This is what I ate for lunch today: a large salad with lots of different greens, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, oven roasted cashews, bacon slices, sliced up chicken from a roasted chicken, fermented pickles, cucumbers, and an olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing. Afterwards, I was still hungry so I had hummus, gluten free crackers and red peppers.
One of the most common questions people have about going through a sugar detox, giving up sugar, or following a low or no sugar diet is, “What do I eat?”
While my focus is on healing your emotional dependence on sugar, and not your physical dependence on it (I’ll explain more below), the “what to eat” question is an important one, and one that you face every day, multiple times a day.
So I offer these meal ideas to show real life examples of how one person does it. I share what I eat as an example, not a prescription – these are not marching orders. And I share these meals in a spirit of reverence: of not demonizing any food, including sugar.
How sugar creates emotional and physical dependence
Our culture’s contemporary understanding about sugar and sugar addiction is based on the idea that sugar is an inherently addictive substance, and that eating too much (or any) sugar can lead to a physical dependence, addiction, or other health problems.
So most approaches to healing a sugar addiction focus on this physiological healing: healing your physical dependence on sugar by eating less or no sugar. This often includes a sugar abstinence or sugar detox.
Yes, sugar impacts your physiology. So yes, changing how much sugar you eat is important. And it’s not the full solution.
That’s because the physiological understanding of addiction is incomplete. (To learn more about this broader understanding about addiction, I encourage you to explore the work of Dr. Gabor Mate or read Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream.)
It’s not just your physiology, your brain, or sugar’s addictive biochemistry that creates the cravings, addiction, and fixation on sugar. There’s also an emotional bond or dependence.
In truth, these things aren’t separate – there isn’t a split between the mind, the body and emotion. But our culture tends to focus on either the mind or the body and discount emotion. And so there isn’t an understanding of how emotion drives binges, cravings, and food and sugar obsession.
How an emotional dependence on sugar is formed
When most people explore their relationship with sugar, they find that their real “issue” isn’t with sugar at all – but how they relate to their human vulnerability, their pain, and their emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational needs.
The pain of these unmet, denied, and minimized needs is then translated into a strong emotional and physical neediness – cravings – for sugar. Sugar becomes your “best friend” or “mother” – where you turn to self soothe, numb out, soften stress, and care for pain.
From this perspective, the healing process with sugar is two fold:
- To connect. To relate honestly, tenderly, and compassionately to the unmet needs that lie underneath the sugar. As you care for these unmet needs, the drive for sugar softens. In this way, you’re not trying to cope with or manage cravings, you’re facing, softening and unwinding what drives and creates the cravings in the first place.
- And to grieve. To heal your physical dependence on sugar, you need to set a limit on how much sugar you eat. This limit can either be a sugar abstinence or a reduction of the amount of sugar that you’re eating. In either case, when you set this limit, you’re also letting go of your attachment to sugar and how you’ve relied on sugar to care for your needs. Severing this bond can bring up grief and sadness.
How “what to eat” fits in
In both your emotional and physical healing, you’re learning to rely on things other than sugar for emotional, physical and spiritual support, stress relief, pleasure, and pain relief.
So it’s a dance: to heal your physical dependence on sugar, you need to heal your emotional dependence on sugar. And to heal your emotional dependence on sugar, you need to heal your physical dependence on it.
It’s both/and, not either/or.
Every time you sit down to eat, you’re facing both your emotional and physical relationship with sugar. In fact, the act of eating invites you into this dance! That’s what can make meal times so potentially challenging – as well as incredible opportunities for growth.
Overfocusing on “what to eat”
Acknowledging that sugar addiction has an emotional component is important, because when sugar addiction is isolated as a physiological problem, it creates a polarization and a split. This split can lead to an obsession about what to eat and eating “clean” or “purely” and a demonization of sugar.
In other words, if the hammer is “sugar is a physical problem,” the nails are “what you eat, what you eat, what you eat.”
There’s much more I could say about why fixating on what to eat is simply another manifestation of the same addiction that drives us to sugar. But that’s a topic in and of itself.
How healing manifests as changes in what you eat
In my own life, I came to see that all my food compulsions – my addiction to sugar, my obsession with health and nutrition, my need to figure out the “best, ultimate” diet for my body, and my obsession with my weight – shared the same root. In other words, the answer to my sugar addiction was not a lifelong sugar abstinence, but to drain what drove me to seek out these food compulsions in the first place.
This is not to say that I didn’t need to learn how to eat and care for my body or change how much sugar I was eating – far from it. A substantial part of my journey entailed maturing in my relationship with food, and learning how to honor the limits of my body – including limits with sugar.
But there is a vast difference between honoring the body’s limits with sugar and fixating on never eating it.
This healing has helped me both relax about food and sugar (I consciously eat sugar today and enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods) and paradoxically, honor my body’s limits in what and how I eat.
The meals that I share below are the fruit of this learning, and the fruit of this journey, and the fruit of this healing. Enjoy!
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
- Turkey meatballs, lentil dahl, lemon rice, and sauteed vegetables
- A giant taco salad with ground bison, guacamole, salsa, a huge bowl of salad greens, pinto beans, and sautéed onions and peppers
- Turkey sausages, homemade hash brown potatoes, sauteed greens and bacon
- Roast turkey with baked sweet potatoes, salad, and steamed broccoli with lots of butter
- Roast beef with tomatoes, onions, and carrots and sautéed squash (zucchini or yellow squash)
- Grilled salmon, a quinoa vegetable salad, and stir fry veggies
- Chicken salad with homemade, sugar free mayo and veggies on a huge green salad. (I make my own homemade mayo without sugar every week, and use it for all sorts of things, including meat salads. I use this recipe and omit the honey. )
- Bison steak, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, a huge raw vegetable salad, baked yams with cinnamon and chili powder
- 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
- A bunless hamburger with sautéed mushrooms, onions, lettuce, and tomato, a side salad, and homemade fries (I slice potatoes with the skin into thin strips, brush them with olive oil, 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, and gluten free crackers with a cashew dip
- Baked salmon with lemon juice, dill and soy sauce with sauteed swiss chard and a rice or quinoa pilaf
- Diced chicken with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a creamy sauce; hummus and raw veggies; a side salad
- Stir fry veggies with chicken thighs
- A tomato or meat red sauce over gluten free pasta, baked spaghetti squash or squash noodles
- Every week I make bone broths and then I use them to make soups with a variety of veggies (including starchy veggies), greens and spices.
Meals without meat:
- Plain kefir or plain greek style yogurt with almonds, walnuts and ground flaxseeds
- Stir fried veggies with eggs
- An egg frittata with lots of sautéed veggies and pine nuts (I clean out whatever veggies I have in the fridge for my frittatas.)
- Baked winter squash with cinnamon and pecans and drizzled with flaxseed or walnut oil (I love this for a winter dessert.)
- Sauteed veggies and a baked red potato with butter
- Creamy millet (millet made with 4 parts water to 1 part millet) topped with butter and tons of sauteed veggies cooked in olive or coconut oil (This is comfort food for me.)
- Meatless soups – pureed squash soups, creamy tomato soup, gazpacho, lentil soup
Struggling with a sugar addiction?
If you have a painful, compulsive relationship with sugar, and want to unhook from painful sugar cravings, sugar binges, or an insatiable drive for sugar, I can help.
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 feed the impulse to binge on sugar in the first place.
If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to join me for my 30 day program, Emerge. In this gentle, compassion based program, you’ll get 30 days of audio coaching to help you transition into a low or no sugar diet