In January of 2016, Dean and I tried a sugar cleanse together. It's actually the event that spurred on the making of this blog because I wanted to record my observations and thoughts. I've continued to educate myself about nutrition and over a year later, some things from the cleanse have stuck. I'm not going to rehash everything from the cleanse (it's all in previous blog posts) but I do want to touch on a few things before I go into what I'm doing today.
Why do a cleanse/diet change?
I think it's an important question to ask yourself and there are lots of potential answers. For me, I wanted to discover some new healthy recipes, decrease the use of sugar in my diet overall and see if there actually was any noticeable positive change as a result. I was also hoping that some healthy changes would stick.
The cleanse was only two weeks. The pro to this is that it was less intimidating than a longer cleanse. The downside is that it usually takes at least three weeks to make a permanent habit change. I knew this going in, but I was already in a mind set to do some overhauling.
The things that we learned were that yes, cutting sugar out of the diet has a positive effect on the body. I looked AMAZING, I felt great, I was sleeping great and my chronic piriformis injury was almost eliminated. I also learned that I liked having a meal plan for the week. When I get home from work, I'm generally famished and if I don't have something pre-made to grab, I will often go for cheese and crackers or chips and hummus or whatever carby thing is in front of me. One of the best things we learned was that Dean and I actually do enjoy cooking together and experimenting with new recipes.
Sadly, cutting sugar out completely forever was not sustainable for us at that time. There's SO MUCH sugar in everything that it would blow our budget to eat clean all the time. We would also never have a glass of wine or whiskey again and it would be very difficult to eat out. Those are things that, currently, we aren't willing to give up. I also knew that going in.
A few things have stuck, however, over a year later:
- We are still creating a meal plan every week. We leave the weekends 'open' so that we have the freedom to go out, or have something unplanned if we want, but we have something available for each meal every day of the week.
- I still read labels for hidden sugar. Often to Dean's chagrin, I will point out all of the sugar in just about anything we grab. I also look for how many ingredients are in a food and try and go for five or less. I've gotten much smarter about labels. Sadly it is often more expensive to go healthier. I hope that changes.
- We still use several recipes from the cleanse weekly.
- I have apple cider vinegar every morning. I haven't had a cold in over a year.
- We still enjoy cooking together and collaborating on the meal plan.
I've also learned that a couple of things are necessary to incorporate permanent lifestyle change.
- There has to be some kind of external motivation (at least for me) beyond a vague desire to 'be healthier because you know you should.' Whether it's to shed some holiday/vacation weight, spend less money on eating out to clear out some credit card debt, prep for some kind of competition, eliminate a serious health condition etc., something has to be there. It can also be 'just for fun'. Fun is a great motivator.
- Either the change itself or the results experienced have to be truly enjoyable. Dean and I are fortunate in that we both really enjoy cooking together. It makes the meal plan sustainable. The results from the cleanse were SO amazing that I'm convinced less sugar is better. I was a complete sugar fiend before, but the results have led me to actively avoid it when possible.
- There either have to be limited time parameters, or the change has to be small. For a huge overhaul, like cutting all processed foods and non-natural sugars out of your diet, knowing that you're only committing to giving it up for a set amount of time is key to fully participating. If you're doing something for the long term, the change has to be a small one. For example, switching from dairy milk to oat milk from now on.
- It's helpful if other people are in it with you. Although it is possible to make a permanent lifestyle change on your own, I'm including this bullet point because it is really helpful to be part of a 'team' even if the team is vague and your goals are different. If everyone is sacrificing together, you have something to commonly commiserate over. That's one reason January is a great time to make 'resolutions.' We're all doing it! (We're also ready because we spent so much time from Halloween to New Years eating and going to parties.)
Those last two bullet points are the reason Lent is so popular even among non-Catholics. What a great time to test drive cutting something unhealthy that you really like out of your life! There are parameters, other people are in it with you and it's also a long enough time frame that it just might stick if you want it to.
Now on to what I'm playing with right now. First, I decided to make one small change to see what happened. I cut out snacking between meals. Seems kind of obvious, but bear in mind that my 'snacking' was rarely something that could be considered 'unhealthy' by standard terms. I'd grab some almonds, some dried berries, some crackers, etc. God help me if there was peanut butter in the house. Or ANY kind of nut butter. (This is a serious issue for me. We cannot keep it in the house or I'll eat half a container with a spoon. We've tried having Dean hide the jar, but I will find it even if I have to search for an hour.) But when I honestly took a look at what I was 'snacking' on, it's all pretty high calorie if you have more than a little bit. I would go into the snack session telling myself I was only going to have a little bit and end up having 500 calories worth and sometimes end up skipping dinner because I had basically had a meal's worth of peanut butter calories before I could muster the self control to stop. So far, the results have been pretty good. If I am unsatisfied after lunch (usually these snack raids occurred in the afternoon between lunch and dinner) I make myself some tea or chew some gum. If I'm still starving by dinner time, I prepare an 'appetizer' before dinner if I honestly think I just need more calories that day. The key is that I actually prepare something that is in accord with a meal rather than just munching on something right out of the container. I do still carry my 'emergency' healthy granola bar (or protein/snack/whatever they're called now bars) around with me during the day in case something happens and I'm not able to get home for a meal between breakfast and dinner. This does sometimes happen on the days when I get up at 4:45am and throw down a banana and then don't get home until after 1:30pm for lunch. If I get an audition or have an appointment or an errand after work putting me home even later, then that bar is necessary and I don't consider it a snack then.
Dean and I are still cooking regularly, so we're playing with a few other gradual changes based on things I've learned at seminars and things I've read in well-researched articles in reputable publications. I've found some recipes for things like hummus, dressing and pesto and we're going to try and start making things on our own when we can so that we know what's in them. The more we do it, the easier it will be, I know, but at first it's difficult to make EVERYthing, so we're easing into it. I've also starting looking at recipes that we like and trying to make healthy substitutions for things inside them. Rather than sauteing everything in olive oil, we're trying balsamic vinegar or wine, for example. Greek yogurt can usually substitute for cream in any recipe. And low sodium everything. There's so much added salt.
On my own, I'm trying to eat less meat. We don't consume a lot of red meat in general, but chicken is something that we usually buy every week. It's just not affordable (and sometimes not possible in our local grocery store) to find chicken that's not raised in a huge farm with lots of antibiotics and who knows what. (I know, go to the store that's a little farther away. You do that in the winter in Chicago with no car and tell me how often you want to make that trip.) I'm not a huge meat eater to begin with, so I'm going to see if this makes any difference in how I feel. I can't stop seafood or cheese yet. Not something I'm even going to attempt, but I am trying to reduce my cheese consumption.
This last bit is not something Dean is going through with me, nor have I even thought about asking him to. He loves meat in all of it's forms. However, he is supporting me and even brought up making a tofu stirfry for our menu last week on his own. We did it, we liked it! The thing I find with tofu, is that you can't think of it as a meat substitute. You just have to think of it as it's own thing. Because it doesn't taste like meat, sorry, it doesn't, but that doesn't mean it's bad! And we're actually enjoying the experimentation! I've also discovered that oat milk is AMAZING. So much better (to me) that almond or soy milk.
So these are the things I'm playing around with in my diet right now while I'm seeking that creative spark. Dean and I are even going to take a sushi making class in a few weeks! I'll talk more about the classes that I'm trying and other things I'm playing with in later entries.