Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sweet nothings


When embarking on a weight-loss journey, it is nearly inevitable that a person is going to have to make sacrifices - especially when it comes to food - because, last time I checked, a large Mint Oreo Blizzard wasn't in most eating plans. There's cutting things out entirely, reducing portion size (though a mini Blizzard still clocks in at xxx calories) or finding innovative ways to enjoy the qualities of certain foods without the calories.

And we've all seen those innovative ways. "Guilt-Free" Hazelnut spread, black bean brownies, protein pudding. But those innovations can sometimes (or) introduce artificial sweeteners and ingredients.

When I was in the thick of Weight Watchers, I was an "innovation queen." I would whip up Pumpkin Fluff that had sugar-free pudding and low-fat whipped topping, each carrying a long list of ingredients. Low-fat ice cream was a favorite but some of he treats have high fructose corn syrup. I made oatmeal variation after oatmeal variation that included my new favorite ingredient, stevia. And, of course, there was the Diet Coke.

I thought that the swaps I was making were what I had to do - and it probably was - and in the beginning, didn't think much beyond that. As I became successful, I told myself and touted that they were healthy. They were such a part of my daily eating habits that I couldn't imagine giving them up.

And then, in November, a co-worker posted a link to Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Holiday Challenge. The 60 day challenge was a way for Eat to Live followers to reconnect with their lifestyle, which eschews oil, salt, white flour and sweeteners of all varieties among other things. For me, it was a way to disconnect from habits that I was beginning to think weren't so healthy and sever ties with Diet Coke.

I didn't make it the whole 60 days (hello, Christmas) but I did manage to kick my Diet Coke habit and rid my diet of artificial sweeteners. It is true. The girl who put stevia in everything has not touched a substitute intentionally since November (save for the diet soda I had when I had food poisoning).

I was eating sugar, though - and lots of it. But sugar had to be healthier, in moderation, than the substitutes, I reasoned.

Don't worry, the irony wasn't lost at me.

And so I found myself at a cross-roads. Just what kind of sweetener is OK? Honey and maple syrup are natural but still provide a sweet taste that I crave and pack some calories. Traditional sugared treats often send me into a tailspin of indulgence that leaves me feeling guilty. Stevia is "natural" but I find that people use it too frequently to make these faux desserts that are often not solving the need or addiction but putting a bandage on it.

Editor's note: This could be my own issues speaking and is merely my perception.

It's something I have been struggling with for the past couple months. I wanted to eat dessert but I wanted to eat clean and I wanted to control my weight. I thought I could do it with portion control but after a particularly bad bender last week, I found myself revisiting some of the foundations of Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live protocol. It's almost as if it's a cleanse, ridding the body of addictive, artificial ingredients and introducing control and willpower.

It's been nine days since I've intentionally eaten anything with added sugar and I plan to continue with it for at least the month of April as Laura at Mommy Run Fast posted a Sugar Detox Challenge for the month. Her initial post had some really interesting things to say about sugar and today she offers tips for overcoming sugar cravings. (I'm a big fan of the sweet vegetables as this weekend I added sweet potato and carrots to my wheat pancake mix, skipped the sugar and enjoyed every bite.)

I love the accountability of the challenge but, more importantly, I'm hoping to find a middle ground where I can eat a dessert here and there without a tail spin and find a definition for my healthy.

What is your relationship with sugar? Do you think certain sugar substitutes are OK? Do you think you are up for the challenge?


  1. I might love sugar just a little too much. Love the idea of subbing with sweet veggies! Great idea!!

  2. I have a really hard time with this too and right now use stevia a lot but am not quite sure if it's really the healthy substitute it claims to be.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Everyone is an experiment of 1, of course, but for me cutting out virtually all sweets for the better part of a year has reset my sense of sweetness so that sugary desserts aren't really enjoyable after the first bite or two -- they taste too sweet. But I've never had much of a sweet tooth. If I ever had to do a salt detox, on the other hand, it would be B A D.

    Although I don't have a sweet tooth, everyone else in my house (husband and two boys) does. Going gluten and dairy free was a huge help in getting sweets out of the house, because it cuts way down on the number of desserty-options. We all eat a fair bit of dried fruit (and that's our standard dessert) and when we want a treat, we make apple crisp (with GF oats and a little brown sugar) or crustless pumpkin pie with coconut milk and a little sugar. Flourless chocolate cake and coconut ice cream are for birthdays only. Everyone thinks those are the bomb, and a big treat -- a good example of resetting the palate and the expectations, I think.

  4. In my opinion (and my kids'), there's no dessert that tastes better than good, ripe, fresh berries or peaches. Maybe some chopped nuts, coconut, or cream on top. We're heading into the right part of the year for a sugar detox!

  5. I tried to do a sugar detox, and while I eat low carb on the weekdays, I can't cut it out for my races... I need those glycogen stores. PLUS I am obsessed with my Stevia. I rationalize the stevia but it actually lowers your blood glucose and I get the NOW brand which is pure. I don't think I'm strong enough to kick it to the curb completely. You're awesome.

  6. Love this post, and congrats on eliminating added sugar; as someone with a sweet tooth I know it's not easy! I feel like there is some truth to how your palate adapts after you cut back - fruit is sweet again, and that's still what I (try to) reach for first (a square or two of dark chocolate is also inevitable for me). When I do use a sweetener I prefer coconut sugar now.

  7. I have a serious sweet tooth. I don't use any artificial sweetners. If i'm going to eat it, I want the real stuff. i even try to limit, my very rare pop intake, to the Coke in the Mexican aisle which is made with real sugar.

    I've experimented, especially with foods that Ella will eat, replacing sugar with honey or things like that. Still tastes good to me.

    I gave up sweets for Lent and haven't had anything since Feb 13th. I'm going to do my best not to go nuts once I can have the sweets again. Self control around the sweet stuff is really hard for me!

  8. I've done the breaks from sugar in the past, and they've helped reset my "sugar'ometer" so it should be fun pledging to do it with others. It's great timing with my goals of loosing the post-baby weight :)

    May the force be with us all ;)

  9. Great post! You described the journey of so many women, I think... we start out with those low-fat treats, thinking they are healthy, despite the long list of artificial ingredients, as you described. And then back around to real sugar, honey, natural sweeteners. And then trying to give it up all together! I now cycle between those last two- using natural sweeteners, including sugar in moderation, and giving it up completely now and then to remind myself that I am still in control! Like you, I don't think I could ever give is up completely... anyway, thanks for sharing, and I'm so glad you're on board for the challenge!

  10. I don't use any sugar substitutes - the thought never even crossed my mind! So it's very interesting to read about your journey with those. I very much believe in small indulgences every day but do have issues where I can't stop - my mouth just wants the sugary taste to go on and on! UGH!