Note from Connie: Today, the SUGAR SHOCK! Blog presents another inspiring Kick-Sugar Success Story, a feature we run here from time to time. This amazing Q &A features the dynamic Karly Pitman, 32, a writer/speaker and holistic health counselor from Livingston, Montana.
Karly once struggled with sugar issues galore, battled a weight problem and experienced a plethora of horrible ailments due to her habit of eating too many sweets. Now, at 5'9", she's a trim 140 pounds and a model for women everywhere. Read her poignant, compelling, brutally honest story about how she finally confronted her sugar habit and get inspired to kick yours, too.
Kick-Sugar Success Story: Karly Pitman
Occupation: Founder of First Ourselves, where we help women love their bodies, feel beautiful, and nurture themselves. Also a writer and speaker.
Major Benefits From Kicking Sweets & Refined Carbs: Freedom from depression; stable moods and blood sugar and a release from constant sugar cravings.
Hobbies: Reading, running, indulging my girly-girl, Netflix, itunes, creating art with my children, board games, enjoying the sun, and long walks with my husband.
Connie: What are the biggest benefits you've gained from taking control of your habit of eating sugar and processed carbohydrates? In other words, please tell readers, "What's in it for me?!"
Karly: Freedom! Freedom from cravings, overeating, and the guilt and shame that accompanied my out-of-control behavior. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I gave up sugar, I gained my life. I am
now free and clear. [Because I'm not eating sugar anymore,] I'm free to use my gifts, talents and passion to make my mark on the world. I am free to be the wife I wish to be; (It's very hard to feel sexy when you're bloated and gassy); the mom I wish to be (my children will tell you that sugar turned me into witch Mommy); the woman I wish to be. (I have fallen in love with my own life; with myself.)
Connie: What was your rock-bottom moment before you decided you needed to change your diet?
Karly: I've gone on and off sugar for a decade since I first started reading about sugar's ill effects. But I never stuck to my sugar abstinence. That all changed this past winter, when I gave up sugar for good. In
November, I had a baby, who was colicky, fussy, and needy. I was sleep-deprived, irritable and trying to figure out what I could eat that wouldn't upset my baby's tummy. In my stress, I turned to sugar for solace. I am sugar sensitive; when I eat sugar, I can't stop. So I wasn't just eating a cookie; I was eating massive amounts of sugar: bags of granola, half a can of raisins, three servings of ice cream. I felt sick and out of control. At the time, I had started First Ourselves, an organization to help women love their bodies. I felt like a hypocrite: I couldn't love my body while I was gorging myself on sugar; and I couldn't encourage women to love their bodies while I didn't love mine. Overeating was my self-sabotage: the way to keep me from my life purpose. As long as I ate sugar, I could hide behind my feelings of insecurity and keep myself from doing the work I felt called to do. I faced a choice: sugar or my life. I chose my life.
Connie: Just how bad were you feeling? What ailments did you have?
Karly: I felt physically terrible; bloated, with regular indigestion. I experienced blood sugar spikes and lows, where I'd be shaky, fuzzy headed and have a rapid heartbeat -- almost like a panic attack. I craved sugar constantly. My weight vacillated with my sugar binges so I was always frustrated. Mentally, I felt worse: my mood was like a roller coaster; I'd snap for no reason, I was irritable, I would overreact. I was weepy, cried over trivial matters and had a low tolerance for pain, frustration, or snafus. Sugar depleted my resources, mental, physical, and emotional, so getting through an average day was more difficult. But my spirit hurt the most. It's difficult to love and accept yourself when you're gorging yourself and eating out of control. Abstaining from sugar has freed me from that inner turmoil.
Connie: When did you turn to sweets and what did it do to you?
Karly: I've abused and overeaten sugar my entire life. As a child, I ate sugar constantly: candy, ice cream, cookies, muffins, Pepsi and donuts. I would get a pillowcase full of candy at Halloween and eat it all in a few weeks. In college, I was bulimic, and I binged and purged as many sugary, starchy concoctions as possible: pizza, ice cream, cheese fries, nachos, frozen yogurt and pastries. I ALSO would skip meals and eat a bag of Twizzlers, then throw it up. And I drank six or seven Diet Cokes a day.
In my 20s, I was free from bulimia but not from sugar. I had several children, so I became interested in nutrition. I gave up the Diet Cokes and cut back on my sugar intake, but I still had a sweet treat every day. I tried substituting natural sugars: dried fruits, honey, Stevia, fruit sweetener and maple syrup. However, I was just as hooked on unrefined sugars as I was on Tootsie Rolls. For me, it's the sweet hit that hooks me, no matter the source of the sweetness. When my husband and I launched an e-commerce business in 1998, the stress of running a start-up, as well as the financial worries and caring for my young kids left me depressed and anxious. I turned to sugar for comfort. But this only made things worse: I was depressed and constantly craving sugar. I frequently felt sick from overeating. I live in Montana, and the long, cold winters made my cravings and depression worse. Pregnancy and nursing made it harder, too.
Connie: How did confronting and cutting out your sugar habit help you?
Karly: I found my joy: I am free from depression and the debilitating mood swings. I no longer feel guilt and shame from sugar bingeing. I regained my self esteem: I know I can honor my body by giving it what it needs, in my case, sugar abstinence. I learned how to mother myself: how to say, "No," to offers of sugar; how to pamper myself without turning to food; how to be my own best friend.
Connie: Did you find a doctor or other health professional (acupuncturist, nutritionist, etc.) who understood all about how eating sugar triggers drastic blood sugar swings, etc.
Karly: I had a homeopath who helped me tremendously. She prescribed an amino acid supplement that helped stabilize my moods.
Connie: How did you first learn about the dangers of sugars and refined carbs?
Karly: I started learning about sugar addiction in the early '90s. Kathleen des Maisons' work [the author of Potatoes not Prozac) was lifechanging: Finally, I understood my body chemistry and why I couldn't stop once I started eating sugar; and why, when I stopped eating it, my cravings ceased. Nancy Appleton's book Lick the Sugar Habit and William Dufty's Sugar Blues were also helpful.
Connie: What did you used to eat before you began curtailing the culprit carbs?
Karly: Tootsie Rolls, Twizzlers, raisins, bags of tortilla chips, granola buy the bowl, scones, carob chips, brownies, kettle popcorn, cookies, muffins, cake, ice cream, and sweetened yogurt were my favorite treats. I loved raw cookie dough. I could eat three desserts and still have room for more.
Connie: What do you eat now?
Karly: Now I primarily eat clean, whole foods: lots and lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds, nut butters, lean proteins such as fish, chicken, buffalo, and legumes, whole grains, and some low-sugar fruits. If I eat too much fruit, it triggers my sugar cravings. This is one of my greatest challenges with my abstinence, especially in the summer when there are so many luscious fruits available.
Connie: What do you think most people don't know about processed carbs that they need to know?
Karly: When I feel sorry for myself and think about all the foods I can't/won't eat, I remind myself that most of these foods aren't foods at all, but chemicals disguised as food. Sugar is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. To my body, it's a drug. Likewise, if I eat fried, processed, packaged foods, I feel terrible. When I feel terrible, I suffer, on every plane; not just physically. Sugar addiction is not a health issue as much as a holistic issue: how you feel in body, mind and spirit.
Connie: What have been your biggest challenges to kick sugar and refined carbs? Can you help prepare others for any potential pitfalls ahead?
Karly: My biggest challenge was sticking with my sugar abstinence. I would be sugar free for months, and feel incredible: stable moods, stable weight, and no cravings. But then I would have a piece of cake; I'd justify my indulgence by vowing to return to my sugar abstinence the next day. I would tell myself I would eat just one serving and put the rest away, forgetting that I have never been able to eat just one serving of sugar my whole life.
One cookie would turn to two, then three; to candy the next day; brownies thereafter, then an entire can of raisins. Before I knew it, I was binging on sugar, eating out of control. I would remain in this state for months, until, thoroughly disgusted, I would vow to stop, and put myself through the painful process of sugar detox.
So why did I eat sugar and break my abstinence? I ate it because I felt deprived, or I wanted pleasure, or I wanted to zone out. I ate sugar because it connected me to my childhood and all my happy memories. But, mostly, I bargained with myself, justifying that I could handle sugar because I felt so good (forgetting that the reason why I was feeling so good was because I wasn't eating sugar).
That is the key to sticking with sugar abstinence: accepting it for the long haul. Yes, you implement this idea by focusing on one day at a time. But you must also embrace your sugar abstinence as a lifelong journey.
Connie: How do you say no now?
Karly: The key to saying no is joy. One of the reasons my past attempts to give up sugar were unsuccessful was that I lived like a neurotic food cop. I white knuckled my sugar abstinence, viewing every party, holiday, birthday or restaurant meal as the enemy: an opportunity for sabotage. I was always on edge, worried about hidden sugars or whether or not I would be able to find something to eat.
Now I approach my sugar abstinence with equal measures of discipline and levity. I'm disciplined, in that, like a recovered alcoholic who will never drink again, I understand and accept that I will never eat apple pie or ice cream again.
I read labels, I create my own entrees at restaurants, and I ask for olive oil and vinegar at a dinner party if the salad dressing is honey mustard and sugar saturated.
But I temper my discipline with levity; I abstain from sugar with joy. So I fill my pantry and fridge with foods that I love and that make me feel good. I go to restaurants where I know that I can get a fabulous meal and relish every bite. I give myself creative substitutes---Christmas crafts instead of Christmas baking, for example---so I don't feel deprived.
I say no to others lightly and gracefully. I know their offers of sugar are about them and have nothing to do with me. My confidence in doing what's right for my body means that I'm not defensive, and, therefore, I'm immune to attack. Similarly, I view others' eating habits with lightness.
I don't judge other people's food choices. Since I give them freedom to eat what they want, they can relax in my presence, knowing that I'm not trying to be the food police. If I don't take myself too seriously, I will circumvent their need to try and get me to eat sugar.
Connie: Do you have any favorite websites, blogs, books, organizations or support groups that have helped you to lick your habit?
Karly: I recommend Overeaters Anonymous, Kathleen Des Maisons' organization, Radiant Recovery and her books Potatoes not Prozac, The Sugar Addict's Total Recovery Program, Little Sugar Addicts and Your Last Diet.
Another anti-sugar guru I like is Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure, a book that was a lifeline to me. And I adore Geneen Roth and her work with overeating. I also like Anne Katherine's book Anatomy of a Food Addiction.
Connie: What are your best 3 tips and tactics to help other people kick sweets and quickie carbs?
Karly: 1. Support yourself excellently. It's important to give yourself roots, especially in the beginning, when your sugar abstinence is a new, fragile thing. You want to give yourself a strong foundation from which your new habits can take hold and grow. Be kind to yourself; the first few weeks will be hard. Don't make it any harder. Enlist the help of supportive family and friends, especially if you need accountability in certain situations, such as going to the movies or grocery shopping. Clear your home of trigger foods. When I went through sugar detox, I asked my family to hide the granola and raisins. They were glad to help, and I wasn't tempted to eat what I couldn't see. Minimize temptations: Give out stickers for Halloween (such as you suggest), fill Easter baskets with books, fruit and other trinkets; donate Christmas goodies to a homeless shelter, women's shelter, or nursing home. Stock your home with plenty of food that you can eat; if there's nothing to eat, you'll succumb to poor choices. I always have an assortment of nuts, nut butters, vegetables and fish on hand. Feed yourself regular meals to help stabilize your blood sugar; sugar cravings are even more powerful when you're hungry. Do whatever you need to do to make your sugar detox as easy as possible.
2. Grieve your sugar loss. If you're like me, many of your happiest memories include sugar and food. On every holiday, I hanker for a Pepsi, even though I haven't sipped a soda in years. Why? Because my childhood holidays were spent with my beloved, extended family, and we always had Pepsi. Pepsi connects me to those wonderful feelings of being loved and accepted by my tribe. But I have to separate the love from the Pepsi; to feel the connection without the sugar. Psychologist Gordon Neufeld stresses the importance of reaching the wall of futility: reaching that point of acceptance whereby you realize that, yes, you wish things were different; but, no, you can't change it or make it better. You have to let yourself experience the frustration of, "Yes, I wish I could eat sugar," and "Yes, this sucks," and, "No, I can't eat it, even though I want to." Mourn, cry, and lament your loss, because it is a loss: giving up something that has brought you joy. Only after you've reached the wall of futility can you accept change and move towards greater health and wholeness.
3. Give yourself self care. Once you are free from the physical cravings for sugar, the emotional cravings can still linger. When I'm craving sugar now, one of two things is going on: either I'm eating hidden sugars that are triggering me or my spirit is craving self-care. As Kathleen des Maisons says, "Sugar is not love." The problem, is that for many of us, sugar was love for years: It's how others cared for us and how we cared for ourselves. It takes time to remold a new mode of self care. So when brownies are calling my name, I stop and ask myself what I really need. In my life, I've recognized a connection between running myself ragged, doing too much without taking time to refuel and recharge, and sugar cravings. I also crave sugar ("comfort food") when I'm needing comfort or mothering. I use this opportunity to give myself a pedicure, cuddle up with a novel or take a nap. Sugar is a substitute for what I really want: self-care.
Connie: Please share some final words of wisdom, inspiration or motivation to others who are thinking of cutting out sugar and simple carbs.
Karly: In closing, I will share this: celebrate your body chemistry as a blessing. For years, I hated my sensitive body chemistry that subjected me to mood swings, depression and sugar addiction. I longed for a different constitution, one like my husband's, who could eat anything [seemingly] without negative effect; who could handle enormous pressures and still function at peak performance. I wanted my sugar sensitivity to just go away. But that is not who I am; it's probably not who you are, either. When I was able to love and accept myself, even with my sugar addiction, my sensitivity and my emotionalism, I was able to appreciate the gift of my body chemistry. What is the gift? My sugar sensitivity has forced me to take excellent care of myself; to mother myself; to treat my body like a Porsche: where only the best will do. That means high quality food, adequate sleep, and regular care and pampering. It means standing up for myself and asking for what I need. But, like a Porsche, when my body is tuned and running well, it's a marvelous thing to behold. If I hadn't embraced my body chemistry, I wouldn't have learned any of those lessons.
Note from Connie: Wow! What a story! Aren't you all inspired? I hope so. Read more about Karly and the wonderful work she's doing at her FirstOurselves website. And please tell us here at the SUGAR SHOCK! Blog what you thought of Karly's honest, motivational success story.
Got a success story to share? Let us tell it on the SUGAR SHOCK! Blog. Learn more here. Now read some other inspiring tales -- from Jimmy Moore, Felicia Desrosiers, and Jaime Jackson. Contact us now with your story.