Thursday, January 9, 2014

Almost Sugar Free

Every day I'm reading about more health reasons to give up sugar.  Research is telling us that our diets are way off kilter.  It's not just about our waist lines, it's also about our general health.

Almost every week lately I talk to another person who has decided that they would like to reduce the amount of sugar they consume.  I'm sure there are people out there that are sugar free, but I have not been able to achieve that goal as yet -- and perhaps I never will. One problem I've found was that there is sugar in almost every prepackaged product.  From salad dressing to juice.  I'm not quite to the point of making everything I consume myself but if I'm careful, I can cut my sugar intake to a healthier amount.

Over ten years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  At the time I was extremely exhausted, all my joints ached, I suffered from severe headaches and couldn't complete a lot of my basic chores.  I was afraid to travel, to drive, to do much of anything for fear of becoming too sick to get home, find a rest room etc.  I was put on strong medication which really helped a lot of my symptoms and I couldn't believe I was getting my life back.  The cost was 1-2 days of nausea and fatigue each week and ultimately early osteoporosis.

I was feeling better but the medication started not to be as effective and they were going to add another one. At this time, my mother was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma.  The doctor started talking about how many patients he had who had been on the meds both my mother and I had been on.  As I watched my mother's treatments I became scared that this was going to be my future, just as I was suffering from auto immune problems such as she had.

I was determined to try to find a way to control the disease without meds.  I started reading a lot of information and one of the things researchers found that increased inflammation was sugar.  Anyone who knows me well would know of my fondness for sweets -- I was a sugar fiend.  I didn't know how I could possibly come to a place without sugar but I was determined to try.

It didn't happen over night -- I had to start with small steps.  The first thing I cut out of my diet was soda.  I loved Dr. Pepper but I wanted to be well more.  It wasn't an easy task.  Those maroon cans would call to me when I opened the refrigerator.  I found I couldn't have it in the house.  If I didn't see the cans I didn't think about it.  This was the easiest part of cutting sugar, and it wasn't easy.

The next thing I did was to go through my pantry trying to understand just how much sugar was in the products I purchased.  I threw out the ones that were exceptionally high.  Then when I went to the grocery store I would scour the shelves to find products with lower gram counts.  I ate more whole fruits and vegetables plain.  It became a crusade.  My husband, Geo who always loves a challenge made it into a game with me.  We would both try to find new ways to eat healthier yet still enjoy food.

Fortunately my husband has always been supportive and he wanted me to be well as much as I did so while he is at home he adopts my diet.  I know he occasionally has a shake, soda, or other sugar filled sweets when he's not with me but at home he helps me stick with my diet.

As I started to feel better without the sugar I started to notice how sick I felt when I did have sweets.  I would see a delightful brownie and give in.  The chocolate melting in my mouth with each bite.  Yum.  Then my stomach would start to roil a little.  My brain started to see the items in negative terms and I actually started to feel the nausea without even eating the item.   I read an article that said you shouldn't say "I can't have sweets" but to say "I don't eat sweets".   Then it's a choice, and not something you are deprived of.  That thought pattern really helped me.  It gave me power over my choices.

I'm not advocating anyone else getting off their medications.  I know they are not only necessary but very helpful.  If I had not started the medications when I was first diagnosed I do not think I would be doing as well physically today even with the repercussions of taking them.  I do not have severe RA at this time and the chances I take are my responsibility.  A doctor helped me to get off the medication although my new rheumatologist keeps trying to get me onto new ones.  I am struggling with starting new medications but I know ultimately I may have to go back on something.  

Now I am someone who tries not to eat sugar but I'm not sugar free.   I will occasionally have a Dr. Pepper or cookie. I just do it very rarely.   I also use sugar cubes in my coffee so I know exactly how much I consume.  I know I have been feeling better.  My joints are less achy which encourages me to continue.

I guess moderation in everything, as they say, is a good rule of thumb.  I also have cut out fried foods, lowered my dairy, and cut down on white flour but that's a story for another time.

The more I tell people of this journey, the more I hear of others on the same path.  They tell me about products, web sites and things they are doing to better their health.  I would love to hear about the products that have helped you to live with less sugar and recipes that you love that are healthy.  Just click on the comments tab below and enter your tips.