I’ve loved sugar my whole life and thought it was normal to constantly eat sugar even though it threw my body off balance. A normal day for me growing up involved eating chocolate-covered croissants for breakfast, a soda and cookies for lunch and sugar-covered cereal for a snack before a dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and crinkle-cut french fries. Notice a trend? Every few hours, when I would feel weak, shaky, fuzzy headed and irritable, I thought I was hungry and needed to eat something. I was right, I did need to eat something that nourished my body, but that’s not what I ate or thought of as normal food.
I didn’t make a connection between how I was eating and how I felt. Many of the uncomfortable side effects of eating sugary junk food hit me a few hours or even days later when the rush of excitement and happy feeling in my stomach was gone. By then my guts were grumbling for another sugar fix.
In my mid-twenties I was sick of crashing and feeling shaky if I didn’t eat something every two hours. I decided to back off from refined sugar. I started eating foods with a whole grain sweetener like brown rice syrup a few times a week. This was a huge change for me since I had been consuming lots of sugar every day with almost every food and drink.
When I stopped the cycle of my blood sugar spiking and crashing throughout the day, I got a clearer idea of what happens when I do eat sugar. I would feel fine if I had fresh fruit in the morning and a huge salad for lunch. For dinner, I noticed if I ate a sauce with sugar in it or had white flour pasta that quickly turns into sugar when you digest it, the shaking was back the next morning and I felt starved! Even worse, what I craved was more of the sweet stuff from the night before.
I was so relieved to feel like I could go a few hours without eating and feel fine. I went a few years without eating any high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar regardless of how minimally processed it was. After I got a handle on my sugar addiction, I started loosening up a bit with the sugar I ate on social occasions, like going to a restaurant for a special meal.
A few years ago I went to a Thai restaurant with some friends and splurged on tofu panang curry with white jasmine rice. That sauce was so creamy from the coconut milk and deliciously sweet from the coconut palm sugar I was in food ecstasy. After dinner I felt exhilarated, bubbly and talkative. I fell asleep that night feeling full and satisfied, floating on a cloud of sugar that was slowly fermenting in my gut….to greet me the next morning with a sugar hangover.
I’d almost forgotten how that felt, to wake up in the morning after a sugary heavy dinner and feel drained, parched with thirst and a headache threatening to spread from my temples to the rest of my skull. Guess what my stomach said about all of this? It wanted tea with sugar and leftovers from the night before. I knew better this time though. I fixed myself a tall glass of water with fresh squeezed lemon and went right back to fresh fruit for breakfast and a big raw salad for lunch. By dinner I felt fine and had my energy back. That was the first time I remember thinking I had a sugar hangover.
Read about the effect sugar has on your immune system and how fresh foods can help you bounce back.