The last week in June I stopped eating sugar – by which I mean all sugars aside from the sugar that occurs naturally in raw fruits, vegetables, a few other foods, and in trace amounts in whole grain products like bread and crackers (which I don’t eat too much of). I also cut out sweeteners — my thinking being that if I didn’t get rid of “fake” sugar, I’d never get over sugar.
When I went on this no-sugar program, I was the heaviest I have ever been in my life, and forty pounds heavier than that. Since I quit smoking about ten years ago, I’d been gaining and gaining and gaining. (Why has nobody made the connection between the increasing obesity problem and the fact that the number of smokers is declining?) My arthritis had grown worse and worse and as my weight increased, it became harder to get out and do things. I stopped running. I avoided going for walks. I was so lacking in confidence about who I was that I lost track of my core strengths, my hope, and my zest. By this spring, I was walking like an old lady because I had a Morton’s neuroma in one foot and a sore hip. All my joints were painful.
I had a lot of personal stresses during those ten years, but the worst part was that I did not feel like a writer any more because all my books were out of print. I had written what I thought was a great NEW novel (ironically, about one woman’s battle to get thin), and I could not get an agent interested in it! (Only about three agents/editors out of the 100 I sent it to even wanted to look at the first page.) I turned 60. My major successes (quitting smoking and publishing three works of fiction) were in the distant past. (Well, I’d also raised two fine sons, but that’s beside the point in this story — they have their own lives now, thank heavens.) I felt like a has-been.
Two years ago I had watched Robert H. Lustig’s amazing video, Sugar: The Bitter Truth. Lustig is a professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California San Francisco, and he explores the damage that is caused to our bodies by sugary foods. He calls it a “poison.” He says that it is “toxic.” He has all the scientific studies you could want to back up his assertions. I was blown away by this video, and sent the link to almost everyone I knew.
The bad effects of refined sugar
I had been reading more and more information over the years about the bad effects of refined sugar (e.g. this article entitled “Cancer cells slurp up sugar”) and I knew that every additional M & M I ate was adding to my current and potential health problems. As I became officially “obese,” I increased my risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s and a bunch of other diseases I didn’t want. And it got harder and harder to walk, and more and more difficult to open jars with my arthritic fingers. My clothes got tighter. I was getting older before my very eyes. Miserable, depressed, I ate another bowl of ice cream.
But then I noticed that the literary landscape had changed. I decided to take the plunge and self-publish my novel, The Whole Clove Diet — if for no other reason than to get it off my desk so that I could write my next novel. And with that novel finally out, and getting some nice reviews by readers, I was ready to stop eating myself to death – for the same reasons that I’d wanted to quit smoking — which was to be healthy so I could write more books, and travel, and read, and visit with friends, and inhale the smells of the world for as many more years as I could. Based on viewing Lustig’s video, and reading the science that is behind a lot of other diets, I decided to stop eating sugar.
I treated it like quitting an addiction. I took a sheet of graph paper, and I marked off a grid seven squares by 24 squares to represent one week. Each time I made it through an hour, I shaded in a square with pencil. My goal was to make it through just ONE month of sugar-free eating, to see what would happen. The first few days were very hard. The next few days were less hard. By the end of the first month, I wasn’t thinking about sugar very much, and I had lost ten pounds. I decided to go for two months. I’m now heading for the goal of three months.
It was easier to stick to my resolve because instead of setting out to lose weight (although of course I hoped that would be a side-benefit), I set out to cut out sugar for health reasons – just to see what would happen to my arthritis pain for example, and I only set out to cut it out for one month. So I was counting days rather than calories or pounds lost. When I had a weight-loss plateau, which I did at one point, it didn’t matter because I was doing this to eliminate the sugar, not the weight.
Someone told me it would take six months before I would notice any reduction in the arthritic swelling in my fingers, toes and knees, but after two months I am in SO much less pain than I was, I can’t believe it. The weight loss has helped with the knees and toes, I guess, but the fingers!! Wow! Yeah! Hand me that jar of pickles! I believe this has to be the sugar: the climate hasn’t changed since June. My new chiropractor and I (I am actually doing the exercises she gave me) have started to make a difference to muscle problems in the hip region that are several decades old, and thanks to deep-tissue massage, the neuroma is almost gone.
I also have about 100 times more energy than I did when I was shoving candy, ice cream and baked goods in my face. No afternoon slumps! I feel younger, and that helps my self-confidence too.
So I’m back. And I’m telling you this because you don’t need to spend any money to start losing the weight and getting healthier. You can just stop eating sugar. If you need a support network, join a no-sugar forum thread – maybe start one right here on Fab After Fifty. And if you need a reason, watch Lustig. He has a bunch of shorter videos (see below) out now too. They’re free. They will give you all the reason in the world to stop eating sugar even if you don’t need to lose weight. It’s a killer. All I’ve really done is stopped poisoning myself.
I am hoping to make this a way of life. It’s not a diet. I eat almost anything that doesn’t have sugar added to it. I am still less than half way to the shape I want to be — and I want to be that shape because it’s healthy, not because it’s “hot.” (I’m already hot–that part’s in my head.
Mary W. Walters is a writer and editor who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her most recent novel is called The Whole Clove Diet, and it and several of her other books are available in both paperback and ebook on Amazon. You can learn more about her at her website: http://marywwalters.com