I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wheat and sugar blues

I looked at these cream puffs at the coffee shop and wished I could eat one. It had been three months since I last ate any wheat or sugar, but this last week, I indulged. While at the movies, I realized I would need something to tide me over until dinnertime, and while I waited for my friend Judy to arrive, I perused the offerings. A very enticing chocolate cookie made by a local bakery caught my eye, and I thought to myself that I could share it with Judy. By the time she arrived, however, it was gone. Completely. Biting into it, I realized that it was not only rich and tasty, with chunks of melting chocolate, but the texture was also completely scrumptious. It was very enjoyable.

In some ways I am fortunate that I have a reaction to sugar when I haven't eaten it in awhile. During the entire movie, my heart pounded and I felt a little shaky and broke out in a sweat. It's a familiar feeling I get when I eat something sugary and rich on an empty stomach, and indicates to me that my insulin level has just spiked. It wasn't until we were in the restaurant later that my body felt totally normal again. I ate a tuna sandwich (more wheat) and was just fine after that. The tendency toward diabetes runs in my family, and I have little doubt that if I ate a normal American diet, by this time in my life I would be either pre-diabetic or completely so. My grandfather died of it at 62, and my mother developed Type II diabetes in her forties.  One of my younger sisters takes insulin shots for it.

The mechanism of how insulin spikes work is this:
In normal physiology, the body is able to balance the glucose (sugar levels) in the bloodstream. When a person eats, and glucose levels start to rise, the body signals the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin "unlocks the door" to cells in the body so that the glucose can be used for energy. When blood sugar levels drop, insulin production decreases and the liver begins producing glucose.
Apparently when my blood sugar levels begin to drop, they don't stop dropping until I become mildly hypoglycemic and I experience that feeling described above. Once I return to eating a diet low in simple carbohydrates, I don't get those uncomfortable feelings when I eat. It's a good way to keep myself on the path of eating what agrees with me. When I've had my fasting blood sugar checked, it's always been within normal limits, but I suspect that there is some imbalance in either my pancreas or my liver that doesn't work as it should. I could worry about it, but I've found that if I am cautious about what I eat, it doesn't happen at all. Every once in awhile I guess I need to remember that. The cookie did its work.

There is another side effect of falling off the wagon: I begin to crave sweets. It's impossible for me to know if this is physiological or completely emotional, but those cream puffs caught my eye and I decided to take a picture of them since I wouldn't allow myself to have one. I imagined biting into it, feeling the creaminess of the chocolate and the soft whipped cream inside the shell... ooohhh. Heaven for a little while. Then I remembered how I would feel afterwards, and I was able to resist.

The other trick I have is to carry some raw almonds and walnuts in a little baggie inside my purse or pocket, so that I can have something that takes away any hunger and is good for me. I never have reactions from them, no matter how hungry I am. Within a few minutes, my hunger is gone and I feel just right. I had forgotten to put any in my pocket for the movies, which is why this whole treadmill has started again. It's important for me to remind myself that the craving will diminish as long as I don't indulge again any time soon.

I don't think I had any reaction to the wheat itself. I read the book Wheat Belly (as opposed to Beer Belly) and have found it true that my belly has diminished in size over the past three months. I am no longer dieting per se, but my body seems to be redistributing my fat deposits. I keep being surprised when I put on a favorite pair of pants and find that they are loose, although I haven't lost any more weight. The only thing I have changed in these past three months is to stay away from wheat and sugar.

There is one other rather interesting side effect: my mood is much improved, and it's the depths of winter right now. Other than the Christmas season when I was robbed (I wrote about it here), I've been in a really good mood. Could it be the diet? If you read the book, the author swears that your mood will improve if you get rid of wheat. I don't have any way to know how I would be feeling otherwise, which is always a problem if you try to figure out what changes what. I'm also possibly susceptible to suggestion. Who knows? I'll take it, whatever the reason.

Since my little foray into wheat and sugar, the only thing I still notice, a week later, is that my eye tends to drift toward the dessert tray at the coffee shop a little more often. I know that will eventually diminish, unless I indulge again. Then I remember that awful shaky sweaty feeling, and that helps me decide to look at the pretty clouds in the sky outside, instead.


Rita said...

I just have the cravings and no bad reactions...except for fat--LOL! I have read that before, though, about wheat and sugar--that the more you eat the more you crave it. Makes it sound like heroin or meth! And I'm an addict. *sigh* You are doing so well, lady!! Good for you! :)

Teri said...

I'm trying to follow the path of no sugar, no wheat, no refined foods. I agree that you start to crave again, once you take that first bite. This time around, I had a craving for about 24-48 hours and was going crazy, luckily I did not have any of the "bad" foods in my RV, so I got through it and its amazing how much better I feel already, so fast.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad you have such an adverse reaction to sweets. Fortunately, I don't. In October when I was tested, my blood glucose was 93, below the 100 threshold, so I am not even pre-diabetic. But, I am heavy and have a potbelly, though. I have been on so many diets that I have no desire to start another one. As long as my test scores are normal, what the heck? Lol.

Retired English Teacher said...

I'm glad you are seeing positive results and that this diet is working for you. Cravings go away with time. Feeding the craving only makes it worse. I've learned that over time.

MerCyn said...

Keeping the cravings at bay is a life-long task. Food is an addiction and I am an addict! I give in to chocolate occasionally. A couple of pieces is OK, but when I am weak and overindulge I pay for it later. I have become good at eating the good stuff but have not yet overcome the inclination to overeat.

Friko said...

my blood sugar levels are fine although I do tend to eat a lot of the sweeter foods in winter. I really ought not to, my energy levels go up and down far too abruptly.
I am fortunate in that I can't eat fats and certainly no dairy products. I am beginning to think that wheat is not doing me any favours either, although I don't eat more than two slices of bread a day.

In ones sixties one really ought to know what works and what doesn't; you are good about temptation, something I have to learn urgently.


Sorry you are going thru this. I am not supposed to eat wheat, now any gluten, and cut sugar use way down. Same for caffeine and I do love one cup of good strong coffee in the morning.
This is a life long journey for me. I have chronic pancreatitis and will have to always watch what I eat.
Diabetes runs in my family.
It's hard. I broke this week too and had a fat donut. Today I had a cookie bar. Tomorrow I'll hop back on the wagon and stay away from everything bad. It's just occasionally, we need a break.
Good luck to y ou on this journey. Barb

SquirrelQueen said...

Bakeries do their best to tempt us don't they? Have you ever tried carob? It tastes similar to chocolate but without some of the negative things that are in chocolate like caffeine. It also has a little natural sweetness. In my backpacking days we used to make trail mix with carob chips instead of chocolate, partly because it wouldn't melt in the heat like chocolate but also because tasted good. I get it at health food stores but be sure to read the labels, some brands are packed with sugar and fat. I usually just buy the plain chips.

Rubye Jack said...

I have that thing for sugar and sadly, have been indulging it lately with a dark milky way here and there. I simply have to quit because I totally know that for me it is addicting. But gosh, it tastes so dang good!!!

Red said...

You are telling us that the food thing is mostly in our head. Some foods speed us up as you said. some become a craving as you tell us with having that one cookie. Good on you for keeping up a healthy eating regime.

Linda Reeder said...

Your reaction to sugar doesn't sound "lucky" but maybe it is. I do know that I have to constantly fight cravings for sweets. I think eating sugar makes you want more. That's what I've read anyway.
Because I don't have dietary restrictions, just caloric limitations, I eat just about everything, but in moderation. I've heard about the belly fat diet, but I just don't want to have to follow any diet plan. Good for you for losing inches!

Arkansas Patti said...

As awful as they are, your reactions to sweets is probably a blessing. Talk about aversion therapy.
My achilles heel is greasy or fatty foods. I can do fine as long as I abstain but then going off the wagon just once sets off the need for a frenzie feed. I'd make a shark look docile.
Hope you are back to normal soon.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I really try hard to limit sugar intake..I am working on the wheat thing..but I do like bread...especially as toast for breakfast..after that I can skip bread the rest of the day.
It sounds like you are doing good at keeping your sugar intake under control:)

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan,
Congratulations on doing the necessary reading and research and figuring out how to handle cravings that end up affecting you adversely.

Chocolate is a trigger for Meniere's headaches, which are like migraines in intensity. So I seldom eat any chocolate because those headaches are unforgettable.


Linda Myers said...

I try to stay away from the fabulous sweets in your photo. My weakness is butter on carbs.

A baggie of almonds and a hard boiled egg is helpful in my purse for when I need to eat.

Lara Leigh P said...


Whitney Lee said...

I really need to get back on track. I noticed the difference in mood without the sugar. Of course, it could have been the wheat or the sugar. I would also love to ditch some (or all) of the belly fat. I just seem to have difficulty with the willpower part. So I cave, then I feel guilty, then I pull a Scarlett and figure I'll get back on track tomorrow. Maybe this is the reminder I need to get my butt in gear!

Sandi said...

Hi DJan! I didn't last very long totally wheat and sugar free, but I did dramatically alter my food habits. I've found a pumpernickel bread at World Market that is really good. I'm loving the website you sent me about the nutrition in foods, as that's what I'm paying attention to now, and it seems to be working better for me.

I know that I'm addicted to sugar and have the same fears about diabetes. Several family members have adult onset and I don't want to be one of them. So, I've cut way down on processed foods, and sugar. I think it's making a difference in my mood, and also in my waist!

Thanks for the updated post, and the reminder not to go crazy and eat a cookie!!

CiCi said...

Understanding your cravings while acknowledging what sugar will do to your body on an empty stomach is just using your head. Glad you mention the raw almonds because they are a truly great help with cravings as well healthy all by themselves.

I have been wheat free four months now and continue to take sweat pants in and wear smaller size shirts. Not using the word "diet" and not counting calories, just dropped wheat. No more headaches and I have to say how glad I am that I changed my way of eating before my husband left. While he was still living here he was in a manic episode and it was the worst one ever. In his mania, he believed he was not having many symptoms. Because my mood was smoother and I was calmer I was able to endure and to get through the horribleness of it all. Like you, my belly is diminishing and I am not trying.

Nancy said...

You are an inspiration, DJan. I am working on this very thing right now. It's not easy, that's for sure. Those cream puffs look heavenly. You are right, however, once you stop eating those things the cravings diminish.

Mel said...

A very interesting post. I've been wondering about the effects of wheat and sugar on my health lately too. I have noticed lately that the littlest amount of alcohol can cost me a night's sleep with intensified night sweats and racing pulse. I'm pretty sad about that because I love a glass of wine with dinner.
It's so hard as I get older and things change to understand what my body is trying to tell, and trying not to listen to it when it whines for chocolate and corn chips. I crave salt more than sugar, and neither is good for me.
I'm looking at what I thought was a menopause belly and wondering if it's a wheat belly instead! Time to really rethink my diet. Thanks for the information and the inspiration.
Thanks too for the kind comment, and for reminding me about Still Alice. I wanted to read that book and now I have to read it. I'm still processing all this and hoping that something, anything can be done to slow the progression. Thanks so much for the thoughts. And interestingly, your comment did not have your picture next to it, just the blogger icon, and if I click it, it says profile not available. Blogger is so strange lately!

Terra said...

I found this very interesting about the wheat and the sugar. One thing I do is I do not drink fruit juice, since that is a big jolt of sugar.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I need to get serious about this. Thanks for the great update. You are an inspiration.