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.

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!

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.

Dear Future Me

Dear Future Me,

So you found your abs at age 37 and life has been perfect since then, right? Tee hee. Ha.

I’m writing to you today because I’m reading a book called The Food Therapist in an effort to tackle my issues with food – diagnosed, according to the author, as dependence, craving for control, and lack of trust. Apparently, the more connected I feel to YOU, Jen-in-her-40s, the better equipped I will be to conquer these issues and maintain my goals (abs!) (and other stuff) for the long haul.

So how are you? Energized, clear-skinned, inspired, confident, and still fitting into a size 4-6? Continually obsessed with your Peloton bike? Still getting a literal and figurative kick out of your heavy bag kickboxing classes? I hope so.

If you recall, you spent ten weeks in 2017 dropping 23 pounds with Weight Watchers. You maintained your weight loss as you began to exercise regularly again. And you also drank regularly throughout. Your drinking became both less pleasurable and less escapable, and so you decided to go dry in January 2018. And that’s when things really got interesting.

Your world opened up with clarity and exquisiteness that you couldn’t have imagined. You liberated yourself from the “mommy juice” myth. And when alcohol became routine again in February and March, you started The Alcohol Experiment. 30 days turned into 60 which turned into 76 days sans booze.

As of today, 93 days since the start of The Alcohol Experiment, I (switching pronouns here, sounds a little less awkward this way) have had four drinks. And I feel great about that. I have steadfastly adhered to my alcohol non-negotiables. The one night I had two glasses of wine, I enjoyed the first and did not enjoy the second. I am continuing to experiment and I am striving, always, for balance.

I wonder where you are with alcohol. In this letter I’m supposed to tell you where I want you to be. But, honestly, I’m not sure. I want you to be happy and healthy, first and foremost. I trust that you have not regressed. If you have decided that alcohol really has no place in your life, kudos to you! And if you have continued to drink occasionally, so long as you truly enjoy it and always adhere to your non-negotiables, that’s a-ok too.

As of the typing of this letter, I am about 98% at peace with my relationship with alcohol. I hope you can confidently say that you are at 100%. And if you haven’t taken a moment lately to celebrate that, please do. Go ahead, I’ll wait. The 2017 us did not believe we would ever be free from our reliance on alcohol. I am so proud to have broken free, and you should still be proud too.

As for food, I hope that walking by the small batch artisanal tortilla chips at DeCicco’s is no longer torturous for you. I hope you can have a bag of chocolate granola – or maybe even a jar of Nutella! – in the pantry without eating the whole thing in one go. I hope that you and food were able to work through your issues and that your relationship flourishes now.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy. After all, you and food had a rocky rapport from the beginning. As a kindergartener you fell asleep every night with your blankie and a Hi-C juice box. Food was always a comfort, a salve, an escape, a distraction. A moment of joy that was worth long-term emotional and physical malaise. But then you ditched booze and started to really love yourself, and once that self-love took hold there wasn’t as much room left for your toxic relationship with food, was there?

I am at the beginning now. I am just starting to untangle 37 years of food dysfunction. I think I can do it. I hope I can. No. You know what? I WILL. Because I’ve come too far to not tackle this shit. (I hope as you read this you’re smiling to yourself, endeared by my determination and my still-flickering self-doubt, which I hope you extinguished for good long ago.)

Here is how I envision you, Jen-in-her-40s:

You wake up well-rested and maintain steady energy throughout your day. You walk into your closet knowing you can fit into everything you see. Whatever you put on, your clothing brings you joy and makes you feel good about how you look. In the summer you confidently wear a bikini, and not just on skinny days. You have a strong core (do you have those awesome side muscles that I am just starting to see? I hope so!) and you don’t look pregnant by the end of the day. You are confident in how you look and how you feel and how you move. You feel sexier than I do. But most importantly, you feel strong and healthy – which may mean something different to you than it does to me, and that’s cool.

You are your own living epitome of health.

No pressure, though.

I don’t expect you to have yanked out your sweet tooth. Or your salt tooth, for that matter. I hope that you and food have a relationship based on trust and appreciation. You see food as fuel for your strong and healthy body and mind. The occasional indulgence does not send you flailing into a downward spiral or fleeing to the pantry in a state of sugar-lust. Sugar-lust may still exist for you, but YOU are in control of your cravings. You understand why they are happening. You are mindful and aware and whether you choose to indulge a craving or not, you act consciously and move on confidently.

I’m starting to feel so excited for us. I’m excited for me to become you. I could do without the additional gray hair and fine lines that will turn into wrinkles; but I’m less fussed about those things because I know that I am taking our wonky foundation and reinforcing it so that we can continue to grow, to build, to strengthen, to create, to achieve.

Thank you for getting yourself to where you are.

You’re welcome for starting you on your way.

Love,

Me

 

 

Who’s Got the Power? My First Year on Weight Watchers

Today is my one-year Weight Watchers anniversary.

Am I at my goal weight? No.

I am at my original goal weight, and that is ok. Because this past year has been about so much more than that.

My original goal weight has become my new “I feel puffy and need to get back on track” weight. That’s where I am today. And after three weeks of craziness (international travel with two young kids, a family case of strep throat, then head colds, and currently on day five of a power outage), I am ok with that.

I am more than ok. Because I have something that I didn’t have a year ago, when I set out on this journey. I have faith in myself. I believe in myself. I know exactly what I am doing and I know that I will get back to where I want to be.

Right now I am stress-eating. We have been out of our house for four days and out of our routine for three weeks. While I have managed to spend some of that time on the wagon, I’ve also allowed myself to give into my go-to cravings: tortilla chips, Nutella, and chocolate. I wish I were stronger. I wish I didn’t resort to junk food as a “reward” in times of stress. Because, of course, putting this crapola into my body is not a reward. It’s a burden. A moment of pleasure that instantly weighs me down mentally and physically. And that weight lasts a lot longer than the fleeting pleasure.

But I do it anyway. And I accept that. For now.

Because I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve run two marathons in my life. This is my third.

When I joined WW a year ago, I was desperate. My eating and drinking were out of control. I was squeezing into my clothes. I had little energy and patience. Working out felt like a hopeless chore. I needed some structure and someone else’s rules to follow because I wasn’t sticking to my own.

WW has opened a door to an existence that I didn’t believe was possible. I used to think my old weight was just the way my body was going to be after having two kids. I used to think it was fine to eat whatever I want because nothing would ever change. I used to think I would never be able to control my alcohol cravings. I felt disgusting. And, finally, fed up.

I didn’t know what else to do. So I joined WW. I stepped through that door. And while I have not yet arrived at my ultimate destination, I left the first 20lbs behind. Confidently over the threshold, I closed the door and flipped the deadbolt. I will never see those 20lbs again. The next five are hanging on for dear life, and the five after that still feel somewhat out of reach. But this is a journey. This is a marathon. I haven’t crossed the finish line, but I haven’t hit the wall either. I’m still going strong.

One year in. I wish I could have posted dramatic before and after photos, but I wasn’t up to it today. So I got a pedicure. I’d show it to you, but I forgot to shave my toes and my left big toenail is still growing back after a nasty incident with a pair of pointy-toe flats.

But under these Converse All-Stars, beneath my socks, my toenails are painted a fierce, sassy and confident shade of neon watermelon.

And under my stress-eating-induced bloat, beneath my sweatshirt and leggings, I am a fierce, sassy and confident person and mama and athlete and writer and warrior and wife.

I’ve been writing this post throughout the day. Between grocery trips and school runs and karate classes, amidst not knowing when or if our electricity would be restored before the next storm hits in a matter of hours.

And guess what? The power – finally! – came on.

We have power.

I have power.

THAT is what I have taken away from my first year on Weight Watchers. I. Have. Power.

And I take responsibility. For the good decisions and the bad. I alone have the power to learn from these decisions. And I am. I am learning so much about myself and I am becoming a better person and mom and wife every day.

Because every day leads me closer to the me I want to be. She has eluded me over the years. And at times I have almost lost her.

But not this time. Not ever again, I hope.

Because I have the power now.