Sweet and Low

Feb 17

128016333_96f1c45b71_bWhen we were little, my brother John and I used to camp out in our family room every Friday night. After dinner, our dad would drive us over to the Dairy Mart where we’d use our modest allowances to stock up on the candy that would accompany our weekend TV watching – from the CBS Friday night line-up (The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Falcon Crest) straight into The Smurfs, The Gummi Bears, and Muppet Babies the next morning.

After we got back from the store, we’d unzip our sleeping bags – mine pink polyester with Strawberry Shortcake smiling on the front, his scratchy and denim on the outside, a red paisley bandana print on the inside – and drape them over our threadbare La-Z-Boy, jury-rigging a tent.  We’d turn the TV to the Dukes and then climb inside with our stash: Candy Buttons, Bottle Caps, Jaw Breakers. Atomic Fireballs, Gobstoppers, Tangy Taffy. Pixy Stix, Fun Dip, SweeTarts. Nerds, Sprees, Tart ‘n’ Tinys. Every empty-calorie creation Willy Wonka ever imagined.

Our candy would usually last much of the next week. After our Friday night gluttony, we’d set our dwindling supply on the kitchen counter in a small brown paper bag and fish out an occasional piece of candy from among the empty wrappers when we passed by it in between school and basketball practice.

I know lots of women – and a few men – who have issues surrounding food. But I was never really one of them: a moderate approach to food punctuated by weekly candy runs was a pattern I followed through much of my life.

My lack of food issues, I suspect, was like most things: a combination of luck and choices. Luck in that I come from good metabolic stock: tall, slim people for whom most sins of culinary indulgence are quickly forgiven. And my choices haven’t been too bad either. I’ve always been active: as a kid, my candy-eating accomplice and I spent way more time riding our bikes, playing basketball, and tromping around the woods behind our parents’ house than we did eating. We also ate plenty of fruits and vegetables. I still love cauliflower and cucumbers, cantaloupe and kale and have been a vegetarian for most of my adulthood.

The sweet tooth of my early days is still there, now drilled and filled with a lovely silver amalgam courtesy of my childhood dentist. I still love candy. And cupcakes. And cookies (indeed, a crispy-chewy chocolate chip cookie is the nearest proof of the divine that I know).

But despite my love of sweets, I’ve usually had a healthy relationship with food. I’ve been pretty good – occasional sugar benders and all – about eating in moderation. I just don’t think that much about food. I eat until I feel full and that’s that.

At least that was that.

I’m 37 now and that metabolism that propelled me through my first 36 years doesn’t seem to be churning quite as fast as it used to. I’ve got three kids and a job that keeps me in a desk chair when I’m not chasing after them. And despite prioritizing sleep and exercise, I feel tired a lot of the time and seem to get sick more often – and for longer durations – than I used to.

After talking to my doctor and doing some reading, I’ve pinpointed a culprit in my diet: sugar. The sugar that lives inside those mini-Reese’s cups that I pop into my mouth after most meals. The sugar that hides inside the orange juice I start my day with and even the whole grain bread and crackers my kids and I snack on. Sugar revs me up, but then leaves me listless and grouchy. Hangry. And I find that I’m needing more sugar than I used to to feel satisfied.

Starting today, like Boss Hogg on those Duke boys, I’m declaring war on the Reese’s and the Gobstoppers and the whole grain crunchies that have me in their clutches. I’m not giving them up, just cutting back – showing them who’s boss and relegating them to occasional treat rather than everyday crutch.

I hope that by eating less sugar I’ll feel more energized and, perhaps more importantly, model better eating habits for my kids.

Wish me – wish all of us – luck. I’ll keep you posted.

Do you have a sweet tooth? How do you eat well without feeling deprived?

Image: Candy Jar by Dan Perdue via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey February 17, 2014 at 7:01 am

Ooh, definitely living vicariously. I can’t wait to hear how it goes. xox

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Lisa February 17, 2014 at 9:34 am

Love this. I feel I’ve had a pretty similar lucky and low-key relationship with food for most of my life, although being married to a farmer and making our living from growing food, and also having a pretty picky eater, have changed that quite a bit.

I remember when I was pregnant with my first and had sugar cravings – my midwife told me not to ignore them, but also to consider reaching for some protein first. “If you’re still hungry after, then by all means, have that chocolate,” she said. I think of that a lot, even when I’m not pregnant. I find protein and good fats seem to give me a slower steadier burn.

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Kristen February 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm

The protein and good fats thing has been a revelation to me. As I’ve been observing my eating this past week, I’ve noticed how carb-driven it is. I used to blame sugar, but I realize that carbs in general – even whole grain ones – are the issue. Focusing on protein at breakfast has been huge so far.

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Elizabeth Grant Thomas February 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

Story of my life, Kristen. And something I’ve been thinking of cutting back on, too (much to my chagrin, but necessary, I fear!). GOOD LUCK!

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Jessica February 17, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Wishing you much luck, and very curious to hear how it goes, what changes you notice mentally, physically, emotionally. Please do keep us posted!!

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Perfecting Motherhood February 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Sugar can indeed be the culprit, but not for the obvious reasons you may think. I do have a sweet tooth too but I realized that I crave sugar on some days and not as much on others. And here’s the observation I drew: on those days, I’m more tired. Not tired because I eat sugar, but simply tired because I didn’t sleep enough the night before, or I don’t feel rested enough. What do our brains feed on? Sugar. Plain and simple. When we’re tired, our brain needs extra sugar to compensate and function normally, and that’s where the craving can come from. Especially if you stay up at night to finish something, your brain needs that extra boost of energy to keep going. So I don’t think sugar causes you to be tired or cranky, or anything else. I think it’s the other way around. Get more sleep and your brain will crave less sugar. Try it!

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Kristen February 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm

This makes a lot of sense to me, Milka.

Another place I see a link between sugar and sleep in my own experience is on those occasions when I nap when my kids are napping in the afternoon. I then tend to stay up later that night and late at night is when I find that I have very little willpower to resist sweets. Then I have to wake up early the next morning and am totally drained the next day and – you guessed it – I reach for something sweet to get me through the day. Not a very good cycle, but one that’s pretty easy to understand.

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Perfecting Motherhood February 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Well, there you go, you just solve your own problem. Your brain is struggling to function late at night and since it fuels on sugar, it wants the easiest access to it. I know it’s hard to drag yourself to bed when you still have so much to do, but I’ve realized that after a good night’s sleep, I’m a lot more productive and get way more done. That hour I gave up the night before is not lost since I get to do more the next day. I’m not preaching because I still have a hard time getting to bed when I should, but I really see the difference when I get plenty of zzzzzz.

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Elizabeth Grant Thomas February 17, 2014 at 4:11 pm

PS: Was going to mention, Kristen, that I eat Ezekiel bread (which has a very low glycemic index), and started swapping agave (also a low glycemic index) for sugar. Maybe some ideas to try?

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Kristen February 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Where do you buy Ezekiel bread? I looked in Whole Foods and our standard grocery store and couldn’t find it. (Whole Foods did seem to have some Ezekiel cereal, though.)

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Heidi @ love each step February 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

I have been thinking I need to do the same, but sugar is so pervasive. And addictive! I’ll be looking forward to seeing your progress. And bring inspired by your persistence!

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Andrea February 18, 2014 at 9:53 am

Good for you! I can’t wait to hear how it goes. I do have a sweet tooth, but I’ve managed to somewhat keep it in check by becoming a dessert snob–i.e. renouncing cheap candy or mass-produced cakes and cookies with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial colors and flavors. By only buying more expensive organic chocolate, I eat less of it, and the other stuff doesn’t even taste good to me anymore. But still, when I’m stressed out (which is frequent these days, it seems), I go straight to the health food store or bakery and gorge on some high-quality sugar (which is sugar, no less). Sigh.

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Kristen February 24, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Yes! For a couple of weeks, I tracked everything I ate and I realized that I was eating plenty of crapola that I didn’t even enjoy (e.g. gross candy from a birthday party goody bag). I don’t think I’ll ever be – or even ever want to be – someone who cuts out all sweets so it’s been really helpful to focus on the yummy things I really enjoy and to eat them mindfully instead of greedily without savoring them.

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Shannon February 18, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Can’t wait to hear the details of how it is going! We’ve been trying to keep the sweets and foods with added sugars out of the house as much as possible and then allowing ourselves to indulge when we are out to eat. I find it hard with cereal. We all love cereal and it is so hard to find cereals without much added sugar that doesn’t taste like kitty litter (not that I’ve actually tried kitty litter).
Good luck!!

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Kristen February 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I love cereal too and you can’t really beat it for an easy, quick breakfast. One thing I’ve been trying to do is, on the mornings when I do eat cereal – I’m a Cheerios girl: low in sugar and I’d argue, non-kitty-litter-esque :) – I also eat some nuts, cheese, or a hard-boiled egg to add a little more protein into the mix. That’s helping me avoid the sugar crash that I used to get about an hour after eating cereal alone.

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Rachel @ 6512 and growing February 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Kristen,
Last September I gave up sugar (and honey, molasses, etc…) and am just using fruit (in moderation) as sweetener. I did this to address a real health problem, and the benefits have been big. I lost 15 pounds, no longer get blood sugar swings, lost my long-standing sugar cravings, and am healing my health issues.
All of which is to say, you can TOTALLY do it!
Enjoy!
xo
Rachel

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Nina February 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Oh yes. And oh no. Sugar is my thing too. Did I know we were the exact same age. I’ve been noticing the scale creep up a bit too even though nothing else has changed. (I eat decently 80% of the time and I work out regularly.) I know that means I need to cut back on the “treats” that would be more aptly named if they were less regular. Sucks.

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sarah February 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I have gotten off the blog reading train and need to get back on. your last 6 posts look right up my alley. so tomorrow while I sip my morning coffee (with plenty of sugary creamer) I will be catching up! And on this sugar thing! I am starting Monday! and I am going to fit in exercise and drink more water! Keep me posted!

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