Hello. My name is Christine and I'm addicted to sugar, salt, and bread. I have equal opportunity sweet tooth and salt tooth. And I'm an emotional eater through and through.
There. I said it.
On the whole, I'm generally not a terrible eater. I tend to eat real food — mostly plants — and I never eat too much. I exercise regularly, practice yoga and meditate (kind of). Overall, I'm healthy. I'm not overweight. There's nothing to worry about, right?
Except I felt like crap. Plus, my family's health history is bleak. Cancer runs on both sides of the family. And when your father passes away at the age of 42 from a heart attack, heart disease is a serious concern. You grow up paying attention to vital signs, lab tests, and other markers of a well functioning body.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped listening and began taking my health for granted. In particular, I let my eating habits slide. I stopped being choosy about what I ate.
More baked goods and slices of pie found their way onto my plate. A handful of lime Tostitos became half a bag. I needed a flour tortilla quickly warmed on the stovetop whenever my stress levels started to spike. And bread — the crusty, doughy baked fluffs of heaven — I loved it.
At some point, I was no longer comfortable in my own skin. My clothes felt clingy instead of confidence-boosting. Shiny red and angry patches of eczema, which usually plagued only my fingers and upper lip, cropped up with a vengeance on the back of my neck, eyelids, chin, and fingers. I felt bloated and sluggish. I was a slave to my sugar cravings. I woke up most mornings feeling like I was hit by a truck or hungover (when I didn't even drink the night before). I couldn't speak to my family until I shot half of cup of coffee into my system.
Across social media and the blogosphere, I heard of more and more people embarking on a month-long clean eating program that eliminated sugar, alcohol, soy, dairy, grains/gluten, legumes, and corn. It sounded like another fad diet that promised too many miraculous benefits.
I couldn't speak to my family until I shot half of cup of coffee into my system.
But as I dug deeper, I was curious. How would reducing the amount of inflammation-promoting food actually affect my system? Would it lift the brain fog? Would it give me more energy? Would it break my sugar addiction? Would it clear up my eczema? I've seen dermatologists in the past but they didn't offer much help beyond a prescription for steroid creams that left my skin crinkly and paper-thin. If there was a chance that my eczema was food-related and I could identify the trigger, I'd be willing to try it.
But my previous attempts to cut sugar were massive fails. It didn't matter if it was a 3-day, 5-day or 7-day sugar detox — I always gave up on Day 2, unable to quell the pounding headache or the siren call of my secret stash of chocolate hidden in the back of the pantry.
If I couldn't make it through two days without sugar, how I could survive 30 days without sugar, alcohol, soy, dairy, grains, and gluten along with legumes, corn, and additives and preservatives?
But something needed to change. My body and mind needed a reset.
The weekend before Day 1, I meal planned and food prepped like a champ. I knew exactly what I was going to eat for each meal during the week, plus emergency snacks. I bought new pantry staples. I braced myself for the withdrawal-like symptoms everyone warned me about — the headaches, thirst, fatigue, and general sense of wanting to slap anyone who looked in my direction. I silently apologized to my husband and children in advance.
But Day 1 passed without incident. And then Day 2 and Day 3 and the whole first week. Aside from wanting to sleep all day on Day 3 and 4, there were no major incidents. No headache. No withdrawal. No slip-ups. No cravings. Maybe my body was thanking me for finally treating it well.
There were challenges. The first two weeks dragged on. By Day 10, I wasn't sure I could survive another 20 days. All I did was think about food, shop for food, prep my food, and cook food. Did I have the energy to keep this up?
Not only that, I was on this 30-day journey by myself.
While I ate variations on slow-cooker chicken, sausage, roasted vegetables, and eggs, my husband and children continued to eat pasta, pizza, holiday cookies, and cake. Bowls of fresh cut fruit, carrot sticks, sliced bell peppers, and a detailed meal plan that rivaled my annotated bibliography from my master's thesis kept me focused and on-track. But I constantly had to remind myself not to cross-contaminate cooking utensils or taste-test their dishes.
By the end of 30 days, I've never felt better. My blood sugar and energy levels feel more stable and I'm not hangry anymore. I don't crave sugar or snacks. My thoughts are more lucid. I feel leaner and my clothes fit better. While I didn't find a clear-cut trigger for my eczema, there are fewer red patches and they aren't so angry.
After a month of making good food choices, my sugar and carb addictions no longer bully me throughout the day. By realizing I don't have to give into those impulses, I've gained new levels of confidence and found better ways to cope with stress and the emotional ups and downs of life. I learned I'm more resilient than I previously thought. Who knew that simply changing the way I eat would change the way I feel about myself?
By the end of 30 days, I've never felt better. My blood sugar and energy levels feel more stable and I'm not hangry anymore.
I admit. I'm nervous about moving beyond the rules and regulations of this month-long experiment and re-introducing food groups into my diet. But the thought of returning to a state of mind and body where my cravings and emotions are making food decisions for me instead of making them for myself is enough to want to stay on this path.
Of course I will lighten up on the rigid rules. I can't say goodbye to pie and scones and pizza forever. But I have a better sense of what moderation actually means and how to make the choices that will make my body and mind feel the best.
I do know I will continue to eat real food: mostly plants and plenty of protein. That means making weekly meal plans, stocking the kitchen with fruits and vegetables from the market, reading labels, and really paying attention to the ingredients in the food my family and I eat.
I have to say, I feel way more empowered than I have in a long time to do what's best for me and my family.