I felt feverish. My heart raced as I wiped sweat from my forehead. The pangs of sickness in my stomach accompanied star-spotted vision. My mouth itched. I wanted to throw up, though at the same time I wanted more.
I had just taken my first bites of a delicious (gluten-free) gooey chocolate chip cookie from my favorite bakery. My 30 days of sugar-free, carb-free eating had come to a close. I completed my personal challenge and decided to indulge in a small treat. My body wasn’t ready for the shock or stimulation of sugar - it was like a bad trip. The sunlight hurt my eyes and all I wanted was for the shakes to go away.
Over the years I’ve toyed with and tweaked my diet to find out what works for my body. I was a 10 year vegetarian, a 1 year vegan, and finally, an 80% of the time paleo carnivore. I’ve been on a continuos quest to understand the way my body works, and what fuel best supports my health. Through doctors visits I’ve found I have an allergy to wheat and gluten and a sensitivity to dairy. Now through my own controlled experiment I’ve brought myself face to face with the adverse effects of simple sugar. Why hadn’t I known about this problem sooner? Probably because I assumed my daily state of being was normal and, like with any drug, I had built up a tolerance.
Tolerance is most likely a significant problem for many of you. The alarming rise of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes has led doctors to look closely at sugar as the culprit. Historically speaking, humans never consumed sugar in the manner we do today. Sugar is rare in nature and when it is found, it is in very small amounts. Sugar is an incredibly valuable energy source. It is so potent that we are wired to hunt for it; it is our primal instinct to seek out high energy sources for survival. Today, the sugars we consume are concentrated and readily available. Our food has been modified to contain astronomical levels of sugar. I’m not talking about sugar cookies and cereal, I’m talking about fruit and even some vegetables. Over time farmers and food scientists selected for the sweetest fruit, upping the standard level of sugar in each piece. These high levels of sugar have caused insatiable levels of sugar tolerance in many of us.
Sugar is hidden where we least expect it. Food scientists understand our primal hankering for sugar and most food products contain a sugar of some form. A 2013 study from the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that 30-40% of healthcare expenditures in the U.S. go to help address health issues related to sugar consumption. These figures suggest that over 1$ trillion in healthcare costs per year are due to sugar. These numbers only begin to scratch the surface of this madness. As it turns out, our country’s sugar problem is underwritten by our government (surprised?). In a Wall Street Journal article, writer Alexandra Wexler explains that american taxpayers are responsible for shelling out over $280 million to cover the cost of USDA loans which sugar producers are unable to pay back. This alarming fact points a finger at government subsidies as a culprit for the lack of food legislation regarding sugar.
High levels of sugar consumption do crazy things to our bodies. Did you know sugar makes your organs fat? Fructose triggers your organs to store fat in weird places, namely the liver. Before 1980, fatty liver disease was rarely seen. Sugar also triggers the same areas of the brain as addictive street drugs. It triggers opioids and dopamine receptors and creates feelings of high energy bliss. In sugar addiction studies performed on rats, scientists found that the rats experienced drug withdrawal symptoms like chattering teeth, the shakes, fevers, and anxiety when sugar was taken away. Longterm sugar consumption - like drug use- has been shown to lead to a 40% greater risk of depression. High sugar intake increases your insulin resistance and causes the brain to release lower levels of dopamine over time, meaning you need to consume more sugar to get your happiness fix.
Sugar addiction can also create feelings of insatiable hunger. Research has shown that regularly consuming too much sugar disables the brain’s correct triggering of leptin, the hormone that tells your body you are full, which leads to regular overeating.
Are you grossed out yet? Or at least slightly uncomfortable? I bet some of you are rolling your eyes or even eating your favorite sugary snack while reading this. That’s fine, but hear me out.
I have never had such an adverse effect to a food as I had to that cookie after a month of clean eating. I wasn’t expecting to confirm my food allergy suspicions after a short, month long experiment. At the end of the 30-day sugar detox, they recommend that you reflect on what you’ve experienced. I’ve found that we have no idea how good our bodies can feel if we settle for accepting what we’ve always done as “normal”. Ignorance might be bliss, but knowledge is power and a simple change could save your health down the road.
It would be unrealistic for me to say I’ll never eat sugar containing food ever again, but I do plan to be conscious about the type of sugar I eat, how often I eat it, and when I eat it. My goal this season is overall mind-body health from the ground up - and it all begins with how I choose to fuel my body.
In my search for gluten-free and sugar-free snack sources, I’ve partnered with EPIC Bar to fuel my adventures. Protein is a longterm energy source, though for some reason, sugar-free protein is hard to come by. These bars are for you beef jerky lovers out there, though these are more substantial and chew-friendly. You can’t go wrong with a 100% grass-fed Bison Bacon Cranberry bar, and they taste even better than they sound. Here’s to a season of health, goal crushing, and overall EPICness! #meatinmypocket