In Traditional East Asian Medicine, this is the season of Late Summer. It’s a short season- just a few weeks long- that invites us to come back to center, and get really grounded in ourselves before we do the work of Autumn, which is deciding what works for us and what doesn’t…what we will carry with us into winter (and the next year) and what we will let go of because it no longer serves us. Part of aligning with Late Summer is focusing on healing our digestive system, and one way we do that is by checking in on our relationship with the flavor Sweet. I checked….WHEW!…because I am practicing self-kindness, I’m just going to say that my relationship with sweet was out of balance. I decided to go on a 30 day pause from sugar. Besides gleaning whatever messages there might be in that practice, I’m interested to see if (what is left) of my chronic back pain will shift during this break. I’m on day 8, and I’ve been taking notes. I’ll put weekly updates here about what this is doing for my body, emotions, and spirit. Have you taken breaks from sugar or transitioned into a lifestyle of eating less sugar? What was your experience…I’d love to hear it!
I should start by saying I felt like I didn’t have control over my cravings before beginning this 30-day-sugar -pause, so I was eating a lot of it. I’d imagine that’s why I’ve been feeling the way I felt this last week. It might not have been such an intense week if I’d been able to gradually decrease my intake, but I’ve tried that and I don’t seem to have a dimmer switch when it comes to sugar, just an on/off switch. So off it is!
How my Body felt during Week 1 of no sugar:
The physical symptoms came faster than I expected. Day #2 I woke up with an intense headache and GI symptoms- especially nausea. I was a little clammy and would have moments of slight light-headedness. All day long I was saying to myself, “If I get through this pain I will never do this to myself again.” I had thought the cravings would be the worst part of this experience, but I think that headache was, so far. I’ve had a headache every day this week, but I am able to manage it with hydration and, when necessary, Ibuprofen or Excedrin.
Day #4 I started having mild but noticeable cold symptoms. If it were 2 years ago I would have ignored them and pushed through, but because I had a bit of a sore throat I cancelled my day and scheduled a COVID test. I’ve been feeling achy, tired, a bit weak, and phlegmy. I’m still waiting for the results, so I don’t know if this is part of letting go of sugar or if I caught a cold or was exposed to COVID. Whatever it is, it has forced me to stay home and actually rest, which has given me a different perspective on this 30 day challenge. I’ve had the time to slow down and feel my way through this process, which takes me to….
How I felt Emotionally during Week 1:
In a nutshell:
Anxious- can I do this?
Grouchy/ irritable- why am I doing this to myself?
Flairs of shame / sadness- why did I do this to myself? How did this get to the point I’m making myself sick because of it?
Tentative confidence- I didn’t think I could do it, but I’ve done it for a week!
You know how so often the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself? Before I even started I had planned a lot of distractions- got all the hobby supplies and epsom salts for baths. Mid-week I got curious about what would happen if I stopped distracting myself and actually paid attention to this experience…what would happen if I leaned into it rather than trying to avoid it? I’ve realized how emotional my cravings are for me. My cravings feel like a flush of warmth that starts in my chest and spreads to my cheeks, then tightness in my chest as I feel anxiety and dread at having to make a decision about eating or not eating.
I made a little ritual for myself. When I feel cravings or any strong emotion I put one hand on my heart, one hand on my stomach and say: I am feeling ___(an emotion, a craving)______ and I know in the past I’ve dealt with it by using sugar, but this body deserves better than that, and so today we aren’t using empty sweets. As of right now we only accept true comforts and the fullness of life. To my body: I’m sorry, please forgive me. And, I forgive you.
I can feel my body soften every time I do that.
Years ago I learned the power of generating mutual forgiveness when you are asking for forgiveness from someone/ something that can’t verbally respond back, even when that someone/something has done nothing to need forgiveness for. In “forgiving” my body, I realized that I did subconsciously blame it for things like being the size it is when the world says that only small bodies are acceptable, having chronic pain, and craving sugar. It’s been a meaningful experience to take ownership and say, actually, I either created a lot of that or created a painful meaning around a lot of that. There are things I can do to alleviate some of it, I’m not powerless.
I’ve found new gratitude for this body this week.
How I felt Spiritually during Week 1:
I’ve been having a lot of dreams! I’ve also been having flashes of clarity related to patterns that have been with me for a long time. Questions are coming up, like, if I don’t eat sugar how do I treat myself? Celebrate? Deal with being bored? Console myself?
I don’t have answers to those questions yet. Knowing I don’t quite have the emotional bandwidth right now, I’m putting them on the list of things to figure out later in this 30 day process. I’m also putting my flashes of clarity about old patterns on the list, after all, Shadow Work season is just around the corner.
It was a relief to get a negative COVID test result, but the relief of my cold- like symptoms has been a slow process this week. I’m not even sure if I should be including them…are they related to going off sugar? It could be allergies. Or, from a Traditional East Asian Medicine perspective, the Fall is associated with our Lungs, so if we have vulnerabilities in our lungs (which I do) we might have symptoms now. Whatever the reason, the tiredness + excess phlegm and cough + ear stuffiness that I’m experiencing has shown up during this detox, so I note it. The last couple of days I’ve been feeling frustrated and angry that I’m been feeling sick, in one way or another, for this entire 2 week process so far. Where is the boost of energy? The feeling great? The sudden realization that going for a walk is better than eating chocolate cake? I will say, it’s been kind of subtle, but I notice I have more stamina in the day. For instance, the other night I walked in to go to bed and realized I’d forgotten about the clothes I’d dumped on my bed after taking them out of the dryer. I had the energy to put them away, where usually I’d just find a different place to put them.
On the topic of going for a walk VS eating chocolate cake, I have found comfort in understanding that, according to research, eating sugar gives us an endorphin and dopamine hit. I’ve had a slight change in my perception…maybe I’m not craving the sugar as much as I’m craving the opioid and dopamine release. It’s helped me be more curious about how I can trigger those in a more sustainable ways that have fewer side effects. Today that has looked like going for a walk with my husband and dog in the gentle rain and preparing to align with the seasonal shift to Fall this week.
Finally, I’ve noticed that I’ve been having conversations with people about things that are important, but which we don’t normally talk about. To me, this is sign that the dampness that the sugar was causing is lifting and revealing things that I wasn’t seeing clearly before.
When I started this sugar detox + documentation of my experience, I anticipated I’d have a couple of rough day at the beginning that we could ruefully laugh about and then I’d have all these fabulous results to report…increased energy! decreased pain!
Insead, I’ve inadvertently stumbled into the next chapter of my personal healing journey. So much for the “10 easy tips to decrease your sugar intake”…or whatever cute little blog post I was dreaming up! The clarity that has come as the sugar left my system started with seeing how much I’ve relied on sugar for….celebrating, coping, as a treat, as a reward, to entertain, to comfort, to numb. And, I’ve used sugar like that for a looooong time.
As I talked to some of my helping professionals about the questions that were coming up it became clear that as an adult I’ve not taken the time to investigate or fully develop the above skills because sugar was such an easy crutch for me.
I’ve tried to decrease my sugar intake many times in my life, but I’ve always gone right back to it because for me it’s addicting and because following this line of inquiry that I’ve been in for the last 3 weeks is uncomfortable (to put it mildly).
Right now I know I can’t break this cycle on my own, so I’ve asked for/ am getting the help of others! I’ve never actually done that before in any meaningful way so it seems like a solid first step in a new direction. I firmly believe in the healing power of vulnerable sharing, and I also know that we have to heal our story to a certain point before sharing it is purely healing. For that reason, I am going to wrap up my documentation of this process for now. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point with those fabulous results I was after, or with some sort of new found wisdom?
I wouldn’t have even thought to try this path again if it wasn’t for this group, this call, this community, so thanks for being here. I appreciate you!
I so deeply appreciate you sharing this experience so in-depth. I love that you are looking at this relationship so closely and transforming through it. I am also in deep admiration of you sticking through it. Wow! Deep bow.