Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kicking the Sweets Addiction

I have been asked by some people to talk about kicking the sugar and caffeine habit. We all know too much sugar is bad for you, we all know too much coffee can be bad for you too. In fact too much of just about anything can be bad for you.

I’m not going to try and convince you that these things are bad in excess, you probably already know. But I will give you a few tidbits to maybe help strengthen someone’s resolve. Sugar affects our body in several ways. It suppresses white blood cell production for up to 3 hours after you eat it, weakening your immune system, it causes insulin spikes in our blood which are then followed by lower blood sugar which can mean anything from headaches to cravings for more sugar to irritability to increased appetite to, in my case, irrational fits of weeping and sometimes vomiting when it gets too low. This becomes a vicious cycle for some people, and can really mess with your quality of life. The average adult female shouldn’t be eating more than 19 grams of sugar a day according to an article I once read in a natural living hippy style magazine, which isn’t much. (I wanted to find it for you, but I don’t even remember the name of the magazine, just that one fact that has followed me around ever since.)

So here are a few things that have helped me along the way to deal with diet excesses. I have gone cold turkey several times, eating absolutely no sugar at all. The benefit of doing this is that after about a week or two I really stopped wanting it, there were no cravings, I lost interest completely. The downfall of this method is that once I allowed myself a little taste again, I had very little control over how much and usually returned to eating sugar somewhat mindlessly in a matter of weeks after the first birthday cake or whatever it was that I allowed myself to have. What has made the most difference over the longest period of time is to become a bit of a snob, or connoisseur when it comes to sweets. I only eat it if it’s really REALLY good. And then I only need a little bit to be satisfied.

So if I was going to try to get rid of a sugar habit this is what I would do.

To start with, go two weeks at least without any kind of processed sugar thing. Don’t eat candy, don’t eat cake, don’t sweeten your coffee, don’t eat candy bars, etc. Do eat lots and lots of fresh fruit. Right now oranges are in season in the stores, get the little Clementine’s that you can peel and eat, get apples; I think the imported pineapples are fresh right now too. Anyway, the point is to satisfy your craving for sweets with fresh fruits, which are sweet and full of water. When you have a sweet craving, drink a glass of water, often re-hydrating makes the craving go away. At the start of this week throw away all of your sweets, don’t give it to someone else or eat it all before you start the week, throw it in the garbage. This might be hard; you may feel wasteful. You need to reprogram your brain to realize that this kind of food is junk and you don’t need it, seeing it at the bottom of the trash bin will help with that.

At the end of the second week go out and buy some really good dark chocolate. It can’t be milk chocolate, and it can’t be made by Hershey or Nestle. Look for dark chocolate, at least 70% solid cocoa mass. If you are near a Trader Joe’s they sell bars of single origin dark chocolate. Just like coffee cocoa beans have different qualities depending on where they’re grown. You can taste a difference. Most chocolate is blended and homogenized so that it all tastes the same, which is very sad. Most Americans have never tasted real chocolate as a result. Instead they have tasted chocolate flavored sugar wax. TJ’s also sells single origin chocolates, from three different countries in individually wrapped squares in gift packets, which is perfect because it’s built in portion control. If you can’t find good chocolate where you live, look online, I’ve seen some really tasty looking chocolate available online.

After you find your chocolate, your indulgence, don’t you dare eat it out of the wrapper on the way home. Make a nice meal; sit down at the table to eat it. Enjoy it. When dinner is over, or lunch, take out one square of chocolate, maybe pour a little glass of 15 year old antique tawny port, (If you have a husband who keeps it stocked, mine does, and it goes so well with chocolate) and slowly eat the chocolate. Pay attention to the texture, the flavor. Let it melt in your mouth, don’t chew it, pay attention to the smell, the look, the flavors. If it is a truly rich dark chocolate, you won’t want to have any more after you eat it as I’ve described. You will be satisfied. Depending on how much sugar you want to allow yourself, have a square a day, or only twice a week, but look forward to it. Plan when you are going to indulge, make sure it is with a meal for the sake of keeping the insulin from spiking and your cravings along with it. Looking forward to the chocolate should keep you from wanting to mindlessly snack on other less satisfying sweets. A candy bar, after a couple of weeks will taste waxy to you and you’ll wonder why you ate them.

After learning to love real chocolate, stick to a few rules. Plan to indulge, to keep yourself looking forward to something to keep you from binging. Only eat sugar after a meal, never by itself. Eat slowly, pay attention to it, and make it an event. Pay attention to the first three bites, give them all of your attention and you may find you are satisfied and don’t need any more. Give yourself permission to leave food on the plate. If the first bite doesn’t taste good, don’t eat any more.

Our whole family keeps Fridays and Sundays for indulgences. On Friday we share the Shabbat meal with family, and there is usually desert, on Sunday evenings it’s usually ice cream. My kids know to expect this treat and look forward to it. If they ask for something in the middle of the week, I tell them we can have it on Sunday, or Friday. We are all learning delayed gratification. When the boy wanted to try candy making thanks to a craft book, we made them and then waited to taste them until Shabbat, when we shared with everyone. When we lived in Canada there was a bakery near us that made the best Nanaimo bars, if you’re not Canadian you’ve probably never even heard of one much less tasted it. Believe me a good one is amazing. For weeks on end my planned Sunday indulgence was a Nanaimo Bar from that bakery. They were closed on Sundays, so every Saturday afternoon I would walk to the bakery and get my one bar and take it home. It would wait on top of the fridge until after lunch on Sunday, and then I would eat my one treat for that week. Anticipation does great things for our eating habits if we can use it to our advantage. I was able to pass up all sorts of temptations by mentally comparing them to my treat and rejecting them because they weren’t as good. If something did catch my eye, I would save it for Sunday and look forward to it instead.

One word about hidden sugar. Sugar is in everything these days, disguised as soup and crackers and bread and peanut butter. Read labels and try to eliminate as much hidden sweetener from your diet as possible, you’ll not only help your waistline, but you’ll keep yourself from the kinds of continued cravings that eating high sugar foods can cause which creates a vicious spiral effect where you eat more sugar and then crave more and then eat more an then crave more and you end up feeling sick.

I am less helpful when it comes to caffeine because I don’t like coffee. Here are a couple of things that may help those that do. Try not to drink it sweet or creamy since the sugar and fat have the opposite effect on your brain and you may need more to keep going. Drink more water!! In the morning before reaching for your cup of coffee try drinking two large glasses of water first. You may find yourself feeling much more alert even before you take your caffeine hit. Try the water thing throughout the day as well. Since I don’t drink caffeinated beverages I have to rely on other things to keep me going, like napsJ, but water does help a lot, as does eating foods high in fiber and protein at regular intervals throughout the day. If you find you still need stimulants there are drinks like Yerba Mate, which is a very strong tea, or matcha, which is powdered green tea from special leaves that my husband claims works as well as coffee. If you just really love the taste think of it the same way as chocolate or another indulgence. Treat yourself to really great coffee less often. Get some really aromatic dark roast espresso or something that you coffee lovers rave about, and enjoy a cup or two a day and stop there.

I hope this helps those who were asking. One last bit of advice is to read French Women Don’t get Fat that is linked in the side bar. She is really interesting and really helpful to those of us with a sweet tooth and a desire to enjoy things in moderation.


Mariah said...

Thank you, Carrien! I'm starting now! The sweets I have left from Christmas are going in the trash as soon as I finish writing this comment! I'm expecting some headaches, tiredness, and cravings over the next couple of weeks, but I'm determined to do this. I am also giving up coffee as of today too. I have a cold and I have headaches with that anyway, so I might as well go for it now and get it all out of my system at once! :-) I have given up coffee in the past, on more than one occasion, and I find that if I then indulge in one good cup evey now and then it just leads to another daily addiction. That's just how it works for me; it may be different for others, but for me, no coffee whatsoever is better than a small indulgence. The chocolate thing, however, is a great idea and I think it'll work for me. Thanks so much for your thoughts. ~Mariah~

a. borealis said...

Oooooo!!! I LOVE the driving force behind this blog. It is so excellent - and so unfortunately true that REAL FOOD is a revolution in this country. What a pity.

I think your advice about sugar is spot-on. The less you eat it, the less desirable it becomes. I have found it to be true in my own life: I am only interested in eating something sweet or desert-y if it is REALLY good (and not very often, at that). Nothing else is very appealing. People who know me don't usually even bother to offer me sweets.

I'm lucky, though, because I've never been that wild about sugary junk food. For someone who is wild about sugar, it is a matter of training. I've been working on my husband for years now, and (fortunately or unfortunately) a recent bout with an ulcer has caught his attention. Now that he is eating more fresh vegetables and fruit and less meat and sugar, he has definitely noticed a systemic difference.

I like your idea about dessert on Fridays and/or Sundays only. That makes a lot of sense to me. The palate was designed to appreciate sweet tastes; and in moderation, it isn't a problem. It is especially intelligent to program your kids to think of dessert as a special treat, not a daily ritual. AND you can actually prepare something interesting if you're only doing it once a week. I've been slowly gathering the advice of others for my 17.5 month old. This one is going in the vault, for sure. My family did "Sunday Cereal", where we could only have sweetened cereals on Sundays - akin to what you are suggesting - only YUCK, who wants their kids eating processed cereals??? I like your Shabbat dessert idea much better.

Whoa - this comment turned into a mini-epistle!! I'm just so excited about what you're doing here. I'LL BE BACK (and I'll bring my enthusiasm with me).

kate said...

Hey, thanks for this. I've been drinking way too much coffee lately, so I like your idea of making a good cup once a day or whatever (I have been making 3/4 of a pot to work my way through throughout the day...)

And I have been going around the sugar issue off and on for awhile (my main indulgence has been dark chocolate, actually, but I went from one square a day to several-- oops. I think I need to just not have it in the house for awhile...

So I am taking this post as inspiration to up the fruits instead...

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