A Sugar-Free Wellness Check-In

No Added Sugar January is finally drawing to a close. (Did this month seem extra-long to anyone else??) How are things, you may be wondering? Am I living my best life without added sugar? Am I riding high on the waves of naturally sustained energy? Have I slimmed down without either refined or artificial sugar thwarting my efforts?

Here’s the unfortunate truth: I’m not feeling as great as I hoped. In fact, I have been feeling insanely bloated, gassy, and frustrated. I anticipated my body running like a well-oiled machine after four weeks without sugar, but instead I have an out-of-whack gut weighing me down both physically and mentally.

How did this happen?! I haven’t had added sugar (natural, refined, or artificial) for four weeks! I thought sugar was my ultimate foe, and yet I am feeling almost as bad now as I was when I was eating it. I think the answer just might be the Muppet-like acronym FODMAP. Sugar, you are not innocent, but you are not solely to blame for my malaise, either.

Here is my roadmap to FODMAP (i.e. how I figured this out):

Starting January 1, I removed added sugar from my diet. Bye bye, junk! My daily food intake these days usually includes half an avocado, a banana, an apple, at least one tbsp of almond butter, and a handful of almonds or cashews. I often also eat grapes or frozen mango, butternut squash or sweet potato, plus beans and Fage 0 Greek yogurt for added protein. A typical day for me looks like turkey bacon and avocado for breakfast, a chopped kale salad with chicken for lunch, and chili for dinner. Snacks are usually a Raw Rev or RX bar; or oatmeal or yogurt loaded with nuts, cacao nibs, and fruit.

(Ok, I may have hit the banana-nut butter combo a little too hard. Especially once I discovered banana-peanut butter “nice cream.” And I did consume an entire container of RX vanilla almond butter in like two days. But still! I thought I was doing pretty darn good!)

But still: bloat. So much gas my kids are probably telling their friends about it. And moodiness to boot. WTF.

As I walked my dogs yesterday I listened to a Melissa Urban (yup, the Whole30 lady) podcast on gut health, and the doctor who was her guest brought up this whole FODMAP thing. I decided to look into FODMAPs and BEHOLD, here are some examples of medium- and high-FODMAP foods: avocado, bananas, apples, nuts and nut butters (if not consumed in moderation, AHEM), grapes, mango, butternut squash, sweet potato, beans, and yogurt. WELL CRAP.

FYI, in case you were wondering, FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” But none of us will remember that so just know this: FODMAPs are carbs that some people are sometimes unable to digest. FODMAPs ferment in the colon, where they live their best lives by causing gas and gut distention, among other splendid symptoms.

I have a gut feeling (pun intended) that my body is having trouble with FODMAPs right now, especially since I have been eating (read: over-eating) a lot of high-FODMAP foods whilst navigating life without sugar this month. I have come too far in my epic battle with the sugar monster to still be feeling so gross. So here is my new plan:

Starting February 1, I will do two weeks of a low-FODMAP diet. I will also continue to stay away from added sugar. I will still eat fruit, just low-FODMAP varietals; and I will still eat nuts and nut butters but in moderation (one handful and one tbsp per day, respectively). Most importantly, I will embrace this challenge with hope and determination. I don’t HAVE to go low-FODMAP and cut sugar for two additional weeks; I GET to explore the impact of these healthy choices, see how good I can feel, and maybe even discover the food culprit/gas bandit currently loitering in my colon.

[TMI alert but as long as I’m getting this all out there: the timing for this is also good because I am at the beginning of my cycle. So I know I won’t be PMSing over the next few weeks. My hormones will be working with me on this instead of against me.]

So, over the next couple of days I’ll be eating the remaining high-FODMAP foods in my fridge and restocking with low-FODMAP alternatives. Bring on FODMAP February!

Keep Moving Forward, Always with Love

I wear two bracelets on my right wrist. One is a silver arrow. The other is a gold-plated heart that has faded to bronze after months of sweat and showers. Each was given to me by a best friend: two women who have had indelible impacts on my life.

I have been looking at these bracelets a lot the last few days, whenever my brain zones out from what I’m doing and wanders back to Sunday, and a helicopter crash, and the deaths of one very famous person and his daughter and seven other people. It is a true tragedy, unfathomable, heartbreaking. Of course, events like this happen all over the world every day but this one struck me, shocked me, rocked me, as I know it did many others.

My only connection to Kobe Bryant is that we are about the same age, my high school is down the road from his, and I once played on the same basketball court where he played. He was already famous in high school, so I knew it was special that I got to play a game there against girls who were his classmates. I even scored all the points for my JV team that day: four. Yeah, we got creamed. But I’ll never forget it.

I didn’t know Kobe Bryant. I hesitate to call him a hero because his legacy is a complicated one. But my heart breaks for his family, and for all the families of those who were on board. A tragedy is a tragedy and especially now that I’m a mom, these things hit me hard.

These bracelets that I wear remind me to do two simple things: keep moving forward, always with love. Life has felt a lot more precious these last few days. I have hugged my family a little tighter and breathed a little deeper. My usually dormant anxiety has been at a low simmer. I breathe through that, too.

But mostly I am just trying to keep moving forward, always with love.

I’m Onto You, Sugar

Sugar is a constant. Its lack of perfection as a food is total. On any scale of nutrients, it would rate less than zero.
– William Dufty, Sugar Blues

Keeping this quotation handy as I cope with the strongest sugar cravings that have hit me so far this month. Instead of “treating” myself with a dive off the wagon that would only make me feel worse, I have instead spent time figuring out why I feel triggered and putting my sugar-free tools to work.

Triggers
Yesterday was my husband’s last day at a job that made him miserable. It was also the Friday of a long weekend. And I taught one of my best kickboxing classes yet. All reasons to celebrate, and we – individually and as a family – equate celebrating with consuming some form of sugar.

Tools
Self-awareness: I know I am a rule follower. Right now, refined and added sugar are not allowed so I know I won’t break this deal outright (more on this in a sec).
Education: I am keeping my sugar books close at hand and referring to them as needed.
Hydration: A gallon of water a day. Every day.
Healthy foods: I am making sure my pantry is stocked with them.
Writing: Writing these thoughts out always helps!
Accountability: Posting about this keeps me honest and motivated to do better.

All of this being said, last night after our kids’ jiujitsu class, my husband and I took them to dinner at Five Guys. With but shreds of willpower left, I ordered a burger and I ate it all – including the bun. I had a feeling the bun had sugar in it. All white bread does. But I ate it anyway because I chose to play dumb instead of Googling the ingredients. (And I admit, the burger was freaking delicious.) (Oh and also the fries.)

Considering that a meal like this used to include a pint of ice cream and/or a bottle of wine, I acknowledge that this is progress and I am not guilting myself about it. But what happened next threw me for a loop.

When we got home, I had to pack for our trip to NH because we planned to leave early this morning. Not only did I feel totally overwhelmed at the idea of packing, but looking around my house I felt frustrated by all of the piles and clutter. My frustration quickly swelled into anger that felt almost uncontrollable.

A total mood swing! Doable tasks felt impossible. Clutter that hadn’t bothered me all week made me irate. Before I completely blew up, I paused. “This is not like me. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. What is different tonight? What could have caused this?”

Then it hit me: THE BUN. The damn delicious bun! I took out my phone and Googled and sure enough, sugar is the third ingredient. The damn bun was first refined sugar I had consumed in 10 days (after another snafu while eating out when dried cranberries snuck into my salad).

Now, I grant that this entire meal contributed to my malaise. But I didn’t just feel bloated and low energy, as I usually do after a junk food meal. My entire mood shifted. It was stark and bizarre. And I am choosing to believe that my body was sending me a message: just as with alcohol, my life is a whole lot better without refined sugar. Message received, loud and clear!

We are up at our farmhouse now. The first thing I did upon arrival was get my favorite chicken chili in the crock pot, some butternut squash in the oven, and a kale salad in my body. It is always a challenge to eat clean up here, but after last night’s ordeal I am determined to do it. The meal prep and planning is a bit of a downer when I just want to be in relaxation mode, but worth it. I know I will feel so proud if I can make it through the weekend without refined sugar or other crap. I’ll report back in a couple days to keep myself accountable!

Damn bun. Sugar is evil. I get it, I get it.

Follow Your Passion – Wait, No – Your Curiosity

Yesterday while walking my dogs I listened to a podcast featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke about how not everyone has one thing that they are meant to do in life, or one single path to follow. Some of us are hummingbirds, flitting from flower to flower as we fill up on one interest and pursue the next. “Follow your curiosity,” she said, and an invisible, subconscious weight lifted from my shoulders as my dogs sniffed and peed their way along the sidewalk.

Because this is how I’ve always operated: curiously. I have always followed my curiosity – academically, personally, professionally. I have wanted to do and be so many things throughout my life, and I’ve felt guilt about that over the years because shouldn’t I have become one big thing by now? An archaeologist or a CEO or an author or something?

Perhaps instead I’m meant to continually become. At some point over the last 18 months, I became a non-drinker. I did this by following my curiosity. I wanted to see how I felt after completing Dry January, and then The Alcohol Experiment, and then taking a full year off drinking. What would it feel like to not indulge an alcohol craving? What if I could regain the reins of my life from the wine witch? Could I ever get to a point where I didn’t want to drink?

These were some of my questions. And I could only answer them by following my path, one day – and sometimes one hour – at a time.

Now that I am alcohol-free I want to write about it. Really write. Like, write a whole book. But am I really capable of this? I haven’t dedicated my life to being a writer. I don’t know if I would ever want to write a second book, or even a magazine article. But this one book project has taken hold of my heart and won’t let go. It’s the flower to which I keep flitting back. I remain curious about my ability to do the writing and navigate the publishing world. So as long as this curiosity has hold of me, I am going to pursue it. One day – one hour, one sentence – at a time.

In this wonderfully mindset-shifting podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said that following your curiosity may in fact lead you to your passion. Wouldn’t that be grand? But if not, if I am not meant to be a published author, I can and will always be a writer. And I know that the experience of trying to write a book about my journey to alcohol freedom will, at the very least, lead me to the next delectable flower, and the next.

18 Months Alcohol-Free! Whoa.

A year and a half of alcohol freedom and here’s what that means to me: alcohol has no hold on me anymore, no place in my life anymore. There is no vacancy up in this joint. I am 100% occupied with the momentous and the mundane and everything in between, and I don’t want to miss a minute.

For two decades, I was writing a different life story. I was a binge-drinking college student, a work-hard-play-harder twentysomething, and then, in my last booze-fueled incarnation, a #winemom. An open bar, a witching hour, a holiday. A funeral, a date night, a girls night. I was enabled by any and every occasion and non-occasion. Resisting the urge to drink – say, on any given Sunday, or Tuesday, or whenever – took a Herculean amount of willpower. If I succeeded in denying myself my sauvignon blanc, I was left feeling depleted and resentful.

I was a gray area drinker. Jolene Park, who bravely brought this style of drinking out into the open, defines the gray area as “the space between the extremes of ‘rock bottom’ and every-now-and-again drinking: a gray area that many, many people find an impossible space to occupy.”

Many, many people? But I thought it was just me. And that’s why I kept my ever-increasing struggle to myself for so many years. I thought everyone else either had a Problem-with-a-capital-P or drank “normally.” I thought I was the only weak-ass dumdum for whom wine was not the glorious treat I had been led to believe it was.

550 days ago, I left the gray area behind for good. I have only looked back to see how far I’ve come, and to give myself a little jolt of pride whenever I need it. My alcohol freedom is there for me now in a way that alcohol never was. On a crappy day, I remind myself that I am in fact quite brave, and I can in fact get through tough stuff. On a wonderful day, I remind myself how amazing it is to be able to absorb every perfectly imperfect moment. I am numb to neither the crap nor the wonder. I am open and receptive to it all, and simply damn grateful to be right here.