Food labels are like ancient runes to me – I think that if I just study them hard enough eventually I’ll find the secret to perfect health. This is hilarious on two levels: first because labels lie in so many ways they make ex-boyfriends look lazy and second because while I’m so intent on reading labels, my spawn are usually deconstructing the entire food display. Which is why grocery shopping takes me three hours and always ends in tears and often with a lost shoe. (Dear Target: there is a red and black flip-flop on top of your freezer case. You may keep it as a token of love from the Andersen family.) In the past, when I read labels it was mostly to look at fat grams. But then I grew up and learned fat is awesome and good for me and so moved on to counting calories. Then it was carbs. A brief phase of salt-monitoring. And now finally, my latest food obssession: sugar.
We decided to take sugar out of our family’s diet when my discovery that sugar makes me crabby and tired led to the discovery that sugar also makes my kids crabby and tired and specifically makes my 4-year-old scream-y and rage-y (hence the flip flop). At first, I replaced the regular sugar with sugar-free products like sugar-free jam, sugar-free drink mix and the sugar-free maple syrup that so freaked you guys out when I mentioned it. (Sorry Canadians! I do love real maple syrup!)
Everything got worse. My headaches. The kids crankiness. And weirdly our cravings for sweets only got more intense. How could this be? We’d gone two weeks without sugar and it still felt like we were just white-knuckling it through every day. Then I read this study (I’m posting this for you Anna!) about the effects of diet soda on weight and diabetes. Bad news, diet Coke lovers:
“Researchers found that the diet soda drinkers had waist circumference increases of 70 percent greater than those who non-diet soda drinkers. And people who drank diet soda the most frequently — at least two diet sodas a day — had waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than people who didn’t drink any diet soda.”
500 times greater?? Egads. While I haven’t had a soda in years – strangely that was one “vice” I never had a hard time giving up, I’ve never liked the stuff – I’m guessing it was the artificial sweeteners in the sodas that did all this damage. When I thought about it, I realized I’d just replaced a natural substance in our diets with a chemical cocktail. That never ends well.
My next plan: stevia to the rescue! Stevia is not an artificial sweetener as it comes from a plant and it’s also calorie free. If you’ve been around the fit-o-sphere very long, you’ve seen many a fitblogger ode to the stuff. And yet… it didn’t help. It was at this point I came to a depressing realization: until my kids and I lost our taste for sweet (no matter the source), we were going to still crave it like crazy. And there’s still the problem that our bodies are super smart and we’re really not tricking them with the calorie-free stuff. Other studies have shown that people eat more food after eating or drinking a non-caloric sweetener, perhaps in the body’s attempt to make up for the missing calories.
Which is how we’ve been (valiantly trying to be) sugar free, artificial sweetener free and stevia free for several weeks now. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. It works. Once I dropped all the sweeteners, my cravings dropped dramatically. Plus regular foods like almonds taste amazingly sweet.
2. Natural is better than artificial. When I do make something that needs some sugar in it, I try to stick to raw honey or pure maple syrup and then not very much of it. Plus, artificial sweeteners make me bloat like a pool toy.
3. It works on my kids too. The tantrums have dropped significantly.
4. The psychological component is huge. The first thing I want to do when I tell myself I’m not eating sugar is to binge on the stuff in one grand farewell party. There’s a fine line between telling myself that I’m choosing not to eat sugar because it makes me feel like crap and I’m depriving myself of treats. Just tonight in fact I made the decision to eat some Swedish Pulla bread (white squishy bread at its finest!) and a few bites of my husband’s chocolate milkshake. They were totally delish and I enjoyed every bite. And when I got a headache and wanted to lay down and take a nap about a half hour later, I made sure to note that too.
5. Be careful of overcompensating. I’ve gained an inch and a half around my waist (I’m not even going to pretend that doesn’t drive me nuts because it does) and I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that instead of eating sugary stuff I’ve been OD’ing on nuts and fruit.
So is it worth it to try and break up with the White Satan? I think so. I feel much better when I don’t eat it. My kids behave better when they don’t eat it. Plus my dentist was super impressed and I’m a people pleaser so that was awesome. There is the whole waistline issue and I’m still trying to decide what to do about that without going all CrazyTown up in here. (And yes I do realize that the extra inch could be because of our vacation or stress or hormonal issues or all of the above. But it’s not just a bloating issue – it’s been this way for a month now. Sigh.)
Any advice for me? What are your feelings on artificial sweeteners? Have you given up sugar – how did you do it?? Stay tuned tomorrow for my first ever good sugar-free recipe! (Complete with hilarious and disgusting pictures – you’re welcome.)