It has now been a few weeks since the last round (my third) of the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program wrapped up, and although there where similarities between this round and previous ones I have participated in, on a personal note, some new things certainly came to light.
As always, the recipes were wonderful and the food on point. So let’s start there! 🙂
WHAT I ATE
If everyone found quitting sugar a breeze, there’d be no need for the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program. Quitting sugar doesn’t have to be about white-knuckling your way through the day and heaping guilt on yourself if you trip up along the way, yet most people seem to be unarmed with the knowledge, support or resources to find the process easy. It isn’t just the coping with potential detox symptoms, it’s knowing what to eat in order to remain satiated, being prepared food-wise in order to avoid making bad choices, reprogramming your taste buds and discovering new ways to enjoy food so that your health reboot lasts beyond a detox and becomes a lifestyle choice with a modicum of longevity. This is where the 8WP excels, in my opinion. The food is not only good (as in, tasty and nutritionally balanced), but exciting. Participants look forward to seeing what’s in store for the week ahead. If you’re like me (i.e., time-poor!), you’ll find the Sunday Cook-Ups a godsend, and the introduction to new dishes and ways of thinking about food provides inspiration long after the program is over.
The images above illustrate only a small selection of what the second half of the 8WP weekly meal plans had on offer. I became rather unadventurous when it came to breakfasts, finding I loved the Make-Me-Over Mojito Smoothie so much that it became kind of a staple from Clean Week onwards.
I have been asked a few times whether it is difficult to undertake the program when based in the Northern Hemisphere (as the program is designed and based in Australia). The short answer is no. By swapping out the couple of things I could not find (due to issues of seasonality), I was able to come up with equally as tasty variations of the original IQS recipes (see Lentil, Quinoa & Blackberry Salad above). The meals are fresh yet satisfying and there are lots of hearty options and lighter meals. So really, something to suit all climates… even the brutal subzero ones like we experience during winter!
This last phase of the 8WP introduced me to some of my favourite IQS dishes yet, including The Ultimate Salad, which I can honestly say is one of the only salads I have ever tried that I have cravings for when I think about it. And I love salads!
To see more detail about some of the other dishes featured in this phase of the program (for the vegetarian version of the IQS8WP), click on the images in the montage above. And do note that for every new round of the program they like to shake things up, adding between around 30-60% new recipes, plus new features and program-exclusive bonus content (like free recipes, videos, etc.).
HOW I FELT
When I left you with my last 8WP update, I was feeling rather challenged and exhausted. A string of winter illnesses, over-analysis about said illnesses and being unable to continue running on my own proverbial “performance treadmill”, had led me to a point of surrender… and a simultaneous willingness to embark upon the Clean Week journey wholeheartedly.
In part I approached Clean Week with such enthusiasm because I was hoping for an answer, health-wise. I hoped that being caffeine-free (which I’d already been since the commencement of the 8WP), gluten-free and sugar-free all at once would “fix” my apparently shoddy immunity. I had spent much of this round of the 8WP wondering why my healthy lifestyle choices were unable to prevent me from coming down with repeated common colds and similar ailments. What was wrong with me that meant that, while some so-called social media wellness gurus were purportedly “curing” themselves of terminal illness via diet*, I couldn’t manage to ward off a simple cold?
Was I falling ill on a regular basis because I was a Rushing Woman? Was it because I didn’t love myself enough? Was there something more sinister and serious going on for me health-wise? Or was I simply stuck in some kind of health-related analysis paralysis… over nothing bigger than a combination of Swedish winter + returning to the workforce + a particularly bad cold/flu season + having small children in nursery school? I saw three GPs and had several tests done, including blood work, during the course of the 8WP in search of an answer*, not because I am a hypochondriac, but simply because at worst it was worrisome, and at best it was annoyingly disruptive to every area of my life; from my ability to work, to my ability to work out!
In the midst of it all – all the soul-searching, all the questioning, all the detoxing – something(s) happened and the “wellness world” was rocked by a series of incidences. I am truly surprised by how affected I was by it all. There are two posts written by me about the very subject, currently sitting unedited in my drafts folder; a testament to the head miles I did about this. At the time, I had just begun to give myself a very hard time about the state of my health, feeling (strangely) guilty that I wasn’t in perfect health 100% of the time, despite my best efforts to live well. I felt as though I was failing.
But then I stopped playing that tape.
It was clear that I had really been taking some things at face value. I was reminded yet again of the need to avoid judging my insides by other people’s outsides. Things are not always as they seem… and, sadly, via social media lies can be sold by the unscrupulous.
Around Clean Week, I was starting to question being honest about my everyday “garden variety” health concerns. To be more specific, I questioned whether posting an image of a healthy, tasty looking meal I’d eaten, simultaneously adding in the caption that I’d come down with fever, would be “inspirational” to others. Maybe not. But my health journey is about me and, when I shared such stuff, it was my reality- inspirational or not. I was eating well, no doubt, and certain aspects of that were definitely health-affirming, yet my immunity this winter was not great. It’s a disappointing fact. And sharing about the status of my health with integrity compels me to include both the ups and the inevitable downs. When time allowed I was able to participate in the 8WP forums. Here too I wanted to be honest about what was going on for me whilst supporting others, but I worried at times that I simply could not participate in the manner I could/would have, had I been in a perfect state of health with an abundance of energy. That, in conjunction with my inability to be as “present” and productive in my work life and at home as I like to be, was beyond frustrating.
Meanwhile, the media continued to reveal an untangling of various webs of wellness lies. The gravity of the impact those lies has had cannot fully be known but, personally, I was struck with a sense of incredible gratitude that I had chosen a path to explore that was founded in a healthy, balanced approach to eating… and one that had been forged from a genuine wellness journey! I started to become grateful too that I had chosen to communicate “my stuff” honestly, and that I freely shared recipes/the things that inspire me/the things I have tried as a “non-professional”… placing, for example, my Facebook page in the personal blog category rather than that of a health/wellness website***.
And so I continued on my way, sticking with the 8-Week Program to the best of my ability. I cut back on hot yoga and running, as I found my glands would start to swell within a day or two of undertaking either. I incorporated things such as oil pulling and herbal infusions into my daily regime. I implemented a 10pm bedtime curfew for myself. I went through all my cosmetic and toiletries products and started to swap out the non-organic ones for organic where possible (I already tried to buy organic alternatives but wanted to take things up a notch). In many respects, this Clean Week was the most successful of the three I have done, even if it wasn’t the immunity boosting quick fix I had hoped it would be. For me, it went beyond quitting sugar.
My winter illnesses had prevented me from consistent exercise. As soon as I’d seemingly fully recovered from a cold/fever, I’d hit the gym. Usually within 48 hours I’d feel under the weather again. Days of inactivity (even time off work + bed rest) would go by to allow for rest and recovery, then the same cycle would kick off. It was a source of immense frustration, worry and even distress at times. The last thing you want during the extremely low-energy, dark and freezing winter months in Scandinavia is to have to eliminate one of your primary sources of energy and vitality… especially whilst undertaking a health reset! I put on weight as a result of the inability to accomplish what my body was used to doing (which normally includes engaging in some kind of physical activity most days of the week as opposed to lying in bed for days at a time!). I can only count my blessings that, due to the 8WP, things were pretty good in the ol’ food department! Some kind of counter-balance!
Luckily, those days of inactivity seem to be behind me, and I am back to daily movement of some form or another (yoga and walking mostly), which is far more in line with the IQS8WP Movement Plan that I had hoped to follow! Things are balancing out again. *Happy dancing!*
And that brings me to…
Good news. According to my regular doctor, essentially all seems fine with me health-wise. My thyroid condition is stable, for example. It is her belief that it really was just a matter of bad luck that I was unwell during the winter, and “nothing unusual” (she said she was seeing patients on a daily basis with the same issues I was having, and all had small children). Interestingly, a couple of weeks after the program ended, I developed tonsillitis for which I took a course of antibiotics. I have not been sick since that time. Could it be that, during the winter, my body was in a constant state of trying to fight infection (hence the swollen glands and lapses into illness after exercise)? I will ask my doctor when I meet her next but, if so, it seems that my lifestyle choices were probably helping to support and maintain me far more that I realised.
Since the program ended, I have continued to cook recipes from the 8WP, develop my own recipes based around IQS principles, and have also gotten stuck into the new I Quit Sugar book, Healthy Family Meals, which truly contains some of the best IQS recipes I have tried. My family has loved them too which, no doubt, is the whole point of the book! One of the best things about family friendly recipe books is that we can allow the kids to choose what to make and then let them help us in the kitchen.
If there’s a sure-fire way to get my kids eating well, it’s to allow them to experience the pride and satisfaction of making something themselves. There’s no way they wont try something they’ve helped to create!
Although I am not sure what has caused recent flare-ups of hormonal issues (my cycle has been all over the place, for example), eating well is certainly not going to harm me and, as I have experienced, can actually relieve the unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, cramping and wild mood-swings.
On a very positive note, I feel like my mojo has returned along with sunnier Swedish days. I am finding a more workable balance of things home/work/food/exercise-related and generally feeling happier, more positive, energised and inspired. For the past week or more I have managed to maintain a daily yoga and squat practice. I have been cooking with enthusiasm and eating heartily.
MORE TO LOVE
It feels good to make informed choices, it feels good to cook and eat real food, it feels great to not be a slave to sugar… and it also feels fine to eat it in some fashion – without guilt – moderately and occasionally. I am forever grateful for the experience and education I have received as a participant in the IQS8WP, and the journey of self-discovery it has taken me on. My knowledge of IQS principles is something that remains with me, no matter what I cook at home or choose to buy when I am out and about. As Sarah Wilson says, “You can’t unlearn this stuff”!
Unlike some wellness programs, IQS is largely a common-sense approach to eating real food and the program is developed with/supported by certified health and nutrition professionals. It’s about cutting back on junk (like sugar, of course), reprogramming your taste buds, getting organised in the home/kitchen and getting back to food basics (e.g. cooking and eating fresh produce). The JERF (“Just Eat Real Food”) principle is the base of a dietary approach that is sustainable long-term, and is what our bodies are designed to do (as opposed to follow starvation, “quick fix”-style regimes).
IQS is not a miracle “cure-all” diet****, nor does it claim to be, although some people certainly experience dramatic, positive health benefits as a result of following it. At the very least, following the program will help break a sugar addiction and improve energy levels naturally (why I signed up for my first round).
There may be some people whose particular lifestyle choices/dietary issues are incompatible with the mainstream IQS approach (which was developed originally to suit omnivores and dairy eaters), but IQS is very adaptable and certainly far more inclusive than other programs, as I have found myself (as a vegetarian with a vegan husband and omnivorous children!). The IQS community is a very supportive one, where information and inspiration is freely shared by professionals and participants alike, and kind encouragement is easy to find, should you need it.
A new round of the IQS8WP is starting on September 1, 2016. If you have any questions about it, from a participant point of view, feel free to drop me a line. Otherwise, you can check it out for yourself if you’re interested.
❤ MM xx
*Not true, it turns out.
**Since the completion of the 8WP I have undergone a full physical (including more blood work) at a medical centre here and expect the results within a couple of weeks.
***If/when I have a qualification that allows me to change this in good conscience or I collaborate with a qualified health practitioner, I might redefine things… but definitely not until such a time.
****I was so relieved to read this post by Sarah Wilson on the subject of diet, disease and responsibility. Thank you for being one of the few notable wellness figures brave and honest enough to speak up on the matter, Sarah!