Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fully Embracing Food...and Your Body

I recently read “Women Food and God” by Geneen Roth, a long-time overeating and body image guru, and author of many books including “When Food is Love” and “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating”. I subscribe to her e-mail club and yesterday received a message that included a concept that I finally understood before I gave up sugar 43 days ago.

She said that a Zen master once told a friend of hers who was trying to quit smoking that, “only when you give it to yourself completely can you completely give it up.” The same is true for food – or, in my case, sugar. I have heard this concept over the years and I never really could understand how this could be possible. I mean, aren’t you trying to reduce something in your life, not wrap your arms around it and embrace it as if it were a good thing? I always felt like if I “accepted” or “surrendered” to my love of sugar that it would consume me and I would be out of control eating sugar hand over fist. If I said it was “okay” to eat sugar, then wasn’t I just giving myself permission to eat and eat and eat? And then, wouldn’t I be doing exactly what I DIDN’T want to be doing? No, that concept never seemed to work for me. I thought it would backfire for sure.

Lots of self-help and body-image experts talk about how you have to fully accept your body, flab and all, before you can truly change it. Again, this made no sense to me. If I “accepted” my body in the state it was in with my too-big thighs, love handles, and stomach pooch, wouldn’t that just mean I was acquiescing to the state my body was in? I hated the way my body looked! Why on earth would I want to embrace it? I didn’t want to “approve” it, I wanted to change it!

Well, fortunately for me, perspectives can change over time. Here is how I finally “got” this principle. Knowing that I was going to attempt to give up sugar for good, back in June, I allowed myself 2 weeks of an unfettered consumption of sugary foods – ice cream, crème brulee, doughnuts, candy bars, you name it. Foods that I never even really ate on a regular basis (candy bars, really?), but decided to eat just because I could. I went nuts! I truly ate lots and lots of sugary foods. I gained a pound or two in 14 days, and I mentally accepted that this would happen. What was so ironic was that even though my body gained weight, emotionally and mentally, I could feel the “weight” of judging myself every time I ate sugar just lift away. It drifted upward like a balloon pulling a big, dead weight off of me. I could feel my self-inflicted judgment and tension just melt away. I felt so much lighter and freer, and for the first time in my life, I did not judge myself for eating whatever I wanted. It was an incredible feeling, and I let myself fully feel it, knowing that I had put a cap on my feeding frenzy of just 2 weeks. I knew that 2 weeks was long enough to really feel like I could just indulge, but not too long that I would do serious damage to myself. Amazingly, it was the best gift I could have ever given myself because after that…everything changed.

Seriously, everything changed.

I realized that I was always free to eat sugar anytime I wanted because I had finally given myself full permission and now I know what that felt like. I realized that every time I ate that sugar, I made a choice to do so.

When you truly feel free to do something, that means you also have the full freedom to choose to do it or NOT do it. You are not forcing your own actions against your will or judgment. It is totally and completely your choice. The exercise of free will at work. Having the freedom to choose to eat sugar in copious amounts also gave me the freedom to decide not to eat sugar at all. I know that it was MY decision that I made willingly, not a knee-jerk reaction to the never-ending war in my head between The Dictator which spoke to me in a judgmental voice (“Do NOT eat that sugar!”) and The Wild Child which always had a rebellious voice (“You MUST eat sugar now!”) (Besides, I know from experience that in that war, the rebellious side always wins. Read The Four-Day Win by Harvard-educated Martha Beck for more about that struggle.) When I decided to give up sugar the day I got back from my vacation on June 20th, I knew it was my full, free, beautiful, unfettered choice. And, I truly think that is why I have been able to do it.

I now know that every day I am making a conscious choice to live sugar-free. In fact, now that I have been doing it a while, I don’t even have to remind myself that it is a choice. It has become a habit. It is now a part of the fabric of my being, and part of who I am. Remarkably, I now do it without much effort. It’s kind of like brushing your teeth. There is no judgment around it. It’s just part of what you do every day because you know it keeps your teeth and your body healthy. End of story.

I never ever would have thought that I would get to a place where I don’t feel confined in the battle between The Dictator and The Wild Child in my head. It has completely surprised me. And, if I hadn’t given myself full rein to eat sugar – if I hadn’t “given myself completely” to it , just as the Zen master instructed, I know I would not ever have been able to “completely give it up”.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Healthy & Refreshing Summer Refreshments

If you are like me, you need cool treats to make it through the hot summer. Since I have given up sugar and I am not indulging in traditional summer refreshments like lemonade or sweetened iced tea, I have tried to come up with some healthy ways to keep myself refreshed.  Here are a few ways I like to wet my whistle:

1. Water with a Twist – I aim to drink 8 8-oz glasses of water a day. Water gives me energy and keeps cells hydrated. On a daily basis, though, water can get rather boring, so to liven it up, I cut up lemons and limes and keep them in a container in the frig, then I just throw a few slices into my stainless steel water bottle and off I go.

2. Crystal Light On the Go Pure Fitness – Not too long ago, Crystal Light introduced a new product called Crystal Light On the Go Pure Fitness with no sugar and no preservatives - just vitamins, electrolytes and stevia. It comes as a powdered mix in single servings in 3 flavors – strawberry-kiwi, grape, and lemon. I just add one packet to my 32-oz stainless steel water bottle. I rotate between the flavors for variety. I find that if I use less water, the concoction is too sweet for me, so I use more water than called for. It is another fun way to make water exciting without using added sugar.

3. Pom Pomegranate-Blueberry Juice Pops – I LOVE making little mini-popsicles out of Pom Pomegranate-Blueberry juice. I have a 4-popsicle mold that I just pour the juice into and freeze. Because I eat fruit and 100% fruit juice (in limited quantities) as a part of my new sugar-free life, this is a perfect summer after-dinner treat that feels decadent but that is full of antioxidants and very good for you (and only about 35 calories per pop).

4. Light Coconut Milk Pops – Same as above, only I use light coconut milk. These pops are a little harder than those made with juice and have a few more calories (about 60 per pop) but coconut milk contains a form of healthy fat and is quite tasty once you get used to it.  You can also find cartons of coconut milk in the natural foods section of your local grocery store near the soy milk and almond milk as well.

5. Iced Green Tea with Lemon – On the way to work every day, I drink about 2 cups of green tea with a squirt of lemon. Green tea is chock full of antioxidants and is soooo good for you.  Using lemon enhances the tannins in the tea for better absorption by the body. (Avoid using milk in your green tea or black tea as it has the opposite effect and reduces the absorption of tannins.)  However, it is way too hot outside to drink green tea, so lately I have been making batches of it and keeping it in the frig. Very good for you and very refreshing with a tiny kick of caffeine perfect for the morning.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Favorite Snacks

It's Day 21 of not eating sugar, and I have to say that I feel so great, both physically and mentally, having eliminated sugar from my diet.  It has been surprisingly easy to do.  My energy is high and consistent.  My digestive system is flowing more smoothly.  I seem to roll with the punches more easily, too, from an emotional standpoint.  It is truly amazing!  I will say that stevia has been my saving grace.  It's the only additive that I have used in my plain greek yogurt and plain kefir.  Because it is not sugar and it does not impact my blood sugar, I am okay with using it.  That's the only natural "sweetener" I will use though.  I even made it through a Fourth of July cookout eating just a hamburger in a whole wheat bun, salad, and fruit.  I avoided the baked beans, potato salad and dessert.  I thought it would be difficult to do, but it was actually pretty easy.

To still enjoy sweetness in my diet, however, I have been eating a lot of fruit, perfectly timed because summer offers so many delicious varieties - cherries, red grapes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, nectarines, plums, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, and, of course, I always have apples, bananas, and oranges on hand.  In fact, just today I picked a huge bag of blueberries from our backyard and last week I picked raspberries growing right outside our house as well.  Fruit makes a great snack, but it is important to pair it with protein and/or a healthy fat so that the glycemic load is reduced.  Eating carbs is fine, but it is best to eat them with protein or healthy fat so your body is provided with more sustained energy, and it won't increase your blood sugar too much.  It also keeps you more full.  Here are some of my favorite snacks, all of which are under 200 calories:

If I want something SWEET:
Pineappple (1 cup fresh)
Whole natural, raw almonds (14)

If I want something CREAMY:
Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup)
Blueberries (1 cup)
Stevia packet (1/2)

If I want something CRUNCHY:
Air-popped plain popcorn (6 cups)
Olive-oil spritzer/spray (10 pumps)  (I use my own spritzer filled with EVOO)
Sea salt (pinch)

If I want something HEARTY:
Black cherries (14)
Cottage cheese (made with 2% milk)(small individual size)

If I want something CRISP:
Braeburn Apple (small)
Cheddar cheese (reduced-fat if possible)(1 slice)

If I want something COLD:
Frozen red grapes (1 cup) (so refreshing in the summer!  Just wash & freeze.)
Frozen peas (1/2 cup) (with no sauce - you can eat them right out of the bag)

Just thinking about all of these healthy, yummy snacks makes me hungry!