It was February when I had the opportunity to meet Sara Connell. I got her name from Jennifer Vimbor, the nutritionist that I'd consulted at the beginning of this project. Like me, Sara had given up foods with added sugar. Unlike me, who had been committed to this regimen for barely over a month, Sara had been avoiding sugar for over ten years.
"She's lovely," Jennifer assured me, "And she's so good about talking about her experience;
it's worked out really well for her."
All well and good, but I was still nervous. Admittedly I was feeling irrationally competitive about it all; the idea of giving up sugar isn't a new one, after all, and I operate under the ongoing anxiety that I'm just going over ground that someone else has already covered and covered more effectively. But I needn't have worried about Sara, and once I met her in person this became immediately clear.
Sara Connell is small and bright. Her hands are slim but her handshake is firm. By trade she is a life coach a writer, and a speaker specializing in women's health and empowerment, but for all this she is very down to earth. It's a tricky line to walk between helping women connect the spiritual nature of their lives and not being all touchy-feely about it, but she walks it with apparent ease.
At our first meeting I bring the camera, but I don't shoot anything. We discuss her experience of being sugar-free; how it has changed her relationship with food and life in general. We talk about her current project, a memoir in the beginning stages of being edited for publication. I ask her all the questions I can think of relating to a sugarless existence: how does she celebrate birthdays? Does she still diet, since she already restricts sugar intake? How did she get started? When I run out of questions we go our schedule a time to meet again to actually shoot the interview and we go our separate ways. Having asked all my questions in advance gives me the advantage of knowing what the answers are in advance. From this I am able to make up a coherent series of questions that lead into one another for the actual shoot.
Sara's story goes something like this: she got her start in the advertising business working with Leo Burnett in Chicago. In an industry such as advertising tension levels tend to run high and, like the rest of us, she found that the higher the stress the greater the impulse to reach for treats; especially sugary ones.
"But it wasn't just a few pieces of candy or a serving of ice cream." She emphasizes. "It was big bags of it- or the whole carton of ice cream."
When she realized her overall relationship with food was out of hand she consulted with a nutritionist who recommended that she give up added sugars and refined flour for a period of time. She also recommended Overeaters Anonymous, a twelve step program for individuals struggling with food related disorders based on the Alcoholics Anonymous structure. At first Sara was skeptical:
"I didn't think I was addicted to anything; I didn't realize that you could become addicted to certain foods."
But her attitude changed once she committed to doing without the sweet stuff. In the beginning she avoided added sugar, sweeteners including honey, and refined white flour. After a period of intense craving she found that she acclimated to her new eating pattern and didn't really miss the foods she'd once overindulged on. In fact, in later years when she stopped questioning every waiter about every ingredient in every dish she encountered sugar in the form of a vinaigrette salad dressing.
"I had a physical response almost right away." She described it. "I suddenly wanted to eat more- a lot more of everything all at once. My face got all flushed and I started getting these hive-y spots on my skin. My husband noticed and asked if I was all right; we asked the waiter if there was sugar in the salad dressing and it turned out there was and I was having a reaction to it. I drank a bunch of water and it went away after a little while."
It's no surprise that she often describes her reaction to sugar as an "allergy", though she admits that this makes it easy to tell whether food that is otherwise savory in flavor has been sweetened.
It might seem that someone who makes such a long term commitment to do without sugar would have a rather dim view of food in general, but Sara emphasizes that this isn't the case. She describes the foods that she does eat as tasting "amazing". She even goes so far as to say that all food tastes better to her now that flavor is a matter of more than just a matter of sweetness. And she never diets anymore, talk about liberating!
"It may not be the best path for everyone," She says. "But it was definitely the right one for me."
If you want to know more about Sara Connell, why not ask her herself? You can find her blog at http://web.mac.com/saraconnell1/SaraCaseyConnell/My_Blog/My_Blog.html