You remember the Aesop’s Fable The Hare & the Tortoise? The hare mocks the tortoise for being slow and challenges him to a race. The tortoise, sure of his ability and the failure sure to come from the hare’s ego, accepts. Sure enough, the hare decides spitefully to nap while the tortoise plugs along the race course, waking too late to overtake the tortoise.
The point I want to make here is that I really believe that when it comes to healthy lifestyle changes, there are two kinds of people. Hares, who go full-speed ahead right out of the gate, because that’s their nature. They aren’t arrogant and unkind, like the hare in the story, but they are made to jump to it and move fast, to go big or go home. Tortoises, on the other hand, are slow and steady. They like to do things in “baby-steps.” Both animals will make it to the finish line, provided they don’t give up, but the time it takes to get there may be significantly different.
It’s taken me many years to learn this, but I am most definitely a tortoise. Every significant change I’ve made in my life has happened slowly, over long stretches of time, by taking little achievable steps along the way. Baby steps. Whenever I’ve tried to live like a hare, I fall asleep by the side of the road, not because I’m spitefully sure I can still beat the tortoise, but because I cannot keep the pace. I am not a hare.
I recently heard from a sweet friend of mine who is trying to make a lot of positive changes in her life to benefit her physical and mental health. I can hear in her voice an exhaustion with the subject, though. She’s known for years that changes are necessary, but they are hard to make with any lasting success. All around her, people have advice or something to sell her that will be the “sure thing” she needs to achieve her goals. She dives in hard, like I’ve tried, and then finds herself discouraged because she can’t keep the pace. She’s a tortoise, and needs baby steps to be successful. Advice from hares won’t be helpful to her – she was made differently.
When it comes to using nutrition to support your mental health, the most beneficial thing you can do for your body is also the hardest. It will be the constant stumbling block in your journey to health if you aren’t able to overcome it – a sugar addiction. My friend in all of her frustration huffed, “I have a sugar addiction. That’s a real thing!” Yep. Nailed it. Sugar addiction is a real thing that anyone eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) has to overcome. Unfortunately, overcoming addiction – any addiction – really is an all-or-nothing venture. Would you say to someone with an addiction to opioids, “I know overcoming this addiction is important to you. You don’t want the drugs to control you anymore. You want to have a healthy future with your friends and family. So sure, maybe just one Vicodin a day is okay.”? Of course not! You know the danger of any little bit of that drug in a person trying to overcome an addiction – one little pill is definitely not okay for a recovering drug addict. Just like one little drink is not okay for a recovering alcoholic.
Refined sugar* is no different. It acts like a drug in your brain, shooting your dopamine levels sky high only to crash shortly after. It depletes your body of B vitamins, which are essential for healthy amino acid development (the building blocks for everything, including neurotransmitters), it drains immune support minerals, and it is highly inflammatory, making pain worse. It’s the obvious culprit of our worldwide Type 2 diabetes epidemic. And it is highly addictive. It’s what your body craves when you’re emotionally low, when you are tired and haven’t eaten enough, or when you just want to relax. That’s why most comfort foods are sugary treats and desserts, pastas, and homemade breads. That instant dopamine boost makes us feel better! But at what cost?
*To be abundantly clear, when I talk about refined sugars I’m referring to the simple carbs (added sugars, white, processed flours and related products) that we eat in excess because they make glucose so readily available to our bodies. Complex carbs from sources like quinoa, sprouted bread or sweet potatoes are perfectly fine and definitely essential to your overall health.
Whether you’re a tortoise or a hare, when it comes to overcoming a sugar addiction, you really just have to jump in and do it. Clear out your pantry. Learn the names sugar hides behind in packaged goods. Buy some Stevia. Treat this like the addiction it is and work hard at overcoming it. If you go hard and strong for 30 days, you’ll be able to see a way through the other changes you need to make. They will be a rough 30 days, but you will feel so much better. From one tortoise to another, it is absolutely worth it to be able to say you are no longer a sugar addict.
You can also eat a diet rich in proteins and healthy fats for 7-10 days to assist your body in “detoxing” from the sugar. Eat consistently, every 3 hours. A serving of protein with healthy amounts of fats like olive oil and coconut oil, and combined with vegetables will keep you satiated so you won’t be tempted to binge on baked goods or sugary cereal. Avoid fruit for this short time, just to give your body the best boost possible. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots sauteed in butter can help with the sweet tooth. After 10 days, feel free to incorporate fruit and healthy grains back in to your diet. I think you’ll feel this is a helpful week in getting you set up for the rest of your life.
Don’t think this means you can’t have desserts and candy! There are so very many recipes online nowadays for sugar-free baking; find your favorites and enjoy your treats guilt-free!
Guiltless Chocolate Cake in a Mug (THM-S)
1 T Almond Flour + 1 T coconut flour
1 T cocoa powder
1/2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
2 T unsweetened nut milk (almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk)
1 T coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
Spray a large coffee mug with coconut oil spray. Mix all ingredients in the mug. Microwave for 1 minute. Bam. A sugar-free, flourless, healthy treat in just a couple of minutes. And change it up – sometimes I add Lily’s chocolate chips or chopped walnuts and top with homemade whipped cream.
Baby steps, friends! Be kind to yourself on this journey, but don’t kid yourself that you can conquer an addiction without going all-in. You’ll be so grateful you did!