How I ‘Licked the Sugar Habit’

Out with the sugar, in with the real food! When everything you eat is sugar-laden and you take that away, the calories have to come from somewhere.

Part III of the Sugar-Holic Story

In practical terms, this is how I switched from consuming 95% sugary foods in my diet to 95% real food.
In a nutshell: keeping the ‘why’ alive, going ‘cold turkey’, shopping Do’s and Don’ts, and killin’ it with my culinary skills.

When it comes to changing habits, especially addiction habits, we need a will and we need a way. I had the will, and I should mention that continually feeding (no pun intended!) the inspiration of ‘why’ was very much a part of the process. Another book I discovered entitled Sugar Blues, began as a personal story, but then illuminated the global story of sugar.

William Duffy documented the history of how sugar became a commodity and all of the ills that fell upon mankind when the nutrients nature provided were stripped away from grains and canes. This book provided me the insights on the commercialism of the food industry and the public health results of increasing profits to the company owners (these days, the stockholders and CEO’s). This insight increased my motivation to NOT be tempted by the industry’s latest concoction and advertising claims. Why should I put money in their pockets to the detriment of my own health and wallet?

But ‘how’ to do it, I really had no idea.

When it comes to changing habits, people either go “cold turkey”—all or nothing; or they wean themselves. I didn’t have a road map…no meal plan, no special diet, no guidelines. I had nothing. There were a few recipes at the back of the book (Lick the Sugar Habit), but that was about it. I decided to do it “cold turkey” because I suddenly felt an urgency to fix myself after poisoning myself for over 20 years! I believe this approach was actually part of my success in the short and long term. I was strict and stubborn about it, but it was not unpleasant in the least because I always had the ‘why’ close to my heart and mind.
I started with shopping.

What I did NOT buy: I did not purchase any form of sugar or anything with added sugar. That included anything that had a different name, but chemically speaking was sugar—i.e. a simple carbohydrate—because it all boils down to glucose in the molecular swing of things physiologically. Eventually that black list included white flour, enriched flour, and things like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose (anything ending in “ose”, dextrin, modified corn or potato starch and “malted” anything. Eventually, the black listed items turned into nearly everything in a box, can or bag…which then led to eating very little “processed foods” because almost everything had at least one if not several forms of sugar in the ingredients list.

What I DID buy: The few items I consumed from containers were gen-mai (whole-grain rice—not just food colored brown rice) oats, plain yogurt, plain soy milk, raw nuts and my mother’s coarsely ground 9-grain flour. Although I had not intended to lose weight, I lost 5 pounds the first week. The calories had to come from somewhere, so I started buying fresh fruits and veggies. Aside from yogurt and raw nuts, oils & soy sauce, everything else came from the produce section or fresh meat & seafood department. There were two exceptions to the processed foods which I allowed myself, but significantly cut down over time: fresh 9-grain bread from the bakery (2 slices each day or every other day depending on availability) and orange juice.
First the shopping, then the cooking.

The Japanese have a saying that an American housewife’s idea of cooking is opening a can of corn. I fit this stereotype to a “T”! I had no idea how to cook or prepare real food. One time the mother of one of my students suggested frozen mixed veggies, frozen pie crusts, canned chicken and canned mushroom soup as a way to increase my vegetable intake via “chicken pot pie”—and that, indeed, was the extent of my culinary skills.
The keys to ‘no longer clueless’ culinary skill: Experimentation and play. I started experimenting in the kitchen with and without recipes.

1. When I didn’t have the exact ingredients or didn’t approve of some ingredients I altered the recipe.
2. I challenged myself by creating meals out of whatever I happened to have in the fridge.
3. Instead of looking at the process as a chore I looked at it with new eyes: an opportunity. Chopping vegetables and tearing salad greens became a new form of joy and therapy. It was a new way to show love towards myself and others. This is just one of the many transformations of how licking the sugar habit truly changed my life.
4. With the chaotic schedule and limited kitchen space I made a lot of ‘one-pot’ meals packed with color, texture and nutrition.

A note on the Cold Turkey Method. The one exception of weaning myself: Orange juice. I was typically a water drinker and it really wasn’t a problem to give up sodas. I quickly learned that these were the biggest culprit to the burning ulcer I was diagnosed with at age 17. This was in the days before I became a coffee and tea drinker…I HAD to have my orange juice in the morning and water would turn my stomach. So this is how I handled it: Week 1—3/4 glass of OJ diluted with ¼ water. Week 2—lowered the OJ level by a ¼ inch each day until I reached a 50-50 dilution. Continuing the quarter inch drop in OJ each day for the 3rd and 4th week, I eventually made it down to only water by the end of one month. I recommend this (or an adaptation) for that one thing that is so difficult for your palate to give up.

So what were the obstacles and what was in my favor for licking the sugar habit?
To be continued…