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Growing up I never struggled with being overweight. I could eat whatever I wanted to and maybe the scale would move slightly, but it wasn’t enough to notice it. I was also very active in dance and playing sports like basketball and tennis, which probably helped. But because my weight wasn’t affected by what I ate I took it as a go ahead to eat any food I wanted because it didn’t have an unwanted outcome. I was horribly, horribly mistaken.
Although I wasn’t struggling with my weight, the sugary, processed foods that I was eating was affecting my brain and impacting my thoughts. I didn’t begin learning about this until 2014 when I was working night shift as a nurse. I loved the extra money I made working night shift (and all the things it could buy me) but lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll. I was sluggish on my days off and at work. And as always, I was struggling with negative thinking. I had noticed my depressive thoughts were starting to increase and becoming less manageable. I didn’t want to switch to day shift for multiple reasons so I began looking for ways I could increase my energy and focus. One of the first ways I came across was to decrease my sugar intake. I thought to myself I could cut out a dessert here and there but I didn’t believe that my sugar intake was really that bad. As I kept reading it talked about how sugar can actually contribute to depression and negative thinking. Now this I was even more interested in! I had never heard this before so I kept reading. The more I read the more I discovered how taxing sugar is on the body, especially the brain. So I was motivated to make a change! I saw that the American Heart Association recommended limiting a woman’s sugar intake to 25 g a day and that’s what I would do!
There was one slight problem. When I actually started looking at the labels of the foods I ate regularly, I found sugar in everything. It wasn’t in just the cakes, cookies, and candy that I loved. It was even in foods that I believed were on the healthier side. Yogurt, marinara sauce, orange juice, even a bag of frozen vegetables that had a cheese sauce had sugar listed as one of the ingredients. The 25 g added up quickly. It didn’t take me long to decide that reducing my intake to 25 g of sugar a day would be impossible for me. I decided then that I would find alternatives to the foods that I never realized had so much sugar and just begin reducing my sugar intake slowly.
As I started reducing the amount of sugar I ate, I ran into another hurdle. I couldn’t stop thinking about eating sugary foods. I would get groceries that had less sugar only to drive to the store later that evening and buy a Marie Colander’s turtle pie. I would then eat half the pie in one sitting. I craved sugar and after I ate it I would always feel the same way: lethargic, unmotivated, and easily discouraged about life. What I didn’t realize until I researched some more was that I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms because I was addicted. I was addicted to sugar. And like most addicts I resorted to extreme measures. Maybe you have heard of people throwing away sweets only to dig them back out of the trash to eat them. Yep, I’ve done that. More than once.
As I continued reducing my sugar intake at my own home, the evidence that sugar had been affecting my energy, my mood, and my thoughts became clearer and clearer. It was especially evident when I would spend the weekend at a celebration with my family. I would tell myself I could enjoy all the tasty treats as much as I wanted to because I didn’t consume them daily. To say I overindulged is an understatement. And each time I would honestly have a crisis about life. “What was I doing with my life?” “Do I even know my family members well anymore? Do they know me?” “Why do I feel so alone?” When I would return home, I would be ready to eat less sugar again, but my cravings were back. And I would spend the first few days wanting a quick fix of sugary goodness. I also began to realize how much I used sugar to cope emotionally. If I was feeling sad I wanted some ice cream to make me feel better. If I had a hard week at work then I deserved to treat myself to some cheesecake. Sugar was my comforter. Until the high wore off and it left me sadder than I already was.
Now please know I’m not saying that all of my negative thoughts in my life are brought on by sugar. What I have noticed is that when I don’t eat sugar and a negative thought comes I can more easily choose to not dwell on it. I can recognize that a thought isn’t true or at least not as dramatic as I’m making it. When I consume sugary foods one negative thought can lead to another and another until I am in a downward spiral. This downward spiral often leaves me feeling unmotivated. Combine that with the lethargy I feel when I consume sugar and I don’t want to do anything productive, especially if it doesn’t come naturally. And a lot of the things God calls me to do is not what I want to do naturally. Being patient, nah I would rather complain. Serve someone, ya right I don’t even want to get off the couch. Be an encouragement to someone, nope because I feel awful and so should everyone else. Read His word, I will spend my sugar coma zoning out in front on the tv, thank you very much.
If you struggle with depression or getting out of those downward spirals of negativity I encourage you to reduce your sugar intake and see if it makes a difference. Even if you don’t struggle with your thoughts in the same way I do sugar is still impacting your body in a negative way. You may not even notice the impact it’s having until you begin reducing it. Reducing my sugar intake has been a process throughout the past 4 years. I have had great moments of success and moments where I completely indulged in sugar again…like the time I ate pineapple cake at my Grandma’s and then took a two hour nap because I felt miserable. But you know how I decided 25g was impossible to get down to? I now consume less than 18g a day and have never felt better. It is possible, even for a previous candy lover and sugar addict like me! If you are an all or nothing, cold turkey type person, then go for it! Be aware though that you are probably going to have withdrawal symptoms, but they will pass. If you get overwhelmed at the thought of reducing sugar from your diet, know that it’s okay to go slowly. Maybe only drink water and cut out sugary beverages. Maybe switch to an easy homemade marinara sauce like the one I have pinned on the Healthy Meals board of the Living Where Grace Abounds Pintrest page. It is delicious and completely sugar free!
At the very least I encourage you to start looking at the labels of the foods you buy and seeking out information on this topic. A great resource is a documentary called Fed Up. It describes in detail how sugar harmfully affects the body and how the sugar companies have tried to keep the truth from getting to the public. It is appalling how many times greed has won instead of concern over the health and quality of life of the people in this country, including you and me. If we want to know the truth we have to seek it out for ourselves and then take responsibility for our own health. No one else is going to do it for us, especially when it effects the bottom line.