Got a holiday food and drink hangover? You are not alone. And with New Years goals starting to dance in your head, we thought it was only right to share this essay by Meghan Nesher, a mother of two and the creative director of Leader Bag Co., who made a commitment to cut sugar out of her life…twice. Read her honest and relatable story, below. -KHZ
A week after my second son, Robben, was born in September 2016, he developed a thick white coating on his tongue and his digestion was off. When we took him to our midwife for his week checkup, she confirmed that it was thrush—a yeast infection that shows up in whitish patches on the tongue and mouth. In the grand scheme of things, thrush is not that big of a deal, but it was something we needed to address and it made nursing my baby pretty brutal. Every time I experienced a let-down, it felt like shards of glass were shattering inside my breasts. Not fun.
Our midwife educated me on a number of different treatments. The least invasive and most natural form of treatment was treating it with my diet and quitting sugar entirely. Apparently, I was battling a systemic yeast infection and Robben was mirroring what was going on within me. To treat the yeast infection holistically, I had to starve the bad bacteria and yeast in my body so that they would die off. Since Robben was nursing exclusively, by healing myself, I could heal him too.
At first, the thought of quitting sugar and having to change my diet freaked me out. I totally melted down in her office. Having a newborn was hard enough on its own and now I have to change the way I eat too? For someone who is sensitive to change, especially in regards to food, it felt like a lot to take in.
Almost immediately, I felt overwhelmed and scared about having to control my diet. I’ve battled with disordered eating issues for two-thirds of my life and finally, I felt like I was getting to a “healthy” place with my diet where I could just eat everything in moderation. But now I was being told that I had to restrict and control what I ate again. Ugh. It scared the crap out of me, but, the alternative of taking medicine and prescription drugs was not appealing to me in the slightest.
On the car ride home from the doctor’s office, the initial shock of the news wore off, and I knew what I had to do—I had to quit sugar. As soon as I got home, I dove head first into research about thrush, candida, systemic yeast infections, etc. If I was going to commit to quitting sugar and healing myself and Robben from the inside out, I wanted to commit 1000%.
My research took me down all kinds of rabbit holes. Some authors that I found particularly helpful were Sarah Wilson, Kimberly Snyder, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Mark Hyman. I even went as far as having an intuitive healer come to my house to test all of my food to help me identify what was causing my body distress and what was helping me heal. I was like a sponge and wanted to soak up all of the knowledge that I could, so that I could succeed at this and not feel too deprived.
Once I felt like I had enough combined knowledge and guidance to start, l leaned into the fear of changing my diet yet again and gave up sugar completely. I stopped eating all forms of sugar, even the “natural” forms of sugar that are supposedly better for us. I gave up honey, maple syrup, date sugar, coconut sugar, sugary fruits (like bananas, pineapple, grapes, etc.), yeasty breads and gluten, and even cow dairy. My new diet now consisted of mostly good fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut butter, coconut milk, olive oil, tons of non-starchy veggies, good sources of meat and fish, some goat dairy, limited whole grains, and eggs.
Things definitely got worse before they got better. The first week off of sugar was SUPER challenging. The first few days my sugar cravings were through the roof even though I didn’t really even eat that much sugar before. In the past, I would indulge in some dark chocolate or real maple syrup on pancakes. I would treat myself to a really good cookie or scone every now and then, or a piece of birthday cake at a celebration. I was so surprised how much I craved sugar once I gave it up. I remember wandering the aisles of the grocery store and drooling over ice cream and bread. The only thing that held me back from devouring all of these things was that I so desperately wanted my baby to be healthy.
The other piece that was really challenging was experiencing the yeast die off in my body. My nether regions were so unbearably itchy. It was like having a yeast infection but on steroids. To top it off, my breasts still burned every time I nursed my baby. Not only was I recovering from giving birth and taking care of a newborn, but my physical symptoms were almost too much to handle. Regardless, I kept the faith and was committed and dedicated to healing our symptoms naturally and with diet alone.
Besides taking care of a newborn, I spent most of my time in the kitchen cooking around the clock. In order to set myself up for success, I had to prepare a lot of good quality food in advance so that I always had good options on hand. I was making soups, broths, big sheet trays of activated nuts and seeds, stews, and pots of curries. A quick and easy go-to meal for me was a big bed of arugula lettuce, Hilary’s veggie burger, an egg fried in coconut oil with half of an avocado on the side. It was fast, delicious, and really satiating. Later on in the journey, I was thrilled to discover some good alternatives for sugar-free treats, like Lily’s Sugar-Free Chocolate and Diabetic Kitchen Gourmet Chocolate Brownie Mix!
Slowly but surely, I started to notice a lot of positive changes. The most obvious changes were physical. About a month in, Robben’s thrush had completely healed and his digestive system was back to normal (yes!). My symptoms (itchy nether regions and burning breasts while breastfeeding) had completely gone away as well. A few more months in, I started to realize positive changes surrounding my emotional self. My mood was really stable and predictable and the brain fog that I had experienced before was completely gone. I felt like I could focus better and articulate what I wanted to say without having to think too hard. I was sleeping soundly and anxious and depressive thoughts were kind of a thing in the past, or at least weren’t as noticeable as they were before.
Bottom line is this: Quitting sugar was the best decision I could have made for myself and for my baby and I had never felt better in my whole life.
I was cruising along beautifully and feeling like I had deeply healed myself and Robben when I started to glance at sugar again and wonder whether or not my body could handle bringing it back into my diet again. In retrospect, I see this as a rebound or a real test from the universe. I finally caved into that curiosity and had myself a big bite of a sweet and pillowy donut. It was freakin’ delicious. Of course, it was, it’s SUGAR!
And here’s how the story goes from here. One bite that one day lead to two bites the next week, lead to a whole cookie the next week, lead to two cookies the next week. See where this is going? Eighteen months after I felt on top of the world and the best I had ever felt, I realized that sugar had crept back into my life and I found myself back where I had started—moody, depressed, not my best self, unmotivated to change, and with a general malaise about life.
Shit. How did I let this happen? How did I let myself get back to this point again? Oh right, I am a perfectly flawed human. That’s how.
I was really frustrated with myself that I had reached a serious low again, but that low was actually the breakthrough that I needed to take my health and my well-being seriously again—not only for myself, but for the well being of my family and my business.
I finally admitted to myself boldly and powerfully, so that I understood once and for all, that SUGAR DOES NOT AGREE WITH ME AND IT’S HOLDING ME BACK. I’m not my best self when I eat it and I want to be my best self. I NEED to be my best self. I don’t have the luxury to mess around, play small, and not feel good. I have two kids to show up for and be present for, I have a husband to take care of, and I have a business to run. I don’t have time for this. Goodbye, good riddance. We’re done here, sugar. You just aren’t worth it anymore. I’ve got a fabulous life to live and you will no longer be a part of it.
And just like that, I cut sugar out of my life this past summer, for good, and I’m feeling so much better. Mood swings are gone, sleeping is more sound, energy is back up, brain fog is gone.
Today you can find me indulging with Lily’s Chocolate, every single day. Some days I even dip it in almond butter and put a little sea salt on top. I’m also the girl who reads the labels of everything before I eat anything to make sure there is no added sugar, and if I’m in a coffee shop, I make sure the almond milk is unsweetened.
I used to feel embarrassed by this, but now I don’t care what people think. All I care about now is that I feel my best and I’m doing what’s best for myself and for my family. It’s really freeing to get to that point where you just don’t care about what other people think. I’ve learned that I have to do my own thing and take care of me first so that I can better take care of my people.
If I’m being completely honest, I knew deep down for a long time that giving up sugar was what I needed to do. But I resisted the message and didn’t want to hear it. I had convinced myself that I was healthy enough and that I could eat everything in moderation. When I finally listened to the voice in my head and committed 100% to cutting sugar out of my life, life got infinitely better and easier. And thank God I did. I’m so much better off and so is everyone else around me.
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