This is the question I’m asking myself before I reach for something. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, but I do have a wicked sweet tooth. I’m one of those people who’d eat cake instead of food for lunch. With Halloween a memory now, I have memories of grabbing a fun size chocolate bar or two out of the treat bowl. Most people would say “what’s the big deal?” Well, I’ll tell you the big deal – refined sugar is habit forming and is at the center of almost every physical illness [and most mental illnesses] plaguing us.
Every bite of sugar makes the brain’s reward and pleasure centres light up – and makes us want more. And more. And more. Until those fun size chocolate bars become king size chocolate bars. I know that sugar is my nemesis and every year I undergo a sugar elimination to reset myself and get a handle on it. This time around is a little different.
As I move through my 40s, my energy levels are changing, my body is changing and my moods are changing [thank you hormones!]. These regular indulgences are causing me more harm than good. I am still fit and I’m still very healthy looking and I’d like to stay that way. But on those cranky days, I’ll have sugar. On those tired days, I’ll have sugar. Things need to change. So instead of solely eliminating sugar, I’m focusing on eating real food.
Real food is anything that provides the body with the nutrients we need without additives or things that use our health and vitality to process it in our bodies. It usually is perishable and not made to last on a shelf for a number of months or years. It can taste good and be a treat, but it’s got to be real and it’s got to have nutrients. This would exclude most foods that come in brightly coloured packages. If I bake oatmeal cookies and I’d like to have one, it’s part of a meal or a snack and it’s going to fill me up and provide me with vitamins and minerals. This has taken a lot of the negotiation out of my mind as to what I should and shouldn’t have. I’ll go back and forth – should I have the chocolate or shouldn’t I? Am I depriving myself? If it’s considered food, I’ll eat it. If it’s candy that has no value, then no. Same with salty snacks. Nuts, olives, fermented pickles are all good savory snacks. Chips are not real food. They barely resemble their original form which is a potato.
What I’ve learned in this process is that I’ve definitely ignored my body’s needs for water. I’m realizing that I’m grazing instead of drinking water. I’ve misplaced what my mouth wants and instead of liquid, it’s getting solids. By drinking more water, I’m feeling less crave-y and I’m getting the benefits of being properly hydrated. I’ve also noticed that I need that little 3pm pick me up a little less when I focus on food. If I’m genuinely hungry at 3pm I can always have an apple or veggies. If not, I can wait until dinner.
I’ve also noticed that my mentality around food has changed. I would often have Mary’s Crackers with my lunch salad as a “treat” – don’t roll your eyes, it’s a treat when you eat pretty healthy!! And that would be the thing I’d look forward to. I’m now focusing on having a whole starch if I need one – sweet potatoes for instance and I’ve found that I feel like lunch, while still relatively enjoyable, is a time to relax from my workday and fuel up. The emotional attachment to the food at lunch is gone.
I’m a believer in making positive life changes – not short term solutions. By reframing the foods that I eat, it’s make this change a lot easier.