This is an example of a typical lunch at my house – a grilled burger with a cucumber and red pepper salad with an olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing, Bubbie’s pickles (they’re a fermented food and delicious!), steamed broccoli with butter, sauteed mushrooms and onions in olive oil, and homemade yam and potato fries (baked in the oven with olive oil.) I was really hungry after yoga – I even had more mushrooms and pickles after I finished this plate. What you don’t see here is the handful of blueberries I ate afterwards.
The most common question I hear about having a more mindful, conscious relationship with sugar is, “What do I eat?” While there are many nutritionists and doctors talking about the importance of a low sugar diet, they differ in what “no” or “low sugar” means. Some say no fruit, some say no grains, some say no wheat; some say no to all of the above. Some say eat grains, just whole grains; some say it’s the amount of natural sugar you eat in a day that counts, not where it comes from (fruit, starches or dairy foods.)
Why you need to heal both the emotional and physiological roots of a sugar addiction
Trying to navigate this food maze can feel confusing, overwhelming and frustrating! It’s compounded by this challenge: a sugar addiction usually has both a physiological and an emotional component. .
To heal your physiological addiction to sugar, you’ll probably need to make changes in how you eat and transition into a low or no sugar diet. You may also need to address or look into other physiological factors that could be influencing your sugar cravings, like hormonal, mineral or vitamin imbalances, volatile blood sugar, food intolerances or allergies, the health of the gut, and candida overgrowth. An integrative doctor, health coach, or other health practitioner can help you heal the physiological end. If you’re looking for online support, check out the work of Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Sara Gottfried.
With that being said, the emotional healing can help enable you to follow through on the physiological changes – all the changes in your behavior in what and how you eat.
That’s where I come in. I help people heal the drive, impulse, and urge to seek out sugar for stress relief, self soothing, or to numb uncomfortable emotions in the first place.
Navigating the nutritional maze
I share what I eat as one example of how it can be done. It’s an example, a map, not a prescription, of what a relaxed, restful relationship with sugar can look like. I don’t share what I eat as an expert, telling you what or how to eat, for that’s not my focus.
It’s my hope that this knowledge will make your journey through the sugar maze less confusing. If you’re really struggling on the “what to eat” question, there are health coaches, nutritionists, and alternative and mainstream doctors who can help.
Supporting yourself through the process
As you navigate the “what to eat” question, there are several ways you can support yourself – both to uncover the way of eating that’s an excellent fit for your body, and to heal any shame you may feel about eating the “wrong” way:
- It’s a big container. There’s a lot of freedom in the container of “mindful sugar eating,” and many different ways to eat: vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, raw foods, paleo, high protein, clean eating (whole, unprocessed foods), Body Ecology, GAPS, whole foods, and more. I don’t believe that there’s one diet that works best for everyone; I think each person needs to find the way of eating that work for their body type and physiological needs.
- Release your need to have the penultimate answer on the “best” way of eating. The good news about this container is you have lots of choices. The bad news is that those choices can feel overwhelming, particularly if you’re someone who wants to be sure they have the “right” answer. I can relate to this: in my quest to heal my sugar addiction, I was obsessed with learning about nutrition, because I felt anxious about finding the answer on how to eat. The search was driven by my anxiety and my desire for certainty. I wasn’t comfortable with choice, not knowing, or there being more than one “right” answer. In many ways, my need for certainty was another facet of my addiction, in this case my addiction to perfection and control. Giving up the need for control means gaining comfort with life’s inherent uncertainty and ambiguity.
- There’s no wrong way to do this. There’s no way you can fail at this. Truly. Let go of your need for certainty (our need to know is often tied to our fears of punishment if we do the “wrong” thing or our desire for security.) The only thing that counts is learning, trying and growth. Rather than searching endlessly for the answer, I invite you to move that energy into action, experimentation and trial and error. Experiment – how do different meals, foods, and food combinations affect how you feel?
- Listen to your body, play, have fun, and experiment. The best way to find out if a certain way of eating agrees with your body is to try it. Let this experimental stage be messy and fun – not shameful if you find a way of eating isn’t the best fit for you. This means allowing yourself to focus on learning and growth – which means making mistakes – and not blaming yourself that you “should have known better.”
- Be gentle with your ideals. Often, we have an “ideal way” of eating in our minds that we want to follow. But this may not be what your body needs and what helps it thrive. Rather than following an ideal, I encourage you to trust the truth of your experience (vs. what you think you “should” eat.) For me, this meant accepting the truth that I feel better eating animal foods and lots of fat instead of the, raw, plant based diet my mind wanted to eat. I’m not saying a raw diet is wrong, it just didn’t work for me.
- Be gentle with yourself. If you’re just learning about nutrition, whole foods and clean eating may feel intimidating: there’s no way I can eat that way! Big,deep breath my friend. Be gentle with yourself, and start where you are. Start slowly, with one small change at a time. And please don’t compare yourself to others. It’s taken me over 20 years (yes, you read that number right) to change my eating habits and to create a relaxed relationship with food. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I lived on candy, Diet Coke, aspartame flavored yogurt, bagels and salads. I didn’t embrace whole foods overnight. It was a decades long process.
- Small changes are good. We can make this process much harder when we try 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.
- Observe your body. This is how you uncover the foods that love you back: 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. It’s also helpful to note how the combinations of foods make you feel. For example, I noticed that if I eat black beans by themselves, I don’t feel satisfied by my food. But when I eat black beans with protein and fat – like with a hamburger and some avocados – I feel full, satiated, and stable. If you have volatile or low blood sugar, you may need to experiment to find the ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrate that works for you.
Wanting more hands on help?
If you have a painful, compulsive relationship with sugar, there’s a way to heal your sugar obsession so you’re no longer compulsively eating or bingeing on it – but the answer isn’t found in a perfect diet, will power, self control, behavior modification or even a sugar abstinence.
You heal a sugar compulsion by softening the heart, building emotional tolerance, by feeling cravings more, not less; through emotional honesty, and by healing the inner dynamics that drive the impulse to binge on sugar in the first place.