Monday, March 9, 2015

How and Why I Broke My Addiction to Sugar

To answer two questions I get a lot lately: yes, I have.  No, I didn’t.  Let me explain.  Yes, over the past six months I have lost a significant amount of weight.  No, my motivation wasn’t to get back into the single digit sizes I wore in my teens and 20s.  That seemed like a rather unreasonable, unnecessary, and unattainable goal.  I was pretty resigned to being a size ten or higher for the rest of my adult days, and most of the time I was fine with that

I'm not really into working out.  I figure if I walk around the playground  for 30+ minutes or dance with the kids at school (if we're stuck inside), then I'm doing well enough on that front.  I've never belonged to a gym or anything.  Walking, dancing, badminton, playing tag, and chasing after young children are basically the extent of my "exercise."

Then I found out two things from my doctor that really concerned me: 1.) I might need surgery, and 2.) I’m borderline for Type 2 diabetes.  It’s remarkable how quickly I’m willing to consider alternative, natural options when you threaten me with a knife, a laser, or a needle.     

I stared at the list of foods it was recommended I cut out of my diet.  I was more than just a little skeptical I could pull it off.  Sure, I could cut out one or two of the categories on the list.  Red meat and dairy, be gone!  But I couldn’t see myself sticking to any diet for the long haul that required I stop consuming so many of the things I’ve eaten all my life. 
I’ve always liked candy, cookies, ice cream, cake, and other sweets, so I was extremely incredulous that I would be able to remove almost all refined sugar from my diet.  For most of my life, I indulged my sweet tooth whenever possible.  Ice cream, frozen yogurt, candy, cookies, soda and such could usually be found in our fridge or the pantry, so I'd help myself.         

Back to Basics Bible Style

Last Spring, a friend of mine through Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) joined a group that would be reading about and attempting what is called The Daniel Fast.  I was intrigued by this idea.  My sister, her best friend, and a group of women at their church in Ohio did the Daniel Fast together last year as well.  

I’d researched it a little bit, but I figured I should give it a try once I compared the anti-inflammatory "what not to eat" list recommended by my doctor and the "what to cut out" foods listed for The Daniel Fast and realized that many of them overlapped.  

Of course, the spiritual element of prayer, Scripture study, and fasting appealed to me.  I knew that it would only be through the grace of God that I would be able to cut out basically all refined sugar. 

My mom and sister did The Daniel Fast together this past fall.  I decided I would start mine on October 1, 2014.  I had a CRHP retreat I was making and one for our two year spiritual direction (SDI) course in September, so I figured I should wait until after those to go on a strict diet. 

Curious to see if I could even pull off The Daniel Fast, I started a week or two early passing up almost all cake, cookies, sweets, and other treats.  I knew the true test would be the CRHP retreat when I was sleeping on a sofa ten steps away from the kitchen that was well-stocked with a variety of sugary delights.  I wondered if I’d be able to pass on cake and such during the day only to lie awake all night with constant cravings for candy, cake, cookies, chocolate.  

I made it. One of the most shocking things of all is that I didn’t have as hard a time greatly reducing my sugar and wheat intake as I thought I would.  I could participate in the prayer time, discussions, meals, and relaxation periods without feeling like at any moment, I would break down and rush into the kitchen to feast on any desserts and sweets in sight.       

Addiction and Grace

Another prominent reason for me to do The Daniel Fast is that one of the books I read for our Spiritual Direction Institute course talks about the nature and danger of addictions.  I’ve always figured that I’m doing pretty well by avoiding completely what often become people's big addictions.  I don't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, gamble, or watch pornography.  I couldn't really have a serious addiction (aside from loving reading and books), right?!  

What I didn’t realize and wasn’t prepared for is that, we all have addictions.  There are elements in each of our lives that drive our thoughts, decisions, emotions, and behaviors a great deal more than we think they do.  Reading Addiction & Grace by Dr. Gerald May helped me realize some things about addiction in general, myself in particular. 

Addiction& Grace is an in-depth look at human nature, the way the mind, body, and spirit work, and how all are subject to God’s love through grace.  By weaving together an impressive variety of strands from psychology, neurology, and spirituality, May illustrates the complexity of each human being as well as each person’s simplicity.  

May defines addiction in a way that is much broader than some probably would be inclined to think of it, but he clarifies how we are affected by different types of addictions as well as what will likely be necessary in order to treat them.  He talks about not replacing addictions with other addictions, but allowing the space they once filled to remain.  The writing is easy to read and includes a number of perspectives from different world religions, though, he mostly focuses on Christianity.    

I find it fascinating to have come upon this book and felt compelled to read it now, as I have recently experienced the freedom of having broken my addiction to sugar.  As with most addictions, I didn’t think that it was too detrimental or pervasive as an attachment, but once I cut out almost all processed sugar from my diet, I learned otherwise.  For one thing, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could stop eating any candy, cookies, cakes, sweets, or desserts completely for any length of time.  This sort of thinking clearly points to an addictive behavior

Through a customized plan of prayer and fasting undertaken for 21 days, I discovered how serious and detrimental my addiction to sugar had become.  Doing The Daniel Fast really opened my eyes to what May writes about: the necessity of admitting we all have addictions, creating a plan of action, having a willingness to accept the grace God gives us, as well as the support of other people in order to make changes. 
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