Techniques for Recovering from Excess Sugar Intake

It’s that time of year again, when even health counselors eat more candy than they should. Sugary foods form such a big part of our fall and winter holiday celebrations because they cheer us up in spite of the dark and cold weather. Unfortunately, because the sugary foods we eat today (candy, pastries made with white flour and sugar, soda, etc.) are so processed, our cheerfulness lasts only a short time and we end up feeling more depressed and lethargic than before, which in turn causes us to crave even more sugar. The traditional “sugary” foods that people used to eat in this time of year were sweet vegetables such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets (beets, in fact, are the source of most of our refined white sugar). These foods are sweet, but also nutrient rich, and they release their sugars in the digestive system at a steady rate, so we have steady energy and mood instead of being on an emotional roller-coaster.

However, as much as we incorporate whole foods into our diets, our society is still structured around processed foods like white sugar, and it’s important to know how to recover when you’ve eaten too much of it. Here are some suggestions:

1. Drink more water.  Excessive sugar intake is dehydrating (even if you’re drinking soda), so the most important thing you can do to neutralize all the sugar is to drink lots and lots of filtered water.

2. Eat more dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, cabbage, broccoli, etc.  These vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals that your body needs to metabolize and detoxify from the sugar intake. Also, since sugary foods generally have little to nonutrition, eating alongside them the foods that are super high in nutrition provides some balance.

3. Exercise (and/or have your kids exercise): Sugary foods are high in calories that your body can’t use unless you engage in some type of physical activity. While adults have adjusting to storing these calories as fat, kids tend to start bouncing off the walls due to their brief, high energy levels. Exercising helps put the sugar to use.

4. Eat more raw fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yogurt, miso and kombucha.  Raw fermented foods are foods that start out with some sugar in them, but contain bacteria that have digested the sugar and turned it into nutritious acids, giving the food a sour flavor. Since raw fermented foods are, due to the fermentation process, naturally low in sugar, they form a good counterpart to high-sugar foods.

5.  Finally, be aware that depression and fatigue may be a result of diet, and not just because something is wrong with your body.  If you’re eating a lot of sugar, these are the natural consequences, so examine your diet and see if there’s a connection.  To get your mood and energy back up, eat more of the sweet vegetables listed above, along with fruit, whole grains, and natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave nectar, and raw honey.

Eating Right on Vacation

Whenever summer rolls around, I inevitably hear from my clients during this week or that that they didn’t eat well because they were on vacation. In fact, eating right is extremely difficult on vacation. It’s not just that whole, natural foods are hard to find when traveling; we can also get into a celebratory mode in which we decide to eat and drink what we want and worry about the consequences later, because we’re supposed to be having fun. To a certain extent, that’s a good attitude to have; if we’re constantly worrying about whether we’re eating right, we’ll make ourselves sick . But if we eat too poorly, we can easily come down with digestive problems, headaches, low energy, weak immunity, etc., both during and after our vacations.  Naturally, we don’t want to be sick during this time; we want to be refreshed. So what can be done? Here are a few tips that can help make your vacation this year or next a little more enjoyable:

1. Make meals in advance. The best way to ensure that you feel good during vacation is to bring some of your own food. However, you may not want to spend all your time cooking. If you’re staying somewhere that has a kitchen or kitchenette, I recommend making balanced meals in advance, freezing them, and then thawing them out while you’re vacationing. In the weeks leading up to vacation, just make a double portion of a meal that you’d like to have while vacationing, and freeze the leftovers. This year, for our vacation, my wife and I are bringing with us homemade frozen red lentil sauce with chicken, chili with ground beef, shepherd’s pie, and Bolognese sauce. Since we have access to a kitchen, we’ll also be able to bring and make brown rice, greens, and other simple supplementary foods, but it won’t involve a lot of cooking time. The net result is that, since we’ll be nourished by these balanced meals, we’ll have plenty of energy for the things we want to do, and we’ll still feel good when we get home!

2. Bring your own healthy snacks. Vacationers tend to eat lots of snack foods. I recommend that you make it a priority, if possible, to eat three balanced meals a day. But part of the joy of vacation is snacking. Fortunately, there are many healthy snacks out there that can be a good supplement to your diet (and if you are very physically active during vacation, you may need them in addition to regular meals). Examples include fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, trail mix, popcorn, yogurt with honey, homemade ice cream, lemonade, or sorbet, smoothies, dark chocolate, corn chips with guacamole or salsa, cheese, olives and pickles.

3. When eating out, choose what’s easy to digest. Eating out is another pleasure of vacationing, and sometimes it’s nice to get a comfort food even though it may not be so good for you. But if you’re eating out because you have no other choice and you simply want to avoid feeling gross, stay away from foods that are deep-fried, made with white flour or sugar, or contain dairy products. Instead, choose meat, fish, or poultry, and vegetables. If the restaurant has brown rice or whole wheat bread, then you can go with that as well. If you follow this advice, you’ll be more likely to maintain your energy and digestive health in the hours and days that follow.


Thanksgiving Weight Loss Tips

1. Eat high–fat. Fat may have calories, but it’s also very filling. There’s a limit to how much of it you can eat before you feel full. In fact, if you eat some foods containing fat, you may end up consuming fewer calories overall, because you won’t be as hungry later. So, if you’re going to have a turkey, go ahead and eat the skin, the dark meat, and the gravy, and if you eat dairy, use whole milk and cream in your cooking. See my article on Understanding Fat for more on this subject.

2. Look for an organic, free–range turkey. If you eat meat and poultry, it’s important that it come from a healthy animal. Most turkeys are raised on “factory” farms where they’re crammed into small cages with hardly room to turn around. These animals, which don’t get their exercise, are fed on corn and soybeans instead of their natural diet. Because they’re sick, weak, stressed out, and overfed, they’re given lots of antibiotics to keep them going. It’s cheaper to raise turkeys this way, but it’s not very humane or healthy. Free–range turkeys are much less prone to sickness and more likely to eat their natural diet (which includes plants and insects), which means that they have a healthier fat profile. You also don’t have to overcook them out of fear of bacteria! See my article on Animal Products for more information.

Organic turkeys can be more expensive because they’re farmed on a small scale, so it may not be feasible for you to get one. However, if you can make room in your budget, it’s definitely worth the extra cost.

3. Include plenty of vegetables. It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s what you do eat that counts. Vegetables contain fiber and natural compounds that help us to burn and break down fat. Onions, garlic, greens, green beans, celery, daikon radish, leeks, cabbage, etc., are all great vegetables that can serve this purpose. Save some of your vegetables for the end of your meal, because that way they can help break down the heavier food you ate first.

4. Complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Simple carbs include white flour, corn syrup, and sugar, and products with these ingredients. Complex carbs include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa, millet, barley and buckwheat. They also include sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates too, but not quite as nutritious as the sweet vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are more filling, digest more slowly, and give you steady energy. Simple carbs get absorbed into the blood all at once, are stored as fat, and leave you hungry for more. Try using whole grain bread or real whole grains for stuffing (see recipe below), and include a side dish or two with naturally sweet vegetables.

5. Don’t use processed foods that have added sugars; instead, make your own dishes. Most simple carbs and other processed ingredients come in pre–made food like stuffing or pumpkin pie mixes. This is where the real weight gain comes in. Food companies process foods to make them less filling and more addictive, deliberately guiding you towards overeating. Whenever you can, make food from scratch using real, natural ingredients. See my article on What is Processed Food? to learn more.

6. Don’t eat between lunch and dinner. Or breakfast and dinner, depending how soon you’re eating the main meal. Most people gain weight by snacking in between meals. That’s when we’re most likely to eat processed foods, and to eat a lot of calories without realizing it. Wait to eat until you’re sitting down to a balanced dinner that includes something from every food group. Trying to fill up before dinner is the worst thing you could do—the homemade, balanced meal is what you want to save yourself for! You won’t overeat at dinnertime, even if you’re hungry, because you’ll be eating food that’s truly filling.

7. Chew, eat slowly, and enjoy your food. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when we’re full. So eat slowly and enjoy every bite. The more you chew, the less work the rest of your digestive system has to do, and you will get more nutrients out of your food (this means you’ll actually benefit from what you’re eating). By going slow, you’ll give your body a chance to tune in to whether it’s full or not. If you really savor your food, you’ll get the important taste satisfaction—without it, you may keep eating whether you’re hungry or not.

The above is my challenge to those who claim that the one time you sit down to dinner with your family over a home–cooked meal is when you’re going to gain weight. Nonsense! It’s only when processed foods and snacks take predominance over the actual Thanksgiving meal that the weight gain starts. So, instead of trying to cut down on the main dinner, indulge in that and cut down on everything else. You’ll feel fuller and be lighter at the same time!

New Year’s Resolutions

For writing this article, I decided to do some research on Americans’ most common New Year’s resolutions. I discovered that, without exception, they were all health–related. Some of them more explicitly so, for example: exercising more; losing weight; eating better; quitting smoking; quitting drinking. Others were: spending more time with family and friends; getting out of debt; reducing stress. These latter are health related because, when not followed, they take a toll on a person’s energy, happiness, and even strength against disease.

These are all excellent resolutions. It’s commendable for anyone to have goals like the above, which have clear positive ramifications for yourself and for those around you. But there’s more to the story. Most of these resolutions do not last. We joke about how quickly we go back to our old habits, and resolve to try again next year. Laziness, or lack of willpower, is often seen as the culprit. Sometimes, no matter how earnest the resolution, we simply don’t see the way to make it happen.

I think that most of these resolutions are resolutions in the first place because they are difficult — otherwise, we’d just do them! They are difficult because there’s something about our current way of life, which we say we’d like to change, that we nevertheless can’t afford to give up. Whether it’s smoking, working too much, eating a lot of sugar, or whatever, each of these “bad habits” has its advantages. That’s why so many of the solutions offered by companies are designed to help you change without giving up the advantages. They come out with foods that are healthier but nevertheless taste as deliciously unhealthy as the sugar– or fat–laden food you’re trying to quit. There’s something about that taste that we need. Or, in terms of spending more time with the family, maybe we don’t have the option of working less. Maybe we don’t even know what it would mean for us if we “exercised more.” We’re a little too quick to blame ourselves for failing at our resolutions, without thinking about just why we’re struggling.

I know that for me, and for clients I’ve helped, eating healthy food, to take an example, is no longer something we have to “resolve” every year. That’s not because we’ve finally conquered our stubborn resistance and can force ourselves to do it. Once you have a little practice cooking, and get to try eating better for a while, the body’s cravings change. You want brown rice instead of white rice, and you miss the flavor and peaceful feeling it gives you when you don’t eat it for a while. Eating junk food becomes something done out of habit more than out of real desire. But this sort change can only happen when the healthy diet is well–rounded and balanced enough to give the body everything it needs.

My philosophy of cravings is that a behavior like smoking, drinking, or unhealthy eating is not the problem, but rather our attempt to find a solution to different problem. Most people I know who eat too much sugar (including me) eat it during a time of stress. If there wasn’t the sugar, what would we do about the stress? It probably wouldn’t be very pleasant to watch. Sometimes the first step towards changing those bad habits is to ask yourself: how is this bad habit helping me? Maybe the original problem isn’t even there anymore, but the addictive quality of the substance keeps us on it regardless.

I think we make these resolutions because we know in the end they will make us feel good, live longer, and be happier. But we can’t just ignore what got us into these bad habits in the first place. Through a superhuman effort someone may be able to cram regular exercise into an already busy life; but they might be better off wondering why they are so busy in the first place and what in life they can get rid of. Sometimes it’s scary to start addressing the real source of your cravings. Actually, it’s almost always scary, and that’s not necessarily bad. The thing I would suggest is to talk to someone about it. One of the best steps you can take is find someone to support your desire to change and improve your life. Don’t talk to people who discourage you (and these sorts are everywhere); find someone who thinks what you’re doing is great. Broken New Year’s resolutions aren’t a sign of personal weakness; it may just be a sign that it’s time to look more deeply into what’s getting in your way.

As a health counselor it’s my job to support people who wish to make many of the changes listed above. If you feel that it’s a good time to review your health goals and look into new strategies for making them attainable, call me and I will be happy to do a free consultation with you. Any time is a good time to start getting happier and healthier. Wouldn’t it be great to say that this was the year you kept all your new year’s resolutions and never felt better in your life?

A Note on Christmas

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is here, and that means lots of stress. Theoretically, the holidays are a time to connect with your spiritual side, take a break from work, see your family and friends, and give a few sincere gifts. But what happens is that the gift-giving part is pushed into prominence by retailers, and Christmas especially becomes all about shopping and spending. When all the focus is on the gifts, you get stuck with a lot of stuff you might not want, while frantically trying to find stuff others might like, which you probably can’t afford, and the obligation becomes more powerful than the sentiment of generosity. Then there’s the emphasis on display: you see Christmas wreaths and lights all over the place, which seem more bent on urging you to shop for your own than simply looking nice. Through a strange turn of events, it often seems like the real Scrooge is the one encouraging you to meet all these Christmas obligations. The stress can drive us to eat a ton of sugar and possibly come down with something called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Some of my suggestions for taking a real holiday:

Celebrate some of the stress-free aspects of Christmas: sing traditional carols and play Christmas music, use your time off to go for walks in the snow or woods, and maybe build a fire in the fireplace.

Spend time with your friends and family. Don’t worry about the gifts part, your presence is much more valuable than anything you could buy for them. Do something fun together that you will remember for a long time.

I actually think that giving gifts is one of the best parts of Christmas. But I just don’t like crowding into the mall with everyone else. Try using your own personal talents, skills, and knowledge when giving a gift: everyone has something they are good at, whether it’s making something with your hands, cooking, writing, music, art, etc. If you’re more technical you could fix someone’s computer, make them a website, etc. You could also write a letter to someone telling them all the reasons why you like them! That’s probably a gift they wouldn’t forget. Sometimes we think we’re not good enough to give someone something personal. It’s embarrassing. But how much more would you appreciate a one-of-a-kind gift than one that you could have bought on your own? Even if your personal skill happens to be making lots of money, how about something such as a museum membership, Netflix subscription, or other gift that “keeps on giving” without requiring more manufacture and waste. (By the way, when I searched for some more ideas online, almost all I found were websites selling “alternative” Christmas gifts. No! I wanted something handmade! More websites selling “handmade” gifts. How about homemade? Plenty of ideas for homemade gifts, but all slanted towards kids. What, adults are too grown up to make something?)

Christmas is supposed to be a “holy day,” celebrated as the birth of Christ. The solstice is also the time of the ancient winter festivals of Yule. The spiritual, not the material, should be the primary focus during Christmas; as such, make sure you get some time to yourself to contemplate the meaning of this time of year.