On July 2, 2013, two things happened: I celebrated my birthday and I decided to stop eating sugar. I didn’t wake up that morning with that plan, but as the day progressed I ate entirely too much sugar, including birthday cake. With it came the headache, upset stomach and inevitable crash. It was a cycle I had been stuck in for most of my adult life. Something had to change. Sugar had to go.

So it was on that day that I celebrated another year of being alive while also coming to terms with something that had long lurked in the shadows of my life: I’m an addict and sugar is my substance.

It goes much deeper than that. I’ve had a complicated and difficult relationship with food since I was a teenager and, in turn, have had body image struggles that still cause me immeasurable pain. Eliminating sugar has been an essential step for this emotional eater.

Many people have told me my willpower must be tremendous, but I don’t see it like that. I view abstaining from sugar as something I have no choice about, and with that mindset comes a certain amount of freedom. Until such time I could manage sugar intake in a healthy way, I can’t have it. It’s 100-percent off limits. Does that mean forever? Maybe. Do I miss it? Absolutely. Cookies, cake, candy and especially ice cream are among my favorite things. But I know how eating these things make me feel both physically and mentally.

For me, abstinence means avoiding white sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and most other kinds of added sugars. I read labels carefully – sugar is a sneaky little devil. It often lurks in cereal, but I’ve found a few without it. Ditto for protein bars. I let myself eat naturally occurring sugar in fruit. In fact I should be eating way more of it.

I’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners, so I try to avoid those, though I will drink the occasional Diet Coke. And I’ll use honey and real maple syrup in small amounts once in a while. A number of natural sweeteners, such as Stevia, are on the market, too, but I haven’t ventured down that road because I worry that if I find one I like too much, it will trigger my addiction. Sometimes if I’m out to eat and have ordered something that screams for ketchup, I’ll use it, corn syrup be damned. I don’t use much, and I don’t worry too much about it, either. I’ll also eat corn bread from time to time because I’m still in denial that much cornbread has sugar in it.

When I stopped eating sugar, it wasn’t to lose weight or to become healthier but rather to restore a semblance of sanity to my eating. I have a long way to go. I don’t naturally gravitate toward things like salad, and I still eat more than my fair share of french fries and bread. But I’m getting there. Radically shifting my consumption of sugar has been a positive change and, for me, it has been worth it.

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