A Year Of No Sugar: Postscript 11

Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t exercise.

I should. I want to. But right now exercise is fitting into my life about as well as an elephant in my sock drawer. Instead I sit a lot, mostly at the computer, writing, writing, writing. (My finger muscles are very toned, thank you.)

Also, I snack. I eat when I am hungry- and quite honestly, I get hungry often. And I eat foods with fat: red meat, full-fat dairy products, butter and cheese.

According to conventional nutrition wisdom, I should be a prime candidate to be overweight… maybe even obese. So why is it that I am not? How many of us know people out there who don’t seem to follow any of the rules and they’re still thin anyway? What gives?

I am thinking about this because I just finished reading Gary Taubes article in Newsweek about HBO’s upcoming documentary “Weight of the Nation.” About a week ago I saw a trailer for the program and was heartened to see this desperately important topic making prime-time… until I realized, like Taubes did, that the experts in it were pushing “the same tired advice.”

“Eat less and exercise” and “fat makes you fat” are mantras that sounds so easy, so simple, that we all feel they must be true. However, they’re not true. As Taubes details in his article, Americans have been following this advice from the health experts for decades now- eating less meat, eating less fat, exercising more- and where has it gotten us? Fatter than ever before. The latest statistics predict 42% of Americans will be obese by 2030.

Not overweight, mind you. Obese. Clearly, there’s something wrong here.

Yesterday I volunteered at a local fundraising event and I was saddened and astounded at what I saw: a significant percentages of attendees were very, very overweight.

Many were encumbered to the point that it becomes hard to move around, hard to walk, hard to find clothing. I imagined the number of health problems that must have been represented at this event and I was deeply saddened. I felt these folks had, in some way, been let down by our health establishment.

I’m imagining the overweight person who, attempting to follow professional advice, cuts out fat, cuts down on red meat, and works out at the gym. And what are they presented with on the way back to the locker room? A juice bar or soda machine. Well, why not a little treat after such a good work-out? After all, it’s not red meat, it’s not fat, and I’ve exercised, (which makes one both thirstier and hungrier, while burning off relatively few calories.) After all, it’s just sugar…

Even if they choose a diet soda, there’s new evidence saying that may be just as bad for weight gain. It’s really no wonder that so many people just give up- they’re being given advice that does not work.

So, we need a new story, a new mantra. Could we replace “Eat Less and Exercise” with “Eat Good Food When You’re Hungry, Don’t Worry Too Much About Exercise, and Above All Just Cut Way Back On Sugar”?

Hmmmm. A little cumbersome.

How about “NO Sugar Sweetened Beverages”? Still a little long. “NO SSBs” is too cryptic (NO South Sea Bananas? NO Special Spaghetti Bowls? What?).

We could try “SODA KILLS!!!” but that’s a tad melodramatic, don’t you think? And anyway, people will say: “Well- ha ha-  I just drank an Adrenaline Attack and I’m, you know… not dead!” They’ll nit-pick us to death until we end up with something like: “SODA Significantly-Contributes-to-the-Resistance-to-Insulin,-Building-Up-of-Arterial-Plaque-and-Cancer-Friendly-Environments-in-Your-Body-Which-Degrades-Your-Quality-of-Life-for-Years-and-Years-Until-it-Eventually KILLS!!!” Try putting that on a bumper sticker.

We could go simple with “Shun Sugar.” That’s kinda catchy- but too general. Maybe we should just swipe a line from the guidelines put forth in David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison: “Rule Number One: Don’t Drink Sugar.” Hey- I kind of like that.

Rule Number One: Don’t Drink Sugar.” Why don’t we ditch “eat less and exercise more” in favor of this one? It’s worth a try.

It isn’t the answer to everything, of course, but if we could just follow that one rule, I’m betting we’d be in a whole lot better shape. Literally.

A Year Of No Sugar: Postscript 6

There’s been a good two and a half months distance now between the No Sugar project and us, and I think every day about what it all means… What were we trying to do with our year, exactly? Did we do it? Does that mean it’s “over”? What place does sugar have in our lives, if any?

Normally, I’m overly analytical anyway, but since January I’ve been pulling together what will be my book (insert trumpet call here!) about our Year of No Sugar, so consequently I’ve been doing an awful lot of backward looking and thinking, even as everyday we are moving farther and farther away from 2011. It’s kind of giving me vertigo.

Most fascinating to me is the wide variety of reactions to the end of our project from friends, acquaintances, and readers. Many people have said “Congratulations!” which is lovely, and many more seemed simply relieved that we aren’t doing “that sugar thing” anymore, just in case it might rub off on them or something. Half the people seem to expect us to now be on a permanent sugar binge in order to make up for lost time, while the other half seem to think we’re terrible hypocrites if we so much as pause to consider reading the dessert menu.

The fact is, for us it’s ever so much more complicated than “All Sugar All the Time!”or “No Sugar Never Ever!” My kids still want to get a dish of ice cream after dinner the way they always did. And me- selfish, guilty parent that I am- I often really want to give them that dish of ice cream as if it were a nice, compact serving of normality I could hand them, with a pretty cherry on top. “See!? We’re not so weird, after all!”

But, the thing is, we are weird. We were weird before- not eating at McDonalds and avoiding soda, and we’re weird now- avoiding juice and crap sugar food (donuts, cookies, free lollipops), as well as anything that’s sweetened when we know it needn’t be: dried fruit, chips, crackers, tomato sauces.We’ve become much, much more selective about the sugar we do consume- and in a culture like ours which is utterly saturated with sugar, that’s weird.

Then again, we’re much more mainstream than we were last year: we’ve stopped flipping out about things like orange juice in the salad dressing or sugar in the bread. We no longer give our waitress the Spanish Inquisition, which is nice for everybody. And anyway, after a year of questions, we also already know which items will have the sugar in them. Sometimes we have them, and sometimes we don’t.

I was also fascinated to find that for about the first six weeks of 2012, sugar actually didn’t taste good to me. It tasted saccharine, syrupy sweet, and usually resulted in a bad aftertaste as well as a rapid headache. This was a phenomenon I had particularly noticed toward the end of our No Sugar Year, when I had begun to enjoy our sacred monthly “treat” less and less. I wondered how long this would last- would I ever enjoy sugar again? Or had I inadvertently removed all the joy of sweet from my life? Given myself a tastebud-ectomy?

But after having small amounts of sugar on a regular basis- a teaspoon’s worth here and there- I have found that my taste for sugar has gradually returned: I can now order the Mango Sticky Rice at the Thai place and simply enjoy it.

Which I view as a good thing. After all, alcohol is a potentially addictive poison, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a glass of it with dinner on a regular basis. Likewise, I want to be able to enjoy a bit of fructose- potentially addictive poison anyone?- in the occasional dessert. For me, that’s part of the joy of life.

So I’ll have my glass of wine and maybe a small dish of the amazing gelato at that Italian restaurant. But I’m walking right by ninety percent of what’s for sale at my local supermarket- row after row of sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, candy and convenience entrees. We drink water, snack on whole fruit, rudely ignore candy and cook from scratch. It’s not as simple as “Yes Always!” or “No Never!” but that’s fair, I guess. Food is what keeps us alive, brings us together every day, and gives us the means to celebrate and enjoy. If it isn’t worth our serious consideration, I don’t know what is.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 78

Recently I was talking to my mom on the phone and she said “How much time do you have left on this thing anyway? Two months?”

And it hit me- she’s right. We’ve been on No Sugar for ten months now… which means we’re, uh… we’re… five-sixths of the way done!

Sesame Cookies- The First Attempt

It does make me glad to know we’ve made it this far, and that, despite several dreams I’ve had to the contrary, I haven’t suddenly forgotten the project and ordered a hot fudge sundae, only to suddenly, panic-stricken, remember- gasp! The Project!- half-way through eating it. (Yes, I’ve really had those dreams. Sometimes they’re petit fours. I don’t know why. I’m like, “Petit fours? Really?”) I’m also glad, of course, because some days No Sugar can be a certified pain in the tookas.

Looking back lo those many months ago when we first started out though, I can discern in myself a bit of the wide-eyed zealot, which I think you kind of have to be in order to attempt a project of this magnitude, and truthfully, obnoxiousness. I had some weird degree of fun in finding the sugar where we least expected it… as if to say: look! See? I’m not crazy! They’re the ones that are crazy!?! See! Ha ha! Why are you all looking at me funny?

Nowadays, I know the drill. I know it so well it can be maddening. I could play parlor tricks with my wealth of fructose knowledge. (“Go ahead, check the ingredient list. It’s there. Yeah, I’ll wait.”) We rarely make rookie mistakes anymore, no longer bring home things we haven’t read the teeny-tiny ingredient-print of closely enough. We know which items on the restaurant menus are safe and which are verboten before we even ask. Our lapses aren’t the exciting “Whoops, I had a chocolate eclair!” variety, but rather the mundane items we know better about: my husband Steve looks the other way while I eat a sandwich roll which undoubtedly was made with some minuscule amount of sugar… and I try not to look askance at him while he leaves the bacon pieces on his restaurant salad. Bless me father for I have sinned… I had impure thoughts about my neighbor’s shrimp cocktail sauce.

Nonetheless, it’s been a year since I’ve had a glass of juice. Or a candy bar. We’ve been to cotton-candy-less circuses and cider-doughnut-less days at the apple orchard. Do I still crave these things? Yeah, but it’s different. The loudspeaker demand in my head has shrunken to a wistful sigh. When we visited the orchard and smelled the cider donuts in the air I deeply inhaled the smell, appreciating the sweet, sad, fall-ness of it. It was lovely. Then Steve said, “Let’s get out of here- that’s torture!”

I can still get excited about the project though, just in different ways. Right now I’m trying to replicate the lemon-sesame seed cookies we get at the health food store from GoRaw, (inspired, in part, by the “What-are-these-covered-in-gold-leaf?” price tag.) I love how excited everyone gets in our house when I make No Sugar desserts: the kids jump up and down and yell “cookies!! cookies!! C-O-O-K-I-E-S!

When the very first batch came out of the oven my six-year-old Ilsa came to grab not one but two, and I asked her “It’s a new recipe- How do you know you’re going to like them?”

She gave me a look that said she’s pretty sure I couldn’t possibly be that stupid.

“They’re cookies, Mom!” she patiently explained.

I felt bad, then, when she had to come back and spit the cookie into the sink.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 75

I was sick last week. Not the kind of sick where you can stagger around and take the kids to school in your pajamas and sort-of, kind-of get stuff done even though you’re miserable every minute. No. This was more the kind of sick where a bullhorn could be announcing imminent, catastrophic nuclear attack and you wouldn’t even bother to raise your head to say “good.”

So needless to say, I wasn’t getting much done besides an alarming amount of sleeping. When I wasn’t busy winning the academy award for “Most Pathetically Miserable,” I was reading. Which was good, because in the beginning few weeks of our Year of No Sugar, I did an Amazon search for books related to “sugar-as-toxin.” A few clicks later I was the proud owner of a small stack of tomes with such cheerful names as Suicide by Sugar. Well! If that doesn’t sound like a fun summer beach read, I don’t know what does.

Now that I’ve plowed my way through most of those paperbacks I have a few thoughts. Firstly, you can skip Suicide by Sugar: Why Our Sweet Tooth May be Killing Us, by Nancy Appleton PhD. Honestly, I couldn’t finish this one, I found it so annoying. Call me petty, but in a book that addresses a topic of health and human biology, I find back-cover references to “Dr. Appleton” misleading: this is not an author who attended medical school. Additionally, her prose is rambling and uncompelling.

What exasperated me the most, however, was chapters like “140 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health.” Appleton says she’s been collecting these reasons “for about twenty years,” and they range from the just plain obvious (“5. Sugar in soda, when consumed by children, results in children drinking less milk.”) to the truly strange (“25. Sugar can lead to alcoholism”) Huh? I mean, I believe sugar to be the root of many modern evils, but even I balk at the assertions that it leads to polio, appendicitis, epileptic seizures and cancer of the rectum. No citations are given to lend credence to any of the “reasons,” and no explanations are offered. If sugar really does cause these maladies, we need a little more support for these assertions than just Appleton’s assurance that she read it somewhere, at some point. By the time you reach number 140 you half expect sugar to be found responsible for global warming and that weird fungus that’s killing all the bats.

Like many books that try to change our thinking about what we eat, Suicide contains a wrapping-up, “what to do now” chapter and an appendix of recipes. I’m definitely planning on trying Appleton’s Coconut Rice Pudding… however, if I work up the nerve to present my family with her “Beet Root Dessert” there might be a mutiny.

A much better book is The Sugar Fix: the High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick, by Richard J. Johnson M.D. The only book on the subject I found by an actual physician, Johnson is way better at telling his story in logical order, while peppering it with key compelling facts such as the Harvard study “of more than 90,000 female nurses (which) found that women whose daily diets included one or more beverages sweetened with sugar or HFCS… had an 83 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” (p. 44) I’m sorry, did he say eighty-three percent?? Now, that’s a statistic that makes you sit up and take notice.

Johnson correlates over-consumption of fructose to all the usual suspects: cancer, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, liver and kidney disease, etc. He recommends a “Low Fructose Diet,” by which he means between 25 and 35 grams of fructose per day. And although I’m not a big fan of counting-while-eating, it is fun to consult Johnson’s handy reference guide and compare the differing amounts of fructose present in, say, an apple (9.5g), a 12 oz soda (20.2g), and a McDonald’s M&M McFlurry (30.1g). Gout sufferers will be particularly interested to read what Johnson has to say about the connection between sugar, purines, and the over-production of uric acid. Also intriguing is his argument for increased dairy consumption, which he says acts to counter-balance the impact of fructose.

One thing I don’t understand is why Johnson feels compelled to include instructions for things like “Grilled New York Strip Steak with Portobello Mushrooms and Garlic Butter.” Now, sure, if you’re ordering steak in a restaurant you might want to check to be sure they aren’t marinating it in maple syrup or using pre-packaged ingredients for the sauce which inevitably have sugar, MSG and a host of other hidden baddies … but at home? If you need to be told how to prepare a steak at home without adding sugar to it, then you have my condolences. You need more help than just this book.

Another bone I have to pick with Johnson’s recipes is that he loves Splenda: all four dessert recipes he includes use it. I’m sorry, but if it’s taken us over a hundred years to figure out what’s wrong with sugar…? I don’t really want to replace it with the next thing that will turn out to have been poisoning us a few decades from now. I’m just saying.

Now, if you’ve read this blog much at all you’ll know that the first one of these books that I read is far and away my favorite: Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat by Australian author David Gillespie. (Be sure not to confuse this with the American title Sweet Poison which discusses the adverse effects of aspartame.) This- along with the YouTube video by Dr. Robert Lustig- is the resource I keep coming back to again and again. Gillespie isn’t a PhD, or an MD, but rather trained as a lawyer. Perhaps because of this, he assembles the case against sugar convincingly, persuasively and even entertainingly.

Gillespie has a flair for the simple statement that resonates: “Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic were being poured into the water supply.” (p. 148) He has a great sense of humor that illuminates his material, which could easily be too dry or too darn scary to be enjoyable: “If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage.” (p.101) This author makes reading about fructokinase and GLUT proteins as easily comprehensible and pleasant as I imagine it can possibly be. It is Gillespie, too, who conceives of using dextrose powder as an alternative sweetener… truly an “aha!” moment if there ever was one. Of all the non-fructose sweetening alternatives we’ve tried this year (from using bananas and dates to ogliofructose) dextrose has, for us, been by far the most successful.

Although he doesn’t include a recipe section in the book itself, the recipes Gillespie includes on his website are excellent. No messing around with useless topics (“How to Make Sugar Free Salsa!”)- these are real no-added-sugar desserts, with no Splenda in sight. Admittedly, you do have to pony up an annual membership fee to join the section of the site where the best recipes are, but honestly? It’s worth it. The Coconut Cake recipe alone is worth it.

From Gillespie’s own initial moment of realization, to his research into the history and biochemistry of sugar, to the scientific data that exists and that which he extrapolates to draw disturbing parallels between our consumption of sugar and our incidence of disease, Sweet Poison is by far the best told story of the bunch and therefore the most likely to actually change your behavior in a way that matters.

In the book’s final chapter, Gillespie distills his take-away message down to some very simple “rules”: “Don’t drink sugar. Don’t snack on sugar. Party food are for parties. Be careful at breakfast. And- there is no such thing as good sugar.” (You hear that, all you Agave-heads?)

Instead of counting calories or grams or servings of fish oil or whatever other improbable fussiness some health experts would have us commit to in the pursuit of health, happiness and next year’s swimsuit fashions, it is “Gillespie’s Rules” that seem to me to make the most logical sense. Isn’t that the Occam’s Razor maxim: the simplest solution is usually the correct one? So when people ask me “What will you do when the No Sugar Year is over?” I think the most likely answer is that we will follow these deceptively simple sounding rules.

Because of the culture we live in, and our collective unwillingness to examine what is really making our society explode with disease… I’m pretty sure it will still be very, very hard.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 48

Recently, I finished reading David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat, and it’s a good thing too- my highlighters are all running out of ink. Pretty much my whole book is saturated now in pretty shades of florescent pink, orange and yellow, depending on which pen I was near in the house when I sat down to read.

In it Gillespie weaves the story of his own personal journey to escape the effects of fructose with his research on the history of sugar, the biochemistry of fructose, and the attempts in the last century to understand the connections between Western diet and Western disease. If all this sounds dry or clinical, it isn’t. Honestly, I was sucked in from page one, and there weren’t even any vampires or anything.

As I’ve mentioned before, biochemistry isn’t exactly my bag. I can make it through Dr. Robert Lustig’s “The Bitter Truth”- even that brief hardcore science-y bit, but that doesn’t mean I can turn around and replicate the argument. In fact, prior to watching “The Bitter Truth” on YouTube I was pretty much on the opposite side of the spectrum. I was one of the many people whose reaction to the idea of giving up sugar was: “What?” and “Oh sure, why not just give up all the fun in life? I mean really.” I was an avid dessert baker, devoted canner of jams (talk about sugar!), and all-around lover of sweets. Not junk, of course, but wonderful treats made with caring, love, and the occasional french pastry chef.

Nonetheless, I always suspected there had to be an answer out there to the problem of Western disease that was eluding us in plain sight- like Waldo. There had to be an “Aha!” out there somewhere. Once I watched Dr, Lustig explain it, it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on in my head. Fructose was the “Aha!”

Reading Gillespie has been like that again. Sweet Poison turns on a second lightbulb, one that fills in the details where before there had been shadow. A non-doctor, he has a knack for translating all the various medical findings and research into accurate but comprehensible lay-person-speak. He is also, incidentally, very funny, which can be helpful when you’re hanging in there talking about phosphofructokinase 1 and the islets of Langerhans. Here are a few of my favorite passages (all emphases are mine):

“There is one substance that does not stimulate the release of any of the ‘enough to eat’ hormones. That substance is fructose… We can eat as much fructose as we can shove down our throats and never feel full for long. Every gram of the fructose we eat is directly converted to fat. There is no mystery to the obesity epidemic when you know these simple facts. It is impossible not to get fat on a diet infused with fructose.”

“If you look at BMI calculations over time you quickly realize that the obesity epidemic is very real and is a very recent phenomenon… In 1910, just over one in five US adults was overweight and fewer than one in five of those people was obese (one in 25 for the whole population). Less than a century later, two out of every three US adults are overweight and half of those people are now obese (one-third of the whole population). In less than 100 years, the chances of a given US adult being overweight have gone from very unlikely to highly probable, and the trend is accelerating.

“If obesity was a disease like bird flu, we’d be bunkered down with a shotgun and three years’ supply of baked beans in the garage. But nobody actually dies from obesity itself. You never hear of anyone being pronounced dead from being fat. No, people die from other diseases that may or may not be related to being fat, like cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), kidney failure or various cancers. Obesity is a symptom, not a disease.”

“A lot of the people conducting experiments on rats had been criticized for giving the animals unrealistically high doses of fructose. ‘Of course the rat would die. Look how much fructose you gave it,’ would be the cry. ‘No person actually eats that much fructose.’ These figures tell a different story. Every man, woman and child in the United States (and Australia) is eating that much fructose and more. The USDA rats were actually on lower fructose diets than most of the people feeding them.”

“(Prior to omitting fructose) I was just as trapped in the dieting-with-no-visible-results treadmill as I had ever been. Free access to the biggest medical library in the world (the web), however, allowed me to read my way to a conclusion that, now that I see it, seems blindingly obvious. Fructose was killing me and everyone else as surely as if arsenic was being poured into the water supply.”

Gillespie plays connect-the-dots between fructose consumption, the resultant circulating fatty acids in the bloodstream and all the nasty consequences thereafter: heart attack, stroke, type II diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), as well as some of the most prevalent and deadly cancers today: colorectal, prostate, pancreatic. He even goes through and explains exactly how tooth decay works: fed specifically by sucrose, or table sugar, a manmade combination of fructose and glucose. Turns out, the bacteria that causes tooth decay thrives not on large amounts of sucrose, but rather a steady consistent supply of it over time. Well, hell-o-o-o, soda!

He explains why low fat diets don’t work, and why the Atkins diet will work but why no one can stay on it for very long. He explains why exercise- while good for you in other ways- won’t help you lose weight. He explains how he gradually stepped away from fructose, in particular a soda habit, by first switching to diet soda, then seltzer, and finally simply water, and describes the consequent palate change that took place over the course of a few weeks. He lists five deceptively simple rules to live by, including: “Party foods are for parties,” and “There is no such thing as good sugar.”

What Lustig and Gillespie are trying to tell us is not to never have dessert again, but to understand that “dessert” is a phenomenon that our bodies are not evolved to understand or process effectively, much less the onslaught of non-dessert sugar that is, in the Western diet, omnipresent and getting worse. We have to understand this dietary “loophole” in our digestive system and act accordingly.

“The results are in,” Gillespie writes, “If you feed humans fructose for the first 40 years of their lives you get an obesity epidemic, and massive health system costs associated with treating cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, oral health, cancer and miscellaneous other problems. It’s time to stop.”

Amen.

Special thanks to the Year of No Sugar reader who recommended this book!

All quotations above are from Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat. For more information on David Gillespie visit his website: http://sweetpoison.com.au/

A Year of No Sugar: Post 34

Food extremism is nothing new to my husband Steve. He grew up in a home that was a bit of a nutritional house divided: his mom serving the foods most people were eating in the mid-west in the seventies and eighties- pot roast, mac and cheese, pudding, etc.- while his dad frequently ate a different meal altogether, experimenting with various different nutritional theories he was reading about in specialty magazines like “Dr. Shelton’s Hygienic Review.” (motto: “Let Us Have Truth Though The Heavens Fall.”)

Steve’s father, who passed away a few years ago, was a vegetarian before people even knew what that was, back when health food stores were still fringe operations frequented and operated by folks who still thought communes might be a really good idea. But Bill Schaub was no long-haired hippy; he was a trim, clean-shaven lawyer who would one day rise to become Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board and be conferred the rank of Meritorious Executive in the Senior Executive Service by President Bill Clinton. I try to picture him walking into the Toledo-area granola shop in his suit, his aftershave clashing with the smell of patchouli and wheat grass.

My husband recalls the time his father took him to see the watershed movie Star Wars. Steve was not very excited to go, because outings with his father were often nutrition oriented and pretty dry stuff for an eight year old: “I thought we were going to a lecture on carrot juice or something.”

In another favorite Bill Schaub story, he grew a mustache, (of course! it was the seventies!) This development coincided with the peak of his interest in the nutritional value of mangos and his decision to import boxes of the fruit himself, which of course resulted in his brown mustache turning mango-colored from the sheer volume of orange fruit that passed his lips.

There are lots of Bill Schaub anecdotes like this, illustrating his passion and single-mindedness when it came to the subject of nutrition and food. Steve is his father’s son, and inherited from him not only an attentive attitude toward food and nutrition, but also the unusual ability to endure strange and restrictive diets for various goals.

For example, in addition to our family’s ongoing No Sugar Project, Steve has for the last seven weeks also been shunning all dairy, and all bread products. Also no potatoes. Basically just meat, eggs, and any vegetable and fruit which you could eat raw. You can imagine how much fun we are in restaurants.

Eve: “I have a strange question. Does the lasagna have sugar in it? And also, what about the soup?”

Steve: “Can you tell me, is there gluten in the sausage? What about in the cabbage? I’m also not eating dairy…”

Eve: “No, the kids don’t want lemonade, could they just have water…?”

Oh yes, the waitresses just love us.

The thing is it has worked. I mean, Steve looked completely fine before, and thin compared to your average American profile. But in a few weeks on this Paleo / Raw diet he’s lost over twenty five pounds. I know! We’ve been buying him new pants since nothing fits anymore- he looks great. More importantly, he’s clearly happier.

Interestingly, Steve’s father had an addiction to sweet things- cookies, ice cream- which he battled with all his life. Steve’s own addiction is much more specific: diet Dr. Pepper. Not to put to fine a point on it, Diet Dr. Pepper is Steve-crack.

The other day Steve sheepishly brought home a case of the stuff, justifying, “well, I thought it could just drink it in the evening as a snack…”

After I gently pointed out the Steve-crack phenomenon, even he agreed it probably should stop. I know it’s not easy- we all like to have our crutches to lean on when we feel depressed and deprived. For me, “mother’s little helper” is more vague… once upon a time pre-project I would’ve enjoyed a bit of chocolate or cookie after every lunch and dinner- a sweet of some kind albeit a small one. I still miss that ritual, that sweet little ending to a meal. Lately I supplement that desire with an alternate treat- a banana, an unsweetened cappuccino, a GoRaw granola bar with raisins in it. It gives rise to the question: do we have to chose between health (long-term happiness) and desire-gratification (short-term happiness)?

The other day Steve was talking about his dad. “If my dad was alive today he’d be fascinated by this project,” he said. “He’d be sending us articles and talking to us about it all the time…” I know. It’s sad he isn’t here to share it with us.

A Year of No Sugar: Post 30

The Mayo Clinic is a humbling place.Whenever I think I’m having a tough time here because I’m having trouble finding something to eat- I can’t eat the dinner rolls, or the bacon, or the tortillas, or the entire bloody complimentary breakfast bar- I remind myself of this very important fact: here at Mayo I am surrounded by folks who have troubles worlds away from mine.

Not to mention that my No Sugar regime is self-imposed. Nonetheless, I take it pretty seriously- ask any waitress who’s had to run to the kitchen three times to ask about ingredients for me. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I dread the asking, because I fear I’m going to get “The Look.” “The Look” is that mixture of dismay and confusion which regularly appears on the waitress, cashier, or cafeteria line lady’s face when I ask if the penne with red peppers and broccoli has sugar in it.

Sugar in it?” they always say, as if they perhaps didn’t hear me correctly.

That being said, I probably couldn’t have found a place on earth as willing to accommodate my ingredient queries as they are here. Because of the clinic, they are used to fielding just about every question you can ask about their foods… so many folks here have restrictions, special diets or upcoming test requirements. But even the diabetics aren’t asking quite the same question that I’m asking. Sometimes I preface it by saying “I have a little bit of a weird question…”

Now, on Saturdays and Sundays Mayo Clinic is closed, and so are, consequently, a whole lot of the restaurants. What stays open is just the kind of food I totally can’t eat… sub chains and coffee shops. In the sub shop the meats are probably cooked with glazes and other additives which are likely to include sugar, and the bread usually has it too; coffee shops are basically one big dessert.

On Saturday night I took my Dad to the sub chain inside our hotel. While he ordered his sandwich I noticed that they had a “no carb” option of wrapping your ingredients inside a large lettuce leaf rather than their bread (which- I checked- had sugar.) Rather than enter into a ten-hour discussion of the ingredients of the various cold cuts, I ordered the veggie sub with the no carb option… basically a vegetable bonanza, with a slice of cheese thrown in there for good measure. I couldn’t very well add mayonnaise because that has sugar (oh yes!) so I slathered on some mustard and dug into a very crunchy meal.

The next day was equally tricky. After a good breakfast of plain oatmeal and berries at a nearby hotel I thought I was full enough to get through till an early dinner. Not so much. I really should realize this about my metabolism by now, but somehow I still manage to convince myself that maybe I don’t really need to eat all three meals if it isn’t entirely convenient. Instead, I am like a wind-up toy that stops working when its short little energy source runs out.

So there I was, mid-afternoon, dinner still hours away, and not a thing in sight to eat. As usual when I miss a meal, I began to feel slightly ill, and then desperate. The Larabar from my suitcase had helped, but not enough. I couldn’t face another vegetable sandwich wrapped in lettuce, but I had an idea. I went to the counter at the sub shop and asked if I could just order some cheese.

Just cheese?” the twenty-something man behind the counter asked. He checked with the sandwich makers behind him, “We can do just cheese, right?”

No one could think of any reason not to sell me some cheese. “Hey- there’s no reason why we can’t!” he said brightly, and he rang it up. The cheese came to 75 cents. After checking the ingredients I also added a bag of potato chips and received my tiny little package of cheese from the pick-up counter.

Back in my room I was sorry to see they had only given me two small pieces- should’ve asked for two or three servings worth. Oh well- paired with the banana I had stolen from the largely inedible (for me) breakfast bar, and the chips it still made a very serviceable lunch.

It was all there: I had some carbohydrates, some salt, some fat and some fructose wrapped in fiber and sprinkled with micronutrients. I was happy with my little improvised meal and even happier that it put a stop to the gnawing in my belly.

And honestly, it was waaaaay better than a lettuce and mustard sandwich.