A little over a month ago marked the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims all over the world refrain from food and drink between dawn and dusk. My family and husband observe Ramadan and I grew up loving the special feeling of community and quiet during this time. Needless to say, the physical exertion required in my particular profession makes fasting a bit complicated. Still, for the past two years, I felt a strong urge to participate in the fast. The first year I was amazed to find that I had all the energy I needed to dance. The biggest challenge was trying not to look too spaced out in rehearsal. But the next year proved to be more difficult. I was working more and I couldn't take care of myself properly. I felt constantly drained and irritable and my performance suffered for a few months afterwards. So, this year I decided to try something more moderate. Something that would require self-discipline and restraint but also help my body to perform better and feel healthier. I decided to give up sugar (and other added sweeteners), refined flour, and coffee for 30 days. Here is my reasoning:
Sugar is hurtful because: it is empty calories, it shocks the body into imbalance, it leeches the body of vitamins and minerals as it digests, it's addictive, and what is not used for quick energy is stored in the liver.
Sugar is helpful because: well, mango bubble tea and fig tarts
Refined flour is hurtful because: see effects of sugar ^
Refined flour is helpful because: mmm soft bread and fig tarts
Coffee is hurtful because: I quickly become dependent on it.
Coffee is helpful because: it wakes me up and makes me feel chipper. (aka I quickly become dependent on it)
So after a clean month and a few experiments since Ramadan has been over, here are my personal conclusions:
Sugar makes me feel bad. Even before I gave it up completely, I noticed that my body reacts negatively to even one piece of candy. My mouth feels sticky, my stomach feels heavy and I am suddenly unsatisfied, I want more. The worst effect for me, is that when I consume sugar and white bread, I have a really hard time stopping. It's like a little sugar demon perks up in my brain and excitedly whispers "more more more" even as my body says "yuck". Also, when I gave up sugar and white flour, I began to relish in the naturally delicious products of nature. I better appreciated the sweetness of a blueberry, the soft comforting flavor of raw oats, beautifully colorful salads and smoothies. Finally, omitting these poisonous substances from my diet makes me excited about treating my body beautifully. I drink more water, cross-train more, and prepare more thoughtful meals.
I found that coffee, although it has some health benefits, was disrupting my body's natural balance. After about two weeks without the harsh dose of caffeine every morning, my digestion became regular. TMI, I know, but my body had become dependent on coffee for this imperative function! So now it's not (blush) and I sleep like a baby.
I have introduced some milder sweeteners back into my diet (honey, agave) but I plan to stay (almost) entirely off of the highly refined and poisonous stuff. And a once weekly coffee treat feels just about right for my body and mind. Also, although white rice is technically a refined grain, I did not omit if from my diet because I did not find it to have the gripping power over me that sugar and white bread have. My own body works well with a little white rice, although I usually opt for brown or quinoa.
After a week off of these substances I had no more symptoms of withdrawal. After a month I felt liberated. Without sugar, life is surprisingly sweeter.