Since my gallbladder attack, Courtney and I have really been focusing on our health, and it’s shown. We’ve both lost a lot of weight while gaining some muscle. We feel a lot better, more alert, and generally happier. I’ve noticed my general mood has stabilized, and I just feel pretty good.
The biggest thing we have tried to do is eliminate sugar. The more I learn and read about sugar (and particularly high fructose corn syrup), the more I’m convinced that our bodies just weren’t made to handle it. I watched a presentation by a professor who went into the chemical responses our body makes to sugar and hfcs (thank heavens for college biology classes!), and it was almost scary to see how those substances behave in our bodies and what they do.
That was about three weeks ago, and we decided in that moment that we were going to move towards a sugar elimination diet. When we did our big monthly shop a few days later, we stocked up on big supplies of nuts, high fiber breads, fruits and veggies, and so forth. Here’s a few things we learned:
- Healthy does not mean healthy–If I asked you if yogurt were healthy, you’d probably say healthy, right? When was the last time you looked at the ingredients? It’s not healthy. Most yogurts I looked at have as much sugar in them as a typical candy bar, and most of them use hfcs.
But we love yogurt! I’d guesstimate we spend a good $50 a month on yogurt in our house, and we’ve always felt so good about doing it. No longer. We invested in a yogurt maker, and we’ve been enjoying home-made fresh yogurt since last Thursday. We started last Friday with a yogurt smoothy made with our yogurt, frozen berries, and honey. It was divine, and every thing in there was something we either made ourselves (honey and yogurt) or was a whole food (berries).
We’re experimenting with using plain yogurt, which is pretty tart, as a substitute for other ingredients we commonly use like sour cream. It’s been great so far.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup is poison–I used to buy into that idea that sugar and hfcs were comparable to each other. They simply are not. If you’ve got 90 minutes, watch this. If you don’t have 90 minutes, watch it anyway. You will come away convinced of the poison of hfcs. More so, though, you will come away with the knowledge of why it is. The presenter here is a college professor who goes through the biological processes your body uses to process the various kinds of sugar and explains the history behind sugar consumption. That video as much as anything was the proverbial straw.
- Be patient and prepared–I think this was the hardest part for us. We’ve done sugar elimination diets before back when Courtney was having her sugar problems, but this was the first in which we both were strongly on board and really pushing for it. We spent the first few days/weeks feeling seriously deprived, and I think the only thing that got us through was having the solutions readily available. We bought those nuts, mixed in raisins, and found a new side to sweetness that was filling and refreshing. We bought small quantities of dark chocolate and limited ourselves to nibbles to take the edge off. We didn’t run screaming from treats if someone brought something to work, but we went into the moment with information and knowledge which helped us limit. We talked about it often to make sure we were on the same page and encouraging each other. And we celebrated the successes in the right way. Combined, we’ve lost around 25 lbs in the last month.
It can be done!
And who cares if you crash and burn once in a while. One bad day or donut does not invalidate the rest of the day, week, or month. Let it go.
- Make it all or nothing and all or none–In the past, we’d either have one of us committed or we’d not include the kids. It makes it hard to stick to it when the person next to you is eating chocolate, so we made the kids join us, and we went all the way in removing heavy sugar stuff. These last three weeks, I have brought home in my grocery cart (I do the grocery shopping) a grand total of ~30 grams of sugar. Over three weeks. That is, by the way, roughly the amount of sugar in a single yogurt. It has taken a little more effort, and we’ve had to change our diets, but it wasn’t that hard.
- It’s not more expensive–We assumed our budget would have to go up, but what we’ve found is that it actually costs less to eat better. Here’s the deal: I can go get 2 lbs of bananas for $1.18 currently OR I can spend $3 on a bag of chips. Both would get demolished by my family the second I walk through the door, but I could do 2.5 times the bananas before I got close to spending as much as the bag of chips. Milk on sale at Wal-mart is $2 a gallon. That produces ~1 gallon of yogurt in our yogurt maker. That same amount in quart tubs would cost me ~$10 if I bought the tubs. If I bought the Greek yogurt that Courtney and I like, you’re looking at closer to $15 or even $20.
It’s not more expensive. Unless you want it to be, I guess….
- Taste buds change–Ask my mother: I did not eat my fruits and vegetables as a kid. You couldn’t get me to touch an apple, and I’d sooner vomit than eat a tomato and that behavior continued well into adulthood for me. Our dinner tonight is salad. On Saturday I had one of the sweetest apples I think I’ve ever had. When I go shopping, easily 50% of the cart is rabbit food. I’ve eaten more salads in the last two years than the rest of my life combined. Easily.
Once you kill the sugar, food starts to come alive again. You discover newness in flavors that had been hidden by sugar. But it takes time. Be patient.
- Fat is not the enemy–Here’s some interesting thoughts for you: the obesity epidemic matches (inversely) the advent of the low-fat, fat-free diets. In other words, the more fat we remove from our diets, the higher the rates of obesity. Why? Sugar. My brother, a professional chef, has long chanted the great mantra of the cooking world: Fat carries the flavor. When you remove fat from food, you remove the flavor. And how do you replace the flavor? Sugar, hfcs, and other sweeteners.
Since January, Courtney and I have stopped paying attention to fats as the critical component of our diets and looked more to sugar as the problem. It’s worked.
Note: We are not, of course, excusing dangerous fats nor are we encouraging high-fat diets. Rather, we’re encouraging real food. Fat is a part of food. Natural fats in natural foods aren’t going to kill you. It’s the fat that comes from processing foods and oils that I’d worry about.
- Health is not boring–Let’s see… Breakfast burritos stuffed with hashbrowns, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, cheese, and salsa. Balsamic vinegar reduction drizzled over tilapia, rosemary potatoes, and green beans. Chicken enchiladas with refried beans. Asian stir fry with squash, zucchini, peppers, onions, chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli. Sweet and sour chicken with ham fried rice. Omelets with ham, mushrooms, cheddar, cottage cheese, and toast. Spinach salad with homemade raspberry vinaigrette, homemade croutons, boiled eggs, nuts, orange slices, bleu cheese, and raisins.
Yep, that is just part of our menu over the last few weeks.
Food should be enjoyed. Food isn’t solely a tool nor is it a weapon of shame and guilt. It’s one of the greatest parts of life, and life is good.
The last thing that I would add is that it’s important to know why something is good or bad. Marketing does a great job of trying to tell us what is good or bad for us, but letting a company with a strong bias in favor of their products dictate what is and is not healthy is a poor logical argument. You and you alone are responsible for the decisions you make, and you can either be informed or not.
I remember when we first embarked on really driving our debt free lives. It was very interesting to quickly stop and look at the lives of people around me and start recognizing the impact of their decisions. We started seeing people who had to have the latest cars and recognizing that that meant they’d always be chasing a car payment. Or had to have the latest phones or the biggest data plans or see the latest movies in the theaters. We don’t criticize their choices, but we finally could see why those choices were not for us because we wanted something greater than that.
I’ve started to see that in my grocery shopping. I don’t hate people who choose to do that nor do I criticize their choices, but I will say that I will not do it. I used to be one of them. I used to walk down the aisle and see a granola bar and assume healthy because it’s a GRANOLA BAR!!! When was the last time you looked at the ingredients of even the “healthy” ones? I was in a Sams Club the other day just in time to hear someone proclaim the latest energy drink as a “health” food. I took a bottle and looked at the ingredients. The first ingredient was water (it’s a drink, no surprise). Second? Sugar, specifically hfcs. I couldn’t even pronounce most of the other ingredients.
Knowing the why behind food has not only left us feeling more motivated to make the change, but it has also reinforced our reasons why. Before we understood the dangers of debt, we always wanted to be debt free. It took that understanding to drive us to make the decisions that led us to today where we are watching our last non-house debt collapse and die before our eyes. Similarly, we’ve always wanted to be healthy. It has taken learning why and how to finally get to a point where it’s working.
It’s a good place to be.