This is only the beginning…of the end…
Okay, so one of the benefits of blogging is exposure to many more blogs of good quality. I’ve read several, many of which aren’t really germane to Food For Singles, but recently, I came across this one, and I knew I wanted to both make it and share the recipe. This comes from dinnerofherbsblog.wordpress.com. Let me (and her) know what you think, and help me figure out how to substitute something easier for the cream of mushroom soup. Hope you enjoy!
Overly dramatic personal anecdote that doesn’t prove a thing:
A few years ago, I decided to give up sugar. Really, it didn’t have anything to do with my developing paunch, but with my predilection for cavities. These are caused by micro-organisms that we could almost totally wipe out with a vaccine, but that’s for a different blog. Anyway, my teeth get cavities like fish get migraines, which is to say a lot, so I thought I’d give up sugar to see if it would help some of my discomfort. It did. With flying colors.
I stayed away from white sugar, wherever I found it, and didn’t take in as much bread or fruit as I might normally. Everything else was fair game, and I was a good hunter.
Occasionally, I would get a craving for chocolate or some kind of sweet, but I would either take a little sugar-free Hershey’s Special Dark, or mix a teaspoonful of honey with some peanut butter, and those quelled the cravings for the most part.
I did this for four weeks. Twenty-eight days. My teeth were definitely better, but there was this cool little side-effect I hadn’t expected: I’d lost 13 pounds. Yes, you heard that right. I lost a little over three pounds a week for the four weeks I stopped taking in sugar.
I was so excited by this dramatic turn of events that I immediately went back to my sugar-filled habits, which included three 32 ounce cups of sweet tea a day (I’m a freakin’ fiend for sweet tea), lots of pastries and candy as available, and sometimes half a box of powdered sugar donuts just before bed. I wish I was kidding, but sugar and me were like best buds, and I was rewarding myself for losing so much weight that my old jeans had begun to fit again. Soon, I found myself taking them off again, folded and put neatly away so as to avoid unpleasant conversations concerning my belt buckle.
End of story, beginning of sermon.
If you can do this, just begin to take notice of how many things you’re eating that contain sugar or simple carbohydrates. Here’s a list of foods, some of them surprising, that take us on this endless cycle of weight gain:
Muffins (like the comedian says, just cupcakes in disguise)
Pastas (all kinds)
Rice (all kinds)
Sandwich bread (white or wheat)
Pizzas (the crust)
Skillet Meals (with either sugar or rice or pasta)
Non-potato chips (tortilla chips, cheese puffs, etc.)
Corn (tortillas, the super starchy vegetable, corn syrup, etc.)
Dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, apples, etc.)
Cold cereal (nearly all of them have simple carbs and table sugar)
Hot cereals (oatmeal, hot wheat cereal, etc.)
Pot pies (the crust and the gravy)
Microwave meals (almost always contain simple carbs and/or sweeteners)
Regular and low-fat yogurt (you can get plain for a better option, but if you don’t…)
Ketchup (lots of sugar)
Salad dressing (esp. low-fat kinds)
Anything dipped in batter and fried
Chinese food (lots of sugar here, lots of breading)
Mexican food (if you can go without tortillas, rice, and taco shells, you could be okay here)
Italian food (carb heaven with pasta!)
American food (potatoes, sugar, and pasta, plus rolls, biscuits and bread)
I’ve only scratched the surface, and already I’ve gone on way too long. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture here, but these are some of the staples we base our meals around, and I LOVE BREAD!!! Haven’t even mentioned that some of what we eat is perilously close to the edge, and do provide us with some simple carbs that may or may not break the bank.
Foods on the edge:
Beans (certain kinds are better than others)
Milk (yes, milk has lots of carbs, check the label!)
How in the world are we supposed to get away from this stuff? It’s everywhere, it’s cheap, and it’s so good! Is there a way to beat sugar? Is there a way to make it through the day without overloading our system once again?
Before I go any further, I’d like to go backwards. I am not a doctor. Anything you read here is for informational purposes only, or entertainment, too, I guess. Talk to your doctor about this if you like, but realize that they may be operating under false information, or bad teaching, or pressure from outside sources, like companies and colleagues. Become a partner in your health and well-being with your doctor, instead of swallowing whole the scripts that fall from well-educated lips. Be careful with what I tell you in this blog, but be careful with conventional wisdom, too, even if it’s from doctors who promised never to hurt, only to heal. I hereby disclaim everything that I and doctors may speak, and counsel you to use your super-smart intelligent brain to weigh the evidence for yourself. I’m learning, too, and while I believe the evidence holds up exceedingly well, I’m always open to correction. Your doctor should be, too.
Thank you, and now we return to your regular programming.
A long, long time ago, our developing bodies realized that sweets were a quick-delivery system for energy. So, when they were available, we grabbed them up pronto, the rest of our diet made up of meat and vegetables as we found them. Sweets, then, taste good because our bodies crave them. Let me repeat that: We crave sweets because of what they can do for us, and the good taste is how we know that sugar is something special. You’ve probably craved other kinds of food before, something green, a salad maybe, or meat? If so, that’s your system communicating with you, saying, “We need something in this particular foodstuff. Now get it in here!”
However, the good taste and the craving does not guarantee nutrition, and we all know that sugar is pretty empty when it comes to providing vitamins and minerals. Also, our taste for sugar was originally meant for occasional sweets, like if we happened upon a sweet fruit in the field, or the dangerous and seductive allure of honey in a beehive.
I’m not going to make sugar a villain, here, because it’s not. It’s just a sweet with a bad rap. But here’s the problem in a land that flows with milk and honey: We swim in sugars, both simple and complex, every single day. Because we crave them, and they’re so readily available, our bodies push us to take full advantage, and we end up overeating them on a regular basis. From simple sugars in fruits and sodas and snacks and milk and candies to the bigger chains found in breads and corn and potatoes, we eat and eat and eat them. If we forgot the wheat- and corn-based carbs, and only considered sugar, we would be shocked at how much we consume. As American adults, we take in an average of 22 teaspoons per day. Nearly two pounds of sugar per week. Close to one hundred pounds of sugar in one year. We. Love. Sugar. Add to that our addiction to French Fries and garlic bread, and we’re talking about some serious carbohydrate action here.
What’s a body to do when the sugar in our blood streams skyrockets with soda and desserts and sesame seed buns? In a word, it responds with insulin. Insulin deals with the extra sugar in the blood by telling muscles and fat cells to take in as much as they can. But then the muscles, especially the ones around the abdomen, stop responding as well. Eventually, the pancreas starts to buckle under the pressure, and oilá, we’re into Diabetes the Sequel!
I know, we’ve been over this before, but it’s worth saying again: Sugar, in one form or another, is a constant companion in the American diet. It’s not that sugar or bread is the bad guy. Our bodies simply can’t handle the constant supply of them in our blood stream. We overeat them, all day long and every day, and suffer the consequences. Even people on low-fat, reduced-sugar diets are eating the carbs that cause us problems in the form of breads, cereals, wraps and pasta. Actually, eating low-fat diets may increase the number of carbs we take in, with their emphases on whole-grain flours and the like.
Here are a few of the ills associated with a carbohydrate-rich diet (these are increased risks, and the numbers bear out that they’re prevalent risks):
Diabetes (Type II)
Alzheimers (Alzheimer’s is being called Type III Diabetes by some physicians today)
So, our bodies crave sugar and simple carbs, and since they’re so abundantly available, we take in way too much, and here we are, overweight, under-nourished, fatigued and feeling guilty and depressed and anxious on top of it all.
What’s a body to do?
Alright, so we’ve got these rats, and we’ve got them in three groups. One group is left pretty much alone, and fed the usual amount, and we won’t concern ourselves with them. The other two groups are, um, tampered with. It’s terrible, I know, but stay with me. They’ve been affected by surgery, and now their regulatory functions are all out of whack. One group is fed as much food as they want, while the other group is put on a severe, calorie-restricted diet, the same kind we hear so much about in our own diet books. But guess what? The regulatory malfunction does not respond to the amount of food available! Both groups of mice get severely overweight, even though one group only gets a few calories to eat per day!
There is one major difference between them, though: One group just lays around, and only moves in order to eat. Can you guess which one it is?
That’s right, the rats on the limited-calorie diet lost their get up and go. The other rats, while still obese, at least had some energy.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward: The fat cells in both groups are still grabbing more fat, but when the first group needs more calories for energy, they can go and eat some more. The second group, however, doesn’t have access to the extra food, so the body pulls rank and shouts over the intercom, “Stand down, body. Not enough power to run the whole system. Only necessary systems allowed. Time for some rest, relaxation and a nap!” Their bodies simply shut down. We could call them lazy, I suppose, but that’s not really fair. Their system was tampered with, remember? If allowed to go on with this restricted diet, eventually their brains will send out the edict to utilize muscle and organ tissue, rather than using their fat stores. You heard that right, they will begin to eat their own muscle and organ tissue, rather than utilize their fat. Scary? Yes. Lazy? Not a chance.
What do you think would happen if something disturbed our regulatory system? What might be the consequence of constantly turning on the switch to our fat-loving fat cells? What might then happen if we started to diet in a way that didn’t allow our fat-starved cells to get what they wanted?
What if the term “lazy” was just a cover-up for something far more sinister? A system out of whack, where fat cells grabbed an abundance of sugar from a flooded-out blood stream?
What if we’re not lazy gluttons, but victims of our messed-up regulatory systems? What if craving food and having no energy are symptoms instead of shortcomings?
Finally, what if we knew the cause of our problem, and it was a simple fix?
Alright, I’m assuming that you’re smart, so let’s just get that out of the way. However, this shouldn’t be permission for me or anyone else to so thoroughly confuse you with big words that you nod your head out of exhaustion because disagreeing would take too much effort. So, while I believe that you can understand these concepts, I’m gonna take it nice and slow.
(This idea, so eloquently described by others before me (especially by Gary Taubes in his excellent Why We Get Fat), is so important, that if you get nothing else out of this blog, at least get this one in your head. It’s that big.)
Why are we always so hungry? Why do we crave the whole bag of chips, or half the container of ice cream? (I’m being generous here, because mostly, it’s more like the whole container.) Other people may even point at us and say, “You eat too much. Dang. Slow down!” Where does the hunger that keeps us overweight come from?
We often look at ourselves like we’re made of two main ingredients when it comes to health and nutrition. Muscles and fat. This is a fine way to look at it. We are made up of these two things, and when they’re in balance, we’re healthy and strong, with reserves of energy for lean times when food isn’t so abundant (like, between meals, or when we’re sleeping).
Now meet the hormone that’s instrumental in maintaining this balance. You’ve heard of it, you’ve ignored it, you’re scared of it in some vague way that smells like adult-onset diabetes, it’s our good friend Insulin! (Crowd roars in the background.)
Of course, the process of keeping our weight regulated is much much more complex, and there are other hormones involved, but for our purposes, this is the big dog, the one that really matters. You’ll see why as we go along.
Insulin is a hormone, a chemical released by the pancreas that takes care of sugar in the bloodstream. It’s produced in response to our blood sugar, but it’s so good at its job that it shows up before the sugar ever gets there. That’s right, even thinking about eating sugary, carb-rich foods starts the insulin production.
It’s a good chemical, we need it to function, and if it stops, our lives get ever so much more complicated. So don’t think of insulin as a villain. How it works is to convince the cells of the body to take in more of the sugar that’s floating around out there. Specifically, it tells muscle and fat cells to take in the sugar. That way, we’re not falling into a sugar-induced coma, which again is a very good thing.
In the muscles, they either use it up immediately, or store it as a ready-to-burn fuel called glycogen.
In fat cells, the sugar is transformed and stored as, you guessed it, more fat!
This process is a little more complicated than I’m letting on, but the gist of it is pretty simple. Sugar is either burned, stored short-term as glycogen, or longer-term as fat.
Here’s the problem. Eventually, as we get older, our muscle cells will say “enough.” They get so sick and tired of so much insulin running through the system that they begin to ignore it. Our fat cells, however, have no problem with insulin. When insulin comes along and washes over the fat cells, the message is the same as it’s always been: Store more fat. And they’re only too happy to oblige, grabbing as much of it as they can and storing it away. But guess what? The more they grab, the less energy the body has for its other functions, and the less fat available to other fat cells. And how do you think that makes us feel?
One word. Hungry.
I can hear you now. Wait, wait, you’re saying that the bigger I get, the hungrier I feel? That’s just stupid. You’re claiming that my fat is making me hungry? That I’m not a glutton?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. As human beings, we like to pin our failings on some moral or mental shortcoming because we want to change our minds and have everything fall instantly and magically into place. We do that kind of thing all the time, and we’re often wrong. Did you know that nearly every case of male impotence was attributed to psychological issues until a tiny blue pill called Viagra made its way onto the market? I feel for the doctors that insisted otherwise, but they were mostly wrong, just like we are. In the same way, through a very common-sensical approach to diet, I’m making the claim that you’re not just a lazy pig. Your muscles don’t listen to the insulin as much anymore, and your fat cells are clamoring for more fat, which is leaving your body hungry.
All other things being equal — no other hormonal imbalances or unseen factors — your diet is making you hungry. Hungrier. And it’s causing all sorts of trouble.
Before we talk about the trouble, though, let’s consider our old friend and magic label: Laziness. Sloth. More commonly decked out in sheep’s clothing, like: “If only I exercised more, I could lose this weight.”
Tune in next time!