Sugar and Chronic Illness

This post was originally published in October 2017. I’ve updated it to include a follow up since the original publication. Find my thoughts on sugar and chronic illness under my update.

2019 Note: This was a check-in post relating to a series of diet changes I made. Because I was breastfeeding Jai, I could not take my MS medication until I finished. I wanted to find a way to manage my illness until I restarted my medication.

Cutting sugar went smoother than I expected, though there were a few days where I was irritable, according to Ash. I refuse to believe him, but deep down, I know he’s right. No longer having that emotional crutch makes for a very grumpy me.

Psychologically speaking, it was a lot easier than I expected. As long as I didn’t have sugary treats in the house (I tossed all of our sweets or sent them with Ash to work); I avoided buying sugary drinks (everyone knows that my weakness is a good Pumpkin Spice Latte in the fall). If I had fruit for any sweet cravings, I was good to go. Every time I drove by a Starbucks, there was a temptation to pull in and just give in to that PSL craving, but I made sure to keep going and have a few bites of pineapple as soon as I got home.

A couple of times, I did eventually stop at Starbucks, and I made sure only to order an Americano. Before I was pregnant, I was in the habit of drinking all my coffee black unless it was a latte. It wasn’t hard for me to get back into drinking with nothing in them. I think it helped a bit too.

Coffee is a wonder drug (and sadly, probably something I need to add to my drop list), and can make a lot of things better.

I didn’t notice any headaches, though, at the beginning of the week, I was more sluggish and in need of an extra nap or two during the day. By the time Ash came home from work, I was very ready to pass Jai off to him, so I could lay down and not think or move for an hour. By day 3 or so, I had a little more energy, and by this morning (day 5), I had even more energy to do my running around without the need for a nap.

I also noticed that during my long run on Thursday, I was able to keep up with my mom and felt less fatigued at the end of it. I also felt motivated to go again this morning (though that would be off schedule). Me? Motivated to run off schedule? This really is unheard of – I hate running.

While shopping, I made sure to review all the labels like I said I would: any time it was High Fructose Corn Syrup or unidentified form of “sugar,” I would move along. From my research, they said that sugar is hidden in everything, and it really is true. Sugar is everywhere. Foods that I usually love to eat, like certain types of crackers or even grab-n-go frozen meals…all contain sugar. I also made sure to avoid agave and honey. If the item were sweetened with fruit juice or dates – I would be willing to grab it to consume.

I will have to admit: Target fruit snacks were a lifesaver at night when I really craved sugar after Jai went to sleep. But something I am noticing as I go further along in the week: I don’t feel the need to consume sugary products when I usually do. I mentioned that mid-afternoon and evening are some of my worse times for craving sweets, and by Thursday night, it wasn’t as necessary. I am hoping that this proves to be a more permanent thing. Having that craving indulged every once in a while is fine, but I was making it a nightly occurrence.

I won’t go so far as to say that I have broken a habit. It’s going to take some time before that’s completely done. I always thought it took 10 days to develop good practice, but in researching for this blog post, it is generally accepted to be 21 days. But then I found this: it actually can take upwards to 66 days to develop a good habit. That makes a lot more sense to me. So I am technically 5 days in – 61 more days to go before I have developed the habit of not desiring or incorporating sugar in my diet.

I’ll have to start a calendar so I can mark off the days.

It’s really not that bad, especially considering I actually noticed that I dropped 3 pounds this week. This was unexpected because from what I’ve read, cutting sugar isn’t a guarantee for an immediate weight loss. It’s going to be long-term and probably consistent weight loss throughout the weeks.

But when you lose a few pounds, it really boosts that motivation to keep going. Weight loss isn’t recommended to make the primary focus of everything I am doing. Still, when done safely, it’s a good morale booster.

I honestly think what it boils down to is having a decent attitude. I hate to make that platitude of “being positive gets EVERYTHING done,” but there is a level of truth to it. Making a conscious effort to be positive over the situation and wanting to make the improvements help through most of the tough parts. Keeping the end goal of “I’m going to feel better once the worst has passed” helps during the moments of weakness.

I like to imagine that when I am going through a particularly rough “drop” week that I am running a marathon. It’s not about sprinting to the endpoint, but pacing myself as I go along and taking breathers (not cheating, but moments of acknowledging that this is hard) when I need them will help ensure that I make it to the endpoint.

I am looking forward to how I feel in the coming weeks the longer I get away from sugar products. Will I have even more energy? Will it help some of my MS symptoms? Will I lose weight? Or will I overall notice absolutely no difference? Only time will tell.

Next week: all things red meat. I consider this to be beef and pork products. Moving closer to a vegetarian and then ultimately, a vegan diet. I am also not looking forward to this particular food drop. I love me some bacon.

2019 Update

It’s been two years since my last active bite of a sugar product. I’ve found I can allow minimal amounts of sugar in my diet via condiments and packaged foods, provided it is way down the ingredient list. But I have not had a sugary treat since dropping cane sugar in 2017. Not in Disney World, not in Las Vegas, and not at Starbucks for their Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

I’ve actually found that I don’t miss it. Before dropping sugar in 2017, I read an article by a woman who quit sugar for a year with her family. She wrote about reintroducing it into her diet despite seeing all the health benefits of leaving it completely out. I assumed that would be me in 2018, but it never happened.

I think dropping sugar led to a “rapid” 25-lb weight loss, and it kept me going. I put “rapid” in quotes because it was fast for me. Dieting and cutting things out in the past would lead to 2-5 lbs lost, but quickly regained when reintroduced. Does that mean if I ever decided to reintroduce sugar, I would gain the weight back? It’s possible, but I am enjoying all the other benefits a life with no sugar grants me. 

Here are some of the benefits of cutting out sugar that I’ve seen in my life. If you try cutting out sugar, you may find different results.

  • Besides the weight loss, I’ve found my depression decrease. I still have moments of sadness, but my lows are not as low as they used to be. My moods feel more stable, there aren’t the same peaks and valleys I used to experience.
  • Once I completely “detoxed” off sugar, I noticed more energy overall. I still struggle with my daily fatigue. Because I am not experiencing the rush and crash cycle of sugar, my energy stays about the same throughout the day.
  • Everything tastes better and stronger. I didn’t realize it, but sugar had dulled my sense of taste. I am an avowed foodie, which means part of the food experience is smells and taste. When I fully “detoxed” from cane sugar, I noticed stronger flavors, particularly salt on previously bland dishes.  
  • My monthly symptoms and bloating seem to be less severe than before. Every month I would feel really bloated, especially after my “I need to binge on sugar (chocolate)” sessions. Before I got pregnant, my cramps were getting worse. After dropping sugar, I get some twinges of pain, but not to the same extent as before. Full disclosure: I am on a non-hormonal birth control device, which does change my menstrual cycle, so that could be part of it.
  • My recovery post-race is almost non-existent. I used to take two or three days after a significant distance race to recover. Walking stiffly, struggling to move, etc. You can attribute it to training, but I was not highly trained after this race, and I was ready to move around despite my cold the next day. This is possibly due to the inflammatory nature of sugar cane.

Finally, I am a firm believer that cutting sugar is one of the main reasons why I can manage my MS without medication. I think the key is that last bullet point: sugar was a source of inflammation for me. I don’t know if it caused my exacerbations, anything could be the reason. But it’s possible the sugar helped pave the way to intensifying my exacerbations because of the inflammation. 

Since dropping the sugar, I’ve not experienced an exacerbation that required medical intervention. When I have a problematic symptom, it lasts no longer than a few hours. This could be because I dropped sugar, started exercising, eating healthier, and lowered my stress. Any or all of this could be managing my MS without medication. 

I firmly believe that dropping sugar helped me with my disease management. It’s the one thing that’s been consistent in the last two years. I have weeks where I eat poorly, exercise minimally, and deal with a lot of stress. But I stay away from the sugar, and I don’t experience symptoms. 

Does this mean it’s for everyone? No. Does that mean I am not going to go back to Tecfidera? No. I met with my neurologist last week for my yearly check-up, and we’ve begun the process of restarting my drug therapy. 

If you are looking for something to try to help complement your drug therapy, consider reducing your sugar cane intake. It’s worth trying for a month to see how it impacts your symptoms. It’s not a cure-all, but it might help. 

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3 thoughts on “Sugar and Chronic Illness

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