Cutting out most added sweeteners from my diet helped me stop “retaining food.”
A cartoon drawn by Marty Bucella going around Facebook these days depicts an overweight man on a scale with his doctor. “No, it’s not water,” the doctor says. “You seem to be retaining food.”
That was me.
Yes, it’s true, I write about food. And I generally do eat a healthy diet made up of whole foods. In fact, most of my food is organic and locally grown.
But there was one not-so-local food that was tripping me up: sugar. Sometimes abetted by another: chocolate.
The eggs and butter that went with them, those were all local. Sadly, that didn’t make them healthy — or at least not in the quantities I enjoy eating.
My downfall is apple blackberry crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream. I’ll also gladly stuff myself with berry cobbler topped with whipped cream. And, for about a year, I would have joined Cupcakes Anonymous, if only it existed.
I retained some food during the six months I worked at a bakery and the year I lived near a restaurant called Extraordinary Desserts.
I retained more after my brother died and life seemed bleak. I decided my only remaining earthly pleasure was food, so I ate tiramisu, fruit tarts, and that cobbler I love so much until my pants didn’t fit.
Fortunately, my days of retaining food are ending. My relationship with sugar changed last summer. And my tush’s relationship with the couch changed too.
Recently, I tried on a dress I haven’t worn since 2007 and it fit again for the first time. To put that in context, I wore it to my cousin’s Bat Mitzvah, and she’s now in college.
There are many theories about health and fitness, and I tend to subscribe to the ideas of Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size. She focuses on eating well because it’s delicious and moving your body because it’s fun and allowing your body to establish what size it should be based on your healthy lifestyle. Don’t focus on the numbers on the scale.
I thought I was doing that. I would hike three miles a few times a week (but then sit on my behind the rest of the time). I ate lots of vegetables. I also ate lots of sugar.
However, in the context of the standard American diet, I ate a relatively normal amount of sugar. I haven’t had much soda since college. But I like my treats.
Here’s the problem: The “normal” amount of sugar people eat in our country isn’t actually healthy. On average, U.S. adults eat more than twice as many calories from added sweeteners than they should.
To cut the sugar, don’t attempt moderation. Make rules for yourself. For me, that means no more cupcakes. No milkshakes.
I ruled out milk chocolate because I would eat the whole bar. I switched to very dark chocolate — 80 percent — instead.
I’ll also put honey or jam on a peanut butter sandwich. Along with a few squares of dark chocolate, that’s my sugar for the day. Do this, and your cravings largely stop.
One more rule: Avoid “tastes” and “bites” of sweets. It’s easier to say no if you haven’t tasted something than if you have.
Ending my lifelong love affair with sugar wasn’t enough for me. My bottom also had to break up with its true love, the couch. Now I am in a new long-term relationship with hiking.
And you know what? Now I love my body too. Not only does it fit back into that dress, it’s capable of climbing mountains.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It www.OtherWords.org.