Sugar

I know what I need to do.  I have always known.  I have not always believed, or accepted.  But I have always known.

My mother taught me well, as a young child, about how to eat.  The key words in our house weren’t fat, skinny, calories, candy, pop, etc.  The key words were nutritious, nutrient-dense, fresh, healthy, balance, grow.  The purpose of food isn’t to make you fat, or to taste yummy, or to make you feel better.  The purpose is to help you grow, to keep you healthy so you don’t get sick, to give you energy so you can play and learn.  So what if we translate that into “adult?”  The purpose of food is to help your cells grow and regenerate, to give you energy so you can work and play, and to keep you healthy so you don’t get sick.  Interestingly, that can also sum up the purpose of sleep!

The point is, I think when I was six years old I had a much better relationship with food than I do now.  I would have told you in a very six-year-old kind of way, but I would have said the same thing.  We need to know the purpose of food.  Then, within that purpose, we can pick what we like and have favorites.  Throughout my childhood, my favorite thing was soup.  Vegetable soup, chili, potato-cheese soup…my absolute favorite ever is “leftover soup.”  If there was maybe one serving of cooked veggies left after a meal, Mom would put it in a big plastic margarine container in the freezer.  Over a few weeks, she would add and add, whenever there was leftover veggies, no matter what they were.  Potatoes, broccoli, peas, carrots…any vegetable we ever ate would eventually end up in that container.  When the container was full, it was time to wait for leftover meat.  When there was leftover meat (the best was pot roast or pork chops!), the next night would be soup night.  You cut up the meat, add the big chunk of frozen veggies, a big can of tomatoes (including the juice), an onion, a few potatoes, some water, some broth powder, and salt and pepper.  Then, you let it simmer for awhile.  SO GOOD!  I have never been able to replicate that flavor in my own home.  I guess it can’t be made from non-leftover food!

My favorite snack was apples and cheese.  My favorite drink was ice water.  My favorite breakfast was crock pot oatmeal.  My favorite lunch was soy spread (sort of like a vegetarian chicken salad, but not exactly…I’ll share the recipe at a later time…). 

My point is, my favorites were healthy.  And now, if I’m being honest, my favorites are still healthy.  If I have a plate of brownies next to a plate of apples and cheese, I would rather taste the apples and cheese.  An hour later, I would rather feel like I ate apples and cheese, rather than brownies.  Sweets do taste good, but not the way fresh, whole food tastes good.  So why would I choose brownies?

1. I still have the mentality: “Ooh, sweets!  Who knows when I’ll see them again?  Better eat as much as I can!”  It seems silly, and I wouldn’t trade the things I learned in childhood for not having this mentality, but there it is.

2. In the situation of reality, those two choices aren’t sitting on plates next to each other ready to go.  And generally, whole food takes longer to prepare.  Whole food must be washed and cut and often cooked, processed food just needs to be taken out of the package, and sometimes heated up in the microwave.

3. And the kicker…sugar!  White flour!  Processed ingredients that are only a shadow of their earthly origin.  They hit your system like a hurricane.  Processed sugar and refined grains send your blood sugar soaring in seconds.  And that feeling when you’re eating after feeling hunger, that feeling that says, “Oh, thank you God!  FOOD!  Aaaahhhhh……!”  That feeling of relief and comfort?  That is the feeling of your blood sugar going up.  So if I’m feeling hungry, my body has been trained that foods with processed sugar and refined grains will give me that feeling in a faster and more intense way.  So even though my taste buds want the apple, and my cells want the apple, my blood and my brain want the brownie.

And then, after I’ve treated my body to a blood sugar spike, very quickly comes the crash.  The feelings of tiredness, lack of motivation, sometimes a headache, and, if you can believe it…hunger!  But not real hunger, just a need for more sugar, to bring the blood sugar back up.  That crash is my insulin kicking in, rushing to my bloodstream, bringing that sugar level down.  For me, the crash comes so quickly and fiercely that I know that the insulin in my body is working great.  The thing is, if I keep doing this to myself, it won’t work so great after awhile.  It will take more and more insulin to bring my blood sugar down to where it belongs.  That lowering of the body’s sensitivity to insulin is otherwise known as type II diabetes.  And too much insulin in the body causes problems of its own.

Thanks to a discussion with my sister Sarah this weekend, I have a new theory about this crash.  I’m not sure I crash any harder than anyone else after having sugar.  I think there might be two reasons why I find it so miserable.  They both start with the fact that the first 12 years of my life or so, I consumed almost no processed sugar.  One, the lower sensitivity to insulin that brings diabetes might also bring a gentler, slower sugar crash, and my body hasn’t had as much opportunity to lower its sensitivity as someone who has been eating refined foods for 12 years longer than I have.  Two, I know what it’s like to feel good, unlike someone who might not have had very many days of eating whole foods.  Their perception of good might be different from my perception of good.  My perception of feeling good might have those people thinking, “I never knew I could feel this good!”  Because since I was born and raised feeling that good, anything less feels bad.

When I was in high school, I was perplexed by the phenomenon that I could fall asleep in class.  In junior high, I couldn’t have fallen asleep in class if my life depended on it.  So what was the difference?  Driving privileges!  The raspberry-cream cheese danish from Casey’s on the way to school.  The soda in my backpack.  The fast food with my friends after school.  The microwave dinner after work.  My mom was no longer feeding me.

Which leads me to my first statement.  I know what I need to do.  I need to give up sugar.  I know it.  I have always known.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about 100% for the rest of my life.  The occasional treat won’t hurt anything.  It’s all about balance.  I need to eat more like I did when my mom was feeding me.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I went one whole day without sugar.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve had three days in a row without feeling the sugar high and crash.  It’s not that I expect myself to go even five days without sugar, or that I expect myself to never feel the sugar crash again.  I just expect myself to eat more mindfully, a diet that will serve the purpose of food.  I expect that the foods I eat over the course of a week will do more good than harm.  I expect that 20 years from now, I will be enjoying cells and organs that have been built with quality materials, not the cheapies of processed food and sugar.

It’s about being mindful, about balance.  It’s about making choices on purpose, based on priorities, not on pleasure and instant gratification.  And, it’s about slow and permanent change, not changing all at once.

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