Sugar Sugar Sugar Sugar…

Sugar. All day all I want is… sugar. The sweet goodness finds its way in most of my food and drink in one way or another. Alas, I have become enlightened to the fact that it is creating a host of problems for me such as anxiety, depression, bouts of mania and inconsistency in my body (PMS, body aches, and digestion). These are all things I began to realize after an experiment in cutting back on my sugar intake for no other reason than I realized I ate a LOT of it. I used to joke that I was preparing to become diabetic. I thought it was funny when I was 20 sipping a Frappacino, but at 35 I realize that it is no joke. But that is the reality of our world today… we have sugar shoved in our faces in so many ways and because it is not an illegal drug, we feel that it’s ok to go beyond overboard.

When I made a conscious effort to cut down on sugar, it was no fun. I mean, sugar IS fun. That’s what we relate it to as kids. Treats. Goodies. A special occasion. Rewards. Something to ease a tough time… sugar is always the answer. Additionally, my mom is a master baker and we regularly had fresh baked snacks in the evening. I DO NOT fault her for this at all, in fact I think it was great that we had home made cookies rather than a cabinet filled with processed snack cakes. Mind you, we did have a box of those for our school lunches, but that was about it. But that was the BEST part of lunch! I drilled through my sandwich, usually gave away my apple and scarfed a Little Debbie like nobody’s business. So now, I’ve decided to remove the best part of lunch?! To no longer reward myself for going to work? No more sweet boosts to keep me going? No more gourmet desserts to look forward to when I get home? I thought ‘I’m pretty sure I’ll die.’ 

Luckily, I didn’t die. And what I realized is that I didn’t really miss the sugar. In fact, I got out of the habit and forgot that I was making a conscious choice. I forgot to ask for ‘easy’ sugar in my coffee one day and when I drank it the way I used to, it was a gross, sticky mess. Additionally, I forgot I had anxiety. It occurred to me one day how great I had been feeling. I mean, I really tried to figure this out. I thought long and hard about why I felt so even-tempered and even questioned if I had ever felt this way for an extended period in time? And then I began to put two and two together… hmmm… had I ever not had a lot of sugar in my diet? Errr… umm… no. Wow. What a revelation. All of these past memories of feeling totally insane, unable to cope with whatever drama I was confronted with, sexual frustration, and irrational anxiety flooding my consciousness. And then the question arose, would I have had such a hard time if I wasn’t fueled mostly by sugar? In my past if I felt any of those emotions, the first thing I would do was reach for a sweet to calm myself down. 

Needless to say, these realizations have completely changed my outlook on my diet and lifestyle. I have not completely eliminated sugar from my diet, right now I don’t really feel the need to. What has changed is the impulse to grab for a sweet every day, all day. Now I start my day by eating a savory breakfast which gets me on the right foot. I drink coffee with far less sugar and I limit myself to 1 cup of coffee rather than 3 or more. When I am stressed and start to feel irrational I think back to how I’ve been eating; generally I find that it’s sugar talking in my head. My inner voice was born directly in Candyland and as much as I have listened to her in the past I’ve realized that she’s a bit on the crazy side and should be relegated to an occasional visit rather than a roommate.

Reducing sugar craving tips 

Eat a savory breakfast

Don’t keep sweets in the house. If you must, keep some 70% dark chocolate on hand 

Eat lots of sweet veggies. Sweet potato, carrots, squash, beets…

Drink water. Dehydration can lead to exhaustion which we try to combat with sugar or caffeine 

Use unprocessed sugars. Try to swap white sugar with raw honey, 100% maple syrup or fruit (juices) 

Stay active. This will energize you and balance your blood sugar which will reduce cravings 

Avoid fat-free or low-fat foods. Fat is generally replaced with lots of hidden sugars to improve taste 

Reducing or cutting out sugar is a process. Your body needs sugar but nowhere near the level most of us consume on a daily basis. Sugar intake is linked with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. By reducing your sugar, you not only cut down your risk for disease but you also enjoy health benefits such as weight loss, improved sleep, and reduced mood swings. That ultimately means you look better, feel better and you’re even cooler to be around. Sounds worth a try, doesn’t it?

Illustration: Allie Brosh Hyperbole and a Half

Zoning out, a meditation

Do you ever just… zone out? This may involve clearing your mind, maybe staring off into space or turning your focus to a campfire or the condensation dripping down a glass. Completely relaxed, maybe your jaw drops open a bit. This is commonly known as zoning out, that moment you’re not contemplating past or future, but are simply in the moment, completely and fully.

Meditation is a big topic these days. Everyone says you should be doing it, but rarely do we find time in our day to simply sit and focus. We feel we don’t have enough time, and meditation can seem like a superfluous task to wedge into a busy day. But the reality is we have multiple opportunities while completing daily activities where we can find ourselves in a meditative state, and it’s these precious moments where I want to focus.

In her book Eastern Body Western Mind, Anodea Judith suggests the best way to expand the 7th (crown) chakra is through mediation. The Crown Chakra is the energy hovering at the top of your head, which is the home of learning, openness, wisdom, and spirituality. I was particularly intrigued by the ideas on learning and openness, which are inextricably connected. If we are going to learn anything new in our lives, we must be open to new ideas. Seems simple, right? But the truth is being receptive can be difficult, and we avoid its practice all the time. When I introduce the idea of meditation to someone, I am often met with resistance.  I can’t sit still. I have too many things running through my head to meditate. Although I place a high value on meditation in my life, I still use time as an excuse to skip a session. 

Things began to change when I started to associate meditation with learning. Novice meditators use time as an excuse to avoid developing it as a habit—I do this all the time. But I’ve discovered my issue wasn’t time, but a lack of curiosity about the unique intricacies of meditation. Just the other day I was studying the leaves on a tree in my backyard as they undulated in the wind. In this moment, I thought I could be meditating, but I was entranced in the leaves’ movements. Soon enough, I realized—I already was meditating.    

A good friend has created a meditation challenge which has reinvigorated my interest in variations on meditative practices. Meditation can include thoughts or mantras, movement, activity, intentional or free flowing breath, images or objects of focus. You can create meditative moments for yourself out of anything as long as you are intentional and truly present in the moment. For instance, have you ever woken up really early, when no one was around? Everything is still and peaceful. You go outside and take a deep breath and can feel the cool air in your lungs. Maybe you sit with a cup of coffee and simply enjoy its smell and the warmth it provides. The simple act of waking up to the world, enjoying those sips of coffee and moments of stillness, are deeply meditative—all you need to do is enjoy it. 

Many people embrace the benefits of morning meditation. They want to feel peace first thing in their day, before the inevitable onslaught of obligations and nagging thoughts. Welcome to R.P.M.—Rise. Pee. Mediate. Morning meditation and early moments of mindfulness simplify my day. When I meditate first thing, I’m rarely swept up by the turmoil of the day’s challenges. I simply view and address an obstacle and then move on. Done and done.

Multitasking and holding your breath to address tension are counter-intuitive to mindfulness. To be meditative and mindful is to be “reflective or deeply thoughtful”. When we multitask, we spend a considerable amount of energy and brain power simply toggling between activities. In the pursuit of completing multiple tasks, the goal becomes to finish as much as possible as fast as possible. But what we are really doing is missing out on opportunities for discovery. When we fully immerse ourselves into what we are doing, however, our breathing naturally slows, and we are free to take the time to learn new techniques in the moment or explore our creativity. 

Cooking is a great example. Take a moment and imagine cooking in a clean, spacious, fully-stocked kitchen. If you are cooking mindfully, you take time to chop vegetables, carefully select herbs and spices, simmer broth —every act is an intimate extension of yourself. As you place careful attention onto each piece of food you clean, cut, and prepare, you get to literally taste the fruits of your labor. You feed yourself the same energy you just put into preparing the food. That is some powerful stuff!

Benefits to mediation include

• Reduced stress and improved concentration
• Increased happiness and self-awareness
• Slows aging in body and mind
• Aids the brain in building new pathways
• Promotes a healthy lifestyle including benefits to cardio and immune health

And if these are not enough… here are 76 more reasons.

We can all enjoy the benefits of meditation without having to uproot your life. But once you adopt the habit of mediation, you may just find yourself creating the life you always wanted.  

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Work vs Life - do you have balance?

Our day job plays a role in almost every aspect of our lives. At a job, we like to think that we can check our personal emotions at the door and not take work obligations home with us, but is that really possible? What we do for 40+ hours a week (sometimes 50+ hours) affects us and all other facets of our lives. We often tell ourselves: It’s just a job. I’ve got bills to pay. I’m lucky to have a job. And my personal pet peeve … It has benefits. Ohhhh those benefits. 

These statements are all true. I AM lucky to have a job that can cover my expenses and help me plan for the future. But how often do we stop to ask “How much money, time, or energy do I spend because of my job?” For instance, did you take a high paying job that includes a lengthy commute and requires high-end attire? How much do you pay for clothing and gas/transportation? Do you have a job that devalues you? Do you deal with that devaluation by trying to fill the void with purchases, food/alcohol and get-a-ways to try and ease the daily frustration? Basically, are you spending more money than you would otherwise to compensate for your unhappiness at work? For me, the answer is a clear yes. 

So how do I make a change? Where do you find the courage to shift your priorities? Motivation looks different for everyone, but first we must challenge widely held beliefs about work: get a high-paying job with bountiful benefits and be happy. But do we consider joy or creativity? Growth? Individuality? Movement? Donating time to others? Or how does this job affect my health and well-being? These are things that are pushed to the wayside in an effort to keep our heads above water. This is the mindset I grew up with - not that creativity was bad, but that it was not a career. And enjoyment? C’mon Amy, no one gets enjoyment from a job—that’s why it’s a job

I’ve recognized it’s time for serious change. Many of us are drowning, feeling stuck, or living paycheck to paycheck… and we don’t even know why. Being aware of your situation is the first step. Here are some steps to begin to assess your career and start to plan your next move. 

Record your purchases. This could be as easy as taking a look at your statements and highlighting all the purchase you make directly for work. Transportation, clothes, food, and social purchases (all those after work drinks/dinners b/c you’re too stressed and exhausted). Basically, find out where your money is going, and why. A fantastic guide is the book Your Money or Your Life

Identify motivation in your day. How do you feel at the beginning, middle and end of the day? When are you the happiest? When are you motivated? Do you feel stifled? If so, why? 

Consider what a perfect work day for you would look like. What are your interests? What would you rather be doing than sitting in meetings or serving customers? Or what would you like those meetings to be about; who are those customers and how are you serving them? Realistically - could you do something you enjoy more part-time and still be able to get by with some financial cut-backs? 

Be a lifelong learner. One of the biggest career stagnation points is no longer learning. How can you develop new interests if you don’t try anything? Is there something you enjoy but feel like you have a lot to learn about? 

Talk to someone. Health isn’t just about nutrition and exercise. Your health is effected by all the decisions and actions you make in your life, and career is a big part of it. Do you feel conflicted about your options? Is work taking over your life and leaving your exhausted? If you are unhappy at work, no amount of kale is going to fix that. What changes can you make to improve your situation? If this resonates with you please reach out to discuss

I’m not saying that everyone needs to find a new career (or a career at all) - simply that there are some issues we just deal with rather than questioning why they are issues. The notion of a career is fluid, and comes with many stereotypes, clichés, and illusions. The duty we have to ourselves is to remain open and self-assess if we begin to feel dissatisfied with how we exchange our precious energy for money.