How I Conquered Sugar

Once Upon A Time:

Girl meets sugar at a young age. Girl falls in love with sugar. Becomes overweight. Struggles with diets. Is always hungry. Finds exercise. Tries to “get healthy”. But refuses to break up with sugar. And so, the dysfunctional relationship between girl and food continued into adulthood.

That girl *was* me…until I found the Whole9. But let me back up a little.

My Sordid Food Past:

Growing up, I was overweight kid. Okay, I was fat. Though my mom made a variety of healthy meals, I knew how and where to feed my sugar/junk food addiction. I loved carb-heavy foods like pasta and bread, and say no to dessert?! Never! Soccer kept me active, and I continued to play into high school. I also joined the track team and started tae kwon do, and though my weight came down a little, I hated my body. Eating made me feel guilty. Eventually, I had to quit track and get a part-time job during senior year. The freshman twenty struck early, and I topped out at over 165 at 5’3″. So I did what any logical teenager would do…join a gym but keep eating what I always did. Not too long after, I found mountain biking.

Now in college, I ate a lot of processed food and worked as a cake decorator (Danger, Will Robinson!) though I was active enough to shed some weight. I remember, though, never feeling happy about my body and like something was missing. I had acne breakouts, low energy, mood swings and was always hungry. Exercise had now become second nature to me–I loved working out and riding my bike–though I was always fighting with food. Most of my 20s was spent experimenting with all sorts of diets: Weight Watchers, vegetarian, high carb/low fat, etc. Nothing ever worked. Eating became a psychological battle riddled with worry about consuming too much fat.

In late 2009, I heard of Paleo from a fellow mountain biker and dear friend. “What?! Give up grains, dairy, and legumes?! This sounds nuts! How am I supposed to fuel?” I wondered. As an endurance athlete (multi-hour mountain bike races), carbs were a staple in my diet. Nevertheless, on January 10, 2010, I cleared out my kitchen and decided to “go Paleo”. Kinda. Like 80%-kinda. Grains and sugar were still in my diet in low levels (sports bars/gels/drinks, post-ride trips to our favorite Mexican eateries, etc) though I cooked and ate “pretty” clean at home. And yet still, I could not stop my sugar addiction–candy, baked goods, even diet soda–seemed to hold an inexplicable, magical grip over me. I would “snack” on M&Ms and Coke Zeros though the idea of avocado seemed sinful, taboo even. Butter? Fuhgeddaboutit. Red meat? Almost never. MORE grains? Why, certainly!

Enter CrossFit:

I was introduced in August 2010 by yet another friend (I hang out with such smart people!) and was instantly hooked. I always joked about my pseudo-muscles because though I appeared to be toned in the upper body, I couldn’t do a single pull up and push ups were laughable (though I could ride my bike for 12 hours at a time and had endurance). I skipped over the nutrition part of our on-ramp–hey, I already “knew” Paleo, right?!

Immediately I saw gains in strength and muscle mass while body fat decreased. I added Olympic weightlifting to the mix and became even stronger and faster. Nutrition-wise, I tried Zone. For a week. I cannot weigh or measure my food without it becoming a downward spiral of obsession (remember my WW stint?) or guilt (I ate 1 tbsp too much of…). So, I kept on pseduo-Paleo’ing and by now, the sugar gremlin was the size of a sugar Kraken–enormous, scary and seemingly impossible to kill.

Enter Whole9/Whole30 (I imagine the sounds of angels trumpeting…):

As my circle of CrossFit and Paleo friends began to widen on Twitter (Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-like), I started to see lots of #whole30 and #whole9 hash tags flying about. After going to the Whole9 website and devouring the articles, blog posts, and Manifestos, I knew without a doubt that this was the next step in my Paleo evolution: I would finally begin walking upright…no more knuckle-dragging! Everything made perfect sense to me. To shake this sugar demon, I had to suck it up and commit. Armed with a buddy (my dear friend Jen), a Whole9 shopping guide, and a whole bunch of common-sense information, I did it: I went Whole30.

Those 30 days changed me to my core. I became cognizant of what I ate and focused a lot on food quality. Red meat wasn’t scary or off the menu anymore. I ate fat. Lots of good fat. I eliminated all dairy, grains, legumes, sugar and everything on the “don’t” list. And here’s what I got:

I got rid of the nasty, heavy, bloated feeling in my belly. I never realized it was abnormal (when you live with things daily, what becomes the new normal?). My skin cleared up (I had been very acne-prone all my life). I no longer felt the upper respiratory congestion I experienced when I used to consume dairy. I felt strong and continued to set PR’s in the gym and ride my bike long distances without an issue (goodbye, Honey Stinger Waffles *sniff*). My mind was clear, and I had plenty of energy. I felt healthier than I had in years!! And Clash of the Titans-style, I conquered the sugar Kraken!! And so (with another Whole30 under my belt and one currently in progress), I continue to eat clean, the Whole9 way. I have delved even further into primal/Paleo/clean/anti-inflammatory nutrition, reading and learning more whenever I can because I realize: this makes sense! There is no measuring or weighing. It’s not complicated. Healthy food is SIMPLE by nature. And, it’s only 30 days of your life. I bet you’ll feel better after you’ve tried it (and I’m not a gambling woman).

Where Do I Go From Here?

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Biology and have been a high biology/chemistry teacher for more than decade. When I think of everything I was taught about the USDA’s nutritional guidelines, food pyramids, and “healthy whole grain” campaigns, I get angry! Why didn’t I know the real story?! I felt lied to and swindled. And then I realized that even though I can’t reverse time, I’d love to help others learn what I didn’t. After all, I teach by profession, and I am passionate about nutrition/health. Call me a clean-eating zealot! I know I can make a difference–simply by talking to folks out there who are like me and have struggled with food but want to make a change or by posting recipes on my blog. I’ve struggled and succeeded. I killed the Kraken. You can, too.

27 thoughts on “How I Conquered Sugar

  1. Love your blog! I’m just starting Paleo after a structured, protein rich diet. I’m a little stuck in the 40/40/20 mentality and am working on eating via hunger/continual hunger. How do I know if I’m eating enough fat? I think I’ve been eating too much fats in almond butter and almonds kind of as comfort food. How do you recommend I get adequate fat intake w/o overdoing the nuts?

    • Thanks Kelsey!! I try to include fat at each meal, and for me, I’ve learned that if I can’t stay full for 4-5 hours after eating then I’m either 1) not eating enough protein (usually not the case as I can weigh it out if I really want to check, though usually I eyeball it) or 2) not eating enough fat. Nuts are a HUGE domino food for me…once I start, I can’t stop. I try to keep them at a minimum and use them as an emergency snack or as a garnish for extra crunch. Truthfully, I just try to limit them. My favorite go-to fat sources are avocado, olives, coconut products (full-fat milk in a can, shredded unsweetened coconut meat, coconut butter, coconut oil, etc) or finishing off a dish with a bit of extra virgin olive oil after it’s finished cooking.

  2. So where are you in So Cal? I used to be in the OC, CrossFitting at CF Costa Mesa, and now I’m in the Pacific Northwest, at CrossFit Untamed. Really enjoying your blog, I found you via The Clothes Make the Girl / Melissa Joulwan. I think the video decision was a good one. I have my beef jerky marinating in coconut aminos RNTM. Looking forward to all the goodness you have to come!

    • Hi Brandy…I’m in the San Diego area. No kidding…I know a few people who go to CFCM! Thanks for your feedback…it’s kinda scary to put oneself out there on video because it’s a lot less anonymous than a normal blog post…ack! Hope your jerky came out awesome!

  3. Hi! I found your blog through some other ones but have been curious about this style of eating for a while. I’ve been vegetarian for 7 years or so and believe both paleo & veg base their diets on eating whole, real food, but differ in a lot of ways too. I want to cut back on refined/processed grains and carbs but stay vegetarian. Is there a way to be a paleo vegetarian? If so, how would you suggest going about this? I can’t seem to find too much info about this. I’m also an athlete. Thanks!

    • Hi Sloane! The topic of vegetarian-paleo seems to be gaining in popularity lately. The best resource I can think of off the top of my head is to check out Whole9’s website, particularly this article: http://whole9life.com/2012/03/paleo-nutrition-for-vegetarians/. In it, you’ll find resources that may be a good jumping off point for you. I’m not sure if you can still get the Vegetarian Shopping Guide from them but if you contact the Whole9 crew, they may be able to help you out. What type of athlete are you/what sports do you participate in, out of curiosity? Thanks for visiting the blog!

  4. Thanks! I’ve seen that site before, but I’ll take a look around. I don’t think I’m quite ready to eat meat again, but I’m interested to learn more and if it’s possible to eat in more “Paleo” ways.
    I play volleyball for my college team, so with that I do a lot of lifting (Crossfit style workouts), agility, jump-training, etc… but I’ve gotten into mtn. biking & road cycling & getting quite strong with that, I run, etc. I like to be active, it’s fun to compete & push our bodies, huh?!
    Thanks again :) Any additional advice or possible meal plans for what I’m looking for would be awesome.
    Also, did you feel like your body composition has changed? I’m fit, but I’m looking to lean out a bit.

    • Definitely poke around on their site…you may find links to other sites as well. Wow, great diversity of activities! My background is mountain biking (racing) and road riding. I’ve also been doing CrossFit for 1.5 years. Do you eat eggs? As far as carbs, definitely investigate starchy veggies (sweet potato, yam, squash like butternut/acorn/kabocha, and others such as plantains, yucca, etc). Since I’ve been eating paleo (2.5 years) I’m definitely leaner and have more muscle mass!

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  7. I literally found out about and completed my Whole30 thanks to THIS blog post! Not only did it change my life, but I’ve got two friends now doing their own Whole30 now after seeing my results. The latest unexpected turn of events is the beginning of my CrossFit journey. The Paleo lifestyle is now dramatically improving the life and health of myself and others, and I want to thank you for starting the ripple effect.

    • Hi Mary! I am beyond humbled by your message. To know that this blog (which is a hobby) has positively impacted others in such a way means the world to me. I appreciate you taking the time to share it with me. Keep up all your hard work!!

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  9. Okay, I’m ready to start this Paleo thing. Been cross fitting for about six months with pretty good success have dropped about 13 pounds and body fat and am feeling better but know the last piece is diet. I am in good shape and active. I’ve been an Army officer for the last 22 years (and can still keep ip with the young pups but at 43 I’m lucid enough to realize the All-state high school miler days are behind me. i am also a wife, a mom who works about 60+ hours a week. I don’t tell you that for sympathy. I tell you that so that when I say I want to do this but I need it to be fairly simple and easy to employ into an already overstuffed life (war is Hell Sherman and two combat tours later I most certainly concur.) I am a lousy cook ( I do other things well, like command a battalion of 1500 sons and daughters of America daily) so this Paleo thing can’t be difficult. I have tried other programs and the bottom line is I need to know what to eat daily (probably what to buy to make it) and it has to be simple because as stated earlier I am not Julie Childs ( or even a distant relative). So what resources exist that would simplify this Whole30 process? I get overwhelmed when i goggle ‘Paleo.” I need an app basically that says eat this and here’s what you need to get at grocery store to make it in 30 minutes or less.

    Appreciate any help you can offer.

    Angie

    • Hi Angie…thanks for checking in. I’d actually say that nutrition is paramount to exercise…it’s the foundation upon which everything else is built. You seem more than ready to take the next step. Sounds like you are definitely busy, and I’ve got some tips for you:

      1. Buy a crockpot if you don’t already have one. One with a built-in timer and keep warm function will allow you to throw a few key ingredients in, set the timer, walk away and come back home to a hot meal.
      2. In the beginning, concentrate on these three things: meat / eggs, veggies and spices. You’d be amazed at the tasty combinations you can create just by rotating foods and keeping the prep / method simple – pan fry the meat and veg, add spices. Done. It’s okay to eat the same meal for, say, lunch and dinner to make it more simple in the beginning when you are trying to get a handle on things. As you keep going with it, you’ll get more creative and probably branch out a bit.
      3. Read “It Starts with Food” or “The Paleo Solution” to get a handle on Paleo basics.
      4. Finally, I’ll send you the URL for an app I’ve created (it’s still in very rough form but completely usable) that will address some of the questions you had. All you need to do is download the app service, Yapp, for free and then access the content.

      My recommendation is that you give Paleo a go before going all-in with a Whole30. Though they are similar (and I’m a big proponent of the Whole30), trying Paleo for the first time and being very, very strict about it is incredibly overwhelming for some. Let me know how you’re getting on.

      -Steph

  10. Steph:
    Great words of encourgement. Crockpot I can do…and three ingredients are simple. Will also follow the app link u sent.
    Stoked,
    Angie

  11. I think I need to try paleo…but thing I have major problems with eggs (due to eating them in excess). I have tons of digestive issues. You can email me if you want/can. Issue is that I’m low energy and lower weight but also “binging” at night on “safe foods”. FULL of gas (can’t burp it out!). Also, live in an area with no hormone-free or organic things, very very poor choices and limited income. Thoughts ? I’m eating grain fed turkey as is…

    • Hi J. It’s totally fine to eat Paleo and avoid eggs. I know a few folks with a sensitivity to them, and they seem to do just fine by cutting eggs out. It sounds like you may to include more protein and healthy fats in your diet to increase satiety (feeling full). You definitely don’t have to eat organic, etc if you have limited choices or income…instead focus on lean cuts of meat (so I would stay away from most ground beef unless it’s extra lean, fatty cuts like rib eye, take the skin off chicken, etc).

  12. Congratulations on your continuing pursuit of health & fitness. I’ve been eating Paleo for a week now & I’m all in! Starting Crossfit tomorrow (super psyched!) and returning to work after a blissful 2 weeks off…..this is where I am hoping you might have some suggestions for me. I travel to SD regularly for work & would love some thoughts on places to get a good clean meal. Fortunately there is a Whole Foods & TJ’s near UTC so they are great resources, but I know local recommendations are usually the best.
    Continued success to you & I can’t wait to make your jerky for my upcoming travels!

    Chawn

    • Hi Chawn! Thanks for checking in. Glad that you are liking Paleo and good luck on your first days of CrossFit…the two are a great combination. When you are in SD stop in to CF Invictus for a workout! Wow, I have to admit to not eating out a lot because 1) I love to cook and 2) it’s easier to control what I eat this way (fewer surprises if you know what I mean). Trader Joe’s and WF are definitely my stand-bys for food that you can prep yourself, and the hot / cold bar at Whole Foods can be a lifesaver (though not cheap by any sense of the word). For a nice dinner out, Candela’s in Coronado has a Paleo menu (you just have to ask) and for a quick bite, Burger Lounge in Little Italy sells grass-fed burgers. Hope this gives you a few ideas. Cheers!

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  14. I just found your website-awesome content and can’t wait to try some of the recipes! (my first jar of Coconut butter is on its way…i see a downward spiral in my life soon LoL)
    My husband started CF while deployed to Iraq. I was skeptical (been a runner forever) but when he came home after 6 months of doing nothing but CF with a 6-pack, i was sold. (and mind you, we’re both in our late 40s) I’ve been heavy into it since June ’12 and I have to say, it has changed my life. the friends I’ve made at my box, the positive changes in my life, its been pretty amazing.
    We just started our first 60 day Paleo challenge, so I am eager to see what our results will be after 2 months of strict Paleo. Thanks for sharing all this great info!

    • Hi Marty! Thanks so much for checking in :) I love hearing about your story and how you’ve embraced CF and a healthier way of eating. For me, living on the west coast 3000 miles from any family has meant that my gym friends have become like a second family. They’re awesome. I can’t wait to hear how your 60 Day Challenge goes. Promise to check back in and let me know how it goes? -Steph

  15. Hey steph. I’m thinking of getting back into Paleo eating . . . I don’t do CrossFit but I do a standard workout routine. . . Can Paleo eating work with what I’m doing?? . And what do you do for a post/pre workout meal?

    • Hi David! It absolutely can work with what you’re doing. I’m about to release a pre/post workout guide in the next couple weeks but basically, if you are really hungry pre-workout you should stick to protein/fat (I like a hard boiled egg – for convenience – and a handful of nuts). Post-workout should be protein and for a standard workout routine, a small amount of carbs. Hope that helps! Stay tuned for the guide :)

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