Sugar Math

It’s been six months since I decided to quit sugar and wheat and get my health back. I’m still at it and while I have not lost significant weight, just bloat, the most obvious signs of digestive distress are gone. Eliminating wheat has been a game-changer for me as far as how my body functions. That’s why I’m not often tempted by pasta, bread, cereal or other processed foods containing wheat. P.S. All processed foods contain wheat.

In “I Quit Sugar” Sarah Wilson admits to eating an occasional gluten free muffin or other low-sugar treat, and I admit to adding Saltine crackers to my homemade vegetable soup. The first ingredient on the Saltine box is “wheat” but I had a cold, then a cough, then bronchitis, for most of the month of October. So I needed soup. The first week we had vegetable soup and the second week, chicken noodle. A main ingredient of chicken noodle soup is pasta and sick as I was, I could not make myself omit the pasta.

I was too tired to fight with my better self, the one who thinks before she eats. There was not a lot of meal planning (or grocery shopping) going on in October. Whatever was easy, and could be made out of stuff in the pantry, I was eating. I wasn’t that hungry anyway, so the added wheat didn’t have much of an immediate negative effect.

I don’t know how to say this next part. Okay, here it is. When I’m ill, I go to a place where I want to be taken care of. I feel sorry for myself and I’m all I’ve got. So, like an indulgent parent, I soothe myself with sugar. Especially ice cream because it also soothes my sore throat. In October, I ate a lot of ice cream. Also chocolate and scones plus donuts. And apple cider. Because those are the “groceries” I could pick up at the drug store when I was buying another bottle of cough syrup.

Sarah addresses lapses in “I Quit Sugar.” They happen. We’re human. To her, a lapse means she’ll eat a gluten-free muffin or a chocolate chip cookie and in the moment she’ll check out how she feels. Does the cookie make her feel better? How does it taste compared to how she imagined it would? That’s Sarah. Now me. I will eat the cookie and of course I don’t feel better, because I have bronchitis, so I eat another and another and eventually the package is gone.

**When I’m not sick, I don’t eat sugar at home. If I am at a friend’s house, like my book club lunch or my writer’s breakfast, I eat dessert. At restaurants, I order salad or eggs. Sometimes I’ll get a burger and not eat the bun. I don’t even LIKE buns anymore. But this is the strong not-sick me. In the past few days I’ve been getting back to her.

It’s a bit of a misnomer about quitting sugar. Sarah did the research on how much sugar is absolutely OK to eat in a day. There’s a magic sugar number, and for women it is 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, or 26 grams. Men get 9 teaspoons (36 grams) and kids go just a bit higher. I probably got that much in my cough medicine, but I was too sick to check labels.

Now I’m back to checking labels, or, easier for me, just saying no to sweets, wheat and packaged foods. But I’ve been craving pumpkin, which has minimal sugar, 2 grams in a half cup, so I googled around for pumpkin recipes with no wheat or sugar. Found a few and made pumpkin-buckwheat pancakes yesterday. Recipe made 12 pancakes and I froze the leftovers because when you cook everything from scratch, batch cooking will save your life. When I got sick I had veggie soup batch-cooked and frozen waiting for me!

I can kind of tell how much added sugar is in foods I use now, but just to double check myself, I went through everything I put into those pancakes, and on them when I served myself, and added up the sugars in my meal. Came out to 25 grams of sugar, and that includes a bit of whipped cream on the pancake stack <1 gram, the sugar in the canned pumpkin <1 gram, the sugar in my syrup (22 grams, I use brown rice syrup, about half the natural sugars as that in maple syrup), and coconut creamer (1 gram) in my coffee. That’s it. Almost my at my sugar limit for today. Which is fine. I have a big salad, veggie burger, spaghetti squash, tomatoes and ground turkey on the menu for lunch and dinner. All that 0 grams of added sugar.

I admit, I feel good. (Part of that is just being so overjoyed to feel normal again). I’ll also admit, I’m scared. The holiday food season is upon us and I have a doctor’s appointment in December to check my sugar levels. I’ve had six months to lower my A1c. Can I keep off sugar (or stick to 6 tsp per day) until then? Or will sickness and the season spoil my success?

If you have any tips for eating sensibly during the holidays, I would love to hear them. Email me or drop a comment below. Thanks!

I Quit Sugar!

Larson’s Bakery, just down the block from where we stayed in Seattle, is full of fresh, sweet treats. Cookies, cakes, donuts, tarts, the delish local Norwegian pastries. We stopped by every day; it was hard to chose just one treat, so lots of times I’d get two. Or three. Yummiest vacation ever.

I’d already bought clothes in a larger size for the trip. Most of my jeans were in a pile headed for a donation box, and many of my cute tops were on the way to the same pile. I kept my rings on the entire vacation, as they were hard to pull off my puffy fingers. I thought I’d need to get them re-sized soon.

None of this bothered me. I’m 64. I’m not going to worry about dieting at my age. My grandkids love me just the way I am. They’re still too young to attach labels to people based on looks. My husband, too, loves me for me. He still sees the slim young woman he married, or at least he’s never mentioned my weight or made me feel ashamed of it.

On the long flight home to Detroit, we bought sandwiches for the plane and chocolate too. After I ate my Snickers bar, I craved some of those M&Ms Al wasn’t eating. Al loves sweets, but he’s not addicted. When I asked, he handed me the M&Ms. He wasn’t happy about it, as he knew I had a bad sugar habit, but he indulged me. Then we got home and I looked at my calendar, just to get my bearings. What did I have going on in June besides Al’s birthday?

There it was, at the end of the month. An appointment with the doctor to test my blood sugar. I flashed to what she’d said two months before: if my numbers didn’t go down, she’d be putting me on medicine to control my blood sugar, and probably something for cholesterol, too. I had been in denial for the past two months. Maybe I subconsciously believed that having to take meds would be the thing that finally made me quit sugar. But now that the reality of sugar addiction was looking me in the face, I wanted to fix it.

I’d gone off sugar before. I’d done no carb, even. Those were the happiest numbers my doctor ever saw. She said “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up.” That was about ten years ago. I was afraid to tell her I was doing South Beach. It could not be healthy to consume that much meat and dairy. Plus I was so sick of eggs and bacon for breakfast! Over the next several years, I tried to eat more healthfully, became vegetarian and then vegan. My sugar numbers slowly but surely crept up again.

My solution to all problems is to read up on it. I needed a book that would help me quit sugar. I found Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” and read a lot of things I already knew. Like that processed foods contain sugar. And I learned some new things. Like that a whole wheat hamburger bun has more sugar in it than a candy bar. Or maybe that was from “Wheat Belly” the next book I read.

Ten years ago, I didn’t have the health problems I am now confronting. Insomnia. Excema. Lactose intolerance. Caffeine sensitivity. The inability to eat a healthy vegan diet because beans and legumes made my stomach churn and worse. Pretty much, I had IBS. And it is not pleasant. The last thing on the list of food items that are thought to cause IBS is wheat. And I had saved that as the last thing to eliminate from my diet, because I just didn’t want to know.

Then one day after my morning cereal, I made the familiar rush to the bathroom. No doubt about it, on top of being addicted to sugar, I had a problem digesting wheat. However, the two books had shown me a path forward without sugar or wheat. So two weeks ago, I decided to try to quit sugar. I cleaned out my pantry, getting rid of most of the offending foods. Both books had simple recipes. Sarah’s even has a shopping list.

My new diet is part South Beach, part vegan/vegetarian. Veggies are of primary importance, so those years as a vegetarian and vegan were not a total waste. It’s not a weight loss diet. It’s a diet that breaks sugar addiction, including the sugar in our modern genetically modified wheat. It might be too late to impact my sugar numbers this round of blood tests, but I will continue to eat this way anyway. If I do have to go on medication, I will soon be able to get off of it if I don’t eat sugar or wheat.

I’ll let you know how this latest diet goes after I hear from my doctor. Meanwhile, I’ve not had any wheat or sugar for two weeks. The IBS that started five years ago and has progressively gotten worse is gone. My bloated wheat belly has settled down into a regular pudgy tummy. Most of my jeans zip again. The rings on my fingers slide easily on and off. Best of all, I have no sugar cravings. None.

Hopes for 2019

On January 1 the calendar’s a blank slate. Another chance to get things right. I always feel excited in a new year, ready to dig in to healthier eating and other habits, but I wouldn’t call these things resolutions as much as common sense. I’d just spent December in an orgy of sugar. It seems an obvious time to clean up my act. I made a great pot of vegetable soup yesterday. Also cookies for my husband as he likes them with his coffee in the morning.

Since I’m on the borderline of diabetes, I won’t be eating any of the cookies, although I sampled a few broken ones yesterday. I also won’t be having coffee, because that among other things had to go in 2018 when I did a deep dive into just what was wrong with my digestion. I changed a lot of things about what I eat, but I’m not crying. There’s an abundance of foods still available to me, and I intend to bring my blood sugar levels back to normal in 2019.

For the first time in many years, Al had the holidays off. Tomorrow he’ll be back on the job, but at least we got in a good binge of “Jack Ryan.” Eight episodes all gobbled up like another holiday treat. I’d recommend that series (it’s on Amazon Prime). It was entertaining but also made me think. Mostly about the plight of refugees. The show involved Middle Eastern refugees, but the news here IRL is all about those from Central America seeking asylum in the USA. Two young children died in December on the border while in US custody. We need to fix this broken system, and I hope it happens in 2019.

I read some great books in 2018; my favorite rock memoir was “Thank you Mr. Kibblewhite” by Roger Daltrey. He lets the reader in, almost like a friend. He’s frank and honest. He admits it hurt his feelings when Pete Townsend made disdainful remarks about his singing. Roger, Pete’s just jealous, because you and your voice both were gorgeous and onstage got all the adulation from the beautiful girls while he had to be satisfied with guitar obsessed men. He was so mad he frequently bashed his guitar to pieces.

I also loved “The Recovering” by Leslie Jamison. I’ve long had a fascination with drinking memoirs. I like to read about young rockers before they hit the big time and also about young drinkers and how they cope once they realize their drinking has surpassed all reason. I’m always rooting for the young rocker to make it big and for the old drinker to get sober. In fiction, I really loved Michael Connelly’s “Dark Sacred Night” the first of his Bosch series to feature Renee Ballard. Nancy Thayer’s “An Island Christmas” was a frothy delight. Kate Atkinson can do no wrong in my mind, and her 2018 novel “Transcription” came through as always. I loved Tana French’s “The Witch Elm” very much, too. Right now I’m in the middle of “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” by Stephen Hawking. I quite enjoy theoretical physics and Hawking writes in a clear style anyone can comprehend. Well, most of the time. I also am a regular reader of Buddhist thought and Mark Epstein’s “Advice Not Given” is a superb 2018 example of its kind.

Goodreads says I’ve read well over 900 books on my Kindle since they started tracking such things, and a very satisfactory moment in 2019 will be when I hit the 1,000 book mark, even though it’s a number without much meaning as I read books outside Kindle, of course. I buy them at book fairs and conventions and conferences. I buy them at real brick and mortar bookstores! Also I order a fair share on Amazon. I read more than literary mysteries, Buddhists texts, and memoir. Those are just the ones who stand out as being great in 2018. I’m sure 2019 will bring many new books, gee maybe I’ll even finish one of my own by the end of this year. I expect I will, since I have a first draft done.

I expect 2019 to be an excellent year for so many reasons and I hope your blank slate fills up with lots of joy, too. Happy New Year!

Dieting During the Holidays

I am always on a diet, so dieting during the holidays is not new to me. But the diet I’m on now is different. Some of the foods I’ve given up in order to reverse the diabetes and lactose intolerance trends in my body are: sugar, dairy, alcohol, meat, and oil. What I eat impacts my health. I feel the effects of dairy almost immediately, while other stuff takes awhile, as I have learned after ¬†the temporary amnesia that kicked off the holidays.

On Thanksgiving, friends made a wonderful feast — all the traditional holiday foods. There were plenty of fruits and vegetables and grains. There were other things too, but it was Thanksgiving, and relaxing my vigilance for one day would not kill me. I had a little of everything and ate every bite on my plate. I also enjoyed cocktails plus a sliver of pumpkin pie. No whipped cream. Virtuous, right?

Well, not really. Dairy makes me ill. Lactaid pills work, but only to a degree. I knew there’d be cream and butter in the mashed potatoes, I saw the bacon in the Brussels sprouts, and my hostess informed me that she’d used mozzarella and parmesan cheese in those yummy potatoes as well. They were delicious and I felt fine.

Perhaps the pomegranate martini helped. And the wine. You can eat PBWF and still have a glass of wine once in awhile. But probably not three. At least that is what my pounding head and desert dry mouth informed me when I woke in the middle of the night. Lying in bed, trying to sleep, remembering the dinners out with friends on Wednesday and Friday, the nights before and after Thanksgiving, I tried to count the ways I’d veered off the PBWF path. Things were a bit hazy, but I knew I’d overdone it again, me and millions other folks this time of year.

Yesterday I felt tired all day. I was happy my friend had packed lots of leftovers from her ¬†turkey dinner for us to take home. Al could eat that. I wasn’t really hungry. I wasn’t exactly sick…I just lacked energy…I tried to explain to him how I felt. He said “Sounds like you’re hungover.” What?

I don’t get hung over anymore. I hadn’t had that much to drink. Then I realized, maybe I was hung over, and not just on alcohol. Dairy products, sugar, salt and oil are used in almost all restaurant food, sometimes in abundance, unless you order a salad without dressing and a plain baked potato. Which I hadn’t done.

I have a plan for December. Cook everything myself. And don’t drink any wine. Drinking just encourages me to eat things I shouldn’t, like those nachos on Friday night. Plus alcohol is nothing but empty calories. This holiday season I vow to eat less calorie dense food, like fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which will give me energy, help me lose weight and just maybe, if I get my Christmas wish, reverse diabetes.



Last week when I stepped on the scale, I was thrilled. I’d lost two pounds after a couple of weeks of plateau. It was due, I knew, to my decision to stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol isn’t banned from plant-based whole food diets. But it has calories, lots of them, empty ones that add no nutrition. So with weight loss as my #1 goal to reverse the diabetes train, dropping wine (and the occasional martini) from my life seemed obvious.

I went without alcohol and stuck firmly to the PBWF diet and I lost weight. Then I started to eat a little bit outside the PBWF box. I didn’t drink any wine, but consoled myself with cake. Just a little square. Which led to more sugar. Because I hadn’t really wanted the cake, what I really had been craving was a chocolate chip cookie. Once the cookies were in my shopping cart, I knew I’d eat more than one.

Now it is Friday and I have done my weekly weigh in. The two pounds I lost last week are back. Even though most of the time I have been faithfully eating my vegetables and fruit, my potatoes and rice, my oatmeal and almond milk … most of the time isn’t enough.

Sure as the sun shines, eating sugar leads to eating more sugar. There is nothing like the high of losing weight unless it’s having a little something sweet to reward myself. I have done this over and over again for thirty years now. Why? Because not eating sugar is hard. And I say sugar but there is a very long list of what I am no longer eating: no meat, poultry, fish, bread, oil, no dairy or processed foods.

I looked it up. About 1% of the US population is vegan. That’s about a million people. I couldn’t find any numbers for PBWF vegans. But really how much lower can you go than 1% ??? So, even the numbers say this is hard. I’m sticking with it, though, because I want to have a healthy rest of my life. After a brief detour into sweetsville, I am back on the PBWF path.

It’s not a coincidence that taking away wine made me crave sugar. It’s replacing one treat with another. Some people who quit drinking alcohol will drink endless cups of coffee laced with sugar and cream. Others smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. That’s a trope of AA meetings, the addicts with their coffee and cigarettes. Cigarettes would solve my problem with sugar. I never had a problem with sugar until I quit smoking. Quitting smoking is harder than quitting sugar. I tried to quit at least ten times before I finally did it thirty years ago.

I am worried right now that my week of eating sugar is going to show at the doctor’s office. My next visit is in ten days. That’s when I do the fasting blood work. Meanwhile, I will not be eating any more sugar. Once you get off of it, with PBWF you don’t even want it. In that way, it’s so much easier to kick than cigarettes.