A few weeks ago I decided to tackle my sugar addiction once and for all. You can blame NPR for reporting the dangers sugar poses to the cardiovascular system, and for someone telling me that Agave nectar is as bad for you as high-fructose corn syrup. There was also the small fact that I was chowing down on donuts all winter like a bear preparing for hibernation. It was a huge problem. My pants were getting a little too tight.
My cousin started the Paleo diet a few months ago, and while the program didn’t seem right for me — that much meat is bad for you, and for the environment — there were some rules that made sense to me. I don’t believe in “diets” because they aren’t sustainable. Eventually you go off of them, and then what? I’ve always been a big proponent of adopting rules that make sense for you in the long-term. But when my cousin told me how she’d cheated on her Paleo diet during the Super Bowl, and woke up the next morning feel so hungover she almost had to call out of work, it convinced me that there were some changes I could make that would have me looking and feeling better.
I stopped buying bread, and invested in some gluten free crackers to put my beloved goat cheese on. (Goat cheese with cranberries quickly became a favorite snack when my sweet tooth was acting up.) I started planning my meals in advance, spending much of my Sunday cooking up large batches of healthy, vegetarian meals to keep me fed throughout the week. I cleared the crap out of my cupboards, and stocked up on quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, unsweetened apple sauce, and a number of other healthy staples that became a big part of my menu. (One of my big qualms with the Paleo diet is that it doesn’t allow legumes — which is just plain silly.) But eating healthy doesn’t have to mean compromising on flavor. One of the easiest ways to eat well and still get plenty of flavor, I find, it to look to other cultures that already do this well. Many of my favorite healthy recipes are Indian-inspired:
- Chickpea and Butternut Squash Curry
- Spicy Sweet Squash Bowl
- Curried Coconut Quinoa with Greens and Cauliflower
I toyed with the idea of eliminating dairy from my diet as well, but decided against it. Goat cheese is generally more digestible for humans, and I happen to LOVE it. So I saw no reason to stop eating it, though I may have to reconsider that for ethical reasons — at least until my farmer’s market starts up. More importantly, greek yogurt seems to really help my stomach. I used to suffer from a variety of (undiagnosed) stomach problems but eating yogurt for breakfast seemed to all but eliminate the problem. I did, however, try to cut back on my regular ol’ milk consumption because, well, there’s just no good reason to be drinking it. Now I keep a very small carton of organic milk around to put in my smoothies because…
I also became a hardcore smoothie fanatic! I know that part of this is my Sugar Monster rearing its ugly head, but I’m fine with that. Downing a fruit-filled smoothy — with some spinach or kale hidden in there — after dinner is far better than housing a couple of donuts. I started with some simple and delicious recipes. My favorite — the one that got me hooked — is this Mango Smoothie which comes out more like a milkshake. I soon started toying with that basic recipe, adding spinach or blueberries to up the nutrition. Then I realized you basically do whatever the heck you want when you’re making a smoothie.
One night I took a banana, half a grapefruit, half a green apple, some kale, and yogurt and tossed them into the blender with some ice, chia seeds, and a splash of vanilla. I tasted it and then decided to add some blueberries and honey because the tartness of the grapefruit was cutting through every other flavor. The blueberries and honey didn’t really work. The grapefruit still jumped out at me, and I can’t say I loved it. This was my first smoothie FAIL. I’ll have to reset by going back to my basic, delicious Mango Smoothie.
But one of the biggest changes for me was the way I drink my tea. Since I was a child I’ve been drinking hot tea with milk and sugar. It’s my comfort food. A few years ago I changed out the sugar for Agave, but as I mentioned earlier, that was ruined for me. So, I decided to just start drinking my tea plain. I was used to doing this in my office days. I didn’t keep milk and sugar in the office, but I did keep tea bags at my desk so I often drank plain tea. This has been tough psychologically. When I’m cold or tired, all I want is my milky, sugary tea. But I’ve gone from having one or two of these a day, to having two or three over the past three weeks. The last time I put anything in my tea I opted for honey and milk — but that was so unsatisfactory that I doubt if I’ll even bother to do it again. The plain tea is better. I’ll probably save my milky sugary tea for a holiday treat from now on.
I can already see and feel a difference in how I look. My pants are loosening up, and my skin looks better — less puffy — despite the fact that I’m eating almost constantly. I can’t quite tell if I have more energy or if I’m feeling less fuzzy-headed like so many people report when they go on a cleanse of any sort — whether it be a sugar cleanse or just going gluten-free. But I have no doubt that my body can tell the difference between what I’m giving it now, and those donuts I was so fond of in December.