ muffins made with applesauce or sweet potatoes or maple syrup or bananas. Sometimes it’s homemade nut and dried fruit granola bars. Or sometimes just straight up nuts and a square or two of dark chocolate. My morning smoothies have bananas and blueberries and honey. And I start my day with lemon, honey and cayenne water. Sweeteners are built into my daily routine! I would very much appreciate your suggestions for satiating snacks that don’t add the sugar. Thank you Meghan!
  5. Dena said… June 16, 2020
    Hi Meghan, Great read, thank you for sharing! Over the past few weeks I have found myself slipping back into old habits like "needing" chocolate in the evenings, having tea just so I can get a sugar fix. I appreciate you sharing this story and inspiring me to refocus once again. Thank you!
  6. Carmen said… June 16, 2020
    Thanks for this great article Meghan! I'm curious to know what you are now doing about your love of chocolate? That's what gets me snagged up in my no-sugar efforts.
    • I still like to make hot and cold elixirs, and I'll just use the raw cacao powder, nut milk, spices, etc. and won't add the sweetener. That may sound odd, but it still tastes good to me!
  7. Meredith said… June 17, 2020
    Hi Meghan ~ thank you for sharing this. Did you continue to eliminate grains as well? or just sugar? Cheers!
  8. Krissi said… June 17, 2020
    I’d love to hear further how you navigated this change. I myself am in the same position you were in last year. The whole “Treat treats as treats” has now become “Treats are meals” lol. Do you have a superpower (my own mother has it) that once you decide something you never waiver? How did you navigate social events, dinner parties, etc? Well done, I applaud you!
    • For me, deciding to do something is certainly a big part of the achievement - when I'm in, I'm all in! There haven't been social events or dinner parties for us lately, but we've been navigating social events with our alternative diet needs for a long time so I don't anticipate my no-sugar lifestyle will impede our ability to socialize with others. I know you can do it Krissi!
  9. Jerusha said… June 18, 2020
    Once I've made the decision then I know I can do it but making up my mind is the hardest part. I have gone sugar free before about 10 years ago and it changed my life. Somehow I slipped back out of it. Also, since I'm a home baker I find it difficult to figure out how to navigate this.
  10. Jen said… June 18, 2020
    Thanks Meghan! Excellent way to use the frog story! What a great write up about your experience. It’s inspiring!

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