What Mother Mary’s Unconventional Advice Has Taught Me About (Not) Quitting Sugar
I remember a beautiful spring day in May. The sun was shining, and all the pretty girls looked so happy in their red summer dresses. I, on the contrary, was sitting alone on the cold and grey floor of my University’s main building, slathering generous amounts of chocolate spread onto thin rice cakes because I felt too depressed to change the situation I was in (sorry, too private to share).
One summer, I was eating packs of chocolate chip cookies during a Yoga festival because I was freezing, alone, and insecure. Everybody was cooking their rice and beans together, but I had come alone and was naively unprepared, so when my raw salads and fruit wouldn’t do it, I reverted to cookies, feeling sorry for myself as the incessant rain dripped through my make-shift tent.
Years later, I was enhancing my otherwise healthy plant-based diet with chocolate-coated cinnamon almonds almost every weekend during a particularly difficult time with my then-boyfriend. (While reading blogs that talked about how bad sugar is for the body. “I’ll quit tomorrow,” I’d say to myself as I finished the paper-bag full of instant gratification.)
Why would I do this to myself?
So I didn’t have to feel all my painful feelings.
I was reading countless self-help books about emotional eating, went to lectures about juicing, and had a life coach. But still, I was unable to stop self-medicating my loneliness, depression, and codependency.
I felt so guilty because I knew it was wrong.
What’s worse, I had the tools to do something about it, but I was too ashamed to ask for help. So I kept hiding.
I have a long history of emotional eating, and like most people, I’ve judged myself vehemently for it. The worse I felt, the more I wanted to comfort myself. But the more sugar I ate, the worse I'd feel. It was a vicious cycle of shame and guilt.
No matter how many times I tried to quit, I'd always revert back to the old crutch in times of distress. I was attempting to solve the situation through action and willpower alone, and it wasn’t working. I had lost my balance, and I saw no way of getting it back.
Does this sound familiar?
I know I’m not the only one. Human beings are wired to crave sugar; there's no off-switch in our mammalian brain when it comes to the sweet taste. As hunters and gatherers, our ancestors depended on it. As soon as they found some berries or honey, they’d gorge on it and happily put on some extra fat to carry them through a long winter. We don’t need that anymore, but part of the brain hasn’t really understood that yet.
In fact, studies suggest that sugar triggers the same addictive high in the brain as cocaine. Next to coffee, sugar is the most socially accepted “drug,” and millions of people depend on it. A short-lived high that soon makes us crave even more.
I tried quitting sugar for over a decade.
I tried countless times but always failed during holidays, parties, or while visiting friends and family. Sugar had become such an issue that it would take up all my focus. My extreme black-and-white thinking didn’t allow me to relax and let go. For years, it was all or nothing.
After coming back from a Christmas vacation in Sweden at the beginning of this year, I was frustrated yet again.
Why can I not resist the sweet stuff? Why does everything have to be laden with sugar? I was furious and felt determined to quit again. This time, once and for all!
I went cold turkey for two weeks, but my digestion went haywire. I was in more pain during the abstinence than when I ate all the carbs during Christmas. Little did I realize that my belly pain was a reflection of the war that was going on in my mind. My thoughts were constantly attacking me for being weak, bloated, and without any willpower. My body was simply mirroring my inner state.
A shift in perception was required.
So I called my girlfriend Ingunn, and we did what we always do in moments of confusion: we help each other shine the light of spiritual understanding on our confused little ego minds.
Ingunn did a spiritual reading for me, and Mother Mary came through with a message of unconditional love. She offered a major shift in perception: “Kindness in the heart is the key to your belly,” she said. “Be in love and utter acceptance of what is, so there’s fighting against anything. Surrender to the flow of life.”
"Forget about everything you’ve learned about diet."
She told me that society had gone way off the charts with food and that there's nothing out there that can be trusted when it comes to dietary advice. Mother asked me to throw out all the concepts, ideas, and rules I had picked up around food over the years (and there were plenty).
“Trust your body and connect with your food. “Talk to it, appreciate it, and let your personal preferences guide you.” Instead of condemning chocolate, for example, I should say to it: “I like you because you melt in my mouth. You come from nature, and you nourish my body with energy.”
It sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense.
Instead of eating something and feel guilty about it, why not savor it in love and gratitude?
She reminded me to choose what's healthy and to deliberately focus on food-freedom. “It's not the food that makes you feel bad, but the way you think about it,” she went on. “Ultimately, you can align with anything, even things considered unhealthy, and still feel fine.”
This is a whole new way of looking at food: with love rather than fear.
“Make food your friend instead of seeing it as your enemy. Trust that your heart and body know. Practice talking with your body and you will understand your cravings better. Indulge in what’s pleasurable to your body,” she advised.
My body and my heart know what’s good for me. When I pay attention, I’m very fine-tuned in my internal communication. When I love food and digest that love into the cells of my body, they know exactly how to use food as fuel.
"Be soft, caring, and respectful to yourself."
Mother also reminded me that food is a beautiful thing and that I should look forward to having it as a best friend in my life forever. “Don’t fight your cravings but satisfy them without overindulging. Allow yourself to slightly indulge so your body can relax and say ‘thank you.’ It already knows. Trust that you’re connected to Source and that you don’t need to micromanage your body.”
“The intelligence of your body is going to lead you in your quest for health. Always come back to that connection within,” she said.
Same with exercise.
Instead of working out to look sexy, or obsessively counting calories to lose those last 10 pounds, I try to focus on how I want to feel: light, energized, healthy, and confident. I want to feel strong, lean, and flexible, but more like a yogi than a cross fitter.
Exercise for the joy of it. Ask yourself what you want to experience from your workout. How does each workout make you feel? Can you allow the strength of your body? It’s not about the exercise, it’s about the attitude of gratitude, appreciation, and surrender you perform it with.
“Don’t push your body from the ego, let it lead you instead.” How much does it want to run, lift, or stretch today? Let the body take over and show you the way. I guess it’s okay to let your strength fluctuate after all. To have a sane conversation with the body. “The body is given in your care so give it what it wants and needs,” Mother concluded.
This was a lot to swallow at first.
These teachings went completely against everything I’ve learned about food and exercise. But my heart responded with joy, so I thanked Mother Mary for her guidance and savored my newfound food-freedom.
I also feel inspired by Ayurveda and its recommendations in healing my digestion and not overloading my system. I feed my body with vegetables and fruit, legumes and gluten-free grains, and a few organic eggs and dairy.
I even lost the desire for meat ("I need protein for my muscles" was another belief I had to let go of). I still enjoy it occasionally, but only when my body is really asking for it.
Sugar is not the enemy.
And when it comes to sugar-well, since I stopped making it the enemy, I've become kind of equanimous about it. I know that I can have a cookie whenever I want one, but I hardly ever want it anymore.
Whole milk and sweet fruit satisfy my cravings just fine, and since I stopped demonizing my desire for sweets, I’ve accepted that the sweet taste helps cool down my perfectionistic Pitta dosha by taking off the competitive edge.
I found new tools to soothe my anxiety.
When I feel upset about something, I use self-care practices such as praying, meditating, walking in the woods, and journaling. Sometimes, warm milk with honey and nutmeg is my ultimate comfort food that soothes my nervous system without stressing it even more (sugar does that).
Does that mean that I can never eat chocolate cake in my entire life again?
No, not at all. But I have some more awareness around it now, and I know it's not going to “save” me. I can have a little-enough for my pleasure without going into a new wave of food addiction. I then balance it out with healthy foods again during my next meal.
Most of all, I don’t feel guilty about food anymore.
When there’s freedom and forgiveness around my choices, nothing is off-limits. When there's no right or wrong, there's no judgment. Only love and acceptance for what is. So I forgive myself for my past choices (I did the best I could with what I knew at the time) and let it go, knowing that only love is real and that (self-) attack will only lead to more painful emotions.