Grinding Against the Sugar Monster

The challenges of cutting sugar from you diet.
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There’s no easy answer when it comes to food and what works for you compared to what works for someone else.

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I have recently begun a month-long nutritional reset challenge with my local box members. I feel like coming off the summer with lazy days at home in conjunction with traveling and a lack of structure had led me to some very bad eating habits (and an increased waist size on my work clothes). When the idea of participating in a nutritional challenge was brought up, I knew that this was exactly what I needed to help me get back in the shape I want to be in for my CrossFit training.

Easy enough.

So I registered, paid my buy-in fee for the competition-style 30-day event and read through the guidelines and stipulations. The problem comes down to this: actually doing it.

Now, less than a week in, I’ve already noticed how difficult this is going to be. As previously stated in my articles, I am a raging sugar addict. I know that addiction is a VERY serious issue to countless people around the world, and it seems trivial to put such as serious term like “addiction” next to a seemingly innocuous term such as “sugar” but the fact remains that for me, it is a very real issue.

In this first week, I have gone through withdrawal symptoms. I know this to be the case because I have done Paleo and other challenges in the past during which I have cut out things like dairy, coffee, grains and, yes, sugar. When it comes to sugar (processed, especially), my body and mind react very negatively when I remove it from my system for an extended period of time. I will mix in some fruit consumption to try to appease my sweet tooth and trick my body into thinking I’m giving it what it’s demanding, but the reality is that headaches and hangover-like morning symptoms are still an issue for me for the first three to five days. Once those subside, then I start feeling a ton better and can really get into a groove with my diet and training.

This always brings up a question to me: How much sugar must I normally be consuming to make my body react the way it does when I cut it out?

I’m not one to read labels, nor do I have the dietary knowledge of how many milligrams, grams, etc. of sugar are in the things I eat. I don’t know how much is a normal level or how much my body ingests as opposed to how much I should normally consume. I’ll say this, though, it has to be a significant amount because when it’s gone I notice it, quickly.

As I reach the end of week one, the withdrawal-like symptoms have begun to subside. I don’t have as much problem with the lack of grains because that’s just more annoying (ordering a burger with no bun, no bread for a sandwich, stuff like that). But the temptation side is really what I am doing battle with all day at this point.

To make things even more challenging, it’s October, so in addition to the already rampant number of TV and print food based ads, the Halloween candy campaign is EVERYWHERE. Obviously I’m hypersensitive to this due to my intentional deletion of these sugary treats. I get to a point where it seems like every single commercial is candy based and every non-Halloween commercial has something to do with pizza or fast food.

I know in my rational mind that this is not literally the case, but at times, it seems like it is.

It’s too early to really know how this all will affect my WODs and training. In the past, my times have gone down and I have maintained a better energy level during these times when I clean up my eating. During our last challenge, my “Helen” time dropped more than two minutes from day one to day 30. Because I train at 6 am or earlier each day, I do wake up more easily because my sleep patterns are much better. That definitely impacts my training in a positive way.

I really am attempting to use this month to analyze how and what I eat. When you scale back and focus on your diet, really turn the microscope on everything you eat, it gives food a very important role in your life. I now appreciate every meal and snack I get. I work to eat until I’m full, then stop. When I am just eating “whatever,” this is almost never the case. Often I’d throw down a Paleo-ish meal, then go straight to the pantry and get something chocolate-covered to eat. The other thing that this challenge gets me thinking about is: When it’s over, what will I eat first?

If you really consider this last part, it has two sides. One, it’s a reward, the carrot driving the cart (although I would not choose a carrot, come on). Secondly, my addicted mind is picturing me sitting down with a family-sized bag of candy bars and taking down the whole thing. I think on a serious note it’is very important to be able to do a reasonable mix of both. In a very strict challenge such as this one (clearly defined limits and NO cheat days), I think rewarding yourself at the end is an excellent idea, but in moderation. If not, we will find that we are just setting ourselves up to damage our bodies the ways we were doing before the challenge began. That would, of course, defeat the purpose entirely.

What are your experiences with Paleo or nutritional challenges at your box?