“Ah sugar, ah honey honey. You are my candy girl, and you’ve got me wanting you.” The Archies may have been describing a relationship with their lyrics, but that’s been me with my relationship to actual sugar.
I love added sugar. 5 years ago, I easily would:
- Down 3-4 large glasses of Dr. Pepper with a great Tex-Mex meal (150-200 g. of added sugar)
- Gobble full pints of ice cream in a sitting (100 g of sugar)
- Chomp 8 servings of cereal- “it was only 2 bowls,” despite the box’s nutrition content being based on ½ – 1 cup of cereal- (60-80 g. Of added sugar)
- Finish a pound cake within a few days- just for the record, it’s called a “pound cake” because it historically has been made with a pound of added sugar (75 g. Of sugar per MY serving)
Here’s me with my now wife Emily in 2013
I didn’t think much about it. Once I began to shift from a trim guy in my young 20’s to borderline overweight/obese by my late 20’s, I was introduced to research on the deleterious effects of consuming so much added sugar in my diet. But I also gained maybe the most crucial part of any health advice: the support to live it out.
The most significant early clinical and research voice for me was Dr. Mark Hyman, Director, Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. I was watching a documentary on Netflix in 2015 that featured him significantly. It added to my already growing knowledge and personal experience, which especially helped me a) stop compartmentalizing nutrition (150 calories from Coke ≠ 150 calories from vegetables) and b) look more closely at what I put in my body.
Bolstered by personal recovery in multiple areas of my life, and leaning on my wife who was super supportive of me, these convergences facilitated what I hadn’t been able to do prior:
- I almost entirely cut out added sugar from my daily diet at first, and now use sparingly with a limited number of desserts.
- I lost 45 pounds in about a year and a half, the first 5-10 pounds was just cutting out sugary sodas.
- I slowly cut consumption (small things to begin, like not eating past 10:30 pm at night), and then really worked on eating vegetables. If I wanted a snack, I’d learn to find vegetables, nuts, and fruits). I found foods I enjoyed that I could eat basically as much as I wanted.
- I began to look BIG-picture at food with an observant eye- and discovered (shocker!) that even my favorite salads possessed added sugar, and not just in the dressing. Places like McDonald’s and Chik-fil-A add sugar into different items in their salad toppings and breadings (can anyone say candied pecans?). Stores like Costco sell a lot of “organic” items, but when I look at the packages and see the ingredients lists on most items, I still find a lot of added sugar, sodium, etc.
- I still enjoy dessert! I just had two slices of cake at my sister-in-law’s wedding! And I loved it.
One of my discoveries is that existing advice often conflicts, and (as with all things) can be driven by profit, greed, and ambition. Instead of getting embroiled in all these details, I began to think critically for myself and make a plan with support. Here’s the simplest advice that’s now supported relatively across the board:
Recommendations for Added Sugar:
- In a 2,000 calorie diet, 50 g of added sugar is the max recommended (10% of total energy intake).
- Strongly recommends less than 10% of total energy intake as free sugars,
- And conditionally less than 5%.
Part of a healthy body, mind, and spirit involves an honest look at what we put in our bodies. Nutrition is, of course, one of the most important realities of daily life. Much success and suffering comes from our consumption and discipline around food- and in that regard, it’s not much different from other areas of life such as our thoughts and beliefs, exercise, generosity, and work and rest.
I’m nowhere near an expert in the food realm, and this post is more personal in nature. I hesitated writing it for a while so as not to make another one of those ‘Look at me now!’ posts. The last thing I want is for anyone reading this to feel shamed by a braggadocious post on self-improvement. I personally didn’t have a bunch of shame about my weight prior, nor would that have helped. I want to thank my sister-in-law, Camille, for encouraging me that people might benefit from my personal story. I hope it helps.
As a therapist, I walk with people every day through CBT and counseling to take action. Traditional medicine, articles, and diets all serve their purpose. My job is to help people make change, personalized to them, in the context of reality- that we must all live in, or not- only to our detriment.
If you take nothing else away from this, here are the keys I want to share:
- You (and others) are inherently valuable.
- Nutrition is a significant part of life that, when it goes well or poorly, affects all other aspects of life.
- Consider introspection over your relationship to things like added sugar that, when over-consumed, creates major problems.
- Goals are great, but change has to be doable. Unrealistic expectations are a killer of motivation and long-term success!
- I’m here as a resource if you need me!
- Everyone is different, but all of us have to live by the principles of reality. The more realistic we are about looking and facing it squarely, the more congruent our lives will be.
Here’s me with my Emily, Hattie, and baby Levi to be in 2021
 Added sugar is different than sugar as it naturally occurs, like in fruits and vegetables. See Harvard Health’s post here.
 “Fed Up”- not that I endorse everything in it, but there were a couple key lessons that I have incorporated from this documentary.
 This whole resource is quite fabulous with lots of good research and narrative. I nerded out with it!