Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been 342 posts since my last confession.
I've been keeping something from you. Something almost monumental: It has been two weeks since I last a Diet Coke. Fourteen days since the effervescent bubbles passed through my lips. Three hundred thirty-six hours since I filled my body with aspartame.
I know this might come as a shock to many of you. I have unapologetically pledged my love for the sweet, refreshing beverage but I assure you that it wasn't a rash decision.
Wait. Maybe it was.
A friend of mine shared Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Healthy Holiday challenge on Facebook, and I couldn't help but be intrigued. The challenge was designed for devotees of Fuhrman's plant-based Eat to Live lifestyle to recommit during the holidays. While I've never had any interest in the plan - it is far too restrictive for my liking though I admire and support people who can do it - the challenge was posted just after I questioned whether my eating habits could be considered healthy. As I thought about it - and later accepted, a day later, - I hoped it would allow me to focus on whole foods and, just possibly, retrain my brain and stomach to crave a more plant-based lifestyle.
Among the goals for the two-month challenge:
• Eat at least one large salad every day
• Eat generous amounts of cooked green vegetables, mushrooms, and onions
• Eat beans every day
• Eat at least three fresh fruits every day
• Avoid white flour
• Avoid sugars and artificial sweeteners
• Use oils sparingly
Easy enough, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Not only did the challenge start the week of Thanksgiving, when I would be traveling and craving my favorite Cincinnati foods, it made my already open eyes even wider as I realized just what ingredients some of my favorite foods contain. Peanut butter? It has sugar. Any salad dressing, even the best, have oils. Many wheat breads have white flour, as well.
Beyond that, it solidified my awareness that I was dependent on sweet flavors - if not addicted. I put stevia in oatmeal, sugar-free syrup on pancakes and honey on sweet potatoes. I craved chocolate after lunch and Diet Cokes after a hard workout. I immediately went for a Skinny Cow after dinner. Looking back at my food tracker, I easily logged 300 empty calories from mini chocolate bars or so called diet-friendly ice cream treats.
Adhering to the guidelines of the challenge required almost drastic changes to my diet, palate and meal preparation. I could no longer rely on processed foods - at all - and I would have to retrain my brain from healthy eating, diet style, to healthy eating, quasi-nutritarian style. Among them: I've had to learn how to enjoy oatmeal without sweetener; find suitable beverages that don't involve sugar or sweeteners, artificial or natural; make my own nut butter or go to Fresh Market for the freshly ground; get creative with snacks, especially night-time; plan and prepare lunches for the week; and hit up the grocery more often for fresh vegetables.
It's been overwhelming at times, to say the least. I've felt lost about what I "can" eat and unenthusiastic about drizzling vinegar on a bowl of greens rather than using the fork-dip method with my beloved ranch. Thanksgiving was a buffet of white flour and sugar at which point, I gave in and ate as many vegetables as I could and picked select foods to indulge in. Joining the challenge did give me a free membership to Dr. Fuhrman's recipes but his eating plan is nearly vegan, in addition to being salt- and oil-free, and the recipes have tested my comfort levels and budget.
At the same time, it has been gratifying to reach a point where I no longer need sugar and feel proud of the way I am eating. I'm adjusting the challenge to meet my needs and own goals (oil is OK and meat one meal a day) but feel like it's something I can do for two months. Longer? We'll see but I'm hopeful.
Oh, in case you were wondering: I still miss Diet Coke. Like, really, really miss it.