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, April 17, 2011

Getting older and wiser

From Wikipedia entry on Sugar
This morning's New York Times Sunday Magazine has a fascinating article about sugar. You can read it here, but be forewarned: it's scary stuff. If you compare what is written in that article with the Wikipedia entry under the picture, you will first notice that Wikipedia has many references regarding the debate about whether sugar really is bad for you. The article has tipped me over the edge to write about it here. Maybe I can save the life of someone who is dear to me (my family, my loved ones, my readers).

Sugar and fat are such wonderful comfort foods, we all know that. I can think of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and feel associations of love and happiness surrounding many events at home, work, and numerous social occasions. It's so deeply ingrained in me that I am not sure I can separate the two: eating the sweet cake and the cherished memories.

Every once in awhile over the years, I have gone on sugar fasts, dieting and watching everything I eat so that I can lose weight. I've always been a regular exerciser, or at least I have been as an adult. I took up jogging in my mid-thirties in order to lose weight and quit smoking, and it certainly helped. No one was more surprised than me when exercising became an indispensable part of my life.

Everything works when I put my mind to it and apply willpower to start down a path toward health. But it's impossible to keep up because it's just that: an external pressure exerted upon my willingness to attain some goal. It's not coming from within but from a desire to be healthy or thin or more socially acceptable. And so it falls away and I slip back into old habits. We all know the routine.

I finished reading Mindless Eating last week and gave the book to my friend Judy. This week I have a another book on my nightstand: The End of Overeating by David Kessler. Both of these books talk about why it's important to become aware of what we are doing when we put food in our mouths. What happens to us when we eat comfort foods mindlessly is hard to ignore.

Yesterday I must have seen at least two dozen morbidly obese people on the streets here in Bellingham. I remember being shocked when I first got here from Boulder over the sheer number of them, because people in Boulder tend to exercise more and eat better than they do here. I wondered why at first, but after having passed through a dreary and cold winter and springtime, there's no doubt that many of these people have grown so huge because of mindless eating, as well as eating lots of sugar and fat. One of the things the article in the NYT pointed out to me is that eating the wrong foods causes us to want to eat more of those same foods.

When I went to my doctor's office in January and found that I had gained ten pounds since last year's visit, I was not only surprised but puzzled, because I exercise regularly and watch what I eat. I decided I had to lose the weight because my cholesterol numbers were elevated, but I also noticed that my triglycerides were lower than last year's number, which is a good thing, I thought. Knowing that both of those numbers are related to one another, I asked the doctor what level of triglycerides is considered to be healthy. He explained that the lower the number, the better. There is no healthy level of triglycerides. This surprised me, because I assumed that it was only high triglycerides that are unhealthy, but I've learned that they are not usable by the body and must be broken down by pancreatic enzymes in order to be absorbed. When triglycerides are elevated, they cause all kinds of havoc in the body.

What I did was to begin writing down everything I eat on a calorie counting website. I did that for two months and lost the excess weight and now am trying to stabilize my weight by applying what I learned about how much food 1,800 calories actually is (the amount I need to eat to keep from gaining or losing). It's not much, really, but I've also changed the kinds and quality of the food I eat as well as limiting the calories. One thing I am certain about: empty calories of any kind should not only be prohibited, but any time I eat them I put myself at risk for disease. It's a strong incentive, not imposed from without, but from deep inside me that I feel the desire for change coming. I've seen too many friends and family suffering from something that can be relearned: what we eat is definitely under our control.

But first we have to gain awareness that something we have done mindlessly all our lives can be recognized as actually being under our control. If you read that article in the New York Times about sugar, it might be all you need to give you that incentive. I hope so.


Robert the Skeptic said...

I consumed a lot of sugar over my life, and I am likely just on the edge of diabetes, my triglycerides are very high, that is not good.

But a few years ago I radically cut back on the sugar I take in. I stopped putting it on cereal and we stopped drinking pop (which is essentially a liquid candy bar).

Remarkably our "taste" for sugar declined; those plates of doughnuts and cookies that co-workers would bring to work started to look unappetizing, we bought less ice cream. Now some things we can't eat because they seem TOO sweet. Our tastes have adapted. (Restaurants make their highest profit margin on soft drinks, cutting them out makes eating out less expensive.)

On the other hand the body needs sugar and fat to properly function. About half the sugar we metabolize in the brain. I guess like with most things, there is a proper amount one should consume.

But honestly, doing nothing else, we both lost weight by reducing our sugar intake.

Teresa Evangeline said...

I've been working on this very thing recently after gaining weight over the winter and have become much more mindful of what I eat. After cutting out sweets and cutting way back on carbs, I've lost some and feel better. I will continue,as I know I have a ways to go to unlearn bad habits while replacing them with new. Thanks for this much-needed pep talk. :)

Trish said...

Terrific article. I don't use sugar on anything, but I get a lot of it through fresh fruit. Now I wonder if that's as harmful. The Times piece was compelling. Thanks for posting!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Okay, I'm off to read the article. I eat pretty wisely, except for snacking on chocolate, of which I've been eating waaaay too much. I know that sugar is bad for me, including setting off some of my fibromyalgia symptoms, so I've been intending to cut down. Sigh. Oh wait, I'll FEEL better!

Sally Wessely said...

I will read the article. I must also read the book you suggested. The struggle goes on and on.

Thanks for this post. Quality of life really is about choices.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting article in the newspaper last year. It was about a French study done of elderly patients (70s, 80s, 90s) at a large hospital.

The thinnest patients died first.

The modeately heavy patients died second.

But the obese patients survived and went home.

I guess this means we should take everything with a grain of salt. Per this study, it actually helped to be obese.

In fact, my internist once told me, "Skinny people get sick, too."

Don't we all know of skinny people who contracted cancer and died...?

Donna B. said...

Very interesting...but in my current state of mind, this could very well push me right over the edge... When I am stressed out or sad or overwhelmed, first I try to sleep but when I wake up, I go for the sweets...

My husband is a "controlled" diabetic. He used to have a MAJOR sweet tooth. Candy, ice cream and soda (LOTS OF SODA) were his vices. Now he eats fresh fruit ONLY for his sweets. He still drinks soda, but now it is diet soda (despite what I tell him about the fake sugar). He puts Splenda on everything. He does not drink water...hardly any unless he puts those "to go" sugared flavorings in it. He does the grocery shopping. He buys those Weight Watcher point type ice cream.

I read about four pages of the NYT article and my head was spinning...I was hoping to find something about fake sugars (Splenda, Equal) but did not get to the end...I will go back and look at it again...

I LOVE potatoes and bread. I used to eat way more than I do now, mainly because my husband can't have it. He only eats Rye bread, which has the least amount of carbs.

My Triglycerids are high. I have genetically high cholesterol, and am under doctor's care to reduce it. The writing is on the way, I need to exercise more.

My choice is and always will be to DANCE for my exercise, but I can't dance by myself...(well I can, but it is not as fun). I am going to have to face my worst nightmare and go to a gym...a sweaty gym. GROSSSSSSS! Sweat just gags me...

You are so inspiring DJan...I am going to have to do something because I do not want to gain back the few pounds I did manage to lose...

CrazyCris said...

Ok, now that article is SCARY!!! And I've bookmarked the youtube video they link to so I can watch it when I have the time (lasts more than an hour).

Eating sugary things does lead to craving more of them... I've noticed that whenever I've caved and "let myself" buy some M&Ms or cookies to eat as dessert instead of my usual square of dark chocolate. Too many days of sweet and I crave more and don't feel like having the chocolate square. I really need to make a better effort at fighting that!

Otherwise I don't add sugar to anything, just half a teaspoon of honey to some teas. As for softdrinks, just Coke Zero.

I too wished he had mentioned the artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks. And what about honey? Where does that fall in the sugar arguments?

Thanks for sharing this DJan... definitely provides food for thought.

Whitney Lee said...

I have learned so much from the detox and have discovered new avenues of information. For example, I've begun reading Disease Proof Your Child by Joel Fuhrman M.D. It discusses how the poor nutrition we give our children lays the groundwork for cancers, heart disease and other health issues later in life. This is obviously of interest to me because of the kids but has a lot of information that's helpful regardless.

I've learned that my tolerance for sugar is pretty low. I did cave a time or two and have things that weren't approved for the detox. With the sugar I didn't sleep as well, was grouchy, and felt bloated and lethargic. The only sugar I've been consuming (other than the cheating) is from fruits and vegetables or the little bit of stevia I add to my tea. It's amazing how I now notice the natural sweetness in foods that I never noticed before (almonds, carrots, squash).

It seems that nutrition may be at the root of all of our health problems and the avenue through which they may be alleviated. I have learned that potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc. are part of the nightshade family and can cause different health issues in a person depending on their sensitivity to the food. For example, nightshades can increase symptoms of arthritis or other joint issues like gout. I will say that my wrist and middle finger, which bother me off and on, have not ached at all until yesterday (the day after i had some potatoes). Maybe it's a coincidence...

Another interesting and helpful thing I've learned about is Magnesium. It's apparently good for whatever ails you. I did a little research and came across some interesting information about magnesium deficiency. One of the websites I liked is mgwater.com.

Of course the best thing for all of us is to do what they've been telling us for years: eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water, avoid processed foods, and exercise. Why is that so much easier said than done?!

Red said...

I've always been aware of the sugar demon but have never taken an organized fight to limit it. I cut out sugar in tea and coffee about 40 years ago. I cut out pop since I retired. There's probably more I could do. I do fit somewhere into mindless eating. I've quit the potato chips though!
Keep up your fight. Where it really counts is in your head.

Far Side of Fifty said...

The evil sugars..face it if it tastes good it isn't good for you..we have to have some extra fat to survive the cold winters:)

#1Nana said...

Okay, this is another message that the universe is sending my way. First my doctor on Tuesday and now you! I've got Type II diabetes and it's controlled, but my weight is creeping up and I don't always make the healthiest food decisions. It is time to make some changes. I'll read the article. Thanks for pushing me in the right direction.

Friko said...

Guilty as charged, I'm afraid.

I eat biscuits and chocolate every day. Chocolate - the black sort - is supposed to be good for you. I eat very little other processed food and not really a lot of sugar or fat otherwise.

Winters are bad for me too, I always gain a few pounds. Spring and summer are good, gardening, walking, spending lots of time out of doors, soon take off the extra pounds again.

Nancy said...

I'm off to read the article - one that obviously I need to read as the sugar has crept back into my life this winter.

gayle said...

Thank you for this! I am having a major problem with sweets! I've started eating them way too much and I am having a very hard time stopping!

Stella Jones said...

What I really object to is sugar in food that I don't know about. Sugar added to food, like soup, which doesn't need sugar in it. For that reason I tend to cook most of my own food so I know exactly what goes into it. I know when I go to the U.S. everything tastes overly sweet and overly salty to me, which tells me that sugar and salt are added in excess to what we really need. Of course, the body gets used to it and then feels denied when it is lacking.
However, just lately, I've noticed that people who live to a very old extended age are not enjoying much quality of life so why are we all hell bent on preserving our lives to live longer and longer. Perhaps it would be better to go out with a bang at a younger age and be done with it!