De-Puffing and Re-Framing

I can count on one hand the number of times I consumed sugar during the month of January. Really, I can. Here they are:

Thumb: Hamburger bun
Pointer: Dried cranberries
Middle: One piece of salmon sushi roll with white rice
Ring: Two small breaded clam strips

This is a pretty huge achievement for a sugar addict. But by January 31, I felt completely defeated and discouraged. In choosing to eliminate sugar, I expected to de-bloat and gain energy. But I only puffed up more, and my energy stayed about the same. Humph.

Now I am four days into Phase Two of Operation De-Puff: a two-week gut reset. Low-FODMAP foods, no added sugar, no dairy, no gluten, oh my!

Sigh (again). I know I should be proud of the fact that I have given up sugar for over a month now. This is the same pouty malaise I felt when I had stopped drinking but realized that I had an even bigger problem with sugar. When a major achievement only seems to open the door to a lot more work, it’s a bit of a bummer.

But: onward. I woke up at 6am on Saturday and immediately set to work making baked egg cups, blueberry oatmeal cups, and prepping veggies and chicken. I also drank black coffee for the first time at home! I was in the zone, if grumpily so.

And I’ve stayed in the zone since then. I did my February Lifetime weigh-in today, and I have lost a pound of puff! As I start to de-bloat and re-energize, I am also reframing my thinking around cutting sugar.

I cut sugar to slim down after the holidays. But cutting sugar did not slim me down. Instead, and even more critically, No Added Sugar January dealt a lethal blow to the emotional side of my sugar addiction. I can survive without sugar! And not really miss it all that much! THIS is a revelation, my friends.

I am rewiring my brain to stop relying on sugar. And now I am also helping my gut get back into a better balance so that I can identify the foods that give me digestive trouble. This is GOOD WORK. Necessary work. And it’s working.

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!

I Survived Two Weeks Without Sugar

Two weeks with no added sugar and no artificial sugar (except for one accidental sip of my husband’s sweetened cold brew coffee): done. And it was pretty darn doable!

I have my Lifetime weigh-in tomorrow and will report in then on how these two weeks affected my weight. More important, of course, is how these two weeks affected my brain and body. Here are some takeaways from two sugar-free weeks:

Increased awareness
Sugar. Is. Everywhere. As I prepared for these two weeks, I went through my snack bin in my pantry and ended up banishing the entire thing to the top shelf. Gone were the obvious – the Smart Sweets and dark chocolate – but other items unexpectedly contained sugar as well. Bye, roasted broad bean snacks. My precious SkinnyPop microwave popcorn and PB2, how could you?! All that remained from my snack stash, alas, was seaweed.

Looking at labels at the grocery store was also a revelation. Sugar pervades packaged food and condiments more than I ever would have thought. But I have made some heartening discoveries as well. Some Larabars and Epic bars have no added sugar and have been helpful in a pinch. Brands like Primal Kitchen offer a wide variety of dressings and condiments to help me fend off FOMO. I have replaced PB2 with real almond butter and crappy low-point bread with sprouted grain. I feel more satisfied with and appreciative of the higher-point options than the low-point stuff.

Decreased cravings
This has been such a pleasant surprise. Unlike my alcohol cravings, which lingered for months after I started my OYAF, my junk sugar cravings disappeared fast unless faced with extreme temptation (like yesterday when my now second-favorite kid waved my favorite bakery cookie in my face). Stepping out of the vicious cycle of sugar craving-consumption-crash-repeat has been positively liberating.

Increased energy
Whole foods + healthy fats – sugar = steady energy. This is simple and life-changing and a welcome escape from the constant spikes and dips in my energy when my diet was sugar-laden.

Decreased puffiness
No more sugar hangovers, no more sugar bloat. I am still working on this one, as the changes in my diet have confused my bod a bit. But I trust the process and have definitely de-puffed.

Fat is my friend
Nuts! Avocado! Oil! I used to hesitate to spend points on these things because I was trying to save up for dessert. Now I believe that healthy fats are a very worthwhile investment.

Food has flavor
Being unable to drown my salads in low-point dressings (all my go-to’s contain some form of added sugar) has given me a renewed appreciation for being able to taste my ingredients. The char on a nicely grilled chicken breast. Smooth, creamy avocado. Feisty red pepper. For the last two weeks I have used Whole30-approved dressings, which seem to compliment rather than cover the taste of the food.

I may be making this up, about being able to taste my food better, but I don’t think so – because I felt the same way when I first gave up wine. Going out for dinner without wine felt a little awkward, but truly tasting my meals was an immediate, huge plus. Samsies for sugar, I guess.

Phew! A lot learned in a short time!

Starting tomorrow I am going to loosen the reins a bit, but just like when I first stopped drinking, I can’t un-know what I know about sugar, and I can’t un-feel how great I have felt without it. I’m happy and proud of these two sugar-free weeks and I know they won’t be my last!

A Dear Sugar Letter

Dear Sugar*,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it IS you, you tantalizing tempter. You crave-inducing killer. You are always delicious and occasionally truly divine. You are simultaneously ubiquitous and stealthy. You have always been there for me, yet were never what I actually needed. And that is exactly why I need to take a break.

You have been part of my life since I can remember, and some of my fondest memories are forever intertwined with you. Pan di Stelle gelato in Sorrento while on vacation with my husband. Cadbury chocolate straight from the factory in Uxbridge while on a field trip with my MBA class. Chelsea buns in Cambridge. Scones with clotted cream in London. The world’s best homemade ice cream and fresh waffle cones a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ home in Massachusetts. The jar of Nutella I would buy every week at Shaws after mommy-and-me class, my infant daughter snoozing away in her stroller as we walked home to our apartment in Boston’s South End. My son’s ninja-themed, Oreo-buttercreamed birthday cake, which he sliced (while supervised) with a samurai sword when he had just turned four.

Sugar, I will always love you. But right now I gotta say bye.

See, you taste so good but you hurt so bad. You send me soaring but are never there to catch me when I fall. You never fail to delight my senses, but neither do you fail to bloat my belly. You make me feel like a million bucks, then leave me feeling less than. A moment of ecstasy, then you’re gone – and I’m inevitably bombarded by an onslaught of dehydration, fatigue, and guilt.

Oh the guilt! How have I lived with it all these years? I’ll tell you how. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel any better. I kept coming back again and again in the myriad moments where I felt weak and out of control and powerless and fat and stressed and tired.

I know better now. And you can thank your friend the wine witch for my newly enlightened state. I’ve traded guilt for grace. I know your secrets. I know how the mere promise of you releases dopamine in my brain, making me feel pleasure before you’ve even passed my lips. I know that you will always leave me wanting more. I will never be satisfied as long as I seek satisfaction from the likes of you.

So I need to look elsewhere for awhile. I need to remind us both who wears the leggings in this relationship. Yes, I will most certainly fall into the embrace of your natural counterparts. But frozen mango has more to offer than your empty promises (and calories).

I will also be looking beyond food. I will write. I will track. I will be present. I will move. I will hydrate. I will strive to become an amateur urge-surfer. And I will progress from there.

Sugar, you will always be part of my life. I can’t imagine celebrating my one year alcohol-free on July 4 without you. But it’s goodbye for now. Because I’m worth it.

With love, will, and grace,

Jen

*Added and artificial, not natural. I’m not that much of a masochist.

The Peanut Butter Cups Experiment

Awareness plants the seed of change.

I found this sentence in my Notes app today. Can’t remember where I heard this. Peloton? WW? A wise friend? Instagram? Or did I come up with it myself? Anyway, it’s an appropriate statement for day 308.

I consciously fed the sugar monster today. Seduced by a carton of peanut butter cups while grocery shopping on an empty stomach (mistake numero uno, that!), I decided to make a little experiment of indulging my recent sugar cravings. I paid for my groceries and returned to my car. As I popped open the plastic container (delayed gratification has never been my thing), I felt the giddiness of dopamine release. It takes eight minutes to drive from Whole Foods to my house. I decided I would eat four peanut butter cups on my drive home – that way I would still have a chance to be within my points today, as I had a zero-point lunch and low-point dinner lined up.

Do you think I was able to stick to just four? I probably could have, if I had chosen to exercise discipline. But I chose not to today, for a variety of reasons. As soon as I finished one peanut butter cup I reached for the next. I tried to eat them slowly, but I still managed to have about ten(ish?!) by the time I pulled into my driveway.

As I ate them, I focused on enjoying them and did my best to be present and brush aside the guilt that was hovering, threatening to crush my sugar buzz. I thought about Annie Grace’s video of herself consuming an entire bottle of wine, and how she used that footage to motivate herself to stop drinking – and how much it motivated me back when I was doing TAE over a year ago. I mentally zoomed out and looked at myself, again trying not to judge, just observing myself indulging a strong sugar craving. I noted how the first peanut butter cup tasted (amaaaazing), versus the fifth (yummy with a twinge of gross), versus the fifteenth (because yes, I kept eating them throughout the day).

The verdict? The peaut butter cups were delicious. I’m proud of myself for not beating myself up for eating them. But my belly is so bloated right now I look pregnant. And I miss my frozen mango! I really do!

Awareness plants the seed of change. I think my sugar habits – ingrained more deeply than my wine dependence, because sugar came into my life long before booze – may actually be evolving. Because those peanut butter cups, as yummy as they were, did not taste so much better than frozen mango that I am willing to sacrifice feeling strong and svelte. I have felt so good the last couple of days. I have been eating well, exercising, and hydrating. Today’s sugar binge has made me feel completely bloated, tired, and dehydrated.

This is definitely reminiscent of when I went back to drinking after taking a one of my initial booze breaks. I knew how good I felt without wine, so going back to drinking was not as pleasurable. I no longer had the tolerance – for the alcohol itself, but also for the way it made me feel (yuck).

Today’s conscious peanut butter cup binge is a reminder of how good I feel when I do NOT cater to the sugar monster. I did still enjoy the chocolate – but less than I would have in the past. I choose to see progress here, not weakness. Yes, I succumbed to the peanut butter cups. Yes, I ate too many of them. But I did it all with awareness and without judgement. And I learned from this experience.

I don’t think I will ever fully give up sweets. But I would like to be able to eat them in moderation and have the sugar monster be a less dominant presence in my brain. I don’t think moderation is possible for me with alcohol – and with each day that passes I become less interested in drinking again at all. But sugar, for me, is different. For now. We’ll see.

A Grenade, Not a Balm

The day started delightfully enough. Eight hours of sleep, and then my son woke at 7 and I snuggled him back to sleep for an hour. Alas, by 2pm I was hiding in the pantry eating Bark Thins that I could only half-taste because my congestion has worsened again. Ugh.

What sent me into my pantry was a big wave of life malaise that unexpectedly engulfed me this morning. My kickboxing class was cancelled, and my allergies blew up as I ran errands in lieu of working out. As I was driving around town, I was consumed by an overwhelming, sinking brain fog: I don’t want to be home, I don’t want to live in New York, I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t even know where to start getting back on top of things. It was intense and uncharacteristic and scary.

Here’s what I did: I finished my errands, came home to relieve my babysitter, and let my kids watch TV so I could do a Peloton ride. I was hoping for an endorphin boost but the ride didn’t do it for me. So I resorted to chocolate.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t use this as an excuse to start drinking early. I refuse to dive into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to distract myself from the discomfort of feeling these disturbing and depressed feelings. Yes, I fed my foggy melancholy with chocolate. But for me that is a much better choice than booze.

I finished the bag of Bark Thins while my kids played remarkably nicely. And then I started to get myself together a bit. I made an appointment with my PCP and also with an allergist. I got through a bunch of emails and updated our family calendar. I drank some water and took my vitamins. And I started to feel a bit better. My allergies also calmed down after spending a few hours inside.

The day improved from there. I made things easier for myself by taking kids out to dinner so I didn’t have to cook. I’m planning to go to bed with a book as soon as I post this. This day is definitely ending on more solid footing than I found myself this morning.

As unnerving as it was, I’m proud of myself for staying present with my sad state. I didn’t deny it, didn’t try to run from it. Bark Thins notwithstanding, I allowed my mood to just be, and I took the steps I could take to help it pass.

For years, I turned to wine in times like this. And that is how I lost myself. I thought wine was the solution to melancholy and anxiety. I thought wine was a balm to soothe my stress-induced cracks. To fill my life’s fissures until they healed.

But instead of putting me back together, wine broke me apart. Wine was a grenade, not a balm. Alcohol broke me into so many fragments it got too hard to piece myself back together every morning. So I stopped trying. And started living as an incomplete version of myself.

I could not operate at my full potential because I was not full. Pieces of me were cracked, broken, misplaced. Some pieces of the puzzle that was me were jammed into the wrong spot, warping the overall image and making it impossible to complete.

No one really saw this, I don’t think. But I knew it. Wine shattered me. I’d pick up enough pieces to get through the day, only to be reshattered again that night.

I have spent the last thirteen months painstakingly – but joyously – gathering and repairing and rediscovering the whole picture of me. It’s hard work, but besides carrying my two babies it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

Today, the picture I see is someone who has color back in her cheeks but is nonetheless run down, anxious about my upcoming leg procedure, and tired of not feeling my best. I let my fatigue, anxiety, and frustration get the better of me for awhile. But I trust in my ability to come back from all this and I know I’m finding more of my pieces along the way.

Outshining Broken Bulbs at 150 Days

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree is one of my least favorite tasks of the year. Not to sound Grinchy, but I always end up doing it by myself, getting poked by myriad needles while trying not to be toppled by a nine-foot fir.

Tonight, my daughter asked if she could help me. And, lo and behold, my little stringbean ninja turned out to be the key to successful light-stringing! The process was painless (save for a few inevitable pokes) and a fun bonding moment. I was grateful to finally have a wingwoman to support me through this dreaded but critical Christmas task.

Then she plugged in the lights. And the top 1/4 of the tree did not work.

I could consider the whole effort a failure. I could give up, rip the lights off the tree and let it ruin my night. I could buy a new strand of lights to try to hide the broken ones. I could.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. I talked about it with my daughter and she said, “Well, it’s still a great tree even if some of the lights don’t work.” And she’s right.

I’m struggling with eating right now. But I do not consider myself a failure. I am not going to give up and let the sugar monster ruin my night. I am not going to try to hide the fact that I am struggling. And I know that I am still great even if my relationship with sugar is not working.

A year ago, I was struggling with drinking. What if I had given up then? What if I had let the wine witch ruin my night, and eventually my life? What if I had continued to hide the fact that I was struggling?

I didn’t, thank goodness. I found Connect and appealed for support and received it in spades. As low as I felt, somewhere inside I knew I was still great. I knew I deserved better, and my #sobersisters on Connect helped me strengthen that belief.

I have so much more confidence now than I did a year ago. So much more faith in myself. I have overcome a soul-crippling, dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I know I’ll figure out sugar too.

Sometimes I still feel alone in my struggles. But I know I’m not, and I never was.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone. There is support for you here. Believe that you deserve to receive it. Let us help give you the boost you need. You are not a failure. Do not give up. Do not hide, from us or from yourself.

You are great. We are great. We may have a few wonky bulbs, but our light shines beautiful and bright.