Indulgences: The Cost- Benefit Analysis

Brace yourself- the holidays are coming! For most of us, it begins with Halloween and buckets and buckets of candies and other sweets, followed by the Thanksgiving gorging and then a month-plus of Christmas cookies, cakes, and candies and the alcohol-fest that is New Years.  It pretty much has us surrounded until 2018! For me, this Food Fest actually begins in September, when our community has a pastry filled food festival followed by another one between Halloween and Thanksgiving, so once fall gets here, I’m surrounded by food!

I hear a lot of people complaining about all the treats around them and how hard they are to resist.  I see a lot of posts about how family members keep bringing these temptations into the house and how they keep giving in; how the Halloween candy they bought at the beginning of the month has all been eaten; how they went out for coffee with friends and ended up drinking a ginormous sweet drink with a cookie or muffin or scone.  If only people stopped shoving food and treats at them! How can they resist!

I know I ate my fair share of pastries at the food festival in September, and no one put a gun to my head.  I decided to eat them, and my ‘rationale’ was that I wait all year for this festival.  Were they worth it? They were really really delicious and I enjoyed every bite, but as for being ‘worth it?’  That’s still up for debate!

Basically, this is what it comes down to with every food choice we make.  Some of them are more obvious than others: the hamburger combo or the roast turkey with veggies; the iced tea with sweetener or the regular sugar soda; the bowl of berries or the bowl of ice cream.  Which is going to be better for us?  Which will make us feel better about ourselves and will help us reach our goals? Yeah, those are the ground-ball kind of choices!

The hard part comes with the ‘special’ foods, like the pastries we wait for each year, the bags of our favorite candies just lying around the house and the plates full of holiday cookies, etc.  It’s a holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever!) and it’s time to celebrate! Why not indulge? It’s only once a year! For most of us, it is only once a year, but the ‘season’ lasts for about three months! There’s a ‘holiday’ a month for the rest of the year and there are countless opportunities to indulge! It’s not the ‘one cookie’ or the ‘one holiday drink/ coffee’ that is going to be the problem: it’s the pattern of behavior it can create.

I’ve been eating healthier for a couple of years now, and this will be my third ‘healthy holiday season,’ but it still takes practice.  The first year was pretty much an unmitigated disaster: all the ‘holiday indulgences that come once a year’ set me back about three months.  It was beyond disheartening.  Last year was better: I was pickier and indulged less, but the treats still did damage and set me back about a month or so.  This year, I have already noticed that the food festival pastries, while really good, were not worth the setback they always bring with them.  I indulged less (only a certain variety of pastry) and I was rewarded for my discretion: only a minor delay.

Of course, the bulk of the holidays haven’t gotten here yet, but I have noticed that the treats that were always so appealing and irresistible still look and smell appealing, but when the choice presents itself (coffee with cream or pumpkiny coffee drink; cinnamon apple cake or no cake), it’s not as hard as it used to be.  After a couple of holiday seasons of indulging, for me the ‘treat’ isn’t worth the setback and disappointment.  Just dealing with the delay from the September food festival was frustrating enough: the delay and frustration aren’t worth the few moments of eating the pastry, no matter how delicious they might be!

The same thing happened yesterday: while grocery shopping, I bought some Halloween candy, which included some caramels that my friend is fond of (and me too!) I bought them because we are having a get-together this weekend and I planned on bringing them, but I was hungry last night after a busy day and a busier weekend….. and I heard those caramels in the kitchen calling my name about 9:00 p.m. last night.  I actually got up and picked up the bag! Once I looked at it, however, I realized right away that eating even one or two of them- and face it, it wouldn’t be one or two!- they weren’t worth the few minutes of ‘yummy’ since I be disappointed in myself.  Even worse, giving in once or twice opens the door for making a new bad habit! This is where we justify our indulgences: I’ll go back to eating good after the holiday! Except there is always a reason to indulge! It’s a holiday; it’s a special occasion; it’s someone’s birthday! There is ONE reason not to indulge: our health; and there are a million reasons to indulge, but are any of them as important or as valuable as our health?

For me, this is another ground-ball question! I remember not being able to turn the wheel of my car without it rubbing against my belly or being tilted all the way up!  I remember my shoes being so tight my feet looked like they were going to break the straps.  I remember being short of breath just walking around Target- forget going to Costco! For me, there is a clear link between my eating choices and the ginormous improvement in my health already.  For a lot of people, the connection is not as clear or obvious because not a lot of people eat themselves to 400+ lbs.  When you weigh 250 and can still get around and be pretty active and pain-free, the ‘consequences of a cookie’ are less obvious: it’s a cookie! It’s not a bomb! How bad can one cookie be?

It wouldn’t be bad, if it were only one cookie! One cookie leads to another, like the bag of caramels in my cupboard! Making an excuse to indulge once makes it easier to indulge again and again. It leads to a pattern of indulging that gets in between us and our goals.  We trade the treats for our health, even if we don’t end up weighing 400 lbs; the weight of our own recrimination and disappointment are bad enough.  We’ve all been the person who ate a box/ bag/ pack of something we regretted and then beat ourselves up over it! Over time, I’ve learned the hard way to avoid the regret: the treats are not worth the delay, the frustration and the disappointment they really cost me! Even though I was tempted by the caramels last night, as soon as the bag was in my hand, the answer was clear to me: I’m not going to enjoy them, even if I eat them! Put down the candy!

No one is going to tell me not to eat the candy or the scones or the pumpkin loaf. No one except me, and that’s what makes it hard! If we were lighting up a cigarette in a bookstore, a dozen people would jump all over us and throw us out! But if we decide to drink a venti pumpkin latte, have a scone, a cookie and another treat in that same bookstore, no one would tell us “that’s enough calories and sugar! Put a stop to it now!” We have to decide if the indulgences are worth what they really cost us: slow or no progress, maybe a weigh gain, disappointment, increased cravings and all the other baggage they come with.  Only you know what baggage they bring for you and only you can decide if the payoff is worth it.  As for me, the pastries in September were good, but were they worth it? I think the price was a bit higher than I planned on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar: The White Death

It is no secret that we are addicted to sugar.  Most of us are pretty good at recognizing the obvious sources of sugars in our diets: candy, soda, sweetened coffee drinks and sweet pastries.  We all know they’re bad for us and so most of us try to limit those.

But there are other sugars in our diet beyond the mochas, cookies and Pepsi: they are the orange juice and bagel we had with breakfast, the whole wheat bread in our turkey sandwich and the pasta we have with dinner.  “But,” you say “there was no jam on the bagel and nothing at all sweet in any of those!”  That is true but there was still sugar just the same, in the form of starches.  This is where most of us make our mistakes (including me) because we haven’t learned how the body processes what we eat.  We’re told to eat low fat and avoid “sugar” so we think we are “eating healthy” when we have juice instead of soda and a whole wheat turkey sandwich or whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce: “I’m eating my healthy whole grains with lots of fruits and vegetables!” But you are still getting sugars in every bite.

Most of us have been told that we can eat better if we give up anything “white,” like cream, whole milk, cheeses, white flour, bread, potatoes, pasta and sugar. While it’s true that “white” usually means highly processed, which is not the best for you, it’s also true that whole wheat breads and pastas are also made up of the similar starches that make up the “white” varieties.  What most of us don’t know is that starches are simply long chains of sugars (polysaccharides)  and while they may not taste as sweet as more recognizable forms (monosaccharides and disaccharides), the body treats them the same way.

[This is where I remind everyone that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I just did my own research to educate myself and I’m sharing what I’ve learned.]

I recently read The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes, mainly because I wanted to learn more about what sugar is and some of the problems it causes.  His book is quite shocking: health professionals have been complaining about sugar since before we even started refining it into the granulated white crystals we are familiar with! He mentions how Hindu doctors in the 4th Century noted how those who ate more sweet foods were more obese, had bad teeth and more health problems.  Since then, he points out how, as sugar usage continued to grow across the world and people began using more and more of it, so did health problems like obesity, heart disease, gout, dental caries, and of course diabetes. Most Americans are used to demonizing the Tobacco Industry for their concerted campaigns to defend tobacco usage as healthy and not harmful despite the overwhelming evidence; what we should be demonizing the is the Sugar Industry because their concerted offensive to keep us believing that sugar is healthy and nutritious has worked despite the mounting evidence that sugar causes all the problems listed above: heart disease, dental caries, obesity, gout, and diabetes.  Doctors as far back as the 16th Century were telling people to limit sugar usage, but because the Sugar Industry was and still is profitable and powerful, these facts were suppressed.  FYI: several of the studies that ‘proved’ saturated fat causes heart disease were funded by the Sugar Industry, which successfully buried the studies that showed heart disease was more closely linked to carbohydrates (such as sugar). Another FYI: the Sugar Industry actually taught the Tobacco Industry how to launch successful ad campaigns; the head of one sugar research association went to work for Big Tobacco.  They were already in bed together: those blended American cigarettes that became so popular after WWII are a blend of sugar soaked tobacco and air cured tobacco.  The sugar allows the smoker to inhale the smoke more deeply: without the sugar, the smoke is too irritating to be inhaled as deeply into the lungs.  Less smoke, less nicotine, less chance of becoming addicted.  Talk about a Demonic Duo! 

The aspect of The Case Against Sugar that was so shocking was the coordinated effort by The Sugar Industry to hide the harmful effects of sugar consumption from the public and at the same time, encourage increased consumption as a “healthy energy source.”  Most of us know that sugar isn’t good for us, but it’s the different ‘hidden’ forms of sugar that trip up most of us. The three easiest ways to limit sugar in your diet is to: 1) avoid processed foods; 2) avoid fruit; and 3) avoid starches. 

Avoiding processed foods is the easiest  way of avoiding sugar and while I’m a huge fan of fruit (“Nature’s candy”), the sugar in fruit is fructose which isn’t metabolized like glucose & sucrose (table sugar) and doesn’t trigger the satiety hormone leptin. Starches, whether natural like rice,  potatoes, etc or man-made like breads or cereals, are actually just long chains of sugar and the body treats them like sugar. 

While I highly recommend everyone read Gary Taubes’ book The Case Against Sugar, I have to say it reads like a history book, outlining sugar’s continued spread into our diet across the world, mainly fueled by greed/ economic gain and status. The scary part is how every attempt is made to keep us buying sugar despite its dangers.