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’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.

Regaining – and Maintaining – Perspective

I posted this to Instagram last week, on Halloween Eve:

In truth this has been an unexpectedly intense week and I am struggling with balance and self-doubt. There is so much to look forward to – my Halloween kickboxing class tomorrow, trick-or-treating with my kids tomorrow night, and my First Friday theme class on Friday. I know I will rally but right now I am just feeling low energy and blah. 

But I’m feeling these things. I’m not denying them or numbing myself to them or running away. I am sitting with the discomfort and while it doesn’t feel good, I know that I am doing myself a solid by just hanging out in this meh. 

I know booze won’t help me. I really want some chocolate but I know that won’t help me either. So I’m going to take a break from my work and walk my dog before I have to go pick up my kids. And that, for me, is progress.

After I posted it, I went downstairs and ate an RX Bar (at least it wasn’t Nutella). I got my dog on his leash and out the door. I started to walk through my meh. And then I remembered this:

I had been out five of the previous six nights. So not only was I short on sleep, but over the course of those nights, I navigated the following situations without booze:

  • Christmas shopping
  • Dinner out with my husband and my mom
  • Going to see two Broadway shows plus dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant – the one with the famous frozen pomegranate margaritas
  • Volunteer meeting
  • A mom’s night out at – wait for it – a wine bar

Each of these evenings (except the volunteer meeting) would have been fueled by booze two years ago and remembered as a blur the next day. Yet I happily navigated all of them without hesitation and without a single drop of vino or tequila. In my former wine mom life, a series of evenings like these would have meant consuming the equivalent of several bottles of wine plus numerous cocktails. I may be exhausted. I may be hitting the Halloween candy a little (a lot) too hard. But taking a moment to regain perspective while walking my dog was a turning point that helped me emerge from the meh.

Perspective comes and goes and I sometimes frustrate myself in this constant state of losing and regaining it. “At least it’s not booze.” “This too shall pass.” “One container of pumpkin pie hummus is not the end of the world.” “You still look and feel better than you ever looked or felt when you were drinking.”

These sentiments help, but they only go so far, especially when a virtuous cycle is teetering on the brink of a descent into the vicious. And this is where I’ve been since that last Instagram post. I had a lovely, mind-clearing, perspective-regaining dog walk, and the next day was Halloween and trick-or-treating in the rain. Then my kids had a half-day of school. Then daylight savings wreaked its biannual havoc. Then my kids had another half-day of school. Then they had a full day off. And by the end of the day yesterday not only had I polished off that container of pumpkin pie hummus, I dove head-first into the Halloween candy and even raided my kids’ freezer stash of mini ice cream cones.

WTF?!

I underestimated how challenging this time of year can be. If I had just flipped back to this post I wrote last November, I could have been more prepared. I wouldn’t have bought the hummus. Or the chocolate spread (I didn’t mention that, did I? Yeah, I polished that off too.). I could have better steeled myself for No-School November and the one-two punch of Halloween and Daylight Savings.

But, I think in part due to the crazy week I had in the lead-up to Halloween, I went in unprepared. And I ate all the sugar and did none of the hydrating and just generally dropped the ball on self-care.

Today is a new day. My kids are back at school. And I have a plan to yank myself out of this vicious cycle and back into the virtuous:

  • Drink a gallon of water today
  • Do a 60-minute Peloton bootcamp
  • Make tea immediately after lunch to combat sugar cravings
  • If I’m still craving sugar, take 15 minutes to read about how bad sugar is for me (via Sugar Blues, a book that was recommended to me)

Hydration, exercise, and education. These are my weapons against the sugar monster. Because perspective can only get me so far in the battle for my best life. Onward! 490 days and counting!

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!

Looking Back on Day One from Day 360

It has been three hundred and sixty days since I last consumed alcohol (YAHOO!). Something about hitting this number spurred me to go back and read my post from Day One.

Here is what I wrote on July 5, 2018:

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.

***

Reading this tonight, on Day 360, I am simply overcome with gratitude and relief. I am grateful to my 37-year-old self for being so damn honest and brave. I am relieved that so much of what I hoped to get out of this year has indeed come to fruition.

Best body ever? Check.

Daring to battle the sugar monster and salt hag? Check.

Increased clarity and creativity? Yup.

Figuring out my sh*t? On it.

En route to feeling fabulous at 40? Fo sho.

And the pedestal on which I once held my beloved sauvignon blanc? It crumbled weeks ago, the dust blown away by the winds of change. The empty space it left in my “mental trophy room” has been filled with beaming new beacons:

Self-confidence. Self-worth. Self-love. Empathy. Energy. Clarity. Creativity. Connection. Grace. And so much more.

My mental trophy room’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

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.