~A mostly non-dissertation related diatribe.
In May, I took a trip back to Michigan for my little brother’s wedding. I flew from Tulsa to Chicago, and hung out for a couple days at my dad’s pad in Hinsdale. One night, after going out for dinner we decided to watch an Australian documentary called The Sugar Film. The premise is the same as Super Size Me; One dude who is generally on the abnormal side of healthy uses his own body as a science experiment to exemplify the effects of an eating trend or issue. In Super Size Me it was fast food. In That Sugar Film it is sugar. But not necessarily cookies, cake, and soft drinks; more like fake health foods like yoghurt, sports drinks, fruit juice, and cereal etc. Things that are marketed as ‘health food’ but actually contain gobs of sugar. Yes, he also gets pretty dramatic and for a few days he just eats teaspoons of sugar to make a point. Yes, he comes to the States and generally just says YIKES about our eating economy. He talks to doctors, dentists, dieticians, and researchers. It is gross. The change in his body over 40 days is gross. His liver stats are yucky. By the end of the film he doesn’t look nearly as healthy. He is low energy. You know...all the stuff they say happens when you eat tons of sugar.
In typical Murray fashion my dad and I arrived at the wedding festivities righteously spewing our newfound knowledge on sugar with the authority of experts. Lecturing all in earshot about how gross it is, how SUGAR is the real problem in society. And over the next week or so, in the glow of vacation and celebrating my brother’s wedding I secretly started to take stock of what I was eating. I didn’t change anything just then but I did start to wonder about how much sugar I was actually consuming everyday. I had this nagging feeling that even though I was ‘healthy’ I was actually a total sugar addict. I wanted to know if I would feel any different if I removed it from my diet. What would happen to me?
I talked Jeff into giving up sugar for the month of June. I just wanted to see what would happen. He griped and whined about it at first and then became a champion of sugar gram counting. He was not convinced this was going to be fun or make much of a difference in our lives but he begrudgingly agreed to humor me and join in. Once he was on board he transformed into an anti-sugar maniac. A no corner cutting, no cheating stickler for MY no sugar eating rule.
And of course, not one to go easy on myself once I have committed to something borderline extreme, I also implemented a NO TELEVISION policy for the month as well (this did not include movies, documentaries, etc). My 2 favorite things! 2 classic American pastimes! Cleansed from our lives for a whole month.
Full disclosure: I am behind on my personal reading challenge for 2016 and needed that television time to try and catch up. My Nana is kicking my butt in the book-reading department these days and my inner competitive reader is really feeling the heat. Oh yeah, and I also have this dissertation thing to write. NBD.
To be clear: We did not give up all sugar. Fruits, berries, and some/most naturally occurring sugars were okay. Added sugar was not. No high fructose corn syrup allowed! We wiped out maple syrup, agave, and honey just to be safe and we tried to limit meals to around 10 grams of sugar per meal. I’m not typically one to read labels but I was scouring them all month. If I wasn’t sure, I aired on the side of caution and didn’t eat it.
Admittedly I love a good soy latte; I always have. And then of course you have to have a sweet treat to go with it otherwise it just feels a little empty. Well if you don’t have unsweetened soymilk that’s actually quite a bit of sugar. Add a coffee shop delight-and I’ll admit I have a HUGE weakness for scones, cookies, doughnuts, and generally anything that pairs well with my secretly sugary soy latte- and that is an ungodly amount of sugar to consume all at once! And, I was doing this at least a few times per week. How embarrassing!
What a buzz kill to realize that every time I added a little caffeinated pick me up to my day I was quadrupling it with sugar. YIKES!
Lastly, I am not a shiny happy morning person. In fact, I always feel pretty groggy in the morning no matter how many hours of shuteye I got the night before. Getting out of bed in the morning is pretty much the first thing I can cross off my ‘To Do’ list everyday. I always thought I was just dehydrated or it was the stress of a freelance musician lifestyle. Nope! Turns out my constant sugar highs and lows were actually messing with innocent, not consuming any sugar for 8 hours sleeping me as well.
What did we discover?
- I’m not an unhealthy person. I workout, exercise, stay active, don’t overeat and generally don’t eat junk (at least I thought) but I was pretty amazed how much sneaky sugar was in my life.
- Turns out there is sugar hidden in EVERYTHING!!! Sauces? Better to make our own. Yoghurt? Only the unfun kind is okay…and then just barely. Snacks? Not easily found in a store. Condiments? LOL! Cocktails? No Way! Things we bought we had to examine.
- A good equation to do at the Grocery Store:
Serving Size + Sugar Content x Exactly how many weird ingredients that I don’t understand are involved in this food? = Probably shouldn’t buy it or eat it.
So what happened?
- I wrote a big chunk of my dissertation proposal
- I actually had an easier time waking up in the morning.
- To be clear: I did not become a morning person; I just didn’t have much difficulty getting up early with my alarm.
- That whole thing where your energy feels more consistent throughout the day – yeah, that happened.
- Fruit is Mother Nature’s desert. Natural sweetness tastes even sweeter. Strawberries are delicious! Mango? Magnificent! And don’t get me started on dates!
- My body is leaner. Maybe I’m lying to myself but I see a more physically defined person staring back at me through the mirror. A line down the middle of my previously hidden ab muscles is now faintly visible (in the right light of course).
- We cooked more food at home.
- Jeff came up with a freaking AMAZING peanut sauce recipe. Seriously! Freaky good!
- If you have to read labels at the store you accidentally become a Michael Pollan supporter.
- Not going out for coffee AND a treat actually saved a ton of cash. If you only buy a coffee or a small cappuccino (with whole milk – which is delicious btw) you save about 3 bucks minimum per trip! 3x2=6 6x4=24. I saved at least $24! Not bad!
The Dark Truth:
In the beginning I craved a sugar fix almost every night. I still do sometimes and it is a month later. I just want a little bite of something sweet: A little square of chocolate or a bite of ice cream…just SOMETHING!!!!
I have learned to stay out of the kitchen after dinner. Of course, now that we don’t really have sugar in the house that’s not a big deal but I still find myself down there staring blankly into the fridge willing something decadent and naughty to appear.
I did find that Egyptian Licorice Tea is actually AMAZING late at night. It feels like I’m spooning sugar down my throat but with none of the bad stuff. I think it might have been my saving grace.
Instagram and Facebook are really difficult places to be when you’re not eating sugar. I never realized how many food bloggers I follow until I was confronted with their cakes, and oh-so-delicious concoctions, or those cooking videos all over Facebook. You know the ones.
I missed and craved sugar way more than I missed or craved TV. Nope – haven’t seen the new OITNB, Peaky Blinders, Game of Thrones (I’ve actually never watched this), or any of the other stuff I used to love watching. I’m watching Fed Up right now as I’m typing this! Is that meta? I’ve watched a couple documentaries that have been in my queue for quite some time and finished a ton of reading (take that Nana!)
I had a blended a margarita at the Tulsa Tough bike race. And I felt it. My tummy felt yucky a little bit later and the next day. Plus the combo of sugar and booze (and Oklahoma heat) left my body feeling like a dried out piece of garbage.
The second time was a little bit of cake at a birthday party. I was shocked by how over the top sweet it tasted! I used to LOVE cake! Especially frosting! Now I felt like my tongue was coated in muck and the only flavor was sweetness. Which is actually kind of gross.
Sadly, these 2 negative run ins with my sugar weakness didn’t stop me from craving it. I actually found myself bargaining -with myself- over secretly cheating just a little bit. That’s messed up! That is literally the sneaky behavior of an addict with something shameful to hide. It just shows what a powerful drug sugar really is.
Jeff wants to keep going. Yep, the dude whining at the beginning of all of this is now the champion of the no sugar rule (haven’t pushed him on the no TV watching subject though). And I lost track of how many books he read in June. He’s an animal when he commits to something.
It's like that scene in Season 1 of OITNB where Piper talks Larry into a cleanse and he gets totally into it, feeling all of the benefits, meanwhile she's moping around sneaking junk food behind his back. Not that bad...but you get the gist.
I used to be the second coming of cookie monster. I was the anti cleanse. I hated having to worry about what was in my food, preferring to follow the flavor. I rationalized that my active lifestyle was forgiving of my sweet treat sins. I also thought July would bring a trickle of galettes, and gelato, and rhubarb crumble, and seasonal pies. I was once the implementer of stern discipline and I have been hood winked into continuing this regime for the unforeseeable future.
And honestly? It is worth it. Feeling better trumps a cookie any day (no matter how much I think I want it). Read the labels people! You don’t have to be the sugar police to give your poor liver a rest once in a while.
Now to dismount from my little internet soapbox and get on with the document writing I SHOULD be doing right now.