Pour Some Sugar on Me! No Wait – Don’t.

As mentioned previously, I’m doing monthly goals and challenges this year. On my list of potential experiments, I’ve had two in particular that I simultaneously dreaded and really wanted to try.

Giving up sugar, and giving up gluten.

It took 90 days to work up the courage to try one or the other, and I chose sugar, even though I usually think very snobbish thoughts about people who would be so moronic as to give up The Ultimate Fruit of Life. Daily chocolate is often what keeps me from losing my Ever Lovin’ Mommy Mind, and I have at least a little bit of it on a daily basis.

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I wanted to experiment with this both for weight and health – Dysautonomia is a very annoying disease that loves to make you give up everything you love (carbonation, caffeine, chocolate) and force you to take on all sorts of unsavory behaviors* (running, drinking insane amounts of water, lots of sleep) to keep it in line. So OF COURSE, a low-or-no sugar diet is highly recommended.

*The only benefit Dysautonomia offers is the edict of a very high sodium intake – it helps keep you from blacking out as much.

Additionally, I’ve been trying to lose weight this year (using Lose It! again) and stalled out in January after losing an impressive four whole pounds, despite counting calories and exercising every day. So what could it hurt to see what a month without sugar would do.

WHAT COULD IT HURT? EVERYTHING.

That was week one. I hated myself. I hated everyone. I hated life. I wanted sugar. I needed sugar. And I couldn’t eat literally anything because literally everything contains added sugar.

Ketchup.
Crackers.
Chocolate.
Pasta.
Cadbury Mini Eggs.
Salad Dressing.
Candied Pecans.
Chick Fil A Chicken Strips.
Cream Cheese Icing.

It was enraging.

The first week consisted of me picking up something to eat, reading the label, then yelling and throwing it down. In order to not feel like a failure, I allowed myself half a box on my tracking sheet for “no sweets” and a whole box for “zero sugar.” I got a few half boxes that first week as I learned to snack on nothing but peanut butter and eat nothing but nothing.

It didn’t help that the children kept offering me parts of their food and snacks as they always do, only for me to have to answer every time, “I’m not eating sugar, remember?”

“Oh yeah…why.”

Chris can testify to my anger issues that week – they were intense. He encouraged me to maybe just cut back on sugar – surely zero grams was an impossible goal. (I think he just wanted his state of familial happiness back.)

The vortex of that hellish time in my life happened on the first Saturday morning of April. I was prepping Noah’s breakfast that I daily make lovingly by hand (frozen Eggo pancakes) and took my usual Mommy tax of two pieces of the most buttered bits of pancake, as I do every morning.

As I put the bite in my mouth, it occurred to me.

Holy crap.

These pancakes probably have…sugar.

I pulled out the box and indeed. They had the worst offender. High Fructose Corn Syrup.

I looked skyward and yelled out “I CAN’T EVEN HAVE MOMMY TAX!??!?!?!?!”

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I was tormented. Angry. Feeling as if this assignment was ridiculous and idiotic and a fool’s errand and here I was finding out at the end of the week that I’d accidentally been poisoning my body with the exact thing I’d been fighting and hadn’t even APPRECIATED that I was eating The Nectar of Life.

But the cliché is true. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to start to make your way back up.

Slowly, I began to crawl myself out of my angry, unsweetened hole.

I developed routines of things I could eat – and enjoy – that did not have added sugar. My tastes began to change, and things that used to not taste sweet at all now tasted delectable.

And I began to feel better, lose inches, and finally even lose a couple pounds.

I had told myself at the beginning of the month that I’d have blackout dates during this process – Easter weekend (who can pack two kid’s Easter baskets and have zero grams of sugar? That’s unnecessary cruelty) and our beach trip. But when Easter weekend arrived, I experienced the oddest feeling of great trepidation at the thought of allowing sugar re-entry.

We were invited to an Easter party Saturday morning, where there were my favorite type of dessert – Oreo truffles. With white chocolate on the outside, even. For the first hour, I just thought about the fact that I WOULD have one before I left. I finally picked one up and stared at it. I literally felt scared. What would my body do with this foreign object? Did I really want to open this door back up? Would all my feelings come flooding back at me?

Finally, I bit.

The sugar flowed over my tongue like a drop of water in the desert. It nearly tingled. I savored the moment, only daring to have one. It was delicious, it gave me a total headache and made me feel dizzy, but it did not send me into a sugaraholic bender. I could do this.

That night, as Chris and I packed Easter baskets, I allowed myself just a couple pieces of candy. I couldn’t believe I was more afraid of overdoing it than I was eager to allow myself to binge during a pre-planned blackout date. But here I was. I, Rachel Callahan, artisan chocolate connoisseur and rewarder-of-self-with-sugary-treats, was SCARED OF SUGAR.

As the weeks went on, I became less and less interested in sugar. I didn’t lust after it, think about it, or even want it.

And I noticed something else, too: I didn’t particularly care about any food.

I ate when I needed to eat, I didn’t eat as much, and I didn’t spend time thinking about food and obsessing over my next meal.

Once, I was even irritated when Chris wanted to go out to lunch – why waste all that time on something as inconsequential as food? I could just eat a little cheese here…

And so, it seems, at least for me, that sugar was THE addicting quality of food. It was the thing I craved, the thing that drove me back to eating more, and the thing that kept me from losing weight. And, for what it’s worth, one of the things that made me feel bad. The lack of sugar has certainly not cured my daily battle with Dysautonomia, but I have had more good days this month.

FullSizeRender 74It’s that last column there…the yellow-out dates are Easter and the Beach. Even though they were pre-planned days, I couldn’t bring myself to eat ACTUAL sweets while we were at the beach. I am abhorrent.

I haven’t decided what is to be the permanent status of my relationship with sugar. It’s complicated. I cannot possibly imagine parting ways forever, but I do want to have some space from it for longer than a month, so I have semi-committed to continuing our trial separation for 90 days. I still get half boxes some days, and that’s okay. It’s not like I’m truly living the Zero Gram Life – I’m pretty sure that is unattainable unless you never go out to eat and never eat anything that wasn’t made from scratch. But the sheer amount of sugar I’ve not eaten in April – especially from the kid’s Easter baskets which are mysteriously way more full than they would usually be at this point – is pretty substantial.

And I don’t hate it. Not anymore.

Even when, just this morning, Noah offered me a Fruit Loop.

“I don’t eat sugar right now, remember?”

“Oh yeah…” (he put the Fruit Loop back and picked up another color) “But surely you can have this one.”

“Nope.”

“You’re not even eating green sugar???”

I know, son. It makes no sense.

It’s All In My Head.

I started using the LoseIt app again last week.

This seems completely unfair to me, that I need to count my calories, because I run nearly every day. I should get to eat whatever I want!! Anytime I want!!

But alas. That is the kind of logic that makes one need to get back to LoseIt.

Because exercise is stupid.

It is stupid because it doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as it feels like it should. I burn barely over 100 calories a mile, which is officially the biggest rip-off in the history of humanity. A mile should be worth a giant hamburger and a milkshake – not a piece of watermelon or a slice of cheese.

But my real reason for going back to LoseIt is that I haven’t been feeling great this summer. My brain has been functioning at approximately 10% of its normal processing speed – you might have noticed by the quality and quantity of my writing and interactions. I can’t process stuff, I can’t remember stuff, I can’t accomplish stuff, and I have trouble staying on task – something I’ve always excelled at. I’ve been trying to narrow down the causes to this breach of health, and my eating habits are on the list of possible causes that I sincerely hope I can rule out. Ultimately, it’s most likely another symptom of my Dysautonomia, but if I can find anything that helps me locate my brain, I’ll do it.

(Just picture me as Carmen Sandiego, searching desperately in Moscow, Brisbane, and Beijing for my missing brain. Because that’s totally how I picture myself.)

I’ve been to the doctor and they’ve run all the tests and they even gave me a new drug to (maybe) help me on my quest, but I know the mantra – the three main things that help Dysautonomia are regular exercise, outrageous water consumption, and eating healthy.

Two out of three should be good enough – haven’t I already changed my life enough? But NO. Dysautonomia is the worst. It is a master that demands everything be attended to. And so I am finally facing my diet – which has, admittedly, actually gotten worse since I started running. Because after all, every mile feels like a hamburger and a milkshake.

So I even tried the Gluten-Free Lifestyle – for a full twelve hours, y’all.

(It didn’t help.)

(Yeah, yeah I know they say you’re supposed to give it six months to start seeing a difference, but six months whimpering every time the basket of hot, buttery rolls is passed cannot be worth having better cognitive performance.)

After I discarded my Gluten-Free self, I moved on to a Caffeine-Free lifestyle. That lasted significantly longer – 38 freaking hours.

This second experiment in futility was my Mom’s fault. On the same day I adopted my Gluten-Free Life, I had been at my parent’s house and was feeling especially awful. Mom noticed I’d been drinking Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee, and after I left, she did a little research – turns out, Cold-brewed coffee has twice as much caffeine as normal coffee – 240mg in a Venti.

(They really should advertise this fact. I told Chris in horror of its insane amount of caffeine and he said “I gotta go get me some of that!”)

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The Cold Brew, combined with the 5 Hour Energy that I’d had before my run that morning (200 mg of caffeine), led me (and my mother) to believe that I had severely overdosed myself in the caffeine department, and that perhaps all my problems were from an inability to metabolize caffeine and that maybe I should quit that mess.

Personally I was thrilled for a reason to put a pause on my Gluten-Free diet – that twelve hours had been rough – and I was starving.

(Things without gluten have about as much filling power as a single M&M has chocolate-craving-curbing power.)

My thrill left me the next morning. When I was desperately in need of a pick-me-up. And I also realized that I had not actually been gluten-free the day before because I had inadvertently snacked on Noah’s pancakes to collect my Mommy Tax, as I do every morning. So yeah. GF for twelve hours is IMPOSSIBLE, y’all.

But decaffeination isn’t any easier.

And what did I learn in those 38 painful hours?

– I cannot converse without caffeine.
– I cannot run without caffeine.
– I do not feel nice without caffeine.
– I am not nice without caffeine.
– A lack of caffeine makes me feel depressed. And gives me caffeine-lusting thoughts.
– Caffeine makes me a better person.

So, after trying to function without the nectar of life for 38 hours, I threw my caffeine-free lifestyle in the dumpster right next to my gluten-free lifestyle and decided that maybe caffeine in moderation is necessary for a healthy life, but caffeine overdoses are bad. “Because moderation is always the answer, right??”, I thought, as I sipped my first Iced Caramel Macchiato after what felt like half a lifetime of agony and pain.

As soon as that caffeine hit the back of my throat I started feeling better. I felt happy. I felt chipper. I once again had words to share with other humans.

And so, I decided to go back to what I knew wouldn’t kill me – a calorie counting lifestyle. It would keep me from eating crap (and also quickly made me realize how much crap I had been eating when I began to remember what types of foods maintain a 1,500 calorie diet), it would force me to eat more good-for-me stuff, and I could have my gluten AND caffeine. In moderation.

I’ll let you know if and when this is the clue I needed to track down that missing brain, gumshoe.

(In the meantime, I hope you can abide my meandering and sometimes sparse posts.)

The Running Disease.

“Let’s get the white elephant out of the room first. So you’re running now.”

I had lunch yesterday with my friend Jamie, the occasion upon which that accusation was made.

I leaned in and lowered my voice.

“Do you want to know how bad it’s gotten? It’s like really, really bad. Chris arranged for the kids to spend the night at my parent’s Sunday night to give me a break. When he told me, my first thought was ‘We could get up early and run together on Monday morning!’ Not ‘I can sleep as late as I want!’, but ‘I’ll get up before daybreak!’ – and I did. At 5:30 in the morning. And we ran west. And I DIDN’T EVEN TURN AROUND TO WATCH THE SUNRISE.”

It’s time to get the white elephant out of the room here, too.

I don’t know how this happened to me. I’m shocked, confused, perplexed, and worried that I may have been abducted by aliens and returned with the brain of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

I ran for 27 days straight.

In those 27 days, I ran 118 miles.

Before those 27 days, I had run all of six miles this entire year. And close to zero miles last year.

I became obsessed with making sure I got to run…finding the opportunity to run…sometimes running twice a day…and making compromises to find the time for my new problem.

(This could explain the recent lack of quality and quantity of blog posts.)

I was well aware that running several miles every day wasn’t exactly recommended by health professionals, but what it was doing for my Dysautonomia drove me to it anyway.

Although seeing all of my steps on my FitBit was the first driving force, most of my obsession with running in the past month has definitely been its impact on how it has made me feel. Despite my creaky legs and blistered toes and swollen foot (the one that had two surgeries and a bone removed and I swore would keep me from running ever again), my health has greatly improved. And on the days when I have struggled with Dysautonomia symptoms, the only thing that has helped was going out and running.

In the August Alabama heat.

It makes no sense. But it has worked.

…until I inevitably hurt my knee and had to take a couple of days off. Then got The Illness of The Century and had to take a couple more days off. But I’ve ramped back up, taking it a bit more in moderation now, despite the fact that I still desperately want to run every day.

Insane, I tell you.

I’ve known for a year now that exercise was on the list of things that makes Dysautonomia better. But if I had ordered that list in the sequence that I was willing to partake, it would have looked like this:

1. Eat more salt.
2. Eat more often.
3. Take medication.
4. Cut out soft drinks.
5. Reduce caffeine.
6. Drink more water.
7. Exercise.

However, in order of how much they’ve actually helped, they have proven to be:

1. Exercise.
2. Drink more water.
3. Take medication.
4. Cut out soft drinks.
5. Reduce caffeine.
6. Eat more often.
7. Eat more salt.

So it only took a year for some synapse in my brain to snap and make me actually want to attempt the thing that works the best.

And in so doing, I have gotten to see many things I wouldn’t have ever seen otherwise, like this bridge a little past the end of the Lakeshore Running Trail.

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And this grisly murder scene in a parking lot.

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Or this….Nazi Symbol? on the Jefferson County Courthouse???

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And this amazing downtown loft and courtyard, of which I am now endlessly jealous.

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It’s helped me in my Studies of Birmingham Graffiti, finding an elusive Naro tag (who is no longer with us, based on the giant “RIP Naro” tag that Daze put on the Red Mountain Expressway).

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It’s also provided more quality time with my husband, on those rare opportunities we’ve been able to run together.

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(One weekend we sent the kids to my parents and had a Friday night 5 mile run and Saturday morning 8 mile run, with a couple of date meals on either side.)

(That’s right. Even my dates are now scheduled around running.)

Chris was able to take me on some of his favorite routes and stretch my endurance tremendously, and now I’m interviewing live-in nannies so that we can run together every day.

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(Okay not really. But a girl can fantasize.)

I’ve been bitten by the bug so hard that I used my only free time in Nashville to…run. In the afternoon Nashville no-shade heat.

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THEN I went to bed early so I could get up early and do it all over again. In the delightful morning breeze.

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But now I fully understand why Chris likes running other cities – you see things, angles, and details that you’d never see any other way. I’ve already shown you what I saw in Guntersville, but in Nashville, I saw the sun rising over the Ryman Auditorium,

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The city waking up through the rails of the walking bridge,

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The sun and clouds reflecting off of downtown Nashville and looking rather like a fried egg (over easy),

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And the fact that Nashville shares a similar feature with Birmingham – a river of rails running through the middle,

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Except that, instead of tearing down their grand central station like we did, they turned it into a breathtaking hotel.

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Although the impact to my quality of life has become far more important than the impact to my weight, I’m happy with the results from seven weeks of FitBit and 158 miles in my running shoes.

Before and After Weight Loss July to August

(And yes. I’m totally wearing Toms. Because I’m a hypocrite like that.)

But running. I’ve fallen in love. And I’ve fallen hard. And you’re likely to hear more about it. So I apologize in advance.