My Year Without Sugar

Hayley staley Gelato-1

It’s been a whole year since I gave up sugar for good.

I have always had a pretty big sweet tooth, so I never imagined I’d be able to give up sugar for this long, but it was surprisingly easy for me, and I really don’t miss it most days! It’s amazing how fast a year goes by, and how much can change in one year. Many of you know that I was recently diagnosed with Mold Toxicity and Chronic Lyme Disease. I significantly changed my diet 6 months before my diagnosis, but why?

I started showing signs of something being off with my body years ago. Things started slowly going down hill when Bill and I first moved into our own place together, right around the release of our first cookbook, Make it Paleo. I put on a lot of weight as soon as we moved into that house, got really depressed, and suffered from significantly slowed GI function, but didn’t actually realize it was a big problem. From there I thought I had thyroid stuff going on. Depression lessened, weight started coming off, but severe hypochondria and paranoia started picking up. I developed severe night sweats, heart palpitations, and thought any reaction I had to anything was Cancer. My brain just wouldn’t shut of, and I had no clue why. I now realize that the house we lived in was moldy, since it had a sump pump in the basement, and significant sewer problems, which caused it to flood at least 2 times when we lived there. It was a nightmare. I do think I’ve had Lyme my entire life because I’m one of 4 people on my mom’s side who is clinically diagnosed, so I know there are more family members with it. It’s not uncommon to see a family with many people all having Lyme. I do think I may have gotten bitten again when we lived in the moldy house. Our yard was infested with nymph ticks, and we did a lot of gardening. We live in Pittsburgh, and there are ticks everywhere here. Most of them are the size of a period at the end of your sentence, so you can get bitten and never know it. Pretty disturbing.

Then we moved, and got married. I had a massive, frightening panic attack at our rehearsal, and chalked it up to just wedding stress, and not really feeling comfortable being the center of attention. Things were still off with me after the wedding. My appetite had changed. I would get nauseated when I was eating, which would then make me panic at meal time. Bill’s 30th birthday rolled around, and I stopped being able to eat all together. I knew something was really wrong, and it was very frightening.

I’m not sure how many times I can rehash that whole story on this blog, so we will just fast forward to last fall. By that point I found out that I had MTHFR, a very common polymorphism (1 out of 2 people have it- and in our house, 2 out of 2 people have it). Even if you do not have the MTHFR SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), you will have other SNP’s in the methylation cycle which affects every single function in the body. Don’t think you are in the clear, just because you don’t have one of the MTHFR SNP’s. Optimizing methylation is key to lifelong health, and very important. I just so happen to be one of the “lucky ones” who are homozygous for the 677 SNP, which has the most significant negative affect on methylation. Yay me!

After some reading, I found out that people with methylation defects cannot detoxify well on their own, and often have a build up of heavy metals in their body. Since my main goal at that point was healing my body and brain so we could start a family, I was off to do some heavy metal testing. I knew that metals can cause very serious mood issues, and they aren’t something you want in your body when you are pregnant. The doctor I went to see for metals wasn’t too concerned with my heavy metal test results, but he did see something on my lab work that made him think that I had a significant yeast overgrowth, and put me on a strict candida cleanse with prescription antifungals as a test to see what would happen. He said that if it were an issue I would experience die off reactions, and if it weren’t nothing would happen from taking the antifungals. Well let me tell you that SOMETHING HAPPENED.

As soon as I started taking supplements for MTHFR and detox, and went on the antifungals, I had my first experience of severe herx* reactions from a flood of toxins entering my bloodstream, something I am all too familiar with now. (*A Herxheimer Reaction is an immune system reaction to the toxins (endotoxins) that are released when large amounts of pathogens are being killed off, and the body does not eliminate the toxins quickly enough.) I was detoxing faster than my body could handle, reabsorbing the toxins, and feeling like complete HELL. The anxiety I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced (up to that point, at least). My appetite was completely gone. I was nauseated a lot. I had detox headaches like crazy, and I looked about 4 months pregnant. Typically when you do a detox it gets worse before it gets better. I never got better.

So how did my year without sugar start?

Anybody who knows me, knows that I am a very good patient. When I am told something is wrong, I want to fix it, and I will do whatever it takes (within my comfort zone). I had Candida, so sugar was out. Carbs were out. I was on a full Candida diet, because I wanted my health back as soon as possible. At that point I wasn’t eating a ton of sugar, but I was having a full bottle of kombucha daily, and I would have a treat when I craved one. I probably did eat all the cookies Juli made when she was visiting on her first trip to do the photos for her new cookbook, so maybe I was eating more sugar at times than I thought.

Many of you know that I never got better from doing a Candida cleanse. I only got worse, which resulted in the biggest health crash of my life when we tried to go on tour for our most recent cookbook, Make it Paleo 2. It was the most frightening time of my life, and something I hope to never have to experience ever again. I have since stayed off of sugar, because after trying it a couple times, I found that when I eat it I get bloated, my heart races, and I panic. Not exactly worth it, in my opinion. Most days I don’t miss it. Also, when I say sugar, I don’t just mean white sugar. I mean Paleo treats sweetened with maple syrup and honey as well.

I do eat some fruit, but not a ton. And I make sure that I get in starchy carbs at almost every meal. I wish I could say that eliminating sugar from my diet was a cure-all, and I have boundless energy and abundant health now, and I’m always happy and never stressed. I am not any of those things, yet. I do know that being off of sugar is important to my healing, and hope that it is a big contributing factor to my health in the future, so there is no sugar on my menu any time soon.

I am working with two doctors to heal from Lyme. My LLMD, Dr. Nori Onishi, who is the wonderful person who heard my symptoms and tested me for two things I didn’t think I had (mold and Lyme). He already put me on a mold protocol, which has been successful so far, and definitely helped me to feel a little better. I pretty much owe everything to this doctor, even though getting this diagnosis feels like a blessing and a curse sometimes. I know it’s a blessing. Dr. Onishi only sees patients in person, so If you are local to SW Pennsylvania, I highly recommend him.

The other doctor I am working with is Dr. Tim Jackson. Dr. Tim has Lyme, and had mold previously, and he’s been through all of this himself. He is a methylation guru, and he is helping me heal my gut, lower inflammation, optimize methylation, and get my detox pathways moving. Dr. Tim is brilliant, very kind, and genuinely wants to see people get well. He works remotely, so he treats people all over the world, and is a great option if you do not have a doctor near you, or need extra support with methylation or detox to compliment your current doctor, like me.

So now that I have a proper diagnosis, things are at least going in the right direction. Lyme is very tricky, and very scary. Pretty much my entire life has been ripped from my hands, and shattered on the ground. Now I have to find all of the tiny pieces and put them back together again. Most days I don’t feel anything like myself, I don’t recognize myself, and sometimes the conversations I have with Bill about what life is like right now feels like a dream. Am I really saying all of these things? Is this really my life? How the heck did I get here? Some days, it feels very permanent, and absolutely impossible.

I told a friend of mine recently that going through this, I constantly feel like I am getting better and worse at the same time, and that I feel like I am digging in dry sand. I keep digging and digging, and sand keeps filling up my hole, so I get somewhere and nowhere at the same time. At this point I can’t imagine ever being able to have children, which is what I wanted more than anything. My main goal now, is just getting my health and my life back. Never in my life could I have imagined that I would ever experience pain this profound. I will just say, don’t ever take for granted the ability to do things like go into the grocery store, watch TV, or spend time with friends. The next time you are upset that you have to go food shopping, remember that there is someone who desperately wishes that they could go food shopping. Be grateful. And if you love food shopping like me, take a moment the next time you walk through Whole Foods, and be present and grateful you are there.

Now, without getting too Debbie Downer, I will say, healing is possible. I have full confidence in my practitioners. As I have seen, a lot can happen in one year, and I can’t wait to look back on this year as a completely different person for the better. Who knows, maybe I will be eating sugar again? Or maybe not.





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    1. shea1417
      October 5, 2015

      Thinking a lot about you and sending positive thoughts a prayers! I am in your shoes and my heart goes out to all of us on this healing journey. You are helping so many people by sharing your experiences. From someone suffering from these issues as well, thank you!

    2. EvelynBreanne
      October 7, 2015

      I know it must be difficult sharing your experience with illness so thank you for doing it! My health took a nosedive a few years ago and I’m still in the diagnostic stage. My new naturopath does however suspect mold exposure. I am so sorry you have to go through all of this pain and the long road to recovery, but you give me hope and I don’t feel so alone in this healthy paleo world. Sending positive thoughts your way and I hope you feel better every day.

    3. jzacharias
      October 7, 2015

      I’m so sorry you have had all of that going on. I’m the first one to advocate for optimal nutrition and fitness to heal ailments and chronic conditions, but I have also been learning about healing our connective tissue which isn’t necessarily addressed through nutrition and fitness. The MELT Method helps to heal the connective tissue for which most other ailments can be alleviated if that is healthy. It might be something to look into and try since it can affect autoimmune conditions. You could find an instructor close to you or order the kit. http://www.meltmethod.com

      1. October 9, 2015

        Thanks so much! I ordered the MELT kit. Looking forward to trying it.


    4. jzacharias
      October 7, 2015

      I can’t imagine everything you have been experiencing. I am so motivated now with my own efforts knowing you have gone a year without sugar as part of your healing. I frequent your site for recipe ideas and this post caught my attention. I’m the first to try to address any chronic condition or ailment holistically through nutrition and fitness. However, I’m also learning more about how numerous neurological and autoimmune conditions are affected by how healthy your connective tissue is. I recently discovered a therapy called MELT that has been around for 15 yrs and can vouch that it does work when all other treatments have failed etc.. Check out http://www.meltmethod.com to find an instructor in your area etc. Also, I have heard about a clinic in Tampa that has had tremendous success with treating Lyme, mold toxicity, and numerous other disorders that are related as a result to it. It is the Sponaugle Wellness Institute at http://sponauglewellness.com. I wish you the best of luck as you continue your journey of healing!

    5. juliejohnson348
      October 7, 2015

      Thank you for sharing Hayley. I can relate to everything you have been going through. I am 28 and have been diagnosed with SIBO, candida, extremely low estrogen and progesterone, methylation, and mold toxicity. We are testing for lyme. I have been having chronic issues for almost five years. I am a teacher and functioning at my job on a daily bases often seems impossible. I know the anxiety, meltdowns, and depression all too well. I am also seeing two functional medicine practitioners (Sr. Schweig who is Chris Kresser’s partner at the clinic in Berkeley and a local practitioner here in Chico, CA. I have been on my protocols since June and haven’t been feeling too much relief. Everything you wrote in this post felt as if I was writing it myself. I would love to just go hangout with friends and just feel happy. I would simply love to just be me, pre-diagnoses. My heart is with you and please know you are not alone. I know that doesn’t help too much, but your positivity and seeing you and Bill conquer this together is helping me each and everyday. You are a true inspiration. Sending you all the love and best wishes.

    6. tiffy1205
      October 10, 2015

      I am in tears as I am typing this. My heart goes out to you, to all of us! Reading what you have been going through was like reading about myself!! I have felt unwell for well over 20 years, and I am only 33. But it is only in the last 3 or so years that I am FINALLY getting to the root of what is going on. After working with many, many conventional and then natural and holistic practitioners. I too am homozygous for the MTHFR SNP (diagnosed almost 3 years ago), have Chronic Lyme (diagnosed last November, one week after having a miscarriage) and have had anxiety, panic, and depression as some of my top symptoms. I also have had major digestive, hormonal, and fatigue issues since I was a teenager. I now have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and suspect I have Mold issues as well. Everything you said about healing and living life in this condition is right on! I wish we could be friends in real life because finding people who really understand what it’s like just “don’t exist”!! Even through all of the HELL, I know I am getting well, and I know you will too! Thank you for sharing your story and giving a voice to those of us that are suffering in this way, and letting us know we are not alone. I will be praying for you!!

      Just in case it might be helpful for you…take a look at http://www.dnrsystem.com. I have recently learned about this healing protocol and am pretty impressed and intend to pursue it.

    7. lilyp1776
      October 26, 2015


      I usually don’t comment on blogs but hope this suggestion helps you further…. I don’t have any of the symptomatology you have but I do have neuroinflammation, and its bad. I wont get into it but its what led me to your book and Paleo. However much Paleo, quitting gluten, and supporting my liver helped, I still had neuroinflammation, and only recovered about 50%. So then I quit sugar, that helped at first, but then it didn’t, I regressed a bit. Depressed and confused I read and researched medically more and more. I tried the Paleo autoimmune protocol and it didn’t help…then I read Elane Godshells book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle,” which thereafter lead me to a recipe book I highly recommend called “The Heal Your Gut Cookbook” by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett. It was here that I additionally quit starches and went to my own modified version of SCD/GAPS/Paleo. The difference in cutting out sweet potatoes, arrowroot and tapioca, plantains and other starches was HUGE. I went through die off and a really bad case of a herxheimer reaction initially when I quit sugar and tried to kill all the candida from my system. You should see the photos of my arms and legs, brutal. But I never expected to go through a second die off a year later, after already quitting sugar, just from removing starches!!!! In my modified diet, the focus is on healing my gut and re-inoculate my GI with good bacteria, so I don’t eat any sugar, fruit, starches, nightshades (although I have a tomato occasionally), and for now nuts (while my GI heals…then again I don’t eat sweets so its easy to do this since I use nuts mostly with baking), and I don’t do any dairy or legumes thats allowed with SCD. I added coconut yogurt from Tula’s Cocoyo so I get good probiotic bacteria, along with Oregon Brineoworks fermented pickles, and take VSL#3. I mainly eat organic eggs, chicken (and chicken livers, I’ve learned to like them), organic vegetables, and wild caught fish, and coconut everything (I can recommend a million recipes with just coconut to make breads etc, there is one in the book above I recommend). Its not as restrictive as it sounds, again the heal your gut cookbook is great. I exercise 5 days a week and do not need starches or “carbs” in the way the standard american diet thinks of them to get by. You can eat squash, and buttercup has become my favorite. I have made huge strides mentally since the additional removal of starches and the intense focus on probiotics and liver support. I am still recovering, but it turns out the bateria in your gut turn to starches when sugar is removed. Its not just sugar its about removing disaccharide’s which your body cannot cleave because it’s flora is compromised. When the disaccharides are not broken down and get released into the blood stream they reek havoc on your brain causing anxiety, paranoia etc etc, you have to get rid of the starch!. This is explained in “Breaking the Vicious Cycle.” I have read many commenter doing SCD also who have lyme which is why I comment and suggest you look into it. For me my brain finally feels like it is working again and I cannot tell you how excited I am, but I still have leaps and bounds to go. I too could not leave the house for almost a year! Now I go out all the time. So I hope this may help you because you write that you still eat starches at every meal, so maybe try cutting them out for at least 2-3 months and see what happens, it can’t hurt. Its not just the candida, its the overgrowth of bad bacteria period. If you can cut out sugar for a year, cutting out starches should be easy! They say you need to do this for about 2 years to get your microflora back on track. There are several books that talk about gut microflora and how retraining it based on what food you put into your body while healing your GI is critical. The brain and gut are interconnected. I could go on and on but I wont bore you. But when you talk about anxiety, and other neurological symptoms, think gut, and think flora. You’re doing everything you can and thats great, you should be so proud because people really do not understand how hard it is day in and day out, but if I had to throw in a suggestion get rid of the starches!!!!!!

      Hope that helps and hang in there, you’re a tough one if you made it this far!!!!!

    8. October 26, 2015

      Thank you for sharing all of that with me! I went without any starch, fruit, or sugar last october-december, and was told to add it back in for my adrenals. I am getting some GI testing back soon, as well as doing a SIBO test, and I was going to wait for those results to see if starch needs to come out of my diet again. I did feel like I felt better from adding it back in, so it is definitely tricky, but I appreciate you sharing that with me, and I’m really happy that it has helped you!

    9. November 6, 2015

      You are lucky in that you have doctors who recognize the problems you’re having and are working to get you the right treatment. You also have Bill there as a partner to help you through this. While I was never as bad off as you have been, I had my share of issues from being undiagnosed with gluten intolerance and leaky gut and being unfortunate enough to live in a time when the SAD way of eating was the undisputed king of dietary advice. Ever since my late twenties, I’ve struggled, just barely able to get by. As a result, I felt like crap and didn’t have the energy to invest in a relationship. My family lives a couple thousand miles away so I was totally on my own. I found myself withdrawing from people and social situations. I made no effort to engage with others. I’m now in my 50’s, single, never married and no children. I realized somewhere along the way that I was too broken to manage doing those things that I had always assumed I would do, like get married and have kids. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve started to find my way towards a healthier existence. For me, help came too late to have the kind of life I imagined when I was younger.I am just trying to not end up with the host of health issues my mother is now experiencing. She’s been on medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease for decades, not to mention countless trips to the emergency room and stays in the hospital. She’s 86 and has given up on life. I don’t want to be in her shoes 30 years from now. I want to be someone that is vital and enjoys living. It’s taking time, but I feel like I’m making progress towards that goal.

    10. PatriziaMarcano
      August 23, 2018

      Thank you for sharing this!

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