“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on the fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates
Last month Tim took us through a month of intentional living, challenging us to be intentional around a different aspect of our lives every day. As someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, living intentionally can often feel impossible. Some days the anxiety wins, and I find myself retreating to my bed, willing the day to be over. I barely have the energy to fight my demons and get through the day, let alone taking positive steps towards health and purpose. But over the years I have learned that there are things I can do to help manage my anxiety, and one of the most powerful has been limiting sugar and processed foods in my diet. When I eat lots of fresh foods and healthy fats, and limit the sweet stuff, I function much better, and I am a much nicer person to boot.
So here is my advice for those wanting to quit sugar: Sugar withdrawals suck so do yourself a favour and book a two week holiday at one of those amazingly extravagant tropical health and wellbeing spas. Eat foods that you can’t pronounce, from a menu prepared by someone with questionable qualifications. Sleep on fresh sheets that you don’t have to change, and indulge in daily massages that help your body to flush out all those nasty toxins. Finally, ensure that you include some gentle exercise in your program, such as dolphin led yoga, which I’ve heard has remarkable health benefits.
Alternatively, for those of you who may have:
- Children/elderly parents/emotionally dependent goldfish
- A job
- Severely limited disposable income
- A deep seated distrust of dolphins
Then a full tropical detox program may not suit you. So here is my advice for you. Take it SLOW. Start SMALL. And be PERSISTENT. Don’t try to cut out all sugar all at once; you’ll just make yourself (and everyone around you) miserable, and chances are you’ll relapse and be back where you started. One small change is better than the best of big intentions, and particularly when you are struggling with anxiety like me, sometimes one small change is all you can manage.
Everyone’s journey is different; you know your diet, if you are honest with yourself, you probably know the areas that need to change, but you also know what is achievable and realistic for YOU and your lifestyle.
However, if you are looking for ideas for a place to start, I would suggest start with what you drink. Australians are amongst the world’s biggest consumers of sugary drinks, and about a third of the sugar we consume on a daily basis comes from what we drink. These includes soft drinks, sugar in your tea/coffee, fruit juices and energy and sports drinks.
I think there are a number of reasons for this trend. Sugary drinks are an easy, readily accessibly, pure energy hit for people on the run. As a society we are rushing around more, getting less sleep, spending less time sitting down and being mindful about what we eat, and we’re obsessed with calorie restricted diets. Consequently, we are stressed out, hungry, tired and busy, and it’s so easy to grab an energy drink or a sugary coffee to get through the day. It makes sense, and in the short term it’s effective, but if like me you find that relying on sugar to get you through the day is messing with your anxiety and health, then I would strongly suggest looking at your drink consumption fist of all.
- Gradually decrease your sugar intake. If you have two sugars in your coffee, cut back to 1. If you have a juice every day for breakfast, dilute it with half water. If you have a can of coke every day with lunch, try only having one every second day.
- Drink more water. When you are craving your go-to sweet beverage, have a glass of water first, and see if quenching your thirst helps you to push through. Make water your go-to drink, and sip on it throughout the day, not just when you’re thirsty.
- Learn more about sugar, sugar alternatives and how to read labels. There are some good low fructose sweeteners out there, but you need to know what to look out for, and no, coke zero and ‘sugar free’ soft drinks are not healthy alternatives.
- Start your day with an alkalizing drink, such as lemon water, or an apple cider vinegar tea (see below). I know, I know, it’s not in the least bit appealing, especially if, like me, that first cup of tea or coffee in the morning is what you imagine heaven tastes like. But this is one trick that has really helped regulate my blood sugar levels throughout the day, and stay on track. I think it’s because as soon as you get on the sugar train, you have strap yourself in and ride out the highs and lows, drinking more and more to try and get through the crashes. But when I start my day with an alkalizing drink, I feel much calmer and more in control of my eating and drinking.
Apple Cider Vinegar Tea
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar*
1 tsp brown rice malt syrup or other low fructose sweetener
1 green tea bag
Boil the kettle. Scoop out the rice malt syrup, and pour the apple cider vinegar into a large mug. Fill 1/3 with cold water and the remainder with just boiled water. Add the green teabag and steep for 3-5 minutes. Enjoy! And if you can’t enjoy, persist! You’ll get used to it, I promise!
Note: There is a lot of hype around apple cider vinegar on the internet these days, and I’m pretty sceptical of most of it. To be completely honest, the only reason I use ACV instead of lemon is that I bite my nails and squeezing lemons by hand stings.
There you have it! My four tips for cutting back on sugary drinks! Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some recipes I have be experimenting with as I try to consume less sugar and processed foods. Considering that a couple of months ago I barely managed to get through cooking dinner, I’m quite proud of the fact that I now have the energy and motivation to bake and experiment with different recipes.