How I Thrashed My Sugar Temptations and Lost Weight Over The Holidays

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Do you have diabetes, both types, sprinkled fairly liberally around your family tree? Is it something that you’ve grown up in the shadow of? Is it a condition you fear you may develop in time or see your kids develop due to a genetic susceptibility combined with lifestyle behaviors?

All of the above apply to me. Sugar demons are something I’ve wrestled with most of my life, but particularly in the years since I’ve had children. Sugar represented comfort, a treat, and calm in the face of a three-year-old’s tantrum and after a cookie, chocolate or cake (the three big C’s,) my neurons would become awash with feel-good chemicals as we all settled down.

Familiar, comfortable

Over my paleo months and years however, my relationship with sugar has morphed into one similar to that with an old, certain friend.  When you see one another, it’s like good, old times, but months and even years go by without any contact and after you meet, you both flow seamlessly back into your regular lives until the next time. I felt got sugar down. Mostly.

But recently I was concerned that this comfortable, but distant relationship would get needy again. Over the holidays I traveled back to the UK. It was the first time I’d spent Christmas there in 14 years, the first British Christmas my kids had ever spent and the first time my family would all be together over the holiday season.

As the only grandchildren, I knew my kids would be treated like princes and as the prodigal daughter returning to the fold for the season, I knew it would be an intense emotional event unlikely to be repeated in the near future, if ever. I was excited and had been planning the trip for months so that it would create unforgettable memories for everyone.

Needy, controlling

One thing threatened to mar the time, though: tables would be groaning under the weight of my favorite childhood holiday foods, many of which would be prepared for my personal delectation. I didn’t want to reject anyone, be unkind, nor frankly, did I want to spend the whole time in a tightly wound coil as I sought to deal with the combination of temptation, guilt and responsibility. I just wasn’t sure how the food side of it was going to go.

In a dark moment, I feared that all my food boundaries, so carefully crafted, honed and practiced over months, would come crashing down in the face of a) a valuable currency (sugar) and b) a finite supply (I’d be going back to my Californian most definitely paleo home inside two weeks.) I pictured the possibility of myself resembling a starving pig in a trough at feeding time. Like I said, it was a dark moment, rare but dark. 🙂

Two weeks later, I knew. Holding myself in a vice-like grip in the face of temptation had been completely unnecessary. I ate the odd chocolate and had a bite of virtually everything baked for me but fighting the urge to eat sugar in all its guises and to excess simply wasn’t necessary because the urge was gone. And because my blood sugar levels weren’t swinging around like a pendulum in an earthquake, I fasted until mid-afternoon almost every day and came back from my trip having lost 2lbs!

My teeny-tiny, new friend

The cause of this revelation was a small blood sugar monitor that I pulled out of my cupboard shortly before we left on our trip. As part of my ongoing n=1 experimentation, I’d decided to test my blood sugars.

In Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate Shanahan there is a (quite scary) section on sugar and its affects on the body. She recommends that those who have a blood sugar fasting level of over 89mg/dl limit their carbs to less than a 100gms per day. She contends those with a fasting blood sugar level of 89 or higher are at risk of falling into the cycle that leads to diabetes.

I wanted to know what my early morning blood sugar level was so I tested several days in a row. It was in the early 90’s, higher than Dr Cate would like. That didn’t really surprise me given my history but later one day I took the test again.  And the results scared me.

Testing, testing, 1,2,3

My son had baked a cake at a friends’ house. He brought it home to share. I had a tiny piece – about a third of a regular sized slice, three bites max. I tested my blood sugar out of curiosity a few minutes later. The number was in the high 120’s. Seeing what my body was having to do in response to eating that cake shocked me.

Up to this point, intellectually I knew that I shouldn’t eat sugar. I’ve read about it for years, written about it, seen the effects of too much sugar in others and practiced all kinds of strategies to ensure my intake was virtually nil. But seeing this number on a screen engaged my emotions like nothing else had up to this point. Here was black and white factual evidence of the effect of sugar in my body. And frankly, it scared me.

An outdated relationship outgrown

So when I visited relatives over the holiday and was offered the formerly tempting trio of cake, chocolate and cookies I reacted far more cautiously than in the past. In my mind, it had gone from treat food to what-are-we-doing-eating-this food. If I ate any of it, I didn’t enjoy it much. The feelings I’d formerly associated with it had been replaced by feelings that it was deadly. Anytime I was offered something sugary, I thought of that number on the glucometer and remembered the intense feeling of shock and alarm I’d felt and I’d either refuse, or take just a bite.

I asked Tim Brownson, life coach and expert in neuro-linguistic programming (and the person who originally introduced me to the work of Mark Sisson via an interview on his blog,) what had happened in that moment when I read the blood sugar monitor that then so drastically changed my behavior. His reply:

What probably happened is you created a rapid anchor, something that is *almost* impossible to do with a good event but can happen with negative events that shock us so much.

With an anchor you are connecting one event or situation in your mind with another where there wouldn’t normally be an association. So when you saw the results you were so shocked that your brain now had difficulty separating eating sugar from feeling like you did at the moment.
 
The phrase in neuroscience that I’m sure you’re familiar with is ‘neurons that fire together wire together’ and all we are really talking about is a conditioned or Pavlovian response.
 
This is one explanation for those of us who get a wake-up call at the doctors one day and quit our unhelpful behavior cold turkey,  and while I changed my conditioning by accident, you can do it purposefully to get more desired results. Tim explains how you can do that here.

Exposing the concealed

As a strategy for managing our eating habits, adding a blood sugar monitor to your armory as you go about your day as a paleo warrior would seem to be a good idea. And especially if you have a horror of developing diabetes, or simply want to observe your body completing one of its complex and mysterious processes that usually happens unobserved. Sometimes we all need a reminder of what’s going on inside there and checking our blood sugar is a simple and effective way of appreciating the effects of our actions on our bodies.

Beaten to it

Thinking I’d stumbled on some fantastic new information that could change the health of the nation as we know it, I had a dig around and found out that Jimmy Moore had beaten me to it. He asserts that a glucometer is more important than a scale and I would be inclined to agree with him (although I am not anti-scale.) There is even a book about using a blood sugar monitor to help with health and weight-loss for non-diabetics!

I’m committed to using one from now on to provide me with hard evidence (and reminders) as to the effects my eating habits are having on my blood sugar levels. And it has reinforced the idea that we all need to find that trigger that really kicks us in the gut to stop us when we are tempted to eat something we know we shouldn’t.

The take aways

While this story is mostly about me, what I hope you take from this story is this:

  • Our most strongest temptations can be quashed to nothing given the right impetus
  • You can achieve behavioral feats that you may currently think impossible with persistence and a creative mind
  • Constant experimentation is important for any worthwhile endeavor – and your health is certainly a worthwhile endeavor – and may turn up unexpected data and results you can use to great benefit
  • A glucose monitor can be a valuable tool in monitoring the effects of our behaviors on our bodies and help keep us in check by providing valuable feedback in cold, hard-to-dispute numbers

Anything we can do to keep us on the path to health has to be worthwhile in a world that is constantly, insidiously, pulling and  tugging at us to take a different direction. Keep on, keepin’ on.

Have you ever used a glucometer to monitor your blood sugar levels? What did you learn? Have you had a wake-up call with your health that keeps you on the straight and narrow? Please tell us in the comments. I really appreciate it when people reply with thoughtful comments. Honestly, it makes my day.

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Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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