By Lisa Åkesson Stryker
Sugar has often been linked to strong emotions for me. I have eaten sugar when I felt happy, sad, lonely, disconnected, tired, hungry, thirsty, anxious, out of control, victimized, unsettled or excited. I could always find a reason why I deserved a piece of candy, and rarely enough strength to say “no.” Sugar was a faithful friend, always there when I needed distraction from what was happening to me. It sounds a bit like an addiction, right?
This winter the negative impact of this relationship became painfully obvious to me. After eating a lot of sugar around Christmas, my skin was breaking out, I felt constantly exhausted and my digestion was protesting. Still I couldn’t stop having the sweets that were presented to me. When my sister shared that she was detoxing from sugar this spring, I jumped right on board with the idea.
Examining my relationship with sugar
The first time I reflected on my relationship with sugar was when I started to work as a model. I understood that to stay thin for work, sugar had to go. But to my surprise, I simply couldn’t release myself from it. The more I forbid myself from having sweets, the more I wanted sugar. I was also eating a low-carb diet, and it made me crave sugar even more. After a while of being consumed with thoughts about sweets, I’d eventually give in and have some. I lost control, overate, then decided I had had enough and gave it up again. I only realized later on that the thinking had to shift from “I can’t have that” to “I choose to do something different because I want different results.” I wasn’t ready then to make new choices.
So this winter I decided to give up refined sugar for a few months. My intention was that things would go smoothly and that by Easter I would be ready to say goodbye to refined sugar for good. Refined sugar, not the more natural types, have been my big challenge. For me there’s a big difference between processed food created in a lab with no nutritional value, prana (life force), or fiber, and natural sugars.
The way I see it, refined sugar is created for two reasons: it is cheap and it designed to get us hooked. Natural sugars, such as honey, maple syrup, jaggery and fruit, provide energy, prana and nutrients to me. Even though these foods can also be addictive, my relationship to them have not had the same kind of charge. It is noticeably easier for me to keep things moderate with these foods, which is why I am choosing to only give up refined sugar.
To get started, my sister, her boyfriend, my husband and I created a messaging group on WhatsApp for support, which was very helpful to me. By knowing that I’m not doing this on my own, everything felt lighter and more fun, like a playful game. Our motivation was to feel better and prove to ourselves that we could do it. After all the Christmas sweets we had plenty of incentive.
The deal was no refined sugar, no baked goods (unless sweetened with the natural sugars and then only on occasion), no fruit juices and no candy. Every time we felt the need to eat sugar, we checked in with the others in the group and discussed it together.
I’m not sure I could have done it without this group. It makes me feel less lonely and snaps me out of the victim role when we can laugh and support each other.
Three days into this new resolution, I realized that we were to be celebrating my grandmother’s birthday, and of course she was baking. I was forced to right away get clear about what I was committing to. You see, my grandmother’s baking is not of the ordinary kind. She does it with immense amounts of love, care and creativity. She cooks from the heart (which also makes it impossible to get her to write down a recipe). So to say "no" to this kind of creation was not easy. She’s also grown up in a time when sugar was considered something of value to be grateful for, so to explain my motive wasn’t an easy task. Luckily, she is fairly used to my diet experiments by now, but I did feel a sting of guilt and sadness at not being able to accept her gift. To have just a little taste would had been to start all over again, after making it through the first three toughest days. To have my support group there helped tremendously, and when I had made peace with my decision, I felt strong and satisfied. I slept well with happy digestion that night.
One of the first things I noticed after starting the cleanse was how much energy and headspace it gave me to simply say “no.” I used to spend so much time thinking about whether I should have a piece of cake or not. By simply saying “no,” I turn that voice off and stop feeding it refined sugar. It is such a great relief! If I let the voice take space again, when I start doubting my decision, my cravings start to creep in.
My cravings can be very strong. So strong they get physically painful. It manifests as a numbing feeling in the solar plexus for me. My Ayurvedic and Yoga practices are a great help through this. They remind me that I’m only doing my best, and that is enough. Breathing practices, prayer, and meditation all help strengthen my mind and my connection to my higher self. It helps process the emotions that come up when I’m not giving in to the cravings.
I’ve learned that the feeling of strength that comes from having control over my own choices is much sweeter than any sweet treat. Every time I make the decision that is right for me, the voice that wants something different goes a little bit more quiet. My mind is strengthened and so is my health.
I also know now to watch out for when I’m extra sensitive to fall back into old patterns. In certain situations I habitually reach for something sweet, and when I feel weak, tired or under the weather, I also tend to seek comfort in food. Knowing this makes it easier for me to prepare healthy snacks and make sure I have warm, healthy meals that satiate me. If I don’t get enough whole grains and all the six tastes in my meals, it’s practically impossible for me to stay away from the fast sugars. I’ve found that the bitter taste is a powerful antidote to the cravings of the sweet one. It sounds counterintuitive, but it really works!
I have not yet healed my relationship with sugar, but I have definitely taken a few steps toward healing. I feel grateful to have the support I need and that I get to feel so balanced now.
A tea to curb sugar cravings
This grounding tea has been a great help for me. Try it with and without honey to see what works best for you and notice what it does to your cravings.
Fenugreek, fennel and cardamom tea
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 cardamom pods
2 star anise
2 tsp. raw honey (optional)
In a small pot, combine three cups of water with the seeds and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 min, then take the pot off the stove.
Strain the tea into two cups.
Add a teaspoon of honey at the end (do not cook the honey with the water).