One of the most common questions I get about giving up sugar is, “What do I eat?”
While the answer to “What should I eat?” will be different for each person, this is how I do it. This is what works for me – an example, not a prescription.
There’s a lot of freedom in the container of sugar abstinence, many different ways to eat: vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, raw foods, paleo (a hunter-gatherer diet), high protein, clean eating (whole, unprocessed foods.) I prescribe to the philosophy that there is no one diet that works best for everyone, what is called integrative nutrition. Rather, each person needs to find the foods that work for his or her body.
How do you do this?
You eat something, note how it makes you feel, and adjust. You find the foods that love you back. (A food diary is a fantastic tool for this process, as you can observe yourself and make the connections between your health/mood and food choices.)
You gently release or moderately eat even “healthy” foods like bananas or whole wheat pasta if they make you feel terrible. The trick is making peace with those choices – and not creating fodder for the mind to feel deprived.
I’m constantly experimenting, fine tuning, and listening. So while I can share what I eat today it is exactly that – what I am eating today.
About 60% of my diet consists of vegetables, as organic, whole, unprocessed and local as I can get. My intake of veggies includes land veggies and root vegetables (winter squashes, yams, carrots, and red potatoes, for example.)
To each meal, I add fat (olive oil, butter, flaxseed oil, avocados, etc.) and protein: nuts, meat, legumes (black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, etc.) or dairy – mainly plain yogurt, kefir and hard cheeses. I struggled for years with eating meat, because I felt sad killing an animal so that I could thrive. I also felt guilty and felt like I “should” be a vegetarian. And yet as someone with low blood sugar, I feel much, much better eating dense animal protein and fats. It’s one of life’s sad limits I’ve accepted.
I try to minimize my intake of grains as I feel pretty awful on most grains and find them addictive. I eat some low sugar fruits, but sparingly – mostly apples and berries. Too much fruit whacks out my body chemistry. Treat foods are homemade popcorn, unsweetened carob chips with almonds, and corn tortillas.
I know that eating this way may seem like a shock if you’re used to eating differently. I understand; it’s taken me over 2o years to get to this point. I was a typical junk food eater in my teens and early twenties – sodas, then diet sodas, lots of fast food and restaurant food, candy, sweets, ice cream and sugar, lots of processed food and processed carbs (potato chips, crackers, white flour, etc.); bagels and fat free (and sugar laden) yogurt for breakfast.
I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. I don’t want you to feel discouraged if you try and eat like I do and then find it overwhelming. (I made this process much harder on myself by trying to change too much at once!)
Start with one small step. Honor each shift. Take the next step and keep taking the next step and you’ll slowly change how you eat.
Once your taste buds adjust to more whole foods, it will get easier and you’ll feel better. Canned foods will taste too salty and sweet, and you will actually crave fresh foods. Your body will feel “lighter,” even before the scale moves, and your digestion will greatly improve.
You’ll eventually crave the foods that nourish you body, mind and spirit. When I’m not eating sugar, I can taste the natural sweetness in almonds, carrots, peppers, and onions. The variety of textures and flavors of vegetables satisfies my taste buds. I love the creamy taste of nut butters. I use lots of different spices and sauces and seasonings to keep my meals interesting and varied. I make lots of soup, as it’s comforting, warm and filling.
One of the reasons why I didn’t want to give up sugar was because I thought that giving up sugar would mean having a joyless relationship with food – where I’d spend the rest of my days living like a food cop, neurotic and miserable. I’ve learned to embrace this paradox: a joyful, loving relationship with food while also abstaining from sugar.
Here are meal ideas taken directly from my kitchen:
Meals with meat:
- Grilled steak or chicken with grilled veggies and a big raw vegetable salad
- Roast chicken with green beans, salad, and curried vegetables
- A giant taco salad with ground bison, guacamole, salsa, a huge bowl of salad greens, sautéed onions and peppers
- Turkey sausages, homemade hash brown potatoes, sauteed greens and bacon
- Roast turkey with roasted acorn squash, salad, and steamed broccoli
- Roast beef with tomatoes, onions, and carrots and sautéed squash (zucchini or yellow squash)
- Grilled salmon and stir fry veggies seasoned with Bragg’s liquid aminos (a lower sodium, healthier version of soy sauce)
- Chicken salad with a bit of mayo and veggies on a huge green salad; black beans
- Grilled chicken breasts with a caprese salad, fresh peas, and a cucumber salad
- Bison steak, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, a huge raw vegetable salad, quinoa
- Chicken, salsa, guacamole, jicama, peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic on a huge salad
- Roasted chicken thighs with olives, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, and mushrooms; a large side salad; red potatoes
- Hamburgers (without a bun) with sautéed mushrooms, onions, lettuce, and tomato, a side salad, and homemade fries (I slice potatoes with the skin into thin strips, sprinkle them with olive oil spray, and bake them in the oven.)
- A salmon burger (no bun) served with sauteed spinach and onions, a large green salad, and a baked potato
- Grilled venison, elk or buffalo with sauteed kale and onions, sauteed mushrooms
- Baked salmon with lemon juice, soy sauce, and dill, with sauteed swiss chard
- Diced chicken with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a creamy sauce; hummus and raw veggies; a side salad
- Stir fry veggies with chicken thighs
Meals without meat:
- Split pea soup and a large side salad
- A brothy soup with lots of vegetables, potatoes, and greens
- “Spaghetti:” spaghetti squash topped with a tomato sauce and parmesan
- Plain kefir or plain greek style yogurt with almonds
- Stir fried veggies with eggs
- An egg frittata with lots of sautéed veggies and pine nuts
- Baked winter squash with cinnamon and pecans and drizzled with flaxseed oil (I love this for breakfast!)
- Lentil soup with a large side salad
- Chili with a huge green salad
- Sauteed veggies and a baked red potato with butter
- Baked yam wedges and a huge green salad, a side of sauteed veggies
- Creamy millet (millet made with 4 parts water to 1 part millet) with sauteed veggies (a wonderful comfort food meal)
- A quinoa-veggie salad
- Homemade black beans, millet and sauteed peppers, garlic and onions
- Roasted red potatoes and veggies, a side salad