Cookie Detox: How to have your gingerbread and eat it too (without riding the blood sugar roller coaster to heck)

by Charlotte on December 20, 2012 · 26 comments

When bad cookies happen to good cartoons. (Nobody saw anything wrong with this before it went to production? Really??)

Important things first: Gingerbread, as we know it, is nasty. Every year we rediscover this as my kids try to eat the gingerbread house we make. It’s like cat food, as imagined by Nate Berkus. (Real gingerbread cake however is like heaven, like cat food, as imagined by someone… who is not a cat.) But do you know what isn’t nasty? Cherry bon-bons, lemon crinkle cookies, “butterfinger” bars made from candy corn, cookie dough balls, cake balls, egg nog fudge, peanut butter fudge and saltine cracker toffee (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!) – these were just a few of the treats spread all over as the Gym Buddies and I celebrated the High Holiday of Cookies. I blame Jeni. She started it last week with her puffcorn caramel corn (someone asked for the recipe in the comments on the last post – no seeds or husks!) Actually I blame Megan because she’s the one that introduced us to the divine lemon cookies (recipe: 1 box lemon cake mix, 1 egg, 1 tub of cool whip. Bake. Done.) and then had to bring samples for all of us today. Okay, no I should blame Allison because she’s the cautionary tale of what happens when someone with a cooking fetish and Pinterest food porn hook up. At any rate, it was treats galore.

As I stretched my calves out on the Bosu (my plantar fasciitis is doing much better, thanks to all your tips and help!), Megan offered Allison a bon bon. Allison replied, “No thanks.” Megan tried again, “Just a taste?” Allison answered, “No because that would just open up the flood gates and all I’ll want to eat is sugar for the rest of the day.”

I know exactly how Allison feels. I’ve never been one of those people who could take 2 bites of delicious pie and then call myself satisfied. If I’m going to have a treat, by golly I want to eat it and enjoy it. All of it. And a little bit of sugar is like blood in the water for sharks (grossest holiday analogy ever? What’s my prize??) – it just gets me all agitated.

Yet, the great thing about being an Intuitive Eater this holiday season is that I have official “permission” to eat what I want and enjoy it. I have not binged (I used that term not in the clinical sense of binge eating disorder but rather to mean eating to the point of discomfort) on any treats. I think it’s partly because nothing is forbidden so there’s no “last supper” mentality but even more so because I’m finally beginning to see the connection between how I eat and how I feel. Eating lots of sugar makes me tired, headachey and cranky. (In other obvious news, tights are not pants – what is the point of wearing a huge down coat, a scarf, a hat and furry boots if you are only going to cover your bottom half with very thin nylon? Snow is cold! Also, Minnesota has A LOT of it – remember the year a blizzard collapsed our entire freaking stadium ?)

This is the difference between eating what my mind wants (an entire pan of English Toffee) and eating what my body wants (some protein, fat and carbs in moderate amounts). Today as I looked at the huge pile of goodies from my friends I considered snarfing handfuls of treats only to be restrained by the thought that if I did a) I wouldn’t really enjoy any of them and b) I was going to feel really really awful in about 30 minutes, both physically and psychologically. But I still wanted to try the yummies! So how do you have your cake and eat it too?


It’s called food combining and someone much smarter than I am made it up. Basically food combining is just a theory about how to eat food to maximize the benefits from the food and ease digestion. Some of it’s just cracked out but there are some great tips in there. While you’ve probably heard most of them – drink OJ with steak; the vitamin C helps your body use all the heme iron! – using it to combat the ill effects of sugar swings was new to me.


I can’t remember where I first heard this theory (I blame mommy brain) but the gist is if you choose to eat a dessert type food – which also includes white bread, pasta and other processed starches that are metabolized like sugar – then at least slow it down with some protein and fat before it hits your blood stream. The glycemic index (GI), a number that tells how much a food will raise your blood sugar, of a baked potato is 87 which is quite high but if you add cheese, butter and sour cream to it, it reduces the GI by over half. High blood sugar is bad because it can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Diabetes is bad because it will make you the four-fingered man and how then will you ever beat the six-fingered man and avenge your murdered father?


All good in theory right? After all, a baked potato tastes way better with all the fixin’s anyways! In my life, as is the case with many things, it can look kinda crazy. It makes for some odd pairings on my plate. Take, for instance, a recent Christmas party where the hostess had made a batch of White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse, which happens to be my favorite dessert. There was no way I was going to miss out on all the crushed-candy-cane goodness but I also knew that if I ate a big bowl I was going to crash hard and, as demonstrated by millions of children everywhere on Dec. 25th, nothing sucks all the fun out of a Christmas party like a sugar crash. So I ate the mousse. And then I ate a huge bowl of steamed broccoli and a hunk of prime rib that were left sitting on the counter from dinner earlier.


My friends were amused. At first they thought I was trying to atone for my dietary sin but after I explained my food combining GI theory, they were even more amused. “We need to build up your tolerance, girl,” my friend teased. “Charlotte can’t hold her sugar.” But I was happy. My body felt good as it didn’t take a huge sugar hit to the brain and my mind was satisfied because I got to eat some of what I really wanted, and I enjoyed all of it: the broccoli, the meat and the mousse were delish! Plus, I also got a tupperware of mousse to take home – joy!


Cookies happen. It’s the holidays. I know there are some of you that will completely abstain from the sugary fare – I commend you; I did the no-sugar Experiment for 90 days over Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and it was one of the hardest Experiments I’ve ever done – so you all can stop reading here. For the rest of us, chances are you are going to go gaga for ganache. (Or bonkers for brittle or cuckoo for cocoa puffs or tempestuous for treacle, although I have no idea what treacle is; I went a little crazy with the Thesaurus.) and I think it helps to have a strategy (note: not a rigid set of food rules).


What’s your strategy for dealing with a sugar rush – do you try and “slow the sugar down” like I do by eating it with protein and/or fat or do you think that just adds extra unnecessary calories, especially if you are having the treat when you’re not really hungry? Have any other food combining tips I should try? Anyone care to explain the tights-as-pants trend to me?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Geosomin December 20, 2012 at 8:56 am

I’m kinda wierd in that I don’t like sweets much. I love to bake and like cookie dough, but once it’s made, I’m not that interested, with the exception of a few favourites. For me, I just make sure I thoroughly enjoy my treats. Every bite. No random crap eating without focus, and I try and eat sweet stuff with a meal so I don’t have a sugar crash and turn into Attilla the Hun. It makes all the difference. I get my indulgences that *I* really want and I may go crazy on one thing, but overall seem to keep it together.


Angela E December 20, 2012 at 9:10 am

I agree with the theory. Every time I eat too much sugar, I need a healthy chaser. I begin to crave veggies to cover up the icky feeling. It makes so much sense! As for sugar control. I’m not a big sweets person but I do have my weaknesses – pumpkin pie, oh how I love thee! But I generally stop myself at one or two peices. I’m gluten free and now vegetarian so it is becoming a lot easier to resist food now, especially breads an sweets.


Susan December 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

The Sugar Debate…yes I tried the no sugar thing and bad things happened to my body when I did break down and eat some. Like you I can’t handle a ton of sugar but going completely without doesn’t work either. I too love intuitive eating and have found the binge eating stops when I listen to my body. I find eating a spoonful of organic unrefined coconut oil when I eat something sweet seems to do the trick.


Meghan@themeghamix December 20, 2012 at 9:21 am

Bahahaha Legally Blonde the Musical Reference (blood in the water) AND Princess Bride? Charlotte, I wanna be buddies!


Renée December 20, 2012 at 9:25 am

I definitely agree with the sugar roller coaster! I’ve known for a long time that I need to eat meat before eating dessert…and absolute MUST if I don’t want a sugar headache an hour later! And even worse? I swear that too many sweets before bed, and without the proper amount of protein, I experience what I imagine is a hangover the next morning. I’ll definitely have to try out the coconut oil trick that Susan mentioned! Love me my coconut oil in my breakfast smoothie! Without it, I’m hungry again by 9:30, so I swear by it. Will definitely experiment with it and sweets ;-)


Meghan@themeghamix December 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

And in a “real” comment…I figured out the protein “stabilizing” factor a few years ago when my anxiety was really brutal. If you’re gonna hve a maple bar, drink some milk while you’re at it! To me, “extra calories” are irrelevant. No point saving calories to be either furious you can’t enjoy a treat or have a huge crash after the treat (in which case have you enjoyed it after all?). Good stuff as usual!


Greta December 20, 2012 at 9:46 am

I’m just going to comment on the “tights are not pants”– thank you!!! I have no idea what possessed people to start believing that tights were pants. Just this week I posted the following on my FB page (I don’t have a personal blog): “PSA: Tights are not pants. Ladies, if the dress/shirt is too short to be worn on its own, pairing it with tights is not the answer.”

The number of young women (i.e. my peers– I’m 29) whom I’ve seen walking down the street with super short dresses or long shirts paired with only tights is shocking. These are women who think they are dressed professionally (on their way to work or an internship here in DC, which is pretty conservative as far as dress goes), and yet they somehow have in their heads that tights and leggings can be used interchangeably. I just want to pull them aside and tell them they’re not wearing any pants….


Alyssa (azusmom) December 20, 2012 at 9:50 am

I recently heard that a study was done which “proves” that sugar doesn’t make kids hyper.
Obviously those researchers don’t have kids. (Probably the same research team who concluded that women are happiest at age 28. Yeah right!!!!)
I try to limit my sugar intake, but I don’t know much about food combining. I should probably look into it.
As for tights as pants, well, if it’s too cold for that in California, it’s DEFINITELY too cold in your neck of the woods!


Allison December 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I don’t understand tights as pants, but if you want to wear tights as TIGHTS in the winter (i.e., with an appropriate-length dress), I’ve found the secret to staying warm: fleece-lined tights! Yes, they exist, and they are fabulous. I now have a bunch of winter dresses that I wouldn’t have looked at twice before.


Sylvie @ StrugglesWithaFatA December 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Ohh, I definitely need a pair of those! (NOT to be worn as pants!) ;)


R January 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I had a pair but they got all worn out after a year! :( Any recommendations for a good brand?


Jasmine December 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm

“Diabetes is bad because it will make you the four-fingered man and how then will you ever beat the six-fingered man and avenge your murdered father?”

I nearly snorted my coffee out my nose. Thank you for all your hilarious posts as much as your thoughtful and serious ones. I needed that laugh today :D


Sylvie @ StrugglesWithaFatA December 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I’ve always been a total sugar fiend, but surprisingly yesterday I chose sugar snap peas over M&Ms. They actually didn’t taste good to me! Now that’s a new experience. I also noticed getting headachy after too much sugar. I’m not even craving it. Healthy eating – it’s a miracle!!

Also, tights as pants? Really? Even leggings need a sweater/dress of appropriate length. There’s nothing worse than seeing **all** of someone’s, erm, curves?


Dorothy December 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Dorothy of Oz is sure to be an instant classic for the whole family. The film is due out next year but the buzz being created is undeniable. Between the vastly talented cast and the original music, how could you not be excited! Glee’s Lea Michele is in the title role as Dorothy Gale and she will bring such a fresh sound to the legendary character. Let us not forget Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, Kelsey Grammer, Dan Aykroyd, and many more bringing life to both new and older familiar characters!! Dorothy of Oz has all the components to be the new family favorite!


Jody - Fit at 55 December 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm

I am a planner & portion control person.. I really don’t do the cut out a complete group of food thing, even sugar because our bod always goes crazy when we add it back it. I try to eat balanced & clean most of the time & as you know, plan for my treats which are cookies every weekend or just about every one. I am one that knows approximate calories, pay attention to fat, carbs, protein, sugar stats & yes, portion control. This all gets more important the older I get. :) This is works for me… everyone has to find their own way…


Lisa B December 20, 2012 at 11:53 pm

And the award for Most Unintentionally Inappropriate Cookie Cutter goes to…..


Bek @ Crave December 21, 2012 at 2:13 am

I think that’s a great idea so your body doesn’t just get empty nutrition. I think combine it with water and that satisfying good stuff, and de-combine (not a word but you get my gist) the feelings.

I was wondering do you have to eat say, using your example, the mousse & broccoli and steak in one sitting- or would having dinner and then dessert straight after suffice? Or eating the sweets after the main (for eg) be okay? Basically what I’m trying to get at is it something you do with or can it be combined before or after?


Julie December 21, 2012 at 10:50 am

I just got the cookie cutter, I first thought it was a problem because cookies should not be in the shape of vegetables.
I just have to say, completely avoid any dessert bar or cookie party! there is no way to stop at just one. I try to eat sweets when I am already full from a big meal, so that I have to stop from fullness.


sara-hare December 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

Oh yes, that’s exactly what I do! I figured that out some years ago – not because I read any theory about it, just that my body feels better that way. My boyfriend has less migraines when he does the same thing, too. It makes total sense to me. Listening to your body works!

That’s the funniest line I’ve ever read about diabetes, by the way. :)


Sagan December 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm

I like the idea of applying food combining to treats, too!

I’m generally the same way – open the gates for one treat and suddenly it’s treats galore for a week. But I’ve also found a lot of value at parties and such to go around and look at all the food, then step away, pause and think about what I want, and THEN make my choices. This really helped at an office party earlier this week – we had 8 or 10 desserts, and I only chose the two that I was really interested in. If I hadn’t taken the moment to consider, I likely would have chosen twice that much, but not enjoyed it as much. Instead I chose the ones I really wanted and it made me much happier.

I think that’s the best thing to do during the holidays. Just to PAUSE even for 10 seconds and consider your options before charging forward.


Redhead December 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm

I’m really weird-I don’t like sweets. Every so often, after it’s been awhile, l think I’m craving chocolate or cupcakes or whatever (often after being on pinterest…). But after a bite or two it’s like “oh. Yeah. This. Never mind.” now breads, on the other hand… I love good starchy (but not sweet) breads. That’s my indulgence, so I try to get whole wheat and/or combine them with protein so I actually feel full and don’t crash.


shari December 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I love that you touched on this! I feel that “diet” is my biggest struggle, but not because of the holidays. I started a new job last month and part of my job is to bake cookies for our clients. Cookies that I then have to sit next to all day and stare at. Since starting, I’ve noticed that most of my meals consist of cookies. I know it’s my own fault for eating them, but I haven’t figured out what to do when I start craving them. I’ve also noticed that since starting my job, I have started having more headaches.
This post helps, but I am wondering, what do you recommend when you don’t have an abundance of food to balance out the sugar or to stop the cravings?
Thanks for all your inspiring posts! You really do help me a ton!


Sarah December 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I’ve found that keeping hydrated, lots of water and fruit tea seems to help keep the sugar crazy at bay. I guess maybe it dilutes the blood sugar?


Lisa December 28, 2012 at 9:22 pm

That puff corn I affectionately call, “Puff Corn of the Devil” because I can’t stop eating it!


R January 2, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Ay, maybe I should try food combining, too. I figured out recently that starchy simple carbs make me bloat up and retain tons of water (it’s super attractive) but I love bread too much to give it up completely. Maybe less carbs, more other things can help?


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