Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sugar Free - Week One With Julie

When Julie said she wanted to go sugar free I was ecstatic. But as quickly as excitement hit me, I was filled with deep, dark doubt. What if she did it wrong and secretly snarfed Cheetos and Snickers Bars? What if what worked for me didn’t work for her? It was one thing for me to tout the benefits of my sugar-free run, and it was quite another thing for someone to turn to me and say, “Right then, lets do it.”

Julie is motivated by her health to try going sugar-free. She has rheumatoid arthritis, Chron’s disease, a degenerative bone condition that has caused bulging discs in her back, and to top it all off she has high blood pressure and very high cholesterol (316, to be exact!). Everyday Julie takes an elaborate concoction of medication that allows her to function. Fatigue and pain are daily obstacles. She’s been dealt a hand of crappy genetic cards, but at only 44 years of age, she’s not ready to throw them in. “What have I got to lose?” Julie stated. If diet can improve her quality of life, even slightly, she feels it’s worth a try.

Julie and I began talking food and reading labels. What could we eat, what couldn’t we eat? Definitely no added sugar, white rice or anything made from flour (bread, pasta, etc.). Yogurt? Maybe plain, no fat in a few weeks, but not now. Cereal? Only if it’s whole grain and has 0 grams of sugar. Sugar substitutes? Definitely out! One of the biggest challenges for Julie is finding something to drink. Everything has sugar or a sugar substitute in it. That leaves only things with no sugar at all, like water, and that’s, well, boring. We were left with a list of foods that would require us to think about eating in a completely different way. Gone were the days of eating for pleasure. Or so we thought.

Aside from a “niggley headache… which then proceeded into a full blown boomer of one” and a sleepless first night, Julie was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t feel hungry and found it easy to refrain from temptation. Here are some things she said through the week:
“Surprisingly, Shredded Wheat (with no sugar) didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would.”
“Slept really well. Don’t feel like I have just done ten rounds with Mike Tyson anymore.”
“I’m starting to enjoy my veggies again and looking forward to what I’ll have to eat.”

Julie’s first five sugar-free days weren’t too difficult. It helped to have the right foods available and eat regularly (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack). She did have a few whoopsie moments though. Preparing to indulge in her favorite candy, my 10-year-old daughter, Jordan, was the one to remind her that she couldn’t eat it. Julie also ordered a hot chocolate when we went to a coffee shop last Friday (which she changed to hot tea) and she learned that the bottled water she was drinking was loaded with aspartame. I wasn’t without my moments either as I made a grilled vegetable sandwich, on bread containing 8 grams of added sugar, never thinking twice of what I was doing. Talk about creatures of habit!

The weekend wasn’t so good for Julie. Running numerous errands threw her off course. Both days she skipped lunch, opting to just pick on fruit and nuts all day. “I feel terrible and it serves me right. I now know that even though I ate the right things, picking over the weekend hasn’t done me any good…my bad eating habits include skipping meals and picking.”

Although losing weight is not the motivational factor for Julie and me to go sugar-free, it is a pleasant side effect. At the end of the week, we’d both lost two pounds! Losing weight without hunger is pretty cool!

My results over the week were pretty much as I expected. As always, I’m amazed at how good I feel when I’m sugar-free, but even more amazed when I think how badly I felt before and never even realized it. In addition to the weight loss, reduction of under-eye bags, relief from constipation, and no more sluggishness, I did notice a few other things that I’m hoping is a result of going sugar-free:
* Clearer: I’ve been waking up and feeling truly rested. “Clear” is the best word to describe it. I’m not saying I sprang out of bed singing, “Good Morning Sunshine” but I wasn’t dragging myself out of a fog, like usual.
* Calmer: My reactions to daily challenges has been different. It’s pretty normal for me to “lose my head” (to the dismay of my children). Just yesterday I spilled a box of oatmeal into the utensil draw. In my sugar days a typical response would have been to throw the box across the room while screaming, “I don’t have time for this!” as my children cowered in the corner. Yesterday I just cursed and cleaned it up. If that’s not improvement, I don’t know what is!
* Bye, Bye PMS? I wasn’t going to mention this observation because I thought it may have been a fluke, but after reading that it is a result of sugar-free (Sugar Blues by William Dufty) I have to at least mention it. Never have I had a period without advanced warning. Cramps, bloating, tenderness, and moodiness always accompanied the “curse”. For the first time ever, I had no advance warning or discomfort WHAT-SO-EVER!

I’m still not sure exactly where I’m going with all of this. The thought of never having another Dairy Queen Blizzard or a homemade chocolate chip cookie seems quite sad; cruel even. My husband Rob worries that I’ll look back and regret having missed out on those pleasures in life. My hope is that by continuing my sugar-free streak I will one day salivate over fresh berries with cream and turn my nose up at a Turtle Pecan Chocolate Blizzard. If I don’t feel denied, how can I feel regret? I shall continue sugar-free for a few more weeks and then reevaluate.

For now, Julie also plans to continue her sugar-free streak. “I know it’s working for me. My husband has noticed and he’s encouraging me to stay with it. I’ve gone to the toilet every day, I have bags of energy and I don't feel sluggish or bloated any more. I feel lighter in a strange way. I liked planning my meals and I found some good recipes too. I can’t say I have been totally sugar free as I don't think it’s possible in this day and age as sugar is in everything - even in toothpaste and mouthwash! I will stay with this as I have only been on it a week and I'd like to see more results.”

We’ve all been dealt a hand of cards to play the game of life with. Julie’s may not have been so great to start with but a few changes here and there may just turn up more face cards. Julie and I will continue playing and I’m going to bring a new dish, maybe something with Bulgur or Quinoa, to the game.

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