I eat A LOT. Years ago, when purchasing a new lunch box I had to ask the clerk to pretend I was a 6ʹ tall construction worker and stop suggesting dainty lunchboxes. During the work day, my very predictable breakfasts (yes, plural!), lunch, and snacks are all very healthy and consisted largely of fruits and vegetables. After hours and weekends, though? That’s when the gloves come off.
I. Love. Eating. And the more carb-filled the better. My appetite almost filled me with a sense of pride. (I challenged a friend of mine to a pizza eating-contest last year.)
I was comfortable with what I ate. Particularly since I am really good at exercise.
(NOTE: This isn’t a humble brag. It’s a braggy brag. No matter how busy life gets, I get to the gym – usually five or six days each week. I balance cardio and strength and mix up my workouts regularly. I wasn’t always good at it. Past Heather would go to the gym, get bored after five minutes, and just walk out. If she went to the gym at all. But after learning the equipment and making exercise a priority, I’ve grown to love working out. I’m lucky enough to have an onsite fitness facility and classes at work, but I also take advantage of the CDPHP gym reimbursement.)
In fact, being Good At Exercise provided a convenient excuse to eat like I’d never see food again. But that all recently changed.
Happier with Gretchen Rubin is one of the many podcasts in my regular rotation. She talks frequently about why she quit sugar and how transformative it’s been. In one episode, she interviewed Gary Taubes, author of The Case Against Sugar and Why We Get Fat. I listened but thought, “Wow, what a sad life without sugar”. Nothing would get in the way of my desserts, crackers, bread, and other delightful carbohydrates.
Quick side bar: I have a personal goal to read one book about every U.S. president. I am currently 35 presidents in to the list of 44 different presidents we’ve had. As I was reading about President McKinley, I realized how big of an impact sugar has had on our country in ways I’d never considered before. I also had a hunch that McKinley would be referenced in The Case Against Sugar, so I decided to pick up the book.
This book was unexpected and life changing. Most of the scientific arguments were a little over my head, but the history was mind-blowing. It read like a spy novel: the lobbyists, the politics, the brainwashing, advertising, and on and on.
So in August, after reading the book, I broke way out of my comfort zone. I decided to cut waaaaay back on sugar and make a few other changes to the way I ate.
1. Less pizza
My husband makes amazing pizza, and if I could eat only pizza, I’d be one happy lady. We had pizza for dinner once, maybe twice a week. And I ate a lot. (“Hey, I ran today! I’m hungry!”) My daughter graciously gave me her crusts and I greedily gobbled them up as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had pizza since August. But now I don’t eat pizza unless it’s going to be amazing pizza. It’s more of a treat every so often. And I don’t eat as many slices.
2. No. Added. Sugar.
My husband decided to make some healthy changes, including cutting all added sugar, and he thought we’d both be more successful if we tried together. Fine.
I assumed it would be the longest 30 days of my life, but I would (begrudgingly) join him in this ridiculous mission.
And you know what? I liked it. Sure, it wasn’t always easy. But the cravings for sweets disappeared. I felt better. More in control. More at ease. My weak willpower wasn’t even an issue, because I didn’t need willpower.
I’m not avoiding sugar altogether – I eat lots of fruit! – but I do avoid foods with added sugar.
3. Whole, not processed, food
That means not eating out of boxes and bags. Avoiding processed foods. Tricky. But with a solid plan, it’s not bad. I no longer accidentally eat all of my daughter’s goldfish crackers or take a handful or two of my son’s Pirate’s Booty when I dish some out for him.
4. No more mindless food-shoveling
Once I take the first bite, it’s downhill for me. Over the summer, I started making better choices. That’s right. I started during BARBECUE season! I filled up my plate with fruits and vegetables and passed up the creamy dips, decadent desserts, and the chips. I thought it would feel like a giant bummer and that I was missing out. Strangely, it didn’t feel like that at all. I felt empowered and left parties without feeling gross and stuffed.
5. More sweet potatoes
Over the years, I’ve tried them a variety of ways (even as fries!). Nope, no thank you. Hard pass. I wanted to like them because they pack a big nutritional punch. My husband would make them for himself, and every now and then I’d try a bite or two. One day it finally happened! My husband baked himself some sweet potato fries and I actually liked them! Yay me!
6. Black coffee
I was always a cream and sugar coffee drinker. A few years ago, I reduced then eliminated the sugar. I reluctantly decided to cut the half and half, too. I thought it would be a One Sip Experiment whereby I would officially declare that I would rather not drink coffee at all than to have to drink it black.
But guess what? I still enjoyed it.
For me, coffee is more about the ritual than anything else. It’s symbolic of my attempt to ease into the day (all by myself!) either doodling/reading in my quiet house or alone at work.
And here’s what happened.
I first noticed my watch getting looser. Then my shoes. (My shoes?? Seriously? I was fine with the size of my feet and wrists.) And now several months later, I’m on my last belt notch and fitting into clothes I haven’t worn since before I had kids.
I don’t do this all the time. We went to Florida recently and I consumed more than my share of sugar. I didn’t go hog-wild, like Past Heather would have. I indulged, but by the end of the trip I was ready to get back to my New Normal and eat healthier again.
While I may indulge in a small (worthy and special!) treat now and then, I don’t plan to return to my old ways (that is to say, enthusiastically eating every treat or carb I encounter).
Unfortunately, it’s not within my authority to declare a book mandatory reading. (Is it?) But if I could, The Case Against Sugar would be that book. Mostly because I want to know what everyone thinks. (I’ve already gifted it to two people, but held myself back from ordering more copies so far.)
Have you read the book or cut sugar? I want to know. Leave a comment below.