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.