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On January first I started a 21-day no-junk food diet. I’d been threatening to starve my sweet tooth for weeks—having spent the holiday season high on sugar—so, when a Facebook friend threw out the challenge, I answered. But I knew that if I was going to do it well, I’d need help.
So I reached out to my friend, healthy eating expert and activist, Judy Lendsey. She’s seen some major transformations in her own life and in the lives of her clients through her nutrition and wellness work. Her passion stems from her own journey with cancer—and kissing sugar goodbye. Granted, Judy’s experience is her own, and while she’s not suggesting that laying off sweets is the cure for all that ails us, she offers lots of good food for thought.
We talked on topics ranging from sugar to smoothies, greens to the government, relationships, advertising, addiction, personal responsibility and more. By the time we were through, kicking the sugar habit was the least of my concerns.
What follows is the short version of our conversation. To hear the extended version, click on the podcast player above.
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What brought me to the work I do was a cancer diagnosis in 2001. I went through conventional treatment because I didn’t know what I didn’t know about my body, how I got cancer and how I participated in creating that environment in my body. I successfully completed conventional medicine and chemotherapy; it was not a fun experience—and I don’t know anybody who goes through it that enjoys it—but it led me to a place where I really took a hard look at myself and what I was doing to contribute this space inside my body—and out—that was so toxic.
I remember specifically sitting in the room where I was getting treatment. Next to the recliner was a hanging bag of fluids that were entering me through an IV. Some had medications and others were to hydrate me because I was so sick. I remember specifically sitting in that room thinking, What’s the difference between why I got cancer and that guy over there or that woman who got it—why are some of us going to make it and some of us not? It’s said that we’ve all got it somewhere in our bodies, but it really got me thinking about what I could do to eliminate it in my body. I know I participate through my fork, through my cleaning products, the products I put on my skin, what I wash my clothes or my floors with and anything like that. The whole experience really had an effect on me and made me look at the things I could change.
I participated in one of those Relays For Life, it was a cancer fundraising event. The first year I was asked to arrive early to what was called a ‘survivors’ walk’ and take a lap around the track with other survivors. I got there and we’d been fundraising and getting together having meetings prior to the thing—so there’d been some build up to the event beforehand. We wore different colored T-shirts so we’d stand out. I’m thinking there were going to be 200 of us survivors, but there were only eight. Eight people walking around this track. And that—it just took the breath out of me. I was thinking, Something is very, very wrong here. Why are there only eight of us? What is really going on here?
There were all these little luminaria bags set up around the track with the candles in them—they had notes to the loved ones who’d passed on—and I think I cried the whole way around the track. To think that we’d come to this.
That’s when I really started to read a lot of books and visit with people who recommended a lot of different things. Two of the most powerful things they said was that cancer can’t live in an alkaline environment—so I did my best to learn about what that was and how I’d been participating in that—and that cancer is a protein that feeds on sugar.
It didn’t take me long to hypothesize that I am the number one person who could control the amount of sugar I put in my mouth and that I could learn how to get on top of it. The thing about being diagnosed with cancer is that you don’t feel like you’re in control and you don’t feel like you have any options. You’re looking at someone else and you’re saying, What’s happening? Is it getting bigger? Smaller? Can we operate? You can have support and be in the best facility in the world, but you’re at a total disadvantage in terms of control of your options and opportunities.
When I heard these things, I thought, Well, if cancer can’t live in an alkaline environment, how could create an alkaline environment in my body? Through the foods I eat. Cancer is a protein that feeds on sugar and that tells me every time I eat sugar I was feeding the cancer. Well, I knew that’s not what I wanted to do, so it was a pretty simple thing to understand and learn and to know, to realize and embrace.
If you’re having an experience that you want to change or shift in any way, then that level of seriousness gets applied to how you move forward with the information.
I was in what I consider a life or death situation, so I was extremely intense and militant about enforcing it. People don’t have to be that intense unless they’re in a dire situation, but knowing these things helps people make changes.
There’s a chemical composition to sugar that’s almost identical to heroin; that’s how addictive it is. You are not walking around in control of your sugar; sugar is in control you. And when you get off of it, you go through physical and emotional withdrawal.
It’s no accident that every day at 2:30 people need something sweet, or after every meal. These things are common because they’re an addiction. It’s a very fine line because it’s social. We can hardly get together with it revolving around eating, and very rarely will there not be a sweet option or dessert or alcohol involved. I’m not bashing these things, but this is what is.
There’s that part of it and there’s the family and people around you saying, Come on, it won’t kill you… . There’s a lot to it and that’s why I teach people how to deal with those situations.
I read about some early settlers in the US who talked about agreements only being signed because they’d added sugar into the tea. The other countries weren’t using sugar yet and couldn’t come to the same kinds of agreements. I’m probably butchering the specifics here, but it’s fascinating.
Sugar and I have gotten to know each other well and there are issues in this country that go way, way back in time. When you opt out of sugar, you’re really taking a stand.
It was the moment on that track—me with those eight survivors—that made the decision for me.
Living alone, I was at a huge advantage for putting together programs for myself. I had the freedom to throw out anything that wasn’t going to help me. When I started this, I was really surprised to find that sugar is creeping in to places where it wasn’t before. It’s a cheap additive and it really isn’t that jam, or the peanut butter, or bread you love, it’s the sugar in it that hooks you and makes you come back to it again. And no company wants to sell a product that people won’t want to buy over and over again.
Healthy food gets a bad rap because people taste what it’s supposed to be—without all of the added chemicals, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics and sugar—and they don’t even recognize it in its natural state.
Celery, onions, carrots—those things are sweet, but you can’t taste it when you’re expecting Red Dye #72 or whatever. Some people might call what I did radical, but I’d say being violently ill is pretty radical too.
To me, cancer is all about change. It’s that tap on the shoulder telling you that where you’re living, what you’re doing is not where you’re supposed to be, and I see it a lot in people.
We are self-healing organisms. When we give our bodies what they need, they will heal.
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Judy Lendsey received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she studied more than one hundred dietary theories and a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. Drawing on this knowledge, she helps you create a completely personalized “roadmap to health” that suits your unique body, lifestyle, preferences, and goals. To learn more about her and her work, visit Judy at judylendsey.com and/or wellnesswithlove.com
Listen to our extended conversation by clicking the audio link above.
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