Anyone who decides to change their life and get healthy knows what it’s like to become obsessed about nutrition and fitness.
You think about it so often through out the day. You plan strategies and tactics to help you accomplish your goal from big things like planning and scheduling work outs, to little things like how you’ll deal with passing by the croissant tray or donut box in the office. You likely talk about it to your support system, update your social media and join new social networks to keep you on track.
I’ve got my own obsession that I’m working to put behind me: Sugar.
About three months ago I decided to do some self experimentation. I’d done so much homework and had reconsidered a lot of bad health “wisdom” I’d always thought was true and then concocted a plan of attack.
It was pretty straight forward plan:
- Eat as cleanly as possible avoiding potential “trigger” foods. I opted for the “Paleo” diet which is high protein and fat, low carb and omits all grain, legumes, added sugar, dairy, soy and most starches (these are common trigger foods).
- Every two weeks have a test meal to reintroduce only one of the potential trigger foods and monitor my specific reactions to these foods.
- At the end of my many weeks experimenting, assess my overall diet (as in what I eat, not a specific calorie restriction regimen) to refit it allowing for all the foods that are healthful and that don’t cause an intense reaction.
Like all good experiments I had a hypothesis. I had a hypothesis for every trigger food.
Wheat: pain & trouble digesting
Alcohol: pain, quicker tipsiness & day after GI discomfort
Legumes: (not testing – don’t enjoy all that much any way)
Sugar: pain, bloating, extra cravings & trouble digesting
Soy: (not testing – don’t eat it often enough to matter)
Oats: a-oh-k. Actually, I pray that this is the result.
Then, about a month or so ago, the Wall Street Journal came out with an article about “Elimination Diets.” I always thought “elimination” diets meant that you eliminated the bad stuff like sugar, chocolate and chicken wings. Turns out, I was doing a sort of elimination diet, in that I was avoiding foods not to be thin but because of their negative health impacts otherwise.
So far, I’ve tested wheat, alcohol, dairy and sugar. And here’s what I’ve learned.
Wheat: no real adverse effects – not immediately any way. I opted for a whole wheat croissant (mmmmmmmm) and I ate it with an otherwise “normal” meal for me with some sort of protein and veggies. I was seriously surprised that I didn’t feel anything right away and nothing too noticeable afterwards either. I didn’t even feel lethargic! So perhaps, occasional wheat is not a big deal for me to eat. The experiment will need to be repeated.
Alcohol: pain and day after GI discomfort. I can’t drink too much these days. Just two glasses of wine paired with a normal meal and I felt pain in my gut – not worth it. I might enjoy a single glass of wine every now and again, but on the whole, I can abstain. But any kind of sugary alcohol, like a cider, big, FAT “NO.”
Dairy: a little bit of GI sensation but really NBD. I’m glad that’s the case because I really enjoy cottage cheese. I’ll still eat dairy occasionally, but it’s nice to know I’m not that sensitive to it.
Sugar: pain, extra cravings & trouble digesting, and then some. My sugar test was to eat a small (fun-sized) pack of Skittles. I wanted something that was pure sugar, but more fun to eat than a sugar cube. I at them slowly over about 30 minutes. After 5 minutes – instant reflux! The after GI effect wasn’t that bad, but boy oh boy – the cravings. I started craving bread which I’d successfully ignored for weeks just fine.
But what was more is how sneaky and effective sugar is. A few days ago I stopped by Starbucks for one of their cool lime refreshers – so tasty! But apparently the 13 grams of sugar (more like 6.5 as I only got through about half if because the effects were that fast) was enough to cause major, major cravings that lasted for days. I was so surprised by this mainly because I didn’t intend to take in the sugar. Perhaps if I had, I would have anticipated and therefore mitigated the cravings. Really, it was stupid of me because I didn’t check the ingredients first.
Sugar, corn, soy and wheat creep in everywhere. They’re like the sleeper-agents of the food world.
I didn’t feel like cooking one evening and so stopped by Central Market for their prepared food section. Their turkey meat loaf looked particularly good, only they listed wheat and ketchup (a.k.a. sugar with some tomato) in the ingredients. Pass.
Could I have eaten the contaminated meat loaf and not suffered for it? Duh. Of course. The amounts of wheat and sugar were probably very minimal compared to the rest of the ingredients.
But let’s say that I had that dish, plus some fruit after dinner, and earlier that day I’d had a Starbucks Refresher, and a croissant? It all adds up and it’s when that tally grows that it starts to disrupt my body’s normal function.
Some might say, “well if you know where sugar is, and you’re careful about it, what’s wrong with eating it?”
My answer is “There are two things wrong with your premise to that question.”
A) Sugar hides. There are 50 common ingredients that are essentially sugar. So a) I don’t always know where sugar is.
B) I don’t want to have to be careful about it. With family, friends, a dog, a forty-five-plus hour work week, bills, reading, house hold projects, swing dancing, the World Cup …. there are so many other things I’d rather think about than the sugar in my food.
So I avoid sugar. I eat real food that has very little if any sugar in it and just stick with that. Much the easiest solution. Except that it’s the hardest thing to avoid because when it sneaks in, it’s like you’re chasing the dragon all over again!
To put an end to my obsession, I employ delayed gratification by planning when I can have lots of sugar and then balance that day with an other wise compliant diet. We’ll see if I can keep this up.