Balance

Having phenomenally over-scheduled myself in the month of June, I know that balance is something that my husband would love me to acquire. The never-ending whirl of activity and excitement that this month has been has exhausted me—and the activities that I should have looked forward to, began to devolve into just another chore that I had to endure.

Most of these activities were things that I had no control over, they just all happened to land in the same month. But they did cause me to reflect that if they had been spread out just a little more, each of them would have been more enjoyable. I could have given my full attention to the activity I was doing at the time, rather than keeping a corner of my brain busy planning for the next thing that I had to get ready for as soon as we got home.

Also, spending most of the month on the road made me realize that there needed to be some balance in my no-sugar diet as well. I figured, as I was munching on fast-food while driving through California, that there was no way that this was sugar-free. Somewhere in the bun, the meat, the condiments, the dressing, the salsa, the fries was all sorts of bad stuff—including sugar.

And yet, I didn’t have the time nor the facilities to avoid it.

“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We’ve got to forgive ourselves that. I must remember to forgive myself. Because there is a lot of grey to work with. No one can live in the light all the time.” Libby Bray

It was not practical for me to hold up the other cars in line behind me (not to mention trying the patience of the six other people in the van with me) while I yelled through the static-y drive-up order microphone to grill the teenager on the other end about whether something on their mile-long menu had sugar in it. So I made my peace with finding the balance between making the trip work in a timely (and comfortable) fashion and avoiding the obvious sources of sugar (sodas, shakes, ketchup, etc.).

Did some sugar slip in? Probably. Did my husband want to strangle me? Probably (but for things other than being unreasonable about no-sugar!).

When I’m home or in an environment that I can control, I’m merciless with myself (I would kill to have a smear of mayonnaise or some ranch on a salad). But when I’ve got a 15 hour drive with five kids ahead of me, balance is found and sanity is preserved.

Now, on to my next busy week away from home. (Hey, I’m a slow learner!)

“It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.” Henri Poincare

Week 10, out!

Veggie Math

Math is funny. Sometimes numbers have absolutely no meaning to me. (My husband, who is a math genius, doesn’t think this is very funny). Other times, turning a situation into numbers suddenly makes everything clear. Doing veggie math was one of those “other” times.

Imagine that you want to feed your family two servings of fruit a day. And, for the sake of simplicity, let’s have both of those servings be small apples. So, for my family of seven, I would need 14 small apples each day. Which means, at my weekly trip to the grocery store, I would need to buy 98 small apples. Can you believe that?! 98 apples a week! I would buy Smith’s out of apples! And that’s not to mention the 6-8 servings of vegetables each person is supposed to eat per day. The math for that boggles the mind (and the pocketbook)!

When my sister pointed this math out to me, I was stunned! I thought I did pretty good. We always have apples and other fruits hanging around, I usually remember to cook some vegetables for dinner. We like to eat salads. But 98 apples?! I don’t have anywhere near that much produce in my fridge. I don’t think my fridge is big enough!

Only 27% of adults in the US are eating their recommended number of servings of vegetables per day. Teenagers are worse. There are lots of reasons: the time, cost, convenience, and the creativity to think of more than salads and cans of green beans.

So what is a serving? For most chopped fruits and veggies, ½ cup is considered a serving. For whole pieces of fruits and veggies, a small piece or half of a large piece is a serving size. For leafy greens, you need a whole cup for a serving. For those not so interested in measuring things or keeping track of what you’ve eaten all day, ½ of every plate or bowl you eat should be covered in a variety of produce.

And variety is very important! Each fruit or veggie has its own unique blend of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. To get everything your body needs to be healthy, you should be eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, usually broken down by color. My Plate (the new food pyramid, for those older than my children) recommends the following variety of vegetables per week (for adults): dark greens – 1 ½ to 2 cups; red and orange – 5 ½ to 6 cups; beans and peas – 1 ½ to 2 cups; starchy vegetables – 5 to 6 cups; and other vegetables – 4 to 5 cups.

So how do you eat so many fruits and vegetables every day? How do you stay creative with your meals? How do you eat on the run and still get your full complement of produce?

I don’t know! I’ve never done it! But this month – month 2 of my no-sugar year – is all about finding the answers to those questions. This month, in addition to abstaining from sugar, I am going to eat 8 servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day (or at least I’m going to try!) Anyone interested in joining me or sharing their veggie-rich recipes would be welcome.

Week 5 out!

Surprises

I have been sugar free for a month now. Yay me! In that amount of time I’ve discovered a few unexpected surprises:

My face cleared up – I had clear skin all through those rough teenage years only to move to Georgia and have the hot, humid air do something to my skin. I still have some redness, but the mild case of acne that I’ve had since my mid-twenties has disappeared. Loving it!

Regularity reigns supreme – seems odd to discuss bowel movements with the world, but it has been one of the quiet surprises of going sugar-free. If you’re worried about the health of your digestive system, I recommend this as a first step. No one wants to have serious (not to mention awkward) issues with the end of their gastrointestinal tract. Speaking of the end result, urine smells different. Just saying.

No weight loss – I’ve got say, I was really looking forward to some progress in this area. Instead, all I’ve got is a big fat 0 pounds lost. (Pun intended) The difference in calories I’m consuming—not just the quantity but the quality as well—has been astounding. So why am I not seeing it on the scale? Huge downer.

Things taste different – this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It’s true, fruits and veggies taste sweeter than they did before (I knew that was going to happen). But other things taste different. My family eats what I fixed for dinner and loves it—I pick over it because I think it’s gross. And since it’s something that was always sugar-free, I’m not sure why it tastes different now.

I fall right to sleep – this has been kind of a fun discovery. 10:00-10:30 rolls around, my blinks start lasting a little longer. Dave and I play WordBrain after we’ve gotten ready for the night and he often finishes the puzzle without me since I’ve fallen asleep. No more tossing and turning, unable to shut my brain off. I just close my eyes and I’m out.

Extra energy? – nope. I don’t wake up in the morning bright-eyed, and I haven’t found a well-spring of energy bubbling somewhere inside of me. In all fairness, sugar-free or not, I still have to lug around 100 extra pounds, so I imagine someone far healthier than I would probably have extra energy.

Still in pain – I’m thinking back over my month and I’m wondering if I’ve had any headaches since that first week. I don’t think I have. But my hopes that this would help with my Marine Corps back injury or my other back ailment has not happened. No-sugar is not the cure for everything.

No more munchies – I no longer haunt my kitchen feeling peckish. I’m either hungry or I’m not. When I’m hungry, I eat a meal. Otherwise, I’m satisfied.

That’s it for me. Some good things and some bad things, just like the rest of life. Funny how opposition keep turning up.

Stupid opposition.

Week 4 out!

Once Upon A Time…

Sugar, the wicked stepmother of the food industry, has an interesting history—playing such starring roles as a political power, a royal delicacy, and, most recently, a billion dollar industry. Ever wonder how sugar came to be in everything? When did it become so popular? How did it become a staple of the American diet? Here is a short history of the white crystal that I have condensed from the book, “Sugar Blues” by William Duffy. While it is obviously biased against sugar, and you might roll your eyes at some of his claims, it’s interesting to consider the beginning of something as pedestrian as sugar and the waves that it made when it first entered the history books.

The History of Sugar, according to William Duffy

Part 1

From the Garden of Eden through thousands of years, what we call sugar was unknown to man. He evolved and survived without it. Simply falling asleep and never waking up was the normal way to die—many of the diseases we have today did not exist. When sugar does make an appearance in the history books, no one knew what to call it. “Sweet cane,” “a kind of honey” growing in canes or reeds, “Indian salt,” or “honey without bees.” It was used like honey, as a medicine. It was a Roman writer of Nero’s time that recorded its Latin name, saccharum.

The Persian Empire’s school of medicine and pharmacology is credited with developing the process for solidifying and refining the juice of the cane into solid form sometime after 600 A.D. A piece of saccharum, or khanda (the Sanskrit word that later became the English “candy”), was considered a rare and precious miracle drug.

When Islam conquered the Persian Empire, and set out to subjugate the whole world, they took sugar cane with them—it was easier to bring cuttings of the plants and grow them in their new territories than to import the end product. These Arabs are probably the first conquerors in history to have produced enough sugar to furnish both courts and troops with candy and sugared drinks.

One European botanist of the time, Leonhard Rauwolf, said this of them:

“The Turks and Moors cut off one piece [of sugar] after another and so chew and eat them openly everywhere in the street without shame… in this way [they] accustom themselves to gluttony and are no longer the intrepid fighters they had formerly been…. [They] are no more so free and courageous to go against their enemies to fight as they had been in former ages.”

Personal aside: Did this “gluttony” of sugar contribute to the decline of the Arab Empire? They had made great strides in science, math, astronomy, and manufacturing. Then it all seemed to fail. It is interesting to see that this Empire, the first to be able to give sugar to the masses, was also the first to make huge strides in medicine and surgery. Could it be because they were the first group who needed such strides due to their sugar consumption?

During the Crusades, Europeans discovered their sweet tooth on the way to wrest the Holy Land from the infidels. Sugar became the stuff of politics. Men would sell their very souls for it. A century after the last Crusade, appeals were made to fight the Arabs again. Pope Clement V sent a position paper, outlining his sugar strategy to bring the Saracens to heel.

“In the land of the Sultan, sugar grows in great quantities and from it the Sultans draw large incomes and taxes. If the Christians could seize these lands, great injury would be inflicted on the Sultan and at the same time, Christendom would be wholly supplied from Cyprus. Sugar is also grown in the Morea, Malta, and Sicily, and it would grow in other Christian lands if cultivated there. As regards [to] Christendom no harm would follow.”

What followed, instead, was seven centuries in which the seven deadly sins flourished across the seven seas, leaving a trail of slavery, genocide, and organized crime. British Historian, Noel Deerr, says flatly: “It will be no exaggeration to put the tale and toll of the Slave Trade at 20 million Africans, of which two-thirds are to be charged against sugar.”

We’ll leave the history of sugar here for now—just as the Europeans got their hands on the sticky stuff. I’ll cover more in Part 2 sometime in the future. For now, stay strong.

Week 3, out!

The Lord’s Law of Health

Anyone who has been paying attention to the weight loss/healthy body conversation for the last few decades (and even some who have not!) has heard so many conflicting reports about what they should do to shed those last 10 pounds or find the energy of their youth or have their “best body ever.” Here are a few “for-sure” things that I’ve heard, and a few that I’ve tried myself:

  • Atkins Diet – a focus on protein and fat with the exclusion of carbs     vs.
  • Low Fat Diet – if you don’t put fat into your body, your body won’t be fat, right?

 

  • Paleo – focusing on eating what primitive man ate before he learned to farm and domesticate animals. Bonus: no Indominus-Rex trying to eat you     vs.
  • Man-made sugars and fats – no-calorie sweeteners, Olean (a fat your body can’t process)… man has made huge strides in every other field, why not in improving our food?

 

  • Blood Type Diet – eat (or avoid) certain foods depending on your blood type     vs.
  • The Zone Diet – eating specific percentages of macronutrients to balance your diet for your body type

 

  • Limited Food Diets – this includes the Cabbage Soup Diet where all you can eat is cabbage soup for a week, or other diets like the tuna fish/peanut butter diet and liquid diets… promoting fast weight loss that may (but probably not) stay off     vs.
  • Grazing Diet – eat every 3 hours to keep your metabolism burning hot

 

  • Shangri-La Diet – where you drink olive oil and sugar water between meals to train your mind to not associate flavor with calories (what?!)     vs.
  • Eat Like a French Woman – because there are apparently no over-weight French women, they all have a healthy relationship with their food and never over-indulge (except in feelings of superiority)

 

With all this confusion amongst the professionals in this field, how are we (the lay man) ever to know what we should be putting into our bodies? What is our for-sure thing?

Probably most people know about the Mormons’ code of health, called the Word of Wisdom. This is the commandment from Heavenly Father to not drink alcohol, tea or coffee, or take drugs or other harmful things into your body. Whether you agree with or live these things in your own life, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints promises to go without these things when they are baptized.

These “do not do” things are one of the most well-known things about the Mormons. I’m especially grateful for growing up with these safety guidelines in my life. I look at the problems I have with sugar and can only imagine how I might have abused alcohol or drugs if I hadn’t grown up knowing that the Lord didn’t want me to even try them.

But the Word of Wisdom is a lot more than just “thou shalt nots.” Even a lot of Mormons don’t know or live the rest of the Word of Wisdom. The majority of this revelation is recommendations from the God that designed and created our bodies for what we should do with them.

One of my LDS friends has a valid point when he says, “So, I can’t drink a cup of coffee in the morning, but I can eat a whole pound of bacon for breakfast?”

When I was in high school, I was an exchange student to The Netherlands – drug capital of Europe. Before I left, I was given the counsel to be careful with the Word of Wisdom. After living there a year and not drinking or doing drugs, I left feeling like I could put a check mark next to that box: done. It wasn’t until years later when I was struggling with my health that I realized that I had failed. I had focused on the things that I was prohibited from eating and assumed that it was enough. Instead, I was 100 pounds overweight, my husband was in a similar situation, and I was starting to see my children begin to have problems of their own. The counsel to obey the Word of Wisdom will never have a check next to it. It’s a life-long mission to treat my body with respect.

Here are a few highlights from the Word of Wisdom:

  • Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat meat sparingly
  • Exercise
  • Use wholesome herbs to heal your body
  • Eat whole grains

I’ll post more about this later, but I wanted to burst the myth that there isn’t a place to turn to calm the confusion that is our obsession with our health. Rather than continuing to jump from diet to diet looking for “the secret weight-loss ingredient” (thanks Dr. Phil for having something new for us each week to waste our money on, but no thanks), do an experiment: take a look at the Word of Wisdom and see what you can incorporate into your life. See how you feel. And if it’s good, pass it on.

Week 2, out!

Crashing From My High

I survived my first week of 100% no sugar! It was pretty miserable, I’m not going to lie. Not only was I going through sugar withdrawal, but I’m still sick from whatever illness has me in its grip.

Rugen

Here are some things I felt this week:

  • The sweats – I would routinely get super-hot and literally be drenched in sweat. My family had to put up with air conditioning in the already cold car, the ceiling fan blowing everything around the living room, and having me shed every bit of clothing I could modestly get away with.
  • The shakes – this was even more annoying. I would bundle up in every blanket we had, wear my hoodie (with the hood on!), put socks and slippers on my feet, and hunker down in the recliner (only my nose and chin were visible). My children would bring me juice or water, and I would unearth my shaking hand to take it from them. It was ridiculous!
  • A constant headache – I had a headache the whole week. It vacillated between pounding and nagging, but it was always there.
  • Exhaustion – my poor family basically hasn’t had a mother for seven days. Even when I wasn’t feeling absolutely awful, I struggled to find energy to do anything. I’ll admit that I’m still not firing on all cylinders, but I am getting better.
  • Moodiness – while I tried hard to be kind and patient, I could definitely feel myself wanting to snap at my children and husband. It’s hard to be gracious when you’re not feeling well. It’s even harder when your body is going without something that has been its “happiness crutch” for so long.

I’ve never done drugs or consumed alcohol—I’m not even a big soda drinker, and when I do drink soda, it’s a non-caffeinated variety—so I can’t personally compare these symptoms with withdrawal from other substances, though when I looked it up on some websites, they seem fairly similar. However, I hesitate to compare my boo hoo-ing over not eating sugar to what I imagine are far worse and long-lasting symptoms of breaking a drug addiction or being a recovering alcoholic.

Alex Caspero, MA, RD, says this about sugar addiction:
“…There are many studies that show our brain responds to sugar in a similar way that it does to illicit drugs. The problem is that we aren’t meant to enjoy sugars in such concentrated amounts. In nature, sugar is found surrounded by fiber, in sugar cane and fruits. It naturally comes in a container that produces a shorter blood sugar response and aids in fullness. Today’s sugars are refined and concentrated. The average American consumes anywhere from a ¼ to a ½ pound of sugar per day. Consuming sugar in these amounts can lead to similar symptoms of a drug addiction: dependence, cravings, and withdrawal. The good news is that we can adapt our taste buds to accept less sugar. Reducing sugar, especially concentrated sugars, not only limits the amount of sugars ingested but also makes less sweet foods seem sweeter.”
(http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug#4
Follow Alex on Twitter @delishknowledge.)

Having survived most of these post-acute withdrawal symptoms, I feel like I’ve made some good headway toward overcoming my addiction. Thanks for all your support and best wishes!

Week 1 out!