Last month, I celebrated my husband’s birthday, my birthday, and our wedding anniversary. I did it without cake, cookies, ice cream, or any other sugary treat. That’s because I also celebrated my ninth anniversary of living sugar free.
For me, “sugar free” means no foods that are sugar-delivery systems. No desserts, no sweet breakfast baked goods, no meats or vegetables swimming in sweetened sauces, no sodas diet or otherwise. I do occasionally eat foods with traces of sugar in them (restaurant salad dressings, for example), but if I can taste the sweet, I know there’s too much sugar for me, and I give it a miss*.
When people realize I do not have cake for my birthday, pie at the holidays, ice cream on a hot day, they often suggest sugar-free replacements, thinking that will solve my problem. But there are two mistakes in their assumptions.
The first is that the sugar-free look-alike food is a good choice for me, even though the version with sugar is not. Too much sweetness of any kind brings back the cravings for sugar. There was a time when I thought I would die if I didn’t eat sugar every day, and I do not want to go back there. Sugar makes me hyper, then exhausted, anxious and ravenous, fat and sick. I’m much better off without the sugar.
Also, those “sugar-free” foods are rarely truly sugar free. When the sweetness isn’t from a brand-name artificial sweetener, it’s often hidden, or even worse, some “better” sugar source: honey, agave nectar, stevia, fructose. I wish I could say the “better” sugars are OK, but they’re not. My body can’t tell the difference and just starts up the old destructive cycle.
The second assumption is that not having the cake or ice cream is a problem for me. It’s not. I won’t lie to you. There are times (usually Christmas) when I see all the pretty treats everyone is enjoying and I get a bit cranky about not being able to eat the fun food, too. When I am really angry about it, I make art like this.
But is it deprivation when you choose not to eat something you know will make you sick? Hardly. It’s a relief to be free of the vicious cycle sugar put me in, to have steady energy throughout the day instead of a roller coaster of highs and lows. It’s also easier to keep my body at a healthy weight when I’m not constantly hungry, like I was when I ate sugar.
My life since I’ve been sugar free has been full of a different kind of sweetness: I’ve been healthy physically and emotionally in a way I never was when sugar was part of my diet. Today it’s second-nature to me to avoid sugary foods and I am grateful that it has gotten so much easier for me.
It took me eighteen months to stop eating sugar once I realized I really needed to let it go and lots of practice and mistakes with other sweeteners along the way. But I am grateful and amazed to be here, nine years down the road, living sweet sugar-free days.
*Except ketchup. I occasionally have some with fries, but only a tablespoon at a time.