my healthy year

By Brenda Tadych
Woman Newspapers

What a year it has been!  First, I integrated holistic medicine into my daily life with the guidance of a naturopathic physician. Next, I worked with a personal trainer and began exercising again. Now, I’ve come to the final part of my three-phase wellness odyssey: The Sugar Detox.

The closest I’ve come to a detox was when I undertook a self-imposed, unsupervised seven-day weight loss fast many years ago. I still remember the withdrawal symptoms, although admittedly they were largely psychological. 

Here’s what happened during my first short-lived fasting attempt: Let’s just say there’s a certain food item I enjoyed. I liked it, but I’d never actually craved it. Unfortunately, following the knowledge I wasn’t allowed to eat that food anymore came the obsession that I NEEDED to eat it. I actually had withdrawal symptoms: headache, abdominal pain, and the feeling I had to lie down to rest my poor weakened and deprived body. That seven-day fast lasted a grand total of three hours.

Undeterred, I bravely carried my earlier detox baggage with me into my new sugar detox and figured what the heck! It sounded like a healthy thing to do and this time I wasn’t going it alone.

The first week of my new program was devoted to orientation where it was all clearly laid out for us: If a food was refined in any way, it was prohibited. A quote in the beginning of the program cookbook said it all: “If it’s popped, puffed, flaked, floured, shredded or instant, it’s been refined.” No coconut flakes? No shredded cheese? No popcorn at the movies?!?

Right off the bat, the list of “NO” foods was intimidating and included a few surprises. Vegetable oil, a staple in my kitchen, is highly processed. Cereal (even bran-type), granola (how much more can we hear about how healthy granola is?), couscous (isn’t that always served with loads of vegetables mixed in?), oats, rice cakes and even quinoa was limited. Fruits were limited. We weren’t allowed any artificial sweeteners or anything that was labeled no fat or low fat. It was all about whole, natural foods. And thank goodness there was no calorie counting involved.

Despite some trepidation that too much was going to be taken away, I was excited about the new kinds of foods being introduced into my diet. I swapped out the vegetable oil for ghee, a clarified butter that contains milk fat, but not butter fat. I added unfamiliar things to my meals like beef gelatin, brewer’s yeast and chia seeds. I traded my all purpose enriched bleached presifted flour (enriched and bleached = refined) for arrowroot flour, which has one ingredient:  arrowroot. A bonus of the program was that we could use all the cinnamon we wanted and could have any nut except cashews and peanuts.

I consider myself a “Plain Jane” foodie (I don’t even like ketchup on my burgers or dressing on my salad) so imagine my surprise when veggie smoothies became a delicious to my regimen. I always assumed those ghastly green smoothies had to taste gross. Wrong! Using recipes from a juicing book to create my own combinations, I keep coming up with new favorites.  So far the chart topper includes kale, fresh parsley, carrot, grape tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, cinnamon and something no smoothie of mine is complete without - coconut milk.

Part of my detox education centered on the various pseudonyms for sugar in ingredient lists and how multiple sweeteners can be listed in order to camouflage the fact that there are more sweeteners in a product than anything other single ingredient. I found a bag of pretzels (yes, I even scrutinize pretzels) that I was surprised to find contained high fructose corn syrup, the worst of the worst refined sugars and to be avoided at all costs.

My fellow detox-ees were shown examples of deceptively healthy-looking foods and drinks with tag words touting “lean” and “natural.”  Someone in the class pointed out that their daily “healthy” green drink (the label said so!) actually contained as much sugar as a king-size candy bar. Five ingredients or less. That was what we were told to look for on food labels. 

During that first week, I was mildly light-headed at times. My first thought was I must need more sugar, or more protein. I made a few adjustments, but I wasn’t overly concerned - this was a big change for my body after all. Then, toward the end of the first week, I almost passed out. I took my blood pressure and it was unusually low, so the next day, I skipped the blood pressure meds (a 5 mg pill) and I felt much better that same day. I skipped my meds again the following day and was feeling better. 

Let me state for the record that I’m not condoning adjusting medication without a doctor’s input, I’m only sharing what I did. I had a blood pressure cuff at home and I monitored it throughout the early days and continued to check it a few times a day for the next week. I don’t check my pressure every day any longer, but am pleased to announce that my average reading since January has been unexceptional 126/74. 

Having a healthy lifestyle is often about trial and error, and finding out what works for you – and you alone. I’m not a medical expert and I’m not telling you to throw away what you believe to be true. I see and believe things will be better and more sustainable for me going forward by incorporating much of what I’ve experimented with. How’s that for wellness success!