I still think about this gelato.
For the past decade or so, research on the negative effects of sugar consumption has been exploding onto the science scene. Different papers detail how too much sugar can cause different illnesses, and that the spread of sugary foods has contributed to the spread of obesity and other diseases across the world. Thankfully, this research was available around late 2014. I began experiencing a few unpleasant issues with my own body, and I basically had no choice but to look into the research on sugar. Nothing else seemed to explain why I was dealing with body issues. But, was sugar truly the cause of my problems, and if so, could I bring myself to quit eating it?
Long story short, it definitely seemed to be the cause, and I officially quit eating added sugars shortly after looking into the research. Then, not long after that, my body problems quickly and efficiently cleared up. I’m not exaggerating. It took less than two weeks for everything to disappear (I was dealing with random rashes on my skin – very unpleasant, and I still don’t know exactly what they were or where they came from). It almost seemed too good to be true. Yet, amazingly, it wasn’t.
Now, in the beginning, it was complete hell. I saw sugar everywhere. It was in all the sweets, of course; but it was in things that I didn’t even associate with sugar, such as savory sauces, dressings, breads, and much more. I had no idea it was so pervasive. Was it always in those foods? Anyway, the first week exhausted me. All the foods I had grown accustomed to eating were swept away in a flash, and I had to find replacements fast.
Immediately, I turned to more and more whole foods. At first, it felt strange, especially since I began eating way more fruit than I previously had. I even felt guilty because I knew there were large amounts of sugar in the fruits. However, I quickly found out why fruit isn’t as bad as a glass of juice or a handful of cookies: essentially, the fiber in the fruit helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which helps curb spikes in blood sugar levels (not to mention all of the added vitamins and minerals). So, those apples and pears were good to go.
As I stated earlier, after about two weeks my skin problems cleared right up. To be honest, I was quite shocked. But, I was even more shocked by what happened to my mind and the rest of my body. For example, I was able to sleep better at night, I had WAY more energy, my spotty acne noticeably healed, I seemed to build muscle faster after working out, and my brain didn’t feel as sluggish after a meal. Also, I didn’t experience intense cravings like before, and I even began forgetting about all the foods I had previously enjoyed. Unbelievably, they started to sound kind of gross and unappetizing. Needless to say, I was completely astonished by how different I felt after such a simple, yet very dramatic lifestyle change.
Of course, it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. My mind and body were making positive progress, but my social life took a strange turn. It became tricky and inconvenient to go out to eat with friends. Seriously, it was so difficult trying to find a restaurant that served food without added sugar. On top of that, I had to battle a language that was completely foreign to me, so requests and explanations became demanding and awkward (I was living in Busan, South Korea). Also, the conversations and questions after telling someone that I didn’t eat added sugar were pretty interesting: “Do you still eat fruit?”, “When did you quit?”, “What CAN you eat?,” and my favorite, “But…why?”.
Still, the worst part, I admit, was having to say no to those who wanted to give me treats as a gift (or just accept them, but not actually eat them). In so many cultures around the world, giving sweet treats is a staple of showing affection and gratitude, and Korea is no exception. There were countless times when people either gave or offered me foods with sugar in them, and I was forced to get pretty creative when saying no. Heartless? Maybe. But at the end of the day, those who cared about me understood and accepted my reasons for saying, “No, thank you.”
Now, I wasn’t completely sweet-less. There were certain occasions when I rejoined mainstream society and indulged in the sugary stuff. Usually on birthdays of loved ones, or while visiting foreign countries with new desserts, I went all in. Understandably, I still wanted to experience and enjoy all that life had to offer. But, I made a firm decision that one time was enough, and then I moved on. It was such an extreme practice of willpower, but after doing it enough times, it became a habit and a part of my daily experience.
Fast-forward to today, and I must concede that I went back to eating added sugars while living in Los Angeles, as well as my first months after moving to Seoul (pretty much all of 2016). I was bombarded by so many delicious and interesting looking sweets that I made every excuse in the book to eat them, even while feeling like crap and recognizing tell-tale signs of too much sugar consumption. So, a few weeks ago I officially went sugar-free once more, and it feels good to be back. All the positive effects have resurfaced, as well as the slightly awkward social effects. However, I’ve been here before, and I feel much more comfortable treading these waters this time around. It’s just my life, that’s it.
After all is said and done, I’m 100% satisfied with my decision to give up added sugars. It’s not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the payoffs are so incredibly rewarding that I can’t even imagine going back. After all, my mind and body are the only tools I have in this life to achieve my dreams and goals, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep them as sharp and healthy as possible. Removing added sugars from my daily life has been one of the greatest decisions towards making this a reality.