Take it One Step At a Time
Your sugarsensitive brain, with its love of impulsivity, may want you to do everything right away. “Give it to me all at once,” it says. “Tell me the bottom line. Now!” You want to leap right in and give up alcohol, drugs, sugar, and white flour—even caffeine and nicotine—right now. You want to get on with it. Before you start, remember two critical points:
- Don’t try to do it all at once.
- Take it in sequence.
Don’t start having a potato tonight. Do one step at a time. Do not proceed to the next step until you have fully mastered the one before it. Each step builds on the last. Don’t skip around! The steps are in a specific sequence that will heal your body and brain in a developmental way. The structure and the sequence create something as powerful and as dramatic as the change of food itself.
With that said, here are the seven steps of eating to feel great:
- Eat breakfast with protein.
- Journal what and when you eat and how you feel.
- Eat three meals a day with protein.
- Take the recommended vitamins and have a potato before bed.
- Shift from “white foods” to “brown foods.”
- Reduce or eliminate sugars.
- Come alive.
Step I: Eat Breakfast With Protein Every Day
Step 1 is the foundation of your entire program. It starts the process of stabilizing your blood sugar. Many folks think it is a breeze and doesn’t require a lot of thought. This, of course, is not true. Mastering breakfast—that is, having it every day, on time, and with enough protein—is actually hard, particularly if you are used to just grabbing a cup of coffee.
Many sugarsensitive people love to skip breakfast. Not eating creates a stress in your body, which thinks it is starving because of the long interval without food. So your body releases beta-endorphin that makes you feel lean and mean and focused. This high lasts for a bit until you crash and then are desperate. And if you add caffeine to the mix, it is more intense. Actually eating takes away that rush and makes you feel stuffed. You think you don’t like breakfast.
Once you start to eat breakfast regularly, you may start to feel hungry in the morning. This is a good sign. It means your body is starting to regain its chemical balance. You may also find that you feel a whole lot better right away. Many people are amazed at what a difference simply adding breakfast makes to how they feel.
The important thing is to take it slowly. You don’t have to spook yourself. You are simply trying to eat breakfast every day. If breakfast is hard for you, look around and see an interesting type of food you can use to get started on Step 1. “Breakfast” can be as creative as you are.
- Have the right amount of protein for your weight.
- Eat within an hour of getting up.
- Have a complex carbohydrate.
- Have breakfast every day.
Step 2: Keeping a Food Journal
The next step in your program to heal your sugar sensitivity is to keep a record of the things you eat and drink and how they make you feel. This record is called a food journal. Before you start to journal, you may hate it. You may continue to struggle with it for a while. And then when you start using the journal, you start loving it.
The aspect of healing addictive behavior that’s embedded in Step 2 is having a relationship with your body. You don’t heal because you obey the “rules” and write in your journal. You heal because writing in your journal gives your body a voice. It allows your body to say, “I like this, I don’t like that.” Your body speaks to you in the language of symptoms. It doesn’t use English. It uses aches and pains and upset stomachs and stiff joints and stomach rumbling and diarrhea and fatigue to tell you very clearly what it feels about what and when you are eating. If you don’t write down exactly what your body says, you can’t learn its language.
Step 3: Three Meals a Day
Step 3 is about having consistency and stability in what and when you eat. These two traits are alien to the typical sugarsensitive person, but they are what your body and brain desperately need. Once you have mastered Step 3, you will feel so much better you won’t believe it. So let’s get started. Step 3 has three parts:
- Eat three meals a day.
- Eat them at regular intervals.
- Have an adequate amount of protein at each meal.
What’s the big deal about eating sufficient protein? Protein provides the raw materials to help your sugarsensitive brain and body heal itself. Most important for you, protein provides the tryptophan your body needs to make serotonin, which keeps you feeling calm, productive, creative, and competent.
Protein also helps to slow down your digestion. Proteins are very, very complex foods, and your body has to work hard to break them down into a simple form that can be utilized as energy. They also help to stabilize your blood sugar levels so you won’t have the steep peaks and valleys that are so disastrous for sugarsensitive people.
Step 4: Eat the Potato
Think of the potato as “medicine”—sort of an antidepressant in a brown package. The potato will raise your serotonin levels.
Every night just before bed, have a potato with its skin. Ideally (for biochemical reasons), have it three hours after dinner. This may sound too simple to be part of your healing, but eating the potato will help your body raise your serotonin level and make you feel more confident, competent, creative, and optimistic.
You can eat your potato baked, mashed, roasted, cut into oven fries, or grated into hash browns. Just make sure you cook the potato and eat the skin. You can top it with anything you like except foods that contain protein. (If you eat protein along with the potato at bedtime, it will interfere with your serotonin-making process.) Your nightly spud does not have to be a big potato. It can be a russet, a Russian fingerling, or a little red potato. If you have diabetes, do not use a white potato. Use a sweet potato. Experiment.
If you find that you are having wild dreams on the nights you have your potato, this is a clue that you have very low serotonin. Eating the nightly potato is giving you a bigger hit of serotonin than you are ready for. You need the serotonin, but it is better to go more slowly. Ease into it and let your brain catch up. Have a smaller potato, or eat just a half or even a third of it. Your body is talking to you. Listen.
Step 5: Going From White to Brown
Carbohydrates can be simple, like beer, wine, and the sugars; or complex, like the starch found in brown rice or vegetables. Whether a carbohydrate is simple or complex depends on how many molecules it has. While sugars are considered simple carbohydrates, starches are complex carbohydrates because they consist of three or more sugars joined together to make a long chain of molecules. Starches come from grains (wheat, corn, rice, etc.), beans (peas, lentils, chick peas, etc.), and tubers (potatoes, yams, etc.).
Why do we care whether the carbohydrates we eat are simple or complex? Because in order for carbohydrates to be converted into fuel that your body can burn, their molecule chains must be short enough to go through the wall of your stomach or small intestine and get absorbed into your bloodstream. Before this can happen, your body has to digest the complex carbohydrates you have eaten, breaking them down into simpler forms. In fact, your body eventually breaks down all carbohydrates, even things like broccoli, into the simplest form of sugar, called glucose.
The Carbohydrate Continuum
In Step 5 of your food plan, you will start to shift your carbohydrate intake away from the quickly digested simple carbohydrates to the slower, more complex ones. You will eat fewer foods made with white flour and start eating more whole-grains and foods with soluble fiber.
Digesting a baked potato with skin takes longer than digesting skin-free mashed potatoes because the brown skin of the potato contains fiber. Digesting cooked broccoli is faster than digesting raw broccoli because the cooking breaks down the fiber before you eat it. Your body has to do less work.
Your body eventually breaks all carbohydrates down to glucose. How quickly your body can do this depends on how complex the food is. The foods on the left of the continuum are very simple with only a few molecules. They are absorbed rapidly. The foods on the right of the continuum are very complex and require the body to work hard to break them down. This takes a long time and means that you will not get a sugar high from broccoli!
Step 6: Limit Sugars
The discussion of the carbohydrate continuum in Step 5 gave you a good grasp of overt sugars. Now let’s focus on the covert sugars. Go back to your food journal. Using a different-colored marker, identify all the kinds of sugar you eat. Start with the overt sugars, and then mark all the other foods in which you think sugar is found. In how many places do you find sugars? Low-fat products often hide the most sugar. (When food manufacturers take out the fat, guess what they use to amp up the taste factor?)
Also take a very close look at foods that proclaim “no sugar.” Remember that “no sugar” simply means “no sucrose.” Manufacturers use different kinds of sweeteners to mask how much sugar is in products marketed as “healthy” or “low-fat.” The labels on these foods may show five different ingredients, such as maltodextrin, raisin juice, or fructose. These all sound healthy, don’t they? They are all sugars. Your taste buds and body will recognize them as sugars even though the label may say “sugar free.” Read labels carefully. The labeling requirements demand that the manufacturer show both the “carbohydrate “ and the “sugar” content. However, how the manufacturer defines “sugar” may differ from what we would call a sugar. For example, “brown rice syrup” can legally be called a “carbohydrate” because it is made from rice, which is a starch, not a sugar.
Eating protein at the same time you have something sweet will slow down the effect on your blood sugar level. When you eat more slower, complex foods with simple ones, the digestion of the simple ones takes longer. This is why having alcohol with a meal creates less of an effect than having it without food.
Step 7: Coming Alive
Doing Step 7 is quite different from your experience with the other steps. After your brain gets settled and you have a sense of life without your “drug,” Step 7 just starts to creep in. It does not have a specific task. It is a developmental process that emerges as the initial flatness after sugar detox becomes the Calm.
So the first phase of Step 7 is the Calm, the place of ease and rest where you no longer have to live in drama. Then comes the active phase of Step 7, exploring your new life and learning new skills. You are going to learn how to have a life without your “drug.” At first, this will be very exciting. Getting here is a huge accomplishment. But it can also be disorienting.
The skill-building part of Step 7 is about tackling the things that you didn’t do so well before your recovery and the things you chose not to look at. The more you tackle these now, the more your life changes. The flatness starts taking on color. Flat becomes Calm. And something in you starts to like it. Really like it. Eighteen months in and drama no longer holds the same appealing charge. You find yourself wanting to deescalate rather than amp up. Now the drama seems like a waste of energy you could use on fun things.
Then another change creeps in. Rather than being a drama queen or adrenaline junkie, you become funny and creative. Your innovative self starts flourishing. You are flexible and resourceful. You deal well with crisis, you are proactive in problem-solving. All sorts of things start to change. Who is this person? you might ask. When you started this program, you thought it was about controlling your food. Now, in Step 7, you start to understand that life without addiction is truly remarkable.
When your food is consistent, regular, and on target, there is just no more drama. The program gets more and more simple. You do the food, do the laundry, talk with friends, brush the dogs and cats, mop the floor, go get groceries, meditate, and exercise. And while you do, radiance breathes you into healing.