I’ve quit sugar…
…and I’ve unquit sugar. If you are confused about carbs, let me tell you: you’re not alone.
Here’s my condensed sugar story: When I first began a healing grain-free diet called the GAPS diet, my ulcerative colitis symptoms disappeared. With the best – albeit uninformed – intentions, I jumped on the “anti-candida diet” bandwagon. That meant I stopped eating fruit and GAPS sweeteners, stripping out nearly all carbohydrate from my diet.
I stuck it out for two weeks, but things quickly slid downhill. I felt like a rock: I was so fatigued that a walk around the block left me exhausted. I was an emotional wreck and I literally couldn’t handle spilled milk. And then there were the dizzy spells. Every time I stood up or tried to walk up the stairs, my I became extremely dizzy and my vision blurred. Now I know this is because my carb restriction had stressed my adrenals, and the adrenals prevent dizziness upon standing.
When I cut out carbs, I didn’t take into consideration these crucial factors:
- I’m a woman, and very low carb diet can be problematic for women’s hormones
- I needed nutrients, including carbohydrates, to repair my body. I was underweight due to my illness and needed to gain solid weight and muscle.
- I was going into a ketogenic state by accident. I consider ketogenic diets an extreme therapeutic diet. It’s a drastic metabolic shift in your body that carries both risks, and also potential therapeutic results. But don’t do ketosis on accident.
- Healing candida isn’t a matter of eliminating all sugar. It’s a matter of addressing the root problems, including leaky gut and a slow metabolism.
Next, I fell head-over-heels for the charismatic writing of metabolic approach authors, such as Matt Stone. His philosophy suggests that consuming plenty of carbohydrates boosts the metabolism, which is true to some degree. So I ate all the grain-free carbohydrates. I had swung the pendulum from no carbs to too many carbs. I felt good, but that *may* have been due to the sugar high.
Lastly, I finally landed somewhere in the middle with the help of functional medicine practitioners. Through reading my symptoms, regular bloodwork, and using a glucometer, we discovered that I had chronically elevated blood sugar. Now, I use both of these tools on a regular basis to ensure that my carb intake is optimal.
Use biofeedback to determine carb intake
To find your own carb balance, I suggest observing your body’s symptoms… in fancier language, this is called monitoring your body’s biofeedback.
What are some indicators that you may be consuming too much carbs?
- Using concentrated sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc) on a daily basis
- High fasting blood sugar in the morning (a glucometer readers over 100)
- Craving something sweet or starchy with each meal
- Feeling tired after meals
- Not feeling hungry in the morning
- Slow wound healing and tissue regeneration (indicates insulin resistance)
What are some symptoms that indicate you may not be eating enough carbs?
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed upon standing quickly
- Feeling chronically chilled
- Having very cold fingers and toes
- Too much weight loss
Of course, the above symptoms may be difficult to read, or could indicate other health issues. So I suggest monitoring your symptoms along with the steps below.
How to eat sugar
Balance carbohydrate intake with fat and protein. Quality fats slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, providing satiation and satisfaction. Protein helps pull sugar into the cells so your body can use it for energy. So enjoy your baked sweet potato with a dollop of ghee and alongside a portion of meat.
For a more detailed explanation of blood sugar, glucose, insulin, hypoglycemia and all that jazz, read my post 10 Ways to Balance Blood Sugar Naturally.
Use a glucometer to tweak your carb intake. Symptoms such as cravings, irritability, lethargy, and hyperactivity give insight into our blood sugar. But we are removed from the meaning and subtlety of these symptoms, which is why I recommend a glucometer to measuring your blood sugar. I suggest taking your fasting glucose (upon waking, before breakfast) at least a few times per week.
For information on the best glucometer and optimal glucose numbers, I used Chris Kresser’s article here and highly recommend it.
If your blood sugar is too high, it usually indicates excessive carb consumption for your physiology, or not eating enough fat with carbs.
Use unrefined sweeteners. That sounds simple, but did you know options marketed as “natural” are actually highly refined? For example, agave syrup.
Choose sweeteners that have stood the test of time: fresh fruit, raw honey, maple syrup, jaggery, and coconut sugar.
Choose fresh fruits over fruit juice and dried fruits. Fresh fruit is a living food, containing a synergistic combination of enzymes, vitamins, soluble fiber and minerals. Fruit juice and dried fruit is concentrated sugar and doesn’t provide the satiating properties of whole fruits. For example, you can easily gulp a glass of apple juice in five minutes, which contains the sugar equivalent of five apples!
Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The human body has evolved for millennia to correlate a sweet taste with calorie-density. So it makes sense that animal research suggests how calorie-free sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners and even stevia, confuse the body.
Further, artificial sweeteners like aspartame are potentially carcinogenic. Sugar alcohols, while not shown to be harmful, are notorious for causing digestive distress including gas and bloating. Again, these calorie-free sweeteners are not natural to the body.
Make peace with carbs. Sugar is an emotional trigger for many… it was for me. I approached it with fear and confusion, because it made me feel good and bad and satisfied and unsatisfied. It took a mental overhaul to remove my stress around sugar, which I discuss in my post 5 Ways I Made Peace with Food.
Remember, stress turns digestion off. We need to be in the relaxed parasympathetic mode to produce stomach acid and digestive enzymes. If we are stressed about carbs, we can’t digest the carbs.
Don’t fear fructose in real food. The recent concern about fructose led many to believe that fruits and honey, both sources of fructose, contribute to fatty liver disease and obesity. While isolated fructose – including high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar – should be avoided, there is absolutely no research that shows fresh fruit or raw honey consumption contributes to obesity or fatty liver disease. As a matter of fact, fresh fruit consumption (read: not fruit juices or jarred/canned/processed fruits) boast health-protective properties, including reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and age of mortality (1, 2).
Do you have a rocky relationship with sugar? Have you tried quitting sugar before?