Our family has been living in South Africa for almost twelve years! One of our kids was still in diapers when we launched our mission career in southern Africa. That’s crazy! It’s been a good run though, and we’re still going strong. Praise God!
Whenever we are asked why we chose the mission field in Africa, one of the discussion points we offer is food.
A lot of research, thought, discussion, and prayer is devoted to the selection of a mission field. Way back in 2003, one of the central-make-or-break needs of our family was whether we could live on a South African diet. You see, John is a lacto-ovo vegetarian (no meat, but can eat eggs and cheese) due to health reasons. We had already said ‘no’ to an eastern Europe mission field opportunity because the local diet is very meat-oriented. When we interacted with locals or would be offered a meal in their homes, we knew that John’s diet would become an issue. We didn’t want John’s dietary needs to be an obstruction to our relationship-building in eastern Europe.
But food is an issue, isn’t it?
Food is not only a major discussion point, but also a gathering place. We come together to eat, drink, and be merry – especially during the holidays and other meaningful occasions.
Thus, it’s no wonder that we often must explain our food choices or dietary needs when we gather for social occasions.
I have had to explain my no-sugar choice for 2017 so many, many, many times, I’ve lost count. I encountered curious looks, dismayed expressions, affirming nods, and silence throughout the year. Most people are accommodating – really. However, I often observe the rejected looks on my hosts’ faces, when I say I won’t be partaking in their sugary delight. And that’s hard for me. Really hard. So much so, that there have been times that I decided to just go ahead and eat the sugary offering so as not to cause my host any distress.
I feel it, though.
I’ve been off of sugar for almost a year. I can tell when I’ve eaten sugar now. My stomach aches. My body goes ‘blaaah.’ I just don’t feel that well.
As you may know, sugary foods are often inflammatory to the body. In fact, foods that contain refined sugar are some of the most inflammatory to our health. Sugar suppresses the ability and effectiveness of our white blood cells to kill harmful germs. Refined sugar weakens our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to disease. And of course, sugar causes our blood sugar levels to spike and to crash. In addition, growing research is linking sugar with mood disorders and depression. I’m not telling you that sugar consumption causes depression. Rather, sugar may contribute to it. According to a 2017 study, the over-consumption of sugar has the potential to cause an imbalance in brain chemicals which increase the outcome of depression and anxiety-related disorders. Dopamine – the neurotransmitter that fuels the brains reward system – is affected by excessive sugar amounts.
But who wants to hear that when they are presenting you the gift of their time, energy, skill, and love with their amazing desserts?
However, in my husband’s case, he really, really, really cannot eat meat. There is no choice in the matter. His health depends upon it. This is why we chose to live in South Africa. There is an amazing amount of fruits and vegetables that are available here. He can eat without issue. Nearly everyone in our sphere of influence knows and understands the reason behind his meat abstention. It’s a non-discussion point now – for the most part.
I think this is where I am heading with sugar.
After a whole year of abstaining from sugar as much as I can, and experiencing a year of great health and a steady and strong mood, why would I want to go back to consuming glucose-containing sugar on a regular basis?
In addition, one of the reasons I chose to stop eating refined sugar was because I knew I was relying upon it for self-comfort and emotional support. I wasn’t going to my God for help, guidance, or care. In order to make a heart and soul change and to have that heart and soul change – stick – I knew I needed to have a lengthy time away from sugar. That’s why I initially chose one year of sugar abstention.
Of course, my no-sugar decision will remain a discussion point. However, like John, my resolution to abstain from sugar stems from a long-term health decision and not just personal choice. Depression is prevalent in my family. Anxiety disorders, too. Gratefully, I am not experiencing either condition and I don’t want to – ever. I also know that my body is negatively affected by glucose-containing sugar after removing sugar from my diet. These reasons alone substantiate my decision to remain sugar-free as much as I can. And another significant reason to remain sugar-free is for my children. As many of you know, two of our children are autistic.
For Jake and Caleb, I need to live as long as I can to support and assist them in becoming independent and strong. Staying off of sugar contributes to my goal of a long, healthy life and being present in their lives.
My decision will remain a discussion point, I’m sure. Food matters to people. Big-time.
Yet, our health matters even more. For me, my decision to abstain glucose-containing sugar has evolved into a permanent health resolution.
I needed this year to figure that out – and, yes – it’s okay to talk about it.
I’d love to hear from any of you who also went sugar-free this year – for all or part of the time. What have you learned?