7 Ways I Quit Bad Sugars to Heal
I always figured that healing is straightforward. I told myself that If I ever got cancer, I would just change my diet. Eat a raw, vegan, alkaline diet. Easy-peasy, I thought. But I have a sweet tooth and it can be a weakness. I even started a company baking cupcakes and cookies several years ago. Pulling out freshly baked cookies from the oven was a temptation each time.
When I did get cancer, I spent a lot of time navigating through the decision-making. I went to see several doctors, wondered who I should listen to, which advice to take, scheduled appointments, picked up medication, went through further testing, and coordinated with people to come with me on visits or for rides. And throughout all of that, I had a ritual.
For a while, I was eating gluten-free treats and was trying out different brands. Some nights, I would go to the market for a bag of gluten-free cookies (which aren’t much healthier), get back in my car and sit there by myself. I would break open the bag and start eating. The first couple of cookies tasted good. Reaching for more, I’d tell myself to stop, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore but I still couldn’t stop. I knew they weren’t good for me. Cookie after cookie, I repeated the cycle of telling myself to stop, giving in, feeling anxious, finishing the cookie and reaching in for more.
The cookies made me feel better for a short time in the beginning but it just wasn’t worth it. As soon as I finished the bag, I feel guilt, shame, frustration, fear and disappointment in myself. I felt defeated and I felt way too full for hours afterward. I knew it was an addiction to sugar and I was binging. It was a way to cope with the stress of it all. I knew better but this episode repeated many times.
Then I read somewhere that you can feel free to eat as much as you want if you make your own dessert. I thought, “Yes, this sounds right.” I started to make brownies every week and ate a lot of them. With this switch from store-bought treats to homemade, I didn’t feel as guilty. I was using healthier ingredients like nuts, seeds, flax, better sugar, better oil, no eggs, no wheat flour, sometimes vegan and sometimes raw.
At first, I would eat two rows of brownies, which is a lot since they were mainly nuts or seeds. After a month or two, I was satisfied after eating one row; then weeks later, half a row and eventually just one square. Eventually, I got over the brownies and switched to dark chocolate. At first, I would eat two rows of that. After a couple of months, I just needed one row. I would go back and forth between brownies and chocolate; they were on my guilt-free dessert rotation. The portions that satisfied me slowly got smaller and smaller. Because I allowed myself to have as much as I wanted, I gave myself time to get the cravings out of my system. Little victory: I let myself get bored.
I also went through a phase of craving doughnuts. For months, I thought about them regularly. Sometimes, I would think about them all day. I would plan out in my mind when I would get one, if I would try out a new spot and what kind I would get. Some of the time, I would talk myself out of it. Other times, I gave in and got one. I told myself to not feel guilty, I would just enjoy it. Little victory: I removed the guilt.
Then I started to ask myself, “Do I really want this doughnut?” Sometimes what sounded better was a nap. Sometimes I needed face-to-face time with my man or to cuddle up with him to a movie. Sometimes a phone call with an old friend or a 40-minute walk did the trick. Little victory: I asked myself what I really needed.
And when the answer would be “Yes, I want a doughnut” and I would go for it. After a couple of bites, I noticed that I didn’t enjoy it like before. Since my taste buds were changing, I started to really taste how bad the oil was. The pleasure level went from an 8 to a 6; it just wasn’t as appealing. And THAT was cool. Little victory: I was retrained my taste buds.
I allowed myself to have what I wanted, got my sugar fix and didn’t feel bad about it. Part of the reason the doughnut didn’t taste as good was because I got it in the afternoon and it was stale. But it was still a victory. More and more, it became a turnoff to have one.
After the cancer diagnosis, I was cutting out most fruits and sweet vegetables. One night, after months of doing this, I made a dinner salad with roasted beets and yams. I usually want dessert after dinner but that time I didn’t. I had no desire to have anything else sweet; I was amazed. I was totally satisfied and didn’t need or want anything else. Little victory: I chose sugar in a healthy, whole form.
I wanted to reprogram my mind and take away the challenge in switching to healthier choices. I had to rewire my thinking.
When I scheduled my 10-day silent meditation retreat, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to handle it. It was 10 days of no talking, no phones, no journaling, no exercise and 10 hours a day of silent meditation. A friend who already did the retreat said “Don’t psych yourself out.” That stayed with me. The retreat was challenging but not as hard as I thought it would be. Keeping the mindset that I could complete it definitely helped.
For my sugar cravings, I realized that my beliefs about it were negative. I felt like it wasn’t easy or possible to get over them. I didn’t say it out loud but deep down, that was my underlying belief. My old belief was “It’s hard to stop having sugar cravings. I don’t know when I will be able to do it. I don’t know if I can.”
I started using affirmations and chose a statement that spoke to me. I wrote down “I only crave what my body needs.” I looked at that sentence and repeated in my mind. After several months, I noticed it sinking in. More and more, I WAS craving healthier foods.
Then I added: “I will get over my sugar cravings and it will be an easy process.
I told myself these things repeatedly. And now I really do crave foods that my body needs more and more. The junk foods aren’t as satisfying anymore. I notice even more now how foods can make me feel sluggish and heavy. Little victory: I changed my beliefs.
I also have the support of my man, K, who has been really helpful. His willingness to eat anything I make gives me the freedom to experiment. I don’t have any restrictions. I don’t have to convince K to eat anything I make and he tells me regularly that he appreciates my healthy cooking. His positive attitude has been an invaluable part of this change. Little victory: I have a partner who gives me the support to make healthy choices.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was automatic for me to believe that I will not die from it. Surprisingly, having a positive mindset about my addiction to sugar was harder. After all, craving sugar is coded into our genes, it’s a survival mechanism. The body needs glucose. But PROCESSED sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
According to Tom Rath’s book Eat, Move, Sleep it takes a year for the body to adjust to dietary changes and I had been changing it every few months. Reprogramming has been a gradual process for me; it’s taken me 2 years to gain control on my cravings. Now, I eat really well.
My point is that when you take it slow, you give your body a chance to adjust. Your taste buds change when you give it time. You begin to taste the quality of ingredients and flavors comes through more, good or bad. They start to taste too sweet or too salty and some foods just taste fake. And if/when you go back to having those naughty foods that tasted good but wasn’t good for you, it won’t have the same appeal.
But it takes time, you’ve got to give your body time to adapt. If you try and make changes that are too much, too fast, the process will become drawn out. You’ll feel deprived and have an overwhelming urge to go back to your old ways. You’ll beat yourself up for not having more will power and that’s draining in itself. You’ll binge, feel shame, set out to do better next time, go for bigger goals to offset your mistake and loop back around again.
If you set out to make tiny steps with the intention of those changes to be permanent, they will have a better chance of sticking. It might take a while to kick the sugar addiction, but the little goals will be easier to attain. The process will be smoother and more consistent. Now, when I let myself surrender to naughty cravings and I don’t enjoy them as much, that actually makes me happy. It’s progress. My sweet tooth doesn’t control me anymore.