Okay, the title sounds a little extreme. I didn’t give up sugar ENTIRELY. I’m no martyr! But I cut way back on my sugar consumption and my life changed in ways I did not expect. And now I want to share my lessons learned with anyone who will listen.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I compared my eating habits to that of a child left alone in a candy store. I have been eating SO much sugar for the past year. How did I get here? Well, let’s rewind. What happened one year ago? I got pregnant! A very happy time indeed but the first 6 months of becoming a parent rock your world in ways that you never see coming. I quickly learned that breastfeeding makes you incredibly hungry—all the time. Meal prepping went out the window and I was basically in survival mode, eating the most convenient and easy-to-prepare foods, which often meant junk food and processed food. My sweet tooth reared its ugly head. I justified all of this to myself because “Hey! I’m a breastfeeding mom and I need the extra calories.” And it was admittedly doing nothing to my waistline, so I figured no harm, no foul. Other than feeling like a hypocrite to the participants that I teach, I didn’t think anything bad was happening.
I’ve struggled with insomnia for many years prior to having a child, but do you know how frustrating it is to be dead exhausted from keeping an infant alive and happy all day, and still not be able to fall asleep at night? It all came to a head a few weeks ago, after three nights in a row of particularly awful episodes of insomnia. I ran through all the options I had left: Sleep aid? Only if I want to stop breastfeeding. Therapy? I’d love to, but with daycare, it doesn’t currently fit into our budget. Exercise? I’ve been doing that! What about my diet? Could I start eating better—give up sugar?? Gasp. I was desperate enough to try anything.
So, the next morning I cut off my fountain of sugar. Cold turkey. Just like that. I gifted my Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered raisins and peanut butter cups to some friends. I put my giant chocolate bar on the top shelf of a cabinet, out of reach. I turned down an invitation to go out for frozen yogurt. I started preparing savory oatmeal (topped with leftover stir-fried veggies, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) instead of sweet oatmeal (topped with brown sugar and pecans). I snacked on cheese, nuts, and fruit instead of whatever junk food I could lay my hands on. I ate strawberries for dessert.
Here comes the unexpected side effect...
That first night, I slept for seven hours straight and I woke up feeling like a new person. After 6 months of complete sleep deprivation, I didn’t know that it was possible to feel this good. I wondered if placebo affect was at play – I wanted this no-sugar experiment to work, so I convinced myself that that it did. But you know who had no idea that I dramatically changed my diet, and slept through the night for the first time in his almost six months of life? That’s right—my sweet baby. He went from waking up two, sometimes three times in the night to feed to sleeping for seven blissful, consecutive hours. On day four I just couldn’t believe the stark difference in our sleep quality and decided to put things to the test. I reverted back to my old ways and guess who woke up twice that night, upset, hungry, and insatiable? You guessed it—my baby regressed back to his wakeful sleep cycles and drank milk like there was no tomorrow.
As you can imagine, I hopped back onto the no-sugar bandwagon pretty quickly. And I’m not going to lie, it is really hard. Not to mention the added layer of how addictive sugar is. I have had to change my whole way of thinking. Once we get started down a path of excessive consumption, it can be immensely difficult to reverse it. I know in time it will get easier to not eat so much sugar. My taste buds and my brain will adapt. I will eventually stop breastfeeding! And of course, I’m highly motivated to continue this new trend of good sleep for both myself and my baby.
Here is what I’m doing to help myself ride the wave of my sugar cravings:
- Eat a solid and balanced breakfast – Keeps my blood sugar levels more normal and my stomach full, so I’m less likely to feel extreme hunger swings later in the day. Lately, this has been the savory oatmeal I mentioned, with added flax seed meal, or scrambled eggs with shredded zucchini, beans, and a slice of whole wheat toast.
- Replace sweets with fruit – Right now clementines seem to be hitting the spot. And they’re starting to taste sweeter the more distance I get from chocolate.
- Stay hydrated – I’m sure this is not new information for most people – often when we think we’re hungry we are actually thirsty. Breastfeeding also makes you super thirsty, making it extra important to keep a water bottle handy.
- Chew minty (sugar-free) gum between meals – Sometimes I think I just need to be chewing something. This helps satisfy that need.
- Brush my teeth – Similar to what the gum provides, getting that fresh minty feeling in my mouth feels good! And then I don’t want to ruin it with a snack I’m probably not hungry for.
- Sip on warm, herbal tea – I find the fruity teas from Celestial Seasonings are especially helpful! They taste a little sweet but have no added sugars (real or artificial) and it hits the spot in the evening when I want a sweet dessert. In the summer I plan to make larger batches of iced tea from this same brand.
- Keep junk food out of the house – If you’ve ever been in one of my classes you can say it with me: “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it!” I’m really feeling this one right now.
- Practice mindfulness – In my moments of intense cravings, I ask myself if eating said sugary item is worth losing sleep over. So far, the answer has been no. I value my (and my baby’s) sleep way too much.
There’s a difference between knowing the right choices to make for our health, and actually making those healthy choices. I think sometimes what it takes to make that important change is having something at stake that is bigger than us. A prediabetes or diabetes diagnosis, a difficult financial situation, and the health and well-being (and sleep quality) of our children. The list goes on. We all have valid reasons to work on our health, but sometimes it takes a triggering event to wake us up and actually make those necessary lifestyle changes.