Since January, I’ve made it my mission to eat better, exercise regularly, and eat less sugar. I knew I had to make a change because I was in a funk. I had reached that uncomfortable stage where even your underwear feels tight…where Exercising You seems like such a foreign idea that you can’t fathom how you ever once ran five miles, let alone two…and the stage where you can’t wait to get home at night so you can change into your favorite sweat pants and curl up with your favorite men: Ben & Jerry.
I tend to do this every year. When summer ends and the days start getting shorter, I hunker down like a little squirrel getting ready for winter—only instead of burying my nuts all over the backyard, I’m baking breads, sitting on my ass, and coming up with excuses to not leave the house. By Thanksgiving, I’m on the Atkins Opposite diet and my major food group is carbs. By Christmas, I’m still all about the carbs plus sugar. I tell myself I am getting into the “holiday spirit” when I bake sugar cookies, banana breads, and drink my weight in eggnog. By New Years Day, I’m 10-15 pounds heavier, my wardrobe is big sweaters, and I’m depressed—not just because of the number on the scale, but because eating shit food makes you feel terrible.
So like millions of other Americans, on January 1st I started to make changes. I reinstalled MyFitnessPal to count calories and exercise, went for a run (and surprisingly didn’t die), threw out a bunch of crap food, stocked up on fruits and vegetables, and vowed to not eat sugar.
SUGAR IS THE DEVIL
Cutting out sugar was brrrutal. For one thing, sugar was a part of my every day routine, from adding sugar to my morning coffee, to eating chocolate at the office, to having dessert every night. It was so hard for me in the beginning to stop consuming sugar that I actually dreamed I was baking chocolate chip cookies and secretly eating them. I was addicted.
The other reason why it was so hard to give up sugar is because food manufacturers add sugar to literally everything. If you don’t believe me, look at the label of something random next time and I can almost guarantee you there is sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame or some other sweetener in it. WHY oh WHY does sugar need to be in oatmeal, granola, yogurt, ketchup or spaghetti sauce? Simple: because it tastes good and will make you more likely to buy their product.
Because I knew it would be nearly impossible to stop eating any and all sugar, I just tried to make better choices where I could. I started to drink my coffee black, brought fruit and salads every day for lunch, and plucked the M&M’s out of my trail mix. I put the M&M’s I would have eaten into a plastic baggie and by the end of the week I was blown away by the amount of sugar and chocolate I would have had when eating a “healthy” snack. My chocolate drawer at work also accumulated quite the collection — Hershey kisses as gifts on Valentine’s Day, Andes mints from Christmas, assorted candy bars from a rep who dropped by…I threw them all into the drawer and forgot about them. Finally, I stopped eating dessert. This was hard because it was our routine to eat dessert several nights a week (hello, tight undies), but I found that having a cup of tea after dinner really helped. Eventually, I stopped craving dessert (and dreaming about it 😉 ).
The more you move, the more calories you burn, which is why having an exercise routine is so important. I set a goal that was doable for me – lift weights 2x/week; run 2x/week and try to move in some other way 1x/week, whether that meant taking the dog for a long walk, using the elliptical, snowboarding, whatever. But I also planned for rest days. I can’t stress the importance of them enough, not just to give your muscles a break but to give your mind a break. It was important to remind myself, “It’s OK, the world is not going to end if you don’t work out today.”
I’ve had three cheat days since January 1st and I have to say they all made me sick. In January, we went out to celebrate Dan’s soberversary and split a piece of chocolate cake. The sugaryness of it was overwhelming. It felt like I was biting into sugar cubes and was shocked that I used to be able to tolerate that much sugar and chocolate.
The second cheat day was for the SuperBowl and we went balls to the wall. Chicken wings, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips-everything and anything we hadn’t been eating. A couple hours after eating all that junk, I felt like I was going to throw up. All I could compare it to was a night of binge drinking, where you curl up into a ball, replay everything you consumed and ask whyyyyy, and promise the gods you’ll never do this again. The next morning I had the same symptoms of a hang over — nausea, headache, feeling tired, feeling like crap, and promising you aren’t ever going to do that again. I literally had a junk food hangover.
The third day was for my birthday. We were on our way to a casino early in the morning and didn’t have time for breakfast so we stopped at a McDonald’s. I ordered what I had eaten hundreds of other times: Egg McMuffin and Hashbrowns. 30 minutes later we were pulling into a gas station because I thought I was going to be sick. It didn’t even occur to me that my body could no longer tolerate that food.
SUGAR + ACNE
In December, aka The Month Where I Almost Got Diabetes, my skin was an absolute disaster. My face was breaking out non-stop and (TMI Alert) my back looked like a landmine. I would have Dan inspect my back and at one point he counted something like 20+ zits on my back, some of them the size of dimes. It was disgusting and pretty painful. But since cutting way back on sugar, I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my skin. It’s long been contested whether or not sugar is linked to acne…but I am a believer. Now that I’m eating a lot less of it, my face and back both look clear and healthy.
I’ve lost about seven pounds so far and 1-2 inches– except for my boobs, pretty sure I’ve lost a full cup size there. Thanks, Diet. Pants that I was popping out of in Nov/Dec are now baggy. I feel better and I feel stronger. I like seeing the definition and contours that are appearing on my muscles. I like seeing the progress I’m making – from being able to do 1 pushup, to now doing 10…to not being able to hold myself on a pull up bar at all, to now lasting 2-3 seconds, to being able to run faster and longer. It’s all progress and I’ll take it! I just hope I can keep it going all year long.