Fighting My Greatest Nemesis!!!
I have a problem. When I walk past a Baskin Robbins or Cold Stone Creamery, it’s like the logical, rational part of my brain is instantaneously hijacked! Suddenly I can’t think of anything else. That ice cream calls to me, and I can’t see beyond the sweet, creamy scoops! I have to get three scoops in the biggest waffle cone they have. Unless it’s a banana split kind of day (don’t even get me started on the deliciousness of a Baskin Robbins banana split). Then I’ll order one off the menu and delight in every last sugar-infused bite!
I don’t mean to disparage these brands, but for someone who can’t handle dairy and adores sugar, an ice cream shop is my perfect storm. For years, I never missed an opportunity to have an ice cream outing, and our family went every week. It was our big treat. We bonded as we ate. My favorite excuse was, “Hey everyone, let’s go get some exercise on our bikes and stop by Baskin Robbins on our way home!”
Although it may be my favorite, ice cream is not my only sugar vice. From the time I was a little kid up until about seven years ago, I drank soda like crazy. My beverage of choice was an ice cold Coca-Cola. As a teenager, it was not uncommon for me to drink two or three cans of Coke a day. I had no idea that one can had 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories! I thought it looked cool and wanted to emulate my parents and the ‘good life’ portrayed in advertisements. “Have a Coke and a smile!” sure made life look good.
That’s not all. My brothers and I would feast on Hostess cupcakes, Twinkies, and Ding Dongs, the box of 12 quickly emptied once we got our hands on it. Any allowance money in my pocket was hastily spent at the Rexall Drug Store on candy. Snickers was my favorite, with Kit Kat a close second. At the movie theater, I would always get milk chocolate Raisinets. No wonder I was such a mess as a kid with undiagnosed ADD! I was running on sugar 24/7! Those poor elementary school teachers!
But it didn’t end there. I never outgrew my love of donuts and pastries. Bear claws, apple fritters, chocolate frosted donuts, blueberry glazed cake donuts… and basically any other pastry you put in front of me are kryptonite to my willpower. Dunkin Donuts used to have toasted coconut donuts, and I would eat at least three in a sitting. As an adult, I got hooked on chocolate eclairs and cinnamon rolls. Which brings us to homemade baked goods… chocolate chip cookies with macadamia nuts, delish! And if a cookie was fresh and warm out of the oven, I could not possibly eat just one. I’d happily eat three at a time without thinking twice. I’m going into a sugar coma just writing about it!
Each night I had a routine that included doing multiple rounds through my kitchen (basically a sugar scavenger hunt). I’d start with the refrigerator and freezer, then move on to the cupboards where I knew we kept processed foods. Then I’d scour the countertops and sift through the pantry. Some nights, I’d exercise a bit of self-discipline. But admittedly, most of the time if I found something I liked, I’d gobble it down as a pre-bedtime snack.
Training on Sugar
You’re probably picturing me as a roly-poly chubbers with three chins wearing high-waisted, big-man pants after that long and descriptive confession. But here’s the thing. I’d never been a fat guy. I was training for high-endurance events like the Ironman race. Each week, I spent at least 25 hours intensely swimming, biking, and running. I looked good, and I felt good! Because of my extreme training schedule, I thought I could just choose whatever foods I wanted.
Then, Carla decided to join me in my training and racing. It was awesome doing it together, and we worked out and trained hard. Before we got married, Carla was a pretty healthy eater. I’m sad to say that instead of being influenced for good by her, I brought her over to ‘the dark side.’ We’d carb load together before a race by eating pasta and cookies and all the junk we wanted. And we were fit, and we did well, and we looked good (well, I can certainly vouch that Carla looked darn good!), but we had no idea the damage we were causing on the inside with all the crap we were putting in our bodies.
Who knows how much better we could’ve done in those races had we made better choices? If we’d fueled our bodies with starchy vegetables and plenty of healthy, leafy greens, would we have performed better? More importantly, would I have avoided some of the health pitfalls that, despite being fit and strong and ‘looking’ healthy, I found myself facing over the past decade? We get so caught up in thinking that being healthy is about looking a certain way or maintaining a certain weight. I’m living proof that this is a dangerous fallacy.
The Sticky Truth About Sugar
When we started our fitness company, I began researching sugar. What I learned was pretty staggering. In 2013, I first attempted to overcome my sugar addiction. I wrote and published a book called Think: Use Your Mind to Shrink Your Waistline. I found a study from 2010 that stated the average American consumed 130 pounds of sugar a year. After considering what I had been eating, I realized I might be an outlier. I ate even more than the 100+ pounds the average Joe was eating. I sure hope that you eat way less sugar than I do!
Here’s what I wrote at that time: Sugar is responsible for triggering both an adrenal response, (the “rush”) and the release of serotonin, (the “ahhh”). When these excited and happy feelings subside, we want to experience them again. And each time, we have to eat or drink a little more sugar to get the same high. Hence, sugar is like a drug. That’s why so many of us feel caught in its grasp.
Is it any wonder that I am a sugar-holic? I cannot have just a little bit of sugar. I can’t stop with just a small taste here and a tiny bite there. For so long I judged myself harshly for this weakness. But it’s not not entirely my fault. The food industry hires scientists to study this behavior, and they create foods that our brains crave at an addiction level! No wonder it is so hard to say no to sugar! With great effort and commitment to my ‘Why,’ over the last 18 months I have been able to rein in the sugar consumption. But it is still so difficult to walk by a temptation and just say no.
Our Brains on Sugar
One of my favorite books from 2020 is Limitless by Jim Kwik. Talking about what sugar does to the brain, Jim quotes Dr. Eva Selhub who, “…often likens the brain to a high-performance vehicle. Like an expensive car, she writes, your brain functions best when it gets on premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress–the ‘waste’ (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.” She goes on to note that when you force your brain to run on inferior fuel, it can’t possibly do everything it could do for you.
This next part of her quote really hits home for me, “Refined sugar, for example, contributes to impaired brain function, leads to inflammation, and can even cause depression (something you might want to consider the next time you reach for a tub of ice cream to contend with a tough day).” Wow, the memory of that daily ice cream indulgence really stung when I read those words. Can you believe that I have spent most of my life impairing my brain function? And now I have built visceral fat around my vital organs, which leads to much higher chances of Alzheimer’s or a heart attack. Sugar is truly trying to lead me to an early death or to life in a memory care facility.
The Uphill Battle
It’s really hard to not get frustrated, or downright angry, about the food and beverage industry. It feels like an unfair battle! I just don’t understand why our government agencies and food industry don’t take a serious look at the amount of sugar every American is consuming. Canada and Europe banned high fructose corn syrup years ago. Here in America, it’s everywhere!
It’s pretty staggering, actually. According to Environmental Health News, we are currently among the unhealthiest nations in the world. An astonishing 42.4 percent of Americans age 20 and over are obese. The U.S. is the sad leader of developed countries as far as how many of us have type 2 diabetes, with 11% of the population.
I am writing this post during the Covid-19 pandemic. With all the talk and debate happening around us, very rarely do I hear the government, a world health entity, or a doctor talk about focusing on our immune systems to fight the virus. Even with a vaccine, the very best thing we can do is to take care of our bodies and strengthen our immune systems. And decreasing sugar is at the top of the list.
Breaking the Sugar Habit
Do you know what ‘homeostasis’ means? It means that our body fights to keep what it’s gotten used to as its status quo. In simple terms, most of our habits run at the subconscious level. Essential things like breathing, swallowing and so many more bodily functions happen without us consciously thinking about them. In much the same way, our subconscious thoughts impact our lives without us ever consciously thinking about them.
Let me share an example of this with you. During the years that Carla and I ran a health and fitness company, I worked with many clients on overcoming limiting beliefs. One of my clients was trying to lose over 100 pounds of excess weight. One day, we had an interesting exchange.
“Were you this heavy when you were 15 years old?” I asked her. She surprised me with how quickly she responded.
“When I was 15, my grandma was helping my mom make dinner when she looked at me and said, ‘You need to watch this one. She is going to grow up and be fat.’ My mom asked why she thought that, and my grandma said I ate too much.”
This experience left a very negative belief in my client’s mind. Once she was able to identify the faulty belief, disavow it, and create a mental environment where she could participate in healthier habits, she disrupted that homeostasis and changed her body shape in healthy, positive ways.
Life After Sugar
Just as I used to train my clients, I am disturbing the homeostasis of my old sugar habits and convincing my brain that I want to replace them with new healthy habits. I’m getting better at saying no to foods I know cause damage, and saying yes to premium fuel for my body. That’s because each day my ‘Why’ is getting stronger. I’m consciously building it into my subconscious mind.
Over the last two years, I have improved my health dramatically. I got rid of the sugar that was killing me. It’s not in our home. We do not search for it when we eat out. At social functions that include dinner, appetizers, and desserts we choose “More Than Healthy.” Carla constantly researches and creates recipes that meet our optimal health goals. I am so grateful that science came up with Swerve and other products that allow me to have an enjoyable healthy diet. Living “More Than Healthy” has required me to change my taste buds. For example, one of my favorites is Carla’s chocolate cream pudding, which is entirely sugar-free. Or try her amazing her delicious and sugar-free angel food cake.
What does “More Than Healthy” mean? It means that you become a scientist to find the facts about your unique body. You record how certain foods either remove inflammation or create pain, from the esophagus down to your bowels. You learn the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat, then how to decrease the bad fats along with your chances of heart disease. It means becoming your own best advocate and working hard to achieve health and wellness and increased energy every day.
“More Than Healthy” means living your best life, for as long as you possibly can.