What Mother Mary’s Unconventional Advice Has Taught Me About (No Longer) Quitting Sugar
It was 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 boxes 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. When my raw salads and fruit wouldn’t do it, I reverted to cookies, feeling sorry for myself while the incessant rain dripped into 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 did I do this to myself? So I didn’t have to feel my painful feelings.
At the time, 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 guilty because I knew it was wrong
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 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.
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 back on track.
Does this sound familiar?
I know I’m not the only one. As humans, we 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 today, but part of our brain hasn’t understood that yet.
Some studies suggest that sugar triggers the same addictive high in the brain like 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 more.
I’ve tried quitting sugar for over a decade
I’ve 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 at times. It was all or nothing.
After coming back from a Christmas vacation in Sweden at the beginning of the year, I was frustrated again.
Why can I not resist this stuff? Why does everything have to be laden with sugar? Why does it make me gain weight so fast? I was furious and determined to quit — again. This time, once and for all.
I went cold turkey for two weeks, and 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 and co-author Ingunn Tennbakk, and we did what we always do in moments of confusion: we help each other shine the light of spiritual understanding on our confused ego minds.
Ingunn did a spiritual reading for me, and Mother Mary came through. As always, she offered unconditional love and comfort and suggested a major shift in perception. “Kindness in your 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 food and diets
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, yet it makes sense in a weird way
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 you,” 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, Mother offered.
Be soft, caring, and respectful to yourself
Mother Mary 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.
Same with exercise
Instead of working out to look sexy, or obsessively counting calories to lose those last 10 pounds, I now 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 dancer than a cross fitter.
“Exercise for the joy of it. Ask yourself what you want to experience from your workout. How does each exercise make you feel? Can you allow the strength of your body? It’s not about the exercise itself, 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 my strength fluctuate after all. To have a sane conversation with the body and to let it lead me. “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. But my heart responded with joy, so I thanked Mother Mary for her guidance and welcomed my newfound food-freedom.
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 towards it. I know that I can have a cookie whenever I want one, but I rarely want it anymore.
I found new tools to soothe my anxiety
When I feel upset about something, I practice self-care. Praying, meditating, walking in the woods, and journaling all bring peace to my mind. Sometimes, warm milk with honey and nutmeg is my ultimate comfort food that soothes my nervous system without stressing it even more.
Does that mean that I can never eat chocolate cake in my entire life again?
No, not at all. But I have more awareness around it now, and I know it’s not going to “save” me. I can have a little bit. Just enough for pleasure without going into a wave of food addiction. I then balance it out with healthy foods again during my next meal.
I longer feel guilty about food.
When there are 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.