Every bite you take is either fighting disease or feeding it. –Anonymous
As described in the Sugar Series, Part 1 and Part 2, sugar has a way of sneaking into our kitchen and meals, becoming a friend and sabotaging our taste buds. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have allowed it. But, we don’t have to permit it to invade our lives. The first step is knowing the facts and the second is understanding where it is coming from. For knowledge to lead to action, we need to be convinced it is actually possible.
My friend, Elizabeth Hoover is a mom like many of you. She adores her kids, loves her husband well, volunteers at church and school, and is working to grow a side business. But as it is so easy to do, she found that she had neglected her own well-being since she was so busy being everything to everyone. This is her story of discovering how sugar was affecting her health and how she broke free from its sticky sweet grasp.
Every woman’s journey will look a little different. Kids, work, home environment, family dynamics, outside influences, schedules- there are so many things that affect our eating patterns and food choices. But there is such power in sharing a story. May you be encouraged to own your health and empowered to take the steps you need to take to see the long-term changes you want.
What motivated you to consider how much sugar you were consuming in your diet and make a change?
Ever need one of those “aha” moments to kick yourself into gear? Something to motivate you into getting your “want to” back? My moment was my last womanly checkup. With legs splayed, the doc questioned me, “Um, do you know you have a little something going on down here?” The ugly truth was I had no clue that I had a low-level chronic yeast infection because as a mama of three, I often ignore my body to power through what needs to get done. But that day at the doctor’s office, I realized taking care of me was also something that “had to get done.”
I suspected, after being given lots of antibiotics as a kid, that the candida/yeast issue I had battled before was perhaps re-surfacing. From previous experiences dealing with yeast infections and talking with healthcare providers about proactive measures, I knew that removing sugar from my diet was a proactive step I could take.
What was the first step you took to remove sugar from your diet?
I began doing research, arming myself with information that would both inform and inspire me to take the necessary steps to stick to this new eating regime. When I have made health changes in the past, I find it encouraging and helpful to keep myself submerged in reading materials (and perhaps even a documentary!) that point in the direction of my goals and spur me onward.
What were some of the main sources of added sugar in your diet?
My sweet tooth can get powerful if I let it! A little nibble of chocolate here, a bite of a cookie there… What’s one scone with my coffee! If I let my sweet tooth reign, it will! So my first step was to cut out any desserts and sweets. Sigh… Even though I was eating pretty healthy otherwise, I had gotten quite liberal with the amount of daily sweets I was allowing myself. But I do hope to soon be able to attempt some healthier, alternative “treat” recipes I have scouted out that have very little sugar or honey, but still will give me the feeling of treating myself on occasion.
What were some of the unexpected sources of sugar in your diet?
To my surprise, even my beloved Trader Joe’s spaghetti sauce had sugar! I picked up every single jar of tomato-based spaghetti sauce in that store to only find ONE kind that had little added sugars. It was a plain tomato sauce, but since I like having the convenience of a quick canned version on hand, I buy that and simply add my own spices/seasoning to it while cooking.
Did you have support making and implementing the decision to remove added sugar from your diet?
Although my family and friends were on the whole supportive of my health goals, I encourage women to arm yourself with at least a few “real life” cheerleaders (like Jennifer!) who can support and propel you in the healthy direction you are trying to take. Cutting out sugar is hard work. Major diet changes can feel lonely if you are going against the general flow of those around you. Reach out for support!
What does grocery shopping look like now for you and your family?
I keep a closer eye on what I am buying and choose low or no added sugar options. Of course, I stick with whole foods whenever possible.
The process of removing foods with added sugar happened fairly organically for our family. Our household receives a weekly local produce delivery, which I loosely meal plan around. I like to be spontaneous and creative with meals, and this weekly delivery keeps me armed with a variety of fresh whole foods and the accountability to use them, less I waste hard-earned money on spoiled food! I simply rotate in protein and other staples.
Do you give more attention to the ingredient list on the food labels than before?
Yes, I read my labels, which can prove a little challenging to my four-year-old shopping buddy. I cannot wait for summer 2018 to roll around, when we can all see in plain sight those pesky added sugars separated from the naturally occurring sugars on the food label! But perusing for added sugars has made me even more aware of what is in the ingredient list when I buy anything that is not a whole food. Recently, I researched maltodextrin since it was an added ingredient in a supplement that supposedly supports gut health. I ended up returning that supplement right back to the store shelf!
Do your pantry or fridge contain any foods with added sugar any longer? Or, are these foods simply not allowed in your home?
There are other foods in the house that I do not buy and would not feed the children (or my hubby) if I had my druthers. But I love my man and he likes to grocery shop too. So he selects some treats that he and the kids enjoy, and I do my best to keep the sugar (and processed foods) to a minimum elsewhere in our diets. I believe the longer I stay at this healthy lifestyle (perhaps lessening up a little over time), they will see that example and know it is a choice they have.
In addition to leading by example, how are you educating, training and guiding your kids in making healthy, lower sugar food choices?
This is honestly still a work in progress in our house, especially since my husband and I have differing views on how often the kids can consume sugar. I try to offer healthy, well-balanced meals the vast majority of the time. I talk to them about why we limit sugar explaining how added sugar, like in sweets, does not give your body what it needs and can actually harm their health and teeth! We also talk about how “natural” sugar, like in fruit, is combined with fiber that gives your body the sugar (and energy) slowly over time as the food digests.
How has your choice affected your relationship with your husband, since he has some differing nutrition opinions and food preferences?
My husband and I do have health/diet discussions, and admittedly, we don’t see eye to eye. But he does not turn down the meals that I make, and I do not fuss at what he packs for lunch. It is our way of allowing each other to be separate people and love each other where we’re at.
What are some family meals you have changed or modified to remove added sugars?
My go-to quick spaghetti meal is slightly altered with a more plain tomato sauce, but I love that I can add in whatever spices I want very easily. I am also more choosy with other store bought sauces as well. BBQ sauce, ketchup, and our salad dressings have all undergone increased scrutiny. But those are easy changes to make with a little label reading! I have become more discerning as I decide which lunch sides I pack in the kid’s lunches. Even applesauce pouches can have tons of added sugars! Recently, I ordered more cold packs for their lunch boxes so I can safely pack more fresh fruit and veggies rather than dried fruits or fruit pouches.
What challenges have you encountered along this journey?
Right in the middle of making these changes to my diet came the parade of summer birthdays and the delicious beckoning of berry season… What was a sugar-free gal to do? I thought long and hard about what would most bless me on my birthday. Realizing the lure of buttercream frosting would get me wanting sugar all day, every day, I avoided the pitfall of an entire cake.
Instead, we spent a little extra at the Whole Foods bakery window and each family member selected a mini dessert. We all had fun sampling each other’s baked goods, my birthday was celebrated, and there were no leftovers beckoning the next day. For my special treat, I chose a French fruit custard tart that brought me back to my college days of studying at my favorite coffee shop & bakery… Ahh, sweet and nostalgia rolled into one delicious tart!
Where are you now with this process?
Am I still at this no added sugar adventure? Yep. Why? Because I feel amazing!!
What benefits have you experienced from making these changes to your diet and lifestyle?
Cutting out the added sugar was a huge win for me and a necessary step! Once I did, I quickly lost several pounds and appeared more toned without changes to my exercise routine. My energy has improved and stays consistent throughout the day. I do still drink about one cup of coffee a day, so I can only assume my former energy crashes were sugar-related and not caffeine-related.
Another positive is I listen more acutely to my body’s needs and signals now that I am no longer a slave to sugar cravings. Once I cut out added sugars, cravings decreased..which I am thankful for, because I have a strong sweet tooth!
How has this physical change affected your mental and emotional health?
Now I notice how my food choices affect how I feel. Instead of feeling restricted, I feel free, more energetic, and dare I say empowered. I have laid down an important boundary, one that my kids and husband need to see- that I care enough about them to also love and take care of me.
And I feel beautiful! There, I said it.
As women, we need to see ourselves as our Creator does…BEAUTIFUL, whole, and well worth the effort to take care of ourselves!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to reduce sugar but feels overwhelmed or doesn’t know where to start?
Acknowledge that you and your health are worth it! Find some means of support – a book, someone that inspires you, or a friend to do the journey with. Take a step today and know tomorrow is a new day, a new chance to take further steps. Be encouraged by any progress, no matter how small. And use the momentum when you have it! I was motivated to do it more or less “cold turkey,” but if that isn’t your style, try baby steps.
We are praying, too, that you will be filled with his mighty, glorious strength so that you can keep going no matter what happens—always full of the joy of the Lord. Colossians 1:11 (NLT)
May you be strengthened by his power to run the race set before you and not despise baby steps.