How I Quit Sugar

In December of 2016, while searching for a gift for a family member in a Half-Priced Books, I came across a copy of I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, a book that had been on my Amazon Wishlist for years. After some quick math on my phone, I decided to buy it. Money was tight that month, and as I purchased more gifts and my bank account dwindled, I considered returning it a few times. But I had this gut feeling I should keep it around.

And so in late December and early January, I started reading through the first parts of the book and decided pretty dang spur of the moment-like to do her detox program. Which is pretty intense, not going to lie. It's two months of cutting way the hell back on sugar, which is pretty scary for a previous dessert binge eater like me. But also, pretty exciting.

It's is an 8-week program in which you spend 2 weeks gradually cutting back, 4 weeks eating very little sugar (including no fruit!), and 2 weeks of slowly re-incorporating some low sugar foods and figuring out what level of sugar feels right for you.

Speaking of the book, let's talk about that for a second. The program worked well for me, she was convincing enough to get me to do the detox (although I had convinced myself pretty well ahead of time), and she breaks the detox down week by week and gives helpful tips, tasks, goals, and relevant nutrition information along the way. However, there are some things that the book does not make super clear. For example, there are a lot of recipes with coconut in the book and she talks about embracing coconut as an alternative to other fruits, but it's not clear if you're "allowed" to have coconut during the no-fruit weeks. I also found the recipes to be organized a bit strangely. I would still recommend the book since it was helpful for me, but know that it's not perfect.

Also, know that you do not have to buy any book to cut down on sugar and that there are also other books out there. I do, however, strongly recommend doing at least a month of detox in which you avoid as much sugar as possible to help you recalibrate your habits, palette, and need for sugar. If you're really convinced that this is the lifestyle for you, you may decide to go cold turkey off of sugar, which is fine...although I will say I semi-accidentally really didn't eat sugar in the first two weeks of the detox when you're supposed to be easing off and by the end of the no-sugar period I was really ready to start making my own choices about what I was allowed to eat. So maybe trying taking it slow.

My biggest tips for getting through the detox period and getting over sugar:
1. Read the labels on everything! Even savory foods! Even "healthy" foods! You would be surprised how much sugar hides in foods you would never guess. During my detox period, I tried not to buy anything with any added sugar.
2. Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated helps beat cravings, makes you less hungry, and gives you something to do when you might be used to mindlessly snacking on sugary foods. It also helps you flush your system which will help with the cravings too.
3. Indulge in non-sugary treats. Obviously quitting sugar is a gateway to a healthy lifestyle, but during your detox phase, let yourself eat more cheese, avocado, and other fats than you usually do, and eat fewer simple carbs. If you're dying to eat something "naughty," make it a savory one during this detox period. I ate more than one Taco Bell bean burrito to keep myself from sugary alternatives.
4. Try new unsweetened drinks. Stock up on some new flavors of tea or sparkling water. Let this be a special "treat" when you're in the grocery store instead of something from the bakery. Just make sure to read the labels and double check there aren't any sugars hiding in there.
5. Let people know what you're doing. That way, they don't offer you treats you have to decline, and they become a bedrock of support and accountability for you. Sometimes, it's nice just to be able to say, dang this is hard, and have someone listen and support you.
6. Double down on nuts and vegetables. Fruit used to be a quick, portable snack for me, but I learned to sub cut vegetables or nuts instead.

7. Meal prep. Don't let yourself be unprepared or hungry. Being prepared is a key to success. Bring your lunch to work and plenty of snacks. Your brain might try to tell you you're hungry when you're not to get you to eat sugar. Don't end up at the vending machine or in a drive thru! Listen, eat, just not sugar.
8. Get your partner in on it. If you have a significant other, roommate, or child, get them to do it with you! Even if they don't go full on detox, having them be cool with low sugar meals is key. Let them eat sugar when you're not around if that's what they need to do.
9. Clean out your kitchen. Go through your cabinets and get rid of any candy, sweets, sugars, syrups, and packaged/convenience foods high in sugar. Read the label of anything in a box, can, or bag (see number 1). If you're not 100% convinced the low sugar life is for you, do the clean out, bag the stuff up, and put it way in the back of a closet or entrust it with a friend. That way no harm, no foul if this turns out not to be right for you.
10. Keep a food diary. I typically wrote in mine at the end of the day, but if you can do it throughout the day that's even better. Don't worry about being too precise in measurements. Just write down what you ate at each meal (including snacks, handfuls of this or that, and flavored beverages). It can also be helpful to note how you felt after each meal (bloated, full, energized, etc.), and the quantity and quality of your sleep. If you do have a day when you eat something sweet, make sure you write it down. Highlight it! This way, you can track your lapses. You may find a pattern of days or times that are particularly hard for you. It also keeps you from thinking you're doing better/worse than you actually are.

11. Bring your own sugar-free food. This kind of goes with 7. If you're going to a party or event that you know is going to be full of temptation, or where you'll feel awkward not eating, eat ahead of time and/or bring something yummy and compliant to eat while you're there.
12. Watch out for booze. You are allowed to drink it, but be careful of the mixers. This might also be a good time to try cutting out alcohol to recalibrate on that too, especially if an outcome you want is weight loss.
13. Avoid fake sugar and "healthy sugars" alike. Stevia and brown rice syrup are allowed in small quantities, but avoid sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, sweet and low, and table sugar.
14. Trust the process. If you listen to people around you (or the sugar-crazed voice in your head) telling you that sugar is natural, it isn't that bad for you, it's too tasty to give up, this diet sounds crazy--you will not make it through the detox. If you undermine yourself, you won't make it through. You have to go into it believing you are making a good, powerful, positive choice for yourself. You have to look for those little changes in your brain and body--clearer head, better memory, less bloating, better digestion, clearer skin, less teeth sensitivity, etc.--or when you look back you won't know if the detox did anything for you. Trust in it, believe in it, look for the change. It will be there.
15. Give yourself grace. In all things, at all times, but I thought I'd note it here too. Because this is hard work, lovelies. I won't *sugarcoat* it.

Note that the detox period is intentionally strict. After the detox period, you get to experiment and choose a level of sugar that feels right for you. Maybe that's a donut every Sunday. Maybe that's a no-holds-barred cocktail on Friday night. Maybe that's no processed sugar at all, but plenty of fruit. Maybe you stick pretty closely to the detox guidelines hereafter. You can play around and see what feels right. And if you find yourself becoming too involved with sugar again, you can detox again. You can step back, and it won't be nearly as hard the second time.

What I'm Reading | 2017 In Review (So Far) & Some Tips For Meeting Your Reading Goals

In honor of surpassing my 2017 reading goal, I thought I would do a quick little write up of what I've read this year.

In previous years I've set my reading goal a little too high to account for the variety of media I consume. We are in the golden age of media after all, and I consume so much information and story that isn't in the form of a book—podcasts, television, documentaries, articles, blogs, journals, individual stories—not to mention the number of essays, articles, and varied documents I read as a teacher. So I lowered my goal from a number I thought I should be reading as a writer and lover of literature to a number I thought I really could and would be able to enjoy reading, a number of books that I would have to remain conscious of the goal to attain but that would be easily achievable with focus.

I came up with 24—2 books a month, split between physical hold in your hands, smell the paper, bookmark your page books and audiobooks.

And you know what? I found that by setting this number, by being intentional about it, I really strove to reach it. I delighted in getting ahead, finishing each book felt like a triumph, but I also had room to set aside books I'd started but wasn't loving and take a break when I was really into a television show. I will say that I did eschew podcasts for the most part at the beginning of the year to make way for more audiobook time...with my commute to and from school, that's the easiest way for me to get "reading" time in. But now that I have the comfort of having reached my goal, I'm seeking more balance.

If you're looking to incorporate more reading in your life, these are my suggestions: 1) Listen to audiobooks. It may take some time to get used to, and it may feel like cheating, but it's a great way to work books in when you're driving, working out, taking a walk, doing chores around the house, or traveling. I especially enjoy nonfiction when the writer does the reading so you hear the book in its most intended voice. 2) Make it a habit. Whether that's reading every morning, every night before bed, on your commute, or whenever, make it a habit. 3) Make time for it. Make it non-negotiable. Not because you have to, but because you like to--it's something kind you're doing for yourself. Make room for self-care and you'll make room for reading. 4) Make a plan and keep track. Whether that's setting a Goodreads challenge like I did, joining a book club to keep yourself on a schedule, or partnering with a friend to keep yourself with any goal, you have to take steps to make it happen. 5) Read what you enjoy. Don't read what other people are reading, what's well-reviewed, what you think you should be reading, if that isn't what sounds interesting to you. Browse. Read summaries. Listen to clips. Read what feels right. You'll find you won't have to think too much about your goal if you're excited to sit down and dive back into your book.

Onto my list! Here you'll find a mix of self-help, modern classics, contemporary fiction, and YA. More YA than I'd realized going through the year, but that's the great part of reflection! Audiobooks are highlighted and books I would particularly recommend are designated with a ⭐, though I enjoyed all of these! All titles have been linked for your convenience (though maybe try checking your local library or bookstore before purchasing online).

  1. Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #5) by Douglas Adams
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. ⭐  The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  4. ⭐ Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
  5. I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson
  6. The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  8. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
  9. ⭐ Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  10. Map of Fates (The Conspiracy of Us #2) by Maggie Hall
  11. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  12. WomanCode by Alisa Vitti
  13. Hunter by Mercedes Lackey
  14. Elite (Hunter #2) by Mercedes Lackey
  15. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  16. The Dinner by Herman Koch
  17. Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
  18. ⭐ The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. ⭐ Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty 
  21. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
  22. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
  23. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  24. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
  25. Looking for Alaska by John Green

I'll make sure to post another update at the end of the year. What are you reading? I would love to know!

What It Means To "Quit Sugar"

Last week I talked about why I made the choice to quit sugar. If you haven't read that post yet, here it is. Read, then come back. Cool? Cool!

Before we move on to how I quit sugar, and what happened when I did, I want to define what the hell I'm even talking about. Quitting sugar sounds pretty simple--you just stop eating sugar, right?--but in reality, it's a little more complicated than that. In fact, when I talk to people about this, especially people who have spent some time educating themselves about nutrition, they are often very confused. Sugar is in a lot more of what you eat than you might think, and there are several different types of sugar. Additionally, some foods break down into a sugar. So, "quitting sugar" is a bit of a misnomer because you really can't live without it. Your body needs it in certain quantities just like salt and water and all of those other micro and macro nutrients you're hoping to address with your daily multivitamin. So let's get that out of the way right now. Quitting sugar does not mean that you will never have any type of sugar, sweet food, dessert, fruit, or anything like that ever again. It really does not mean that. At all. Period. Don't even worry about it.

Now what it does mean can vary a bit from person to person, expert to expert. Everyone has their ideas and preferences and theories about how much sugar you should eat, what foods you "should" and "should not" eat, etc.

To me, quitting sugar is this: it's quitting your reliance upon sugar, your addiction to it, your habits associated with it, your love for it, your need for it. It's breaking down the concepts and feelings and cravings you have associated with sugar and giving your body and mind a new perspective on it. It's seeking out information on nutrition. It's reading labels. It's squirreling out and eliminating hidden and unnecessary sugar from your diet. And it's creating a new lifestyle that has a level of sugar that you're comfortable with and is healthy and feels good in your body.

That's really what I mean when I say I quit sugar.

On a more practical level, quitting sugar typically means getting your sugar consumption down to 6-9 teaspoons a day total, across everything you eat and drink in a day. It also means limiting the consumption of fructose, specifically. This has to do with the way fructose is metabolized and some of the short and long term effects it can have on the body.

This would be a good time for me to mention that I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist and that what I know about this is from my own research and experience. You should definitely do your own research if you are considering going down this path, consult your physician, and ultimately do what feels right to you.

Because I'm not a nutritional expert, I'm not going to even attempt to go into any further depth on how the body works or how sugar interacts with it. I don't want to put any pseudo-science out there or lead you astray.

But, okay, here's the gist: your body needs a small amount of sugar to function properly. Too much sugar causes a myriad of health problems, including candida, brain fog, fatty liver, tooth decay, and can lead to disease down the road. Because of the types of foods we are raised on in the United States and the general culture, most (if not all) of us are addicted to sugar and consume way more than we realize. Quitting sugar is one big step to putting yourself back in control of your diet, your body, your habits, and your health.

Think of this as a recalibration. It's going to be difficult, but good. So, so good.

Why I Quit Sugar

Let me tell you a little about myself. Specifically, let me tell you a little about myself and sugar.

When I was growing up, I would sneak Little Debbie dessert snacks out of the cabinet in the middle of the night. It made my mom furious because she planned for them to be in our lunches. I couldn't help myself. I had trouble sleeping for much of my childhood, and I would always wake up hungry. If there was a dessert available, in my tired and delirious state, I couldn't help but eat it. If not that, a pb&j. This became part of my sleep routine, getting up and eating in order to soothe myself back to sleep, a habit that took years to undo. This was just the beginning.

When I was in college, I gave up soda and sugar in my tea and started doing an hour at a time on the elliptical in the campus gym, but I also started eating enormous servings of pasta and buying bags of candy in the campus commissary to binge-eat while watching TV.

In grad school I would sometimes stash cookies and other sweets in my office and shame eat them by myself when no one was around while feeling like a failure because I was gaining so much weight (not just due to sugar, but also because of pizza and fast food and stress and lack of exercise) and felt like I didn't belong in my program at school and felt too much pressure to write something good to write something good.

In the year after I finished grad school, hanging around Blacksburg recovering from a bad breakup and trying to figure out my next step, I lived right down the street from a fast food place I got chili dogs and milkshakes from way too often. I was drinking cheap red wine just about every night. I stopped recording my weight that winter because it was too high to admit. That Christmas I decided I had to make some changes. Creeping up on 200 pounds was sobering. I was broke, lonely, and incredibly depressed. I started to make plans to move back to Texas. It was during the process of that long distance move that my weight finally budged, and I dropped the first ten pounds pretty easily. Over the next few months, I lost another 30, give or take, and dropped a lot of bad habits in the process. It helps when you don't have a penny to spare for junk food. What didn't help was the free cookies in the breakroom at work. Even then, there was sugar I couldn't say no to.

In my family, we love German Chocolate cake and brownie fudge sundaes and lots of other sweets, too. Which isn't unusual, or bad necessarily! Sweets at celebrations are normal and fun. What isn't healthy and fun is eating cake 3x a day until it's gone, buying boxes of cookies when you're home alone and making sure to finish them off before anyone gets back, or feeling unable to stop yourself from taking another portion. It isn't fun when you crave something so bad that you run out and get it, then hate yourself for eating it and don't even like it because it really isn't what your body wants. It isn't fun to be addicted.

Sugar alone isn't the villain here. Yes, sugar isn't great for you, and yes it happens to be pretty damn tasty. But sugar isn't throwing itself down my throat. It's sugar coupled with other bad habits that brought me to the point of quitting sugar. Sugar and lack of exercise. Sugar and lack of self control. Sugar and lack of proper nutrition. Sugar and sleep deprivation. Sugar existing isn't why I had to quit sugar. It was the way I was with sugar, and the way sugar was with me. We had to break up, and doing so meant recognizing that all of these issues are interwoven. You can't just sweep the knee on sugar and expect not to have to do any other work.

Next week we'll be talking about what exactly it means to quit sugar. Because honestly, it's a bit of a misnomer. Then we'll go into how I quit sugar, and what happened when I did. This is just post 1/4. So stay tuned!