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.