One day last year I was killing myself on the rowing machine (I have realized that I hate HATE HATE running), watching Netflix. I clicked on a show called Addiction. It’s a really good, graphic non-fiction show about–surprise!–addicts and alcoholics. The woman on the show was talking about how low she had fallen because of her heroin addiction and how she simply couldn’t stop using even though she was ruining her life and the lives of everyone around her. When she was describing what is was like with the heroin having so much power over her and not being able to stop, I burst into tears. I sat there and sobbed because I felt exactly the same way. But my drug of choice is not illegal. It is sugar.
If you scroll through my recipe tab you will notice that pretty much every recipe I list is chock full of carbs and sugar. These things are my very favorites in life. I grew up baking, teaching myself how to bake at an early age because I simply couldn’t get enough suweets (this is what I did whenever you left the house, Mom! You told me not to use the stove or oven but I just had to). Luckily I was blessed with a decent metabolism that tidily sorted through the sugar and pop I existed on for most of my life. Once I hit 40, though, my metabolism waved goodbye. Practically overnight it came to a screeching halt. I did what I had done in the past: went to Weight Watchers, tried to be reasonable about portion sizes and switched my full-sugar Mt. Dew habit to Coke Zero (sorry, but I find Diet Coke to be utterly vile.) Nothing happened. I couldn’t lose a pound if my life depended on it.
Then I was called to be the Relief Society President. This means I was put in charge of all the women in my church congregation. Not only am I in charge of planning activities and lessons, but I’m the one on the front lines when the women have major setbacks due to illness, depression, death or unemployment. All sorts of fun things. All this new stress and responsibility left me exhausted and depleted at the beginning. So I did what every red-blooded American would do; I turned to food. Now I wasn’t stress-eating just for my own problems, I was stress-eating for everyone’s problems! The results were not pretty. I didn’t even know you could gain weight that fast!
I cut down on calories and took up running (I had to try it before I realized I hated it so), and rowing and exercise videos. Unfortunately my weight stayed exactly the same. The scale would not budge. I cut out most white flour and ate nothing but whole grains (hey, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies are really fantastic, by the way! Super chewy!). And there were no more calories from soda since I was drinking diet. I couldn’t figure out what was going on or how to change it.
I knew exercise must be important but so far I hadn’t found the thing that rocked my world. And I knew I needed a partner to help me find some accountability. I’d been hearing about crossfit a lot so I found a place near us that had fantastic reviews on Yelp and got my friend Anna to go with me. It was hard. Really hard. But I really liked it. And hated it. If you know crossfit, you know what I mean. I’ll talk more about it another time. But the foundation of crossfit is good nutrition. That’s a really big deal. In particular, crossfit people are totally into paleo.
My crossfit coach suggested I try Paleo but once I found out that sugar and grains are forbidden I was like, “HELL NO!” Like, no way would I ever, ever eat that way in a million years. My coach just smiled, “after about a month of crossfit I bet you’ll try it.” I snort-laughed because there was not even a shred of possibility that that might happen. Obviously he didn’t know who he was talking to; I have won blue ribbons for my baked goods! That stuff is in my blood! Sugar and flour are my soul!
But this voice in my head kept nagging at me to think about it. Even doing crossfit several times a week was not helping my weight. The numbers refused to get lower. I began to face the fact that flour and sugar were like a dysfunctional relationship: they were doing me nothing but harm although I still loved them desperately. It was time for us to break up.
I read several books about eating Paleo* and here’s what turned me onto it: it’s all about getting over sugar and carb cravings. It’s about teaching your body to have a healthy relationship with food. It’s about healing your body from the damage you’ve done over your lifetime, and becoming as healthy as possible through clean eating. And most importantly to me it means eating foods that provide a healthy psychological response.
In other words, not eating because of sadness or boredom. You don’t think of food as a reward (that’s a big deal for me. I think of food as the ultimate reward). You can find all sorts of “heathy sweets” that have honey or agave. Or sugar-free chocolate. But those aren’t going to do you an favors if you’re a sugar addict. I needed to teach my body how to not crave things like that anymore. And the only way to kill a craving is to starve it to death. (Not starve as in “no calories”, starve as in “no more sweet things whether they are ‘healthful’ or not”.)
Not eating carbs and sugar is pretty much the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Without a doubt. I face a temptation every hour of every day. Unlike heroin addicts, though, sugar is not only served everywhere, it is encouraged! (Who’ll bring refreshments? Who wants some birthday cake? It’s free slurpees today!) I’ve had to stop bringing people cookies because I can’t bake them and not eat them. I have to buy snacks for my kids that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole so I won’t be tempted (It would have to be the end of the zombie apocalypse before I would put a baked Cheeto in my mouth.) I psyche myself up and do a pep-talk before I go to any church function (Refreshments are so hard to say no to!). And I practically wear blinders when I go to the grocery store .
It’s getting easier, though. I pray a lot (seriously. “Please Heavenly Father, do not let me think about peanut butter M&Ms”. I know it sounds pathetic and cheesy but it really works). This morning I took my kids to our favorite donut shop (I love donuts with a grand passion) and I sat and watched them eat their donuts without even having a bite. I abstained from ordering a donut for myself even when I saw them carry out a fresh, hot tray of chocolate glazed with peanuts–my favorite! I haven’t had soda or caffeinated anything since New Year’s Eve and I’ve stopped staring at the soda fountains longingly. I no longer think about how great a Big Gulp would taste right now. When it gets really hot out, though, I’m probably going to die without pop. Gotta stay strong!
The good news? The weight is coming off. Slowly. But it is coming off. And unlike Weight Watchers** or starving myself, I have plenty to eat. I’m never hungry. Thank goodness bacon and cashews are paleo or I would probably kill myself. The best thing, though, is that I feel strong and healthy. Not just physically healthy but mentally and emotionally healthy. I don’t reach for food when I’m bored. Although I have discovered that I am not a bored or sad eater. When I’m depressed I don’t want food. I’m an angry eater! When I’m frustrated and angry I want to “show everyone” by pigging out. I know, it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s what I’ve discovered about myself.
Will I stay paleo forever? I don’t think so. I really do think that whole grains need to be part of the human diet. I’ve been doing a lot of research and really feel like whole grains are important. But I need to be in a healthy state of mind before I can make that happen. I need to exist without thinking/wishing/pigging out on sugar day after day. I need to get cravings out of my system so one cookie doesn’t turn into fifteen cookies (which is what happens now, no lie). I need to be able to say, “that’s enough” and so far that’s not part of my lexicon. But I’m hoping that I will be able to change that soon. And permanently. Until then, bring on the pea pods!
*If you’re interested in Paleo (which is a stupid, stupid name), I would HIGHLY recommend getting the book The Paleo Coach by Jason Seib. It’s fantastic.
**Weight Watchers has worked really well for me in the past but recently it just hasn’t done the trick. Plus it doesn’t really help with my sugar addiction. Instead I end up eating all my points by lunchtime and then I’m left with ten more hours of starvation. You’d think I would learn my lesson but I never did. Then there is the whole issue of weight being the ultimate gold standard. Weight is just a number. It doesn’t mean you’re healthy or that you look good. And who hasn’t felt great going into a meeting because you’ve tried so hard only to have all the feelings negated because of what the scale says. It’s not right!