sugar

Holy cats! I think I’ve kicked the sugar habit!

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If you live in Canada, you will no doubt recognize the evil temptress in the above photo as a box of Timbits from junk food chain Tim Hortons. I am both happy and surprised to say that I’ve actually resisted not one but TWO boxes of these on two consecutive days.

I also resisted not one but two cravings for hot chocolate on not one but TWO consecutive days.

How did I do it?

I simply kept in mind what my gym goals are. In other words, I manned up and did the proper grown up thing and took the responsibility that I knew I had set myself to take. After, what, 15 blog posts of me saying how I caved in to short term body destructive pleasures, the last thing I wanted to do was write a 16th repost.

See the vending machine below?

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I had change in my pocket for a snack before my night school course and I had my eye on a certain spicy plantain bag but that eye lingered over to the beautiful Coffee Crisp. Temptation was seductive.

“No. The coffee will keep me awake. And not to mention the nasty stuff the rest of the bar will do to me”. So I ordered the spicy plantain bag.

thisone

No added sugar. No gluten. Bla bla bla. I wish I remembered the name (note to the branding department) but hey, I can always dip into the school for a fix.

So I think I’ve finally reached my goal of going back to where I was dietary temptation-wise. Snubbing sugar and enjoying the sense of personal accomplishment of defeating the temptress.

Have you recently reached a tough goal? Even if it has nothing to do with sugar or nutrition, I’d love to hear about it!

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How to talk yourself into caving to a sugar craving

I walked into a gas station a couple of weeks back and noticed a 2 and a half pound (or was is a half pound?) Reese’s peanut butter cups. Actually, it as a marketed as a puck (it had the NHL logo on it, after all). It was a pretty large little box – yes, box – and I really wanted to sink my teeth into it.

But I was strong. I kept in mind that it was mostly high fructose corn syrup and who knows what other nasty chemicals that would do my body no good in the long term.

Instead, I purchased it as a thank you gift for a colleague at work.

Ok, maybe I’m a hypocrite. But remember, my goal isn’t to become “that guy”. That guy who preaches about his diet. No, I’ve become that guy who cheats on his diet.

I’m not going to confess or whine or say “o woe is me”. I chose the go down the wrong path and it’s my fault, my doing, I’m the only one to blame. Instead, I’m going to share with you the inner dialogue I had with myself as I drove home tonight. I mention a Patty. That is the pseudonym I chose for my colleague.

“Quite a stressful couple of weeks this way but we finished that project like a boss! Oh, I need to put in some gas. Hey, the gas station has that Reese’s Pieces puck. Maybe I could… NO! It’s full of sugar – especially corn syrup – and nasty stuff. Stay strong. I am strong. I don’t need that garbage. Besides, Patty felt a little sick after eating it and I will, too. Sinking my teeth into it will be so tasty. NO! Just this once. I can eat half of it today and half of it tomorrow. I’m going back to the gym tomorrow! NO! Why bollix things up even more? You haven’t exercised in 4 months, your health is shot and who knows what kind of crazy blood sugar levels you have. Well, Lent starts next week. I can be strong then. NO!”

Oh yeah, this went on. Temptation isn’t fun. Then another idea came in my head and that was it.

“If I buy it, I could BLOG ABOUT IT. Hey, I have an idea – I can write a post about this inner dialogue!”

So I pulled into the gas station.

“This is stupid. I’m deliberately cheating myself. But it would make a great blog post! Lent starts next week.”

I go to pay for gas and… they no longer sell the hockey puck of doom.

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Yeah, I was THAT weak. “Hey, this could make the blog post even funnier. I ended up buying the regular version. Oh look, there’s a king size. That’s hilarious!”.

Hilarious. What’s worse is…

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I didn’t stop at one. “This one has coconut!”

I took a look at the ingredients when I got home. The peanut butter cups were about 40g of sugar EACH. The Bounty had a lot less (if I remember correctly, it was about half) and hardly any nasty chemicals. Not even high fructose corn syrup. I ate both packages in pretty much 10 minutes. Of course I felt sick. My stomach still hurts after 2 hours. Of course I feel bad now for caving. Not sure what happened to my discipline but I can’t wait until I get back into the gym and take advantage of Lent to really get back in the game. More on the two in a future post.

Do you have any future dates you can use as goals?

How the food industry has been slowly killing us

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Photo credit: elycefeliz

I am an avid listener of CBC Radio and one of my favourite shows is Ideas. As luck would have it, I stumbled across  two-part documentary about how politics, economics and marketing negatively influenced (and still does) North American food consumption.

In a nutshell:

  • we have been eating on average 200 more calories a day since the 1980s as compared to the decades prior
  • we have a lot of grain thanks to government subsidies – this caused a surplus resulting in the creation of processed food (Richard Nixon is involved)
  • grocery stores don’t like stocking produce as much as processed food because produce goes back quickly
  • we grow a lot of corn because it creates high fructose corn syrup causing, yup, even more processed food
  • the US government also subsidized the production of cheese causing a surplus and, you guessed it, even more processed food
  • we didn’t have a while aisle at the supermarket for frozen dinners until marketing taught us how much of a chore cooking was –  more processed food
  • ditto for takeout
  • and much, much more

The simple lesson again is to avoid processed food and don’t overeat.

Do you avoid the processed food aisle? How do you stop yourself from overeating?

Sugar is bad and good for you. Just don’t eat too much of it.

running-cat

Photo credit: Malingering

Every time we eat sugar, our pancreas releases insulin to keep our blood sugar levels in balance. The insulin stores the glucose in the sugar as energy in our liver and muscles.

That’s good!

When we eat too much sugar, the pancreas has to release more insulin to deal with things.

That’s bad.

All that excess insulin, causes our blood sugar to drop. Also known as a sugar crash. Our bodies then craves more sugar to replenish our sugar levels. Thus the cycle starts again.

That’s bad.

As we continue to eat too much sugar, our body builds a tolerance to insulin. Thus, our pancreas needs to pump out even more insulin to compensate. 

This is really bad.

Over time we get fatter and suffer all the other effects of sugar. Cue the infographic.

Knowing all this helps me (and I hope you as well) stick to my goals. My body just doesn’t need sugar.

Well, sort of.

Sugar is good for energy. We need it. But we don’t need a lot of it. So yes, you don’t have to give up all those delicious desserts. Just reduce them. And exercise regularly.

Think you can’t resist? Then work on your mental toughness (also known as “will power”) to reduce your intake. And check out Why Sugar is Worse than Darth Vader by the excellent Nerd Fitness website. It explains quite simply what sugar is, the different types of sugar (there are no “healthy” types), how high fructose corn syrup entered into our food supply, how to effectively reduce your cravings and build some mental toughness.

How do you build up your resilience to cravings? Particularly at social gatherings when everyone is ordering large, scrumptious desserts?

When dumping sugar, beware of the binge

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Photo credit: Alesa Dam

I had a four hour meeting at work last week. We were notified ahead of time that treats would be served so I thought that since it was also casual Friday, I could fest things up and treat me with some hot chocolate. Healthy hot chocolate.

That was mistake #1.

I searched my fitness recipes pinboard on Pinterest and chose this hot chocolate recipe. It’s made with coconut milk, some boiling water, a few spoons of pure cocoa, a spoonful of honey and a dash of vanilla.

Except I replaced the water with more coconut milk and added some vanilla maple syrup since while cooking, the concoction tasted a little flat.

That was mistake #2.

Well, no. Mistake number 2 was drinking the hot chocolate and eating a croissant, carrot muffin and later a stick or two of chocolate covered wafers and nothing else. I didn’t drink water because I was too lazy to get up and walk over to another floor to the water cooler. Besides, I was in an important meeting and didn’t want to miss anything.

It was noon by the time I ate the chocolate covered wafers and that’s when it all hit me. BOOM! Major dizzy spell that got worse and worse.

I had to sit down. Close my eyes a bit. A colleague kindly filled my water bottle.

Sugar crashes aren’t cute

“Eat some protein and in 20 minutes you’ll be fine”, my colleague said when we sat down in the cafeteria. I ate my meat, avoided the fruits I packed and ate few leaves of the spinach and kale salad I prepared the night before. I kept my eyes closed for most of the conversation and thought about a new podcast I had recently began listening to last week.

Yes, this happened last Friday. I, Mr. Blogging About Dumping Sugar From His Diet did a little bingeing. At the time, I didn’t think of it as bingeing. After all, I was treating myself! Or was this a sign of emotional eating? Has something like this ever happened to you?

Treat yourself the proper way

The podcast mentioned above was Evil Sugar Radio. Despite it’s title, the show is about debunking diet fads. Including paleo. I listened to episode 2, The Truth About Carbs & Sugar,  and according to the show summary, sugar isn’t exactly as bad as everyone (bloggers, fitness gurus, etc.) makes it out to be. While I thought it was a weird claim to make and wondered if the podcast was sponsored/funded by a sugar factory, I thought I’d give it a listen.

I didn’t agree with some of things they said (mind you, I’m no food expert), but I did learn a valuable lesson. Table sugar, honey, maple syrup, fruit sugar, high fructose corn syrup – they are all sugar. None are “healthier”. Sugar isn’t “bad”. It gives us energy. And our organs need energy. Only, sugar has no nutritional value on its own. The danger of sugar is eating too much of it.

And that is the problem with our society’s food consumption. Food is everywhere. And food manufacturers disguise sugar into practically anything and everything. We also eat a lot more than yesterdecade causing us to exceed our recommended daily intake of sugar.

I also learned that bingeing comes in different forms. Being an avid strength trainer, I’m all too familiar with the “cheat meal” concept. That’s when you eat healthy and clean all week then eat whatever you like in one meal. Be it pizza, chocolate ice cream, whatever. The popular belief is “otherwise you’ll go crazy”.  Some people even have a cheat day. According to the podcast, this is only driving you to binge on sugar to make up for what you’ve missed out on during the week. You go all clean with your diet then throw it all out the window once a week.

Ok, so what I did wasn’t exactly bingeing but I still messed up my blood sugar levels, spiked my insulin and overworked my liver and pancreasLesson learned. I ate too much sugar with nothing else over a 4 hour period. 

Back to the cafeteria… my colleague’s advice worked like clockwork. Twenty minutes later, the protein I ate made me feel better again.

But I had a healthy drink!

As I  said, sugar is sugar. There’s no “eat as much of X as you like and you will still be a good person!”. It all depends on what the sugar comes with. A spoonful of sugar is “healthier” than a cream filled donut only because the latter has who-knows-what-chemicals in it including even more sugar (well, the former has no nutritional value either, but you get my drift). A spoonful of honey is healthier than a spoonful of sugar because the honey comes with some nutritional benefits. Just don’t eat too much of it.

Some bodybuilders and paleo diet enthusiasts even avoid fruits because of the sugar in them. They are not only missing out on the vitamins, they are also missing out on anti-oxidants, fibre and other nutritional benefits. Just don’t eat too much.

It also depends on the individual

Are you diabetic? Then the rules are different. Are you active all week? Then chances are you’re burning off all that sugar energy anyway. Are you sitting at a desk all day for work like myself? Then we need to be careful about how we eat our food. More on this in future posts!

Recommended daily limit of sugar is…

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Photo credit: avlxyz

According to this infographic listing a number of sources that I have never heard of (but seeing “Harvard” mentioned seems to give it some street cred), the recommended (US) daily limit of sugar is 6 teaspoons. That’s roughly 24 grams. The 6 teaspoons is also mentioned in this infographic by the Cleveland Clinic with an additional 3 teaspoons (36 grams) for men (the 24 is recommended for women). This infographic says 12 grams for children. For simplicity sake, let’s stick with the 24 grams.

It’s a good idea to read the labels

Like paying by debit or credit, it can be quite easy to lose track of how much sugar we eat throughout the day. If we set our daily limit to 24 grams per day, then one small carton of chocolate milk is all it takes to throw us off. One of those delicious babies contains 30g of sugar. Not bad. It does have vitamins that could benefit us but my point is the rest of your daily intake have been maxed out. If you’re serious about reducing sugar, then don’t go for a latte in the afternoon. Taking a look at the Starbucks Canada nutritional menu… hm, it seems most of their lattes, grande and up, are double the daily limit. Even the tall and shorts are in the teens and 20+s depending on the fanciness of your drink. So if you have a morning chocolate milk then a latte later on, you’ve already exceeded the 24 grams.

Fortunately, we can ask the barista to use half sugar or a lower amount.

Office meeting? If someone brought timbits, you’re looking at an additional 1 gram for each plain one and up to 7 grams the fancier they go. If they brought actual donuts, they are in the double digits and well into the 20s depending on how fancy the donuts are. Low fat muffins contain 24 to 30 grams. Did someone bring chocolates into the cubicle farm? Uh oh…

Can you carry over to the next day if you binge?

Um, no. If we could, then we’d cave in and go back to where we started.

I’m not trying to spoil your fun. Just helping you stay focused on your goal. Check the labels and set a daily limit of how much sugar to ingest. At the vey least you can prevent yourself from binging and feel good about staying on track.

So is sugar good for you then? I mean, if there’s a recommended daily intake…

There’s a limit to how much your liver can handle. Go over that limit and you start getting the unhealthy side effects. According to a few research studies mentioned in the random infographics above (I mean, I didn’t actually conduct an exhaustive background check), 24 grams if you’re a woman, 36 if you’re a man, and 12 if you’re a kid.

Sugar contains two molecules. Glucose and fructose. Glucose is good. Fructose is bad. Glucose is good because every cell in our body uses it for energy. But we don’t need boat loads of it. Fructose is the bad one that, long story short, turns into fat. So the whole 12-36 numbers above, I safely assume, refer to the limits our liver can handle.

When you read the list of ingredients on food labels, look for fructose (or corn syrup). This stuff is in everything. Peanut butter, yogurts, fruit drinks, low fat this, fat free that, you name it. See why I said earlier to avoid processed food as much as possible?

Wait, there’s a recommended daily intake of sugar?

Yeah, I’m surprised as well. But this is the reason why I started this blog. To learn about sugar and it’s affects. Could there be a good side to sugar? Is there a consequence to not ingesting sugar? Looks like I’ll be learning some new things with this blog!

Chime in with your learnings and help me, um, learn something new.

5 ways I dumped sugar last year

Comic of man talking to a devil woman. He is saying "Sugar, I'm breaking up with you"

In my previous post, I mentioned how I successfully kept sugar out of my diet with no cave ins to temptation or even any suffering. The elimination wasn’t 100% but it was pretty much in the 90s. I also mentioned that I did end up caving in and falling off the wagon and then some due to a few factors like injuring myself in the gym and spending the holiday season working in a corporate environment.

So I’m starting up once again the methods that I used last year to dumping sugar from my diet – or at least most of it. Let’s face it, we’re living in a (western) society and culture where sugar is everywhere. It’s in our ‘health products’, vitamin pills, fruit juices and those deceptive low-fat products.

1. Strength training

I got into strength training at the beginning of January 2013. I needed a workout plan that was short since I had other things in life that needed tending to. The results were almost instant. I was breaking personal records in every workout and noticed significant gains in strength and size by month’s end. My March, I was full of energy and confidence – the side effects of training for strength – that I had no desire to ruin my momentum. This made it easy for me to pass up any sugary treats in the office though they were sitting in plain view in front of my cubicle for most of the day.

2. Eat more protein and stick to carbs with a low glycemic index

With strength training comes the need to increase your protein. I won’t get into it but long story short, protein plays a big role in building muscle. An increase in protein intake curbs sugar cravings. As for carbs, some can spike our blood sugar. Stick to the ones with a low glycemic index. Low glycemic = low spike.

3. Avoid processed foods

They are all junk. Full of salt, some are full of sugar or fructose and corn syrup. Your body doesn’t know what to do with these empty calories (which will make you eat even more) so it turns them all into fat. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t trace the food product to nature, then don’t eat it. Example, you can trace an egg to the hen, the milk to the cow, the yogurt to the…. ok let’s see, there’s milk in it, um… I guess some fruit… um… hm, not sure how yogurt is made but it’s a few steps to nature while an egg or glass of milk is one. A bag of nachos has a few more steps. Another good rule is to avoid the middle section of the supermarket. All the good stuff – the produce department, the meat market, the dairy section – they are all against the walls. The processed foods your body doesn’t need are in the middle.

4. Immerse yourself with positive media

I bet you didn’t expect this one! Reading positive literature – self-improvement, mental toughness, stories of heroics, reading about how people live in adverse conditions – they all give you perspective. Coupled with strength training (read: seeing your exercise goals come to fruition), I found it too easy to resist sugar. I got into the groove, zone, momentum, whatever you want to call it, of carrying on.

5. Set some sugar rules

After getting rid of the junk, your body will thank you. But once in a while, you’ll cave (not necessarily a bad thing) but you’ll find that you won’t binge. A small piece of cake will end up satisfying you. Your tummy may rumble but you won’t miss anything. I ended up savouring the smaller morsels! I didn’t want to become that guy in the office or the party or in the family who ends up making others feel badly about eating a sugary treat. Or worse, come across as holier than thou. I hope I’m not coming across this way in this post (or any of my other posts). Besides, eating is a social thing. We’re social creatures. Unless it’s a food allergy or you’re training for something really, really, really important, it’s no biggie if you have a piece of cake at a party.

My rules for actually eating a sugary treat were/are:

a) If I’m offered dessert at someone’s house.

b) I won’t order anything with sugar in at a restaurant.

c) Ditto when shopping. Keep it out of the house. Out of sight, out of mind.

d) Look for recipes with sugar alternatives like coconut flour.

e) frozen cherries and raspberries make great tv watching snacks.

Just. Don’t. Binge.

And if you do, or if you foresee a bingefest coming up (holiday dinners, weddings, etc.), don’t get too hard on yourself. Just jump right back up (hence the positive literature tip above).

7. You’re only accountable to yourself

Self-respect is a harsh judge! :)

Have you kicked the sugar habit? Share how you achieved your goal by leaving a comment below.