Thursday, March 31, 2011

How I Quit Sugar (or, "Holy Crap, I Never Thought I Could Quit Sugar!!")

If you met me when I was in high school, you'd never have believed it.  My lunch every day was a Munster Cheese on Rye Bread sandwich followed by at least one box of Good 'n' Plenties, and more likely than not, a root beer.  I was renowned for my eating prowess, both speed and quantity.  There was a restaurant chain on the East Coast called Friendly's, and my friends would watch in amazement as I downed a whole Reese's Pieces Sundae ( 5 Scoops of Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, marshmallow, hot fudge, topped with Reese's Pieces and whipped cream) in about 5 minutes flat.  Fortunately for me, I was a quivering ball of energy and constantly bouncing around (of course, who knows how much of that was a sugar high... but still...), so I burned a lot of calories.  I was a little chunky, but it's amazing I wasn't morbidly obese.  

Fast-forward to my post-college days, when my sweet tooth had grown exponentially.  I was a computer consultant for about 5 years, and one assignment had me within walking distance of a Hallmark store.  I would head over there every lunch hour, and come back with a pound or two of my very favorite, Jelly Belly Jelly beans, you know, "for the office," in flavors no one liked but me (licorice, hot cinnamon).   After everyone said no to the beans, I'd plow through the whole bag within an hour, would feel sick and swear I'd never do it again, and repeat the process the next day.

If there was nothing sweet for me to eat in my house, I would literally pour myself a glass of maple syrup, grab a big soup spoon and eat honey out of the jar, or sometimes even eat straight sugar from the bag if there was nothing else available.

My point is, I was horribly, insanely, impossibly addicted to the sweet stuff, and it was only getting worse.  I knew I had to do something before my health was affected by my addiction.  I tried several different tricks to stop the process.  First, I thought I'd try switching from candy to dried papaya, rationalizing this because 1) at least the papaya had some nutritional value to it, and 2) you can really only eat so much dried papaya before you get a stomach ache.  This method worked pretty well-- that is, until my body got used to it, and before I knew it, I was polishing off whole bags of dried papaya without a second thought. 

Last year, the control freak in me took over and decided to get rid of the habit once and for all.  And here's what ended up working for me:

1)  I got rid of anything I could binge on.  Bags of sugar-- out of the house.  Maple syrup-- gone.  Honey's not vegan, so I don't buy it anyway.  I kept fresh fruit and dates around and would allow myself up to three pieces of fruit and some dates every day.

2)  I even got rid of things like whole grains in favor of sprouted grains.  The only bread/tortillas/pasta/etc. in my house are Ezekiel, and I replaced my flour with whole grain sprouted flour. 

Say Hello to my Little Friends.

3)  I replaced all sugar in recipes calling for it with erythritol, and all recipes calling for brown sugar with coconut sugar.   This worked like a charm.  I could still have many of the baked treats I love without the sugar rush, and with a good dose of fiber and nutrients. 

The results: 

With these steps in place, and with my willpower strongly in gear, I was able to stop the sugar madness fairly easily.  In one year, I went from 22% body fat to 14.9% body fat without doing anything else much different.  And even more interestingly, I no longer have the sweet tooth I used to.  I can have a bite of cake without feeling the need to eat the whole cake.  Some things are actually too sweet for me now, whereas before, nothing in the world was too sweet for me. 

My new, sugar-free (about 90% of the time) lifestyle is absolutely sustainable, and I rarely get cravings any more.  For my holiday party last year, I had the same overflowing food and dessert tables that I do every year-- but I did everything sugar-free and with sprouted grains.  Not only did no one know the difference, people kept asking me for recipes and wanting to take treats home. 

I never thought I could do it, but I did it.  And if I can do it, you can, too.  You'll be amazed at the changes your body makes. 

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Oils

I was recently asked about which oils are best for cooking, so I thought I'd post about it, just for you guys.

 First, let's talk about what a smoke point is.  Have you ever cooked oil till it smoked and made your whole house stink and your eyes and throat burn?  Of course you have.  I have, too.  It's not fun.  But this is what happens when an oil is taken past its smoke point-- the point at which the molecular structure of the oil starts to change, and its components start breaking down.  At this point, the nutritional aspects of the oil you thought was so healthy for you begin to degrade.  It becomes something quite different than what you started with, and free radicals (which can cause cancer) may be released. 

So, that having been said, here's a list of the smoke points of oils you may currently be cooking with.  Depending on what level of heat you're cooking with, choose accordingly:

As a general rule, I tend to use extra virgin olive oil as a cold oil, to spread and drizzle on things; I also use it when I make garlic bread, but I don't cook it above 350 degrees Farenheit.  I often use avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and extra virgin coconut oil in cooking, depending on the temperature of the cooking I'm doing. 

Hopefully, you find this information useful.  Don't forget to invite me over for dinner.  :)

Questions?  Comments?  Recipes?  Post 'em here!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of The Feet

Recently, I did something very un-like me.

I signed up for a run.

For the record, I am not a fan of running.  I don't find it enjoyable in the least bit.  The only time I ever run on purpose is if I am being chased, if I am playing a sport that requires running, if I'm late for something, or if I am trying to get my dog to run.  That having been said, I do, on occasion, sign up for 5k's and 10k's, usually because they have good bands playing, and because I just want to see if I can do it. 

So I signed up for a run.  It's the Gladiator Rock 'n' Run in Irvine, and it has mud and walls and stairs and tires and other obstacles, and, despite the running, it sounds pretty kick-ass.  I'll be running it with my friend Michael (and anyone else who wants to join us), and Michael and I are going to probably do some practice runs. 

"Did you get some running shoes?" he asked me.

"I have my barefoot shoes," I told him.

He expressed some concern about my feet, and then we moved on to the more pressing matter of signing up for the run. 

I pretty much live in barefoot shoes these days, and have done for the last 2+ years.  People ask me about my weird shoes all the time.  I switch between Vibram Fivefingers and Zems depending on my Fashion Sense of the day (i.e. what looks better with my sweatpants that day), and unless it's too cold to wear them, I love them to bits. 

My Zem Ninja shoes, faithfully assisting me at one of my workshops.

There are a million reasons (or so-- I haven't officially tallied them) to go barefoot if you're a runner.  Or, quite frankly, if you're not a runner.  But let's just stick with running for now. 

Let's start with the science:  Research shows that people who run with shoes on have a much higher incidence of injury than do those who run barefoot ( ).    This appears to be due to the way the shoe stiffens the foot, rendering it unable to move in the way it was designed to move.  When your feet don't move right, neither does the rest of you.  Don't believe me?  Try the following experiment:  Stand up.  Now pull up your toes so that they don't touch the ground.  Now walk.  Did that change your gait a little bit?  Think about it. 

One thing I noticed when I switched from cushy shoes to barefoot shoes is how my feet struck the ground completely differently when I dashed to work from the parking lot.  Running barefoot seems to enforce a proper foot strike (toe to heel) instead of creating an unnatural one (heel to toe), as big, cushy shoes tend to do ( ), which decreases the amount of your body colliding with the ground, which translates into fewer injuries for barefoot runners.

According to researcher Michael Warburton, "Laboratory studies show that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% when the feet are not shod."  Using less energy to run?  Sounds good to me!  Tell me more, Michael!  

And so, he did.  Mr. Warburton also came to the following conclusions:
       Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.

       Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.
       Running in bare feet reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent.  Competitive running performance should therefore improve by a similar amount, but there has been no published research comparing the effect of barefoot and shod running on simulated or real competitive running performance.
       Research is needed to establish why runners choose not to run barefoot. Concern about puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injury, and overuse injury during the adaptation period are possibilities.
       Running shoes play an important protective role on some courses, in extreme weather conditions, and with certain pathologies of the lower limb.

There is, of course, some controversy about the barefoot trend.  While mounting evidence is popping up in favor of the barefoot runner, many people in the podiatric field aren't quite so enthusiastic:

My own experience has been this:  when I switched to barefoot shoes, even not as a runner, the very occasional knee pain I got never recurred.  My feet were sore for about 3 months during the transition, which makes me suspect that the muscles in my feet were working in ways they've never worked before.  My friends who have switched to barefoot shoes have told me that the aches and pains they often got from running have disappeared.  I have swung kettlebells in cushy shoes (a BIG no-no) and without, and the difference in my form is remarkable.  Plus, I just prefer the feel of it.  So as far as I am concerned, barefoot shoes are the way to go.  And if you live somewhere where the ground is soft and mossy or sandy and free of broken glass and hypodermic needles, you may not even have to buy shoes at all.  As for me, I'll stick with my Vibrams and my Zems and whatever other barefoot shoes strike my fancy.  

My dog likes 'em, too.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!