Sugar-Free & What Changed for Me

When it comes to reaching for your ideals, there is no substitute for having that someone in your life who sets the example and inspires you.

For quite some time, I haven’t been where I would like to be in terms of health and, as an offshoot of that, appearance. To be honest, despite having a lot of knowledge about nutrition and health, I had kind of thrown in the towel when it came to actually acting on that information.

I have a number of health issues that I’ve been sticking my head in the sand about. I’ve felt incapable of making change. I always intend to do better and then, the next day, I find myself back doing the very thing I know does not serve me best but which serves me in that moment. Buying that Dr. Pepper, staying up late into the night, or whatever it happens to be. How’s that for being a slave to your cravings?

Well, this past week, for the first time in a long time, I’ve been able to change that—and to do so in a way I’m feeling is sustainable—and I’m so excited to share with you about it.

Hello, my name is Michelle, and I’ve been sugar-free for 7 days. No Dr. Pepper, no Starbuck’s chai lattes, not even fruit juice or that sneaky little sugar in ketchup and the like. The only sweet I’ve had has been a little bit of fruit.

What made the difference?

For one, I’ll be completely honest: I’m not liking the mirror lately, even less than usual. I know that’s not popular to admit to these days because of the whole movement against body shaming and everything, but these feelings exist and I think there needs to be a safe space to acknowledge them. I’m getting a little older, and I haven’t been feeling like the person I see in the mirror really reflects who I am anymore. I know I have to come to terms with the fact that sooner or later, I will age, and that I must cultivate true beauty in my heart. But on another level, I think it’s okay to be a little dissatisfied sometimes, when it’s within reason and well-founded. It can an inner alarm bell that prods you toward better health. Maybe I simply reached my threshold.

But frankly, that’s happened before without there being something to catapult me from “I want to change” to “I feel I’m capable of changing.” Without the second factor, perhaps I would still be sitting around simply dissatisfied but not taking action about it.

The second thing that happened was that a good friend posted her photos after doing the Whole 30. She looks amazing! What’s more is she suffers from thyroid disease, like me, one of the things I always let stand in the way of my success. It got my wheels turning. At that time, she said she didn’t know how much she’d lost because she hadn’t been on the scale, but a few weeks later, she said that after 56 days, she’d lost 20 pounds.

Twenty pounds. That’s basically my goal weight, so that number really hit home. I think that’s when I started to say to myself that maybe it really was possible and worth the sacrifice to not only lose the weight but all the other health improvements that come with changing how you eat and getting more active. If she could do it, maybe I could do it, too.

Learning to Respect What Works for Me

I would call this “listening to your inner dieting voice,” but my inner voice says to eat ice cream…

Back in January, I asked for the 21-Day Sugar Detox for Christmas and set about doing a detox. It stunk. In the past, I had experienced the initial few days of no-fun withdrawals and then they were over. This time, they continued for Two. Weeks. At which point I tapped out and began my REtox.

Upon seeing my friend’s success, I looked into the Whole 30, and it’s about the same as the strictest level of 21DSD. I had only been doing the easiest one, where dairy and gluten-less grains (like rice) are still allowed. Given the level of deprivation I felt with 21DSD last time around, I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea to try something more restrictive. So I don’t choose to do either of those programs right now.

Instead, I’m adopting an approach that is less rules-based and more common sense, and I’m taking one step at a time.

Registered dieticians will tell you to get 45-65% of your calories from carbs, 20-35% from fat, and 10-35% from protein. Fat, particularly saturated fat, has been vilified. Reading Nourishing Traditions and later, blogs like bionutritionist Chris Masterjohn’s blog Cholesterol and Health, have really helped me to see what a myth that is. Since, more and more respected mainstream sources have come out with information that saturated fat is not connected to disease after all. Many people believe the target range for fat should actually be more like 40-60% of calories, particularly saturated fat! And people like Gary Taubes have helped me see that the calories-in-calories-out theory of weight gain and loss just doesn’t pan out.

So many people are having success with lifestyles like Paleo, Whole 30, and 21DSD (which are all low-carb, no-processed diets). Yet one concern for me is that lowering carbs too much can actually have a very counterproductive effect for thyroid patients because our bodies use carbs to help us convert thyroid hormone. I believe this has been a problem for me and a wall I’ve run up against when trying to stick to other diets. Paleo guru Mark Sisson recommends keeping carbs under 80 g, and under 50 g, if you’re trying to lose weight. Yet Chris Kresser warns that hypothyroid people should keep their carbs a bit higher at 15-30%.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never been likely to become a calorie counter, and I’m not going to start now, but I do think it helps to have a general idea of what you should aim for, to help you know what a day of meals might look like or how often you might be able to have a bit of rice.

My Personal Eating Plan

So here’s what I’ve settled on for myself. Now that I’m looking at it, it’s actually a 21DSD with no restrictions on fruit.

  • Aim for around 1850 calories, but not count calories religiously, just ballpark it.
  • About 25% carbs, 15-20% protein (as desired), 55-60% fat
  • Absolutely NO sugar. No sodas, ice cream, candy, added sugar in sauces and dressings, fruit juice, and for now, even honey
  • Eat fruit of all kinds in moderation
  • Strive to get a lot more fat and protein in, and reach for these when I’m flagging or getting cloudy-headed between meals
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep
  • Not sweat, for now, the fact that I can’t afford grass-fed meats
  • Include beans and lentils
  • I’m already gluten-free, so continue with that, but within my allotted carbs (about 116 g, based on my weight, activity level, and body fat percentage), try to get the bulk of them from vegetables and fruits, starches like sweet potato, yucca, plantain, and a little potato
  • Not worry too much about starchy vegetables, as long as I’m pretty close on the ballpark carb count
  • Allow myself brown or white rice or quinoa once or twice a week, but I’m still not sure corn is such a great idea
  • Avoid caffeine for now

Y’all, I’m so excited and proud of myself. With the exception of a slightly bumpy first two days (made better by some fruit), this week went great, and I’m feeling able to keep going. What eating plan has worked for you? Do you have any go-to tips for sticking to a healthy eating plan? What was your “Aha!” moment that enabled you to take action for better health or weight loss?

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