I always knew I was an emotional eater, but it wasn’t until I gave up sugar did I understand the full extent of it:
Had a bad day at work – come home eat chips, drink wine
Feeling moody – eat chocolate
Wanting a night in – eat chips and ice cream
Having a good day – buy treats from the bulk barn
It’s Tuesday – margaritas
It’s Wednesday – latte and a cookie
Tired from a long day – order a pizza
Grass is green…. You get the idea.
As you can see, sugar played a large role in how I dealt with stress. I was allowing myself to use my feelings as an excuse to eat foods that I KNOW would make me feel worse. I’ve had to kick a lot of old habits to the curb and focus on dealing with my emotions more responsibly this last month and a half.
I actually hate admitting all this, which is why I was putting off writing this blog. I would rather believe and have you believe that I eat what I should eat, when I should eat it, and that I love and dream about kale every night – isn’t that what nutritionists do? I’ll let you all in on a little secret though, I am still a work in progress. I’m not perfect and that is okay – nobody is.
I do however, commit myself to constant improvement. This year of no sugar is all about finding ways that I can improve my life. As a holistic nutritionist, I am aware that we are complex creatures and there is more to optimal health than what’s on our plates. Part of this complexity is our body’s reaction to stress. I have trained myself throughout my life, to react to stress by shutting down and turning to food for comfort. I tend to isolate myself and let the worry and anxiety build up inside, setting myself up for a losing battle. After a quick look at the mechanics of stress, I’ll talk about some of the methods I’ve been using to deal with my stress since quitting sugar.
First off let’s take a quick look at the actual physiological changes in our bodies that occur when we are feeling stressed. You may have heard of the “flight or fight” response. We evolved this response as a survival mechanism so we can react quickly to any threatening situations.
When we encounter a stressful event, our brain sends out a distress signal which activates our sympathetic nervous system by sending signals to our adrenal glands. These glands that sit atop our kidneys jump into gear and send out epinephrine, better known as adrenaline, into the bloodstream. This surge of adrenaline causes our heart to beat faster to get more blood to the muscles, our pulse and blood pressure goes up. We start to breathe faster and airways in our lungs open up a little more so we can take in more oxygen, which then gets sent to our brain to increase alertness. Adrenaline also triggers the release of blood sugar and fats from storage in our body, this supplies extra energy to all parts of our body. All of this happens before our brain can even fully process what is going on. If we continue to perceive stress, a second system jumps into place to help us maintain. Our brains, pituitary gland and adrenal glands communicate to release cortisol. This keeps us on high alert. When the stress has finally passed, our parasympathic nervous system will dampen the stress response and get us back into a state of “rest and digest.”
This all sounds really cool, why wouldn’t we want to remain at this super human level of alertness at all times? Unfortunately, prolonged levels of stress and elevated adrenaline can damage our blood vessels and arteries and elevated cortisol contributes to the buildup of fat tissue and leads to weight gain.
Think of it this way – our fight or flight response disrupts any non-essential body functions. Digesting your lunch becomes unimportant if you trying to outrun a bull. However, our bodies can’t really distinguish between running from a bull and running from deadlines, traffic, or your boss. Many of us these days find ourselves in a constant state of low grade stress and because of this we are put ourselves at risk of health problems: depression, anxiety, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and of course problems with digestion.
With all of this in mind, I have committed myself to deal with stress in a more appropriate way. What does this mean? First off, prevention is key. So avoiding any unnecessary stressful situations and finding activities that help to build me up. Apologies to anyone whose parties I’ve been missing so far this year, but I’ve been trying to fill my time with things like book club, a new bootcamp at the gym, swimming, hikes with my family, reconnecting with friends at cool new restaurants and even just keeping on top of chores and renovations going on at the house. These things help to ease stress instead of adding to it.
I’ve been working on a bit of momentum of “just do it” since September and it has actually been helping! If there is something looming in the back of my mind, I tend to worry about it and if I don’t really want to do it, I put it off and continue to worry about it. The first thing I’ve been doing when I get to work in the morning, or sometimes before I leave at night, is to make a quick to do list of all the things I want or need to get done that day. I can then do a quick scan and see what is most important and work on those tasks first. Also crossing things off on that list makes me feel awesome!
Physical activity is an amazing way to deal with stress. I posted a question on my Facebook page about how you all deal with stress and most, if not all the responses, related to moving! Going for walks, hitting the gym, yoga or stretching, these are all amazing ways to help our bodies calm down. There is always something about going for a nice long walk that makes you forget about your problems and breath a little deeper.
Meditation is another way I’ve been trying to quiet my anxious thoughts. I’ve been going through the free first 10 series on the Headspace app and I’ve been loving it. It’s only 10 minutes per session, but it helps me to chill out and focus on the present.
Being prepared. When I take the extra time to plan out meals for the week and pre-make some side dishes or even a few meals on a Sunday, supper becomes much more enjoyable and gives me more time at night to go for a walk or do some yoga. Also packing up my gym bag and making sure lunches are packed before bed allows me to have a much calmer morning. Nothing is worse than starting off the day rushing around like a giant stressball.
Just doing things you like. It seems like we deprive ourselves of enjoyable hobbies, like painting, reading, knitting, woodworking, birdwatching, drawing, etc. Whatever it is that floats your boat, allow yourself to work on it a few times a week.
Watch what you eat. Some foods can aggravate your stress and some can help to alleviate it. I’ve had to cut back my coffee intake to one a day at the most and try to go without a few times a week. Although I love it, it is far too stimulating for me and I can warm myself up with a nice cup of tea instead. Foods like: dark chocolate (yay), leafy greens, turkey, organ meats, asparagus, and chamomile can help our bodies deal with stress. To avoid this post becoming more of a novel. I will leave you with this link which talks about more foods that can help ease anxiety: Mindbodygreen
Thanks for reading, stay awesome!
Week one (and a bit).
Day one was awful to be honest. I was so panicked about preparing foods for a long weekend of camping, that I totally blanked on day one and forgot to even pack a lunch. I spent so long at work trying to decide what I could buy that was compliant, that before I knew it, my stomach was growling and getting to that hangry stage that no person should ever get to. I ran out and got a wrap that was not sugar free. Normally I would get completely hung up on a stupid mistake like that, but I need to take it one meal at a time, or else this will be a verrrry looong year! I’m being completely honest with you because nobody is perfect! That night my husband and I made up some sugar free meatballs, pasta sauce and spaghetti squash and I moved on.
In order to prepare for camping, I wrote out a list of meals for the weekend and my husband (I should mention that although my husband is being super supportive, he is still eating sugar) and I got to work on pre-making meals so I had no reason to start reaching for hotdogs and marshmallows. After packing up all the food and labelling each container instead of feeling relieved and accomplished, I felt like a complete crazy person! What have I become? is this really weird? do I have that virus from cats that makes people do crazy things? By 10:30 the night before we left, I just had to laugh at myself as I packaged up my kale chips (why is there sugar in so many store-brand chips?!). I think I’ve gone full crunch.
The weekend went well! We definitely had enough food and aside from getting a little sugar sprinkled on me by some friends, they were really supportive and I think I did a pretty good job avoiding it. Full disclosure: I was still having some drinks, but I stuck to gin and water with lemons and limes.
Being prepared is really going a long way. It is a little tedious, but it’s worth it and knowing exactly what we need at the market and grocery store makes it a lot faster to just run in and out.
As far as any detox symptoms, I have been slightly moodier and by slightly I mean very moody. I have also been a little more tired during the day, especially at work. I think being outside in nature during the whole first weekend really helped to get my mind off of things and helped reduce the headache-style sugar withdrawal symptoms. There have been a few times this week where I thought I should delete everyone on my Instagram that was posting pictures of food, and a very close moment when I found some remnants of a Zazubean chocolate bar in with my snacks – but I stayed strong.
This Sunday was tough – normally on Sunday husband and I will eat a massive brunch and not really need to eat again till supper, but this week we ate a smaller breaky and I had no toast with mine. By the time we were out and about checking out the Halls Creek Art Festival, my stomach was growling and I was surrounded by booths selling and giving away candy. I found the Habitual Chocolate booth and tried some of their 100% sugar free chocolate, but it wasn’t enough to fill me up. It took all my will to not pick a fight with my husband who bought himself an amazing looking brownie. We raced home and I whipped myself up a delicious smoothie – crisis averted! I think I’ll have to keep a container of trail mix in my purse from now on.
I haven’t been bloated since starting…err finishing (?) with sugar and that to me is totally worth it. I’m down about 5 pounds already as well, which is great!
These first few weeks I am going easy on myself, but next week I’m going to commit to the 21 Day Sugar Detox which is a little more restrictive in terms of fruits and starchy vegetables. I think it will be helpful to do a complete reset and retrain my palate.
Yours in sugar-freeness,