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Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
I’ve had type 2 diabetes for 20 years. For most of those years, I’ve also been trying to lose weight.
You could say that I’m a lifetime member of both clubs: having type 2 diabetes and dieting. I can’t do anything about having type 2 diabetes. I take my prescribed medications and do everything I can to prevent complications down the road.
But my weight is a factor of my diabetes that’s in my control. Losing or managing your weight when you have diabetes is important, as it helps maintain your blood sugar levels.
Losing weight is difficult for anyone, but it can be especially challenging when you have type 2 diabetes. One factor is insulin resistance, which is when the body can’t process the insulin it makes. This results in stored fat and weight gain — both of which have been a challenge for me.
Also, many of the medications I’ve taken to treat my medical condition attribute weight gain as a side effect. While it seems that I’m starting at a disadvantage, losing weight in order to be healthier and manage my diabetes symptoms is important to me.
I’ve tried several different methods to lose weight over the years: Sticking to Atkins, the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, counting calories, eating at different times, and all variations of Weight Watchers.
All worked in the short term, but ultimately, my resolve faltered. I cheated here and there, and the weight always came back. I could never seem to break the cycle.
Before recently starting my weight loss effort again, I kept a journal of everything I ate.
After a week, I reviewed my food choices and discovered sugar was in almost everything I ate.
Could my addiction to sugar be the root cause of my obesity? If so, we definitely needed to break up.
So I tackled the one food group I’ve been in a life-long relationship with: sugar and everything made from it.
It’s an understatement to say it hasn’t been simple. Quitting sugar is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Sugar warms me up, keeps me cozy, and makes me feel satiated and gratified. My body feels like it has more energy and I’m able to mentally focus better on the task at hand when I get that sugar rush.
For a few hours anyway.
Then the guilt sets in and my body comes down from the sugar high — emotionally and physically. My conscience starts up with “Why did you eat that cake?” and I end up feeling sluggish and depressed.
But if the comedown from my sugar highs used to be bad, the temporary physical side effects of quitting sugar were worse.
Initially, the physical cravings from sugar withdrawal made me irritable and uncomfortable. My body ached, my mind raced, and I had difficulty sleeping.
I missed the comfort feeling I always got after eating a piece of cake. I craved chocolate, and especially missed the mocha flavoring I used in my coffee each morning.
Several times, I almost threw in the towel and quit. Why am I putting myself through this? I wondered. But, I didn’t give up.
I’ve lost 20 pounds since I eliminated sugar from my diet. I felt lost in the beginning, because sugar was such an important part of my life. But, I’ve gained so much more: confidence, more energy, and an overall feeling of pride.
Making better choices consistently — albeit not every time — can lead to long-term success. Here are some adjustments I’ve made to eliminate sugar from my eating plan:
1. Unless you cook it, don’t eat it
Hidden sugars are everywhere and eating fast food can sabotage any best laid plan. Restaurant visits should be limited to special occasions and only when necessary. I plan my meals ahead, and avoid cooking anything that has added sugar in the recipe.
I still eat out occasionally, and the last few weeks have been challenging because of vacation and summertime activities. Eating out was a daily occurrence. It was hot and I wanted ice cream. I did both — but this time, I only ate one scoop of ice cream instead of two.
2. Read food labels
Processed sugar is in almost everything at the grocery store. I try to avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup, and anything that ends with the letters “ose,” which is often sugar-related.
Once I started reading labels, I was surprised to learn how much processed sugar is in a loaf of bread. It’s loaded with carbs, and it’s easy to eat more than you should. Experts recommend whole grains, but they’re loaded with sugar, too, so I try to avoid them to avoid a blood sugar spike.
3. Skip the candy dish
Grabbing something from a candy dish whenever I saw one was a habit of mine. It didn’t matter if it was an after-dinner mint or a lollipop from the bank, my hand usually pulled out a handful of something sugary.
Some people are fine enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate every day, but that doesn’t work for me. Whenever I get even the tiniest taste of sugar, it sends me looking for more.
4. Build a support system
My best friend has partnered with me to get healthy. Sugar’s been a problem for her, too. Even though she doesn’t have type 2 diabetes now, it runs in her family, and the changes she makes now could help prevent it.
Sticking to my no-sugar lifestyle has been immeasurably easier and more enjoyable knowing she’s in it with me. Ask your friends or family for support or join a support group online to stay motivated and social.
The bottom line?
Giving up sugar hasn’t been easy and there are occasions, like birthdays, when I have indulged in something sweet. But this isn’t a race. And I’m determined that it’s not another temporary fix.
Just as I didn’t become overweight or develop type 2 diabetes overnight, I’m not expecting to lose all the weight I need to in six weeks. Instead, I used this time to commit myself to the task at hand, get through the initial withdrawal phase from sugar, and acknowledge these steps are what I need to take to enjoy a long and healthy life.