Making Peace with my Sugar Beast

I can’t remember which of Anthony Bourdain’s books it was–Kitchen Confidential or Medium Raw. In it, an oft-drunk but undeniably talented baker calls into the restaurant he works at to say he will not be coming in. He’s hungover and in no shape to do his job, yet he remains on the phone to insist that someone feeds the bitch, so she doesn’t die. The “bitch” the baker Adam was referring to was his sourdough bread starter. If you know anything about baking bread (I admittedly know very little), you know that the starter is a living organism–a yeast created by flour and water let to sit over a period of time. People who are serious about sourdough bread-making often like to use and maintain the same starter for years and years, many believe it gives their bread a unique and more complex flavor. A woman in Newcastle is said to be maintaining an 122 year old bread starter. To keep it going, she must periodically feed it flour and water.

Like any other living organism, yeast is a fighter; it wants to stay alive. Ever wonder why if you start eating bread or sugar you just want more and more bread and sugar? When we consume bread regularly and start to maintain a certain level of yeast in our bodies, that yeast wants to stay alive, just like it does before we consumed it. The yeast is smart and it’s demanding–it knows what it wants and needs to stay alive–carbohydrates and sugar. It’s demands and screams manifest themselves to us as cravings, and they are often so strong we can’t help but fulfill them. The yeast inside us remains happy and well-fed, while the rest of our body pays the price with discomfort, bloat, and inflammation. It’s a cycle that can feel impossible to get out of, especially with the treats and feasting of the holiday season. I see the thing kicking my cravings into high gear not so much as a bitch, but as a beast–one that bullied me until I learned to befriend and eventually control it.

I don’t believe in diets. In my younger years I tried almost every diet that existed and tirelessly sprinkled eating disordered behaviors throughout all of them. Now that I’m a little older, wiser, happier, and healthier, I’ve let go of the idea of eating in a way that I cannot regularly maintain. While there are a lot of foods that I choose not to eat on a regular basis (sugar, processed grains, dairy (except butter!), there are no foods that are forbidden or can’t be had in moderation. I’m not a health professional and I don’t have the perfect body, so none of this is meant to be advice. The truth is I really like nutrition and I really love food, so I can’t deny a frequent aim to incite discussion on both. I enjoy learning about why people eat what they eat and what makes them feel their happiest and healthiest.

In hopes of stirring up more of this sort of conversation, I thought I’d throw together a quick list of how I manage to stay in a happy food and body place during the holiday season. I think it’s a shame that so many of us struggle during this time of year. To me, it feels so much better to be able to be grateful for all the abundance in our lives, but I know that’s not the easiest place to land at. What’s helped me…

  • Kick the can down the road. Alright, this phrase isn’t perfect, but I think it will illustrate my strategy well enough. Something that really helps me is to save bready and sugary treats for the end of the day. If I start in the morning with a big stack of pancakes with maple syrup or doughnuts, I haven’t got much hope for any real nutrition the rest of that 24 hours. When I eat shitty in the morning, it often feels impossible to turn it around, and neither my mind or my body really want to. There’s a definite fuck it mentality that clicks on and it delivers a one-two punch: I want more bready, sugary, and probably cheesy things (hello pizza!), and the sofa becomes the only place I really want to be. If I can instead “kick the can down the road” and get in some veggies and clean protein for most of the day and save my indulgences for nighttime, I’m usually way better off. For one, it gives me something to look forward to all day. Two, the treat is just that–it’s dinner and maybe dessert, and that’s it. It’s not shitty breakfast that turns into shitty snacking that rolls into shitty dinner; I haven’t exhausted myself and I don’t have to sit in my self-inflicted discomfort the whole day. Instead I get to hit the hay soon after a delicious meal and shut off the more more more voice that pipes up when the beast is awoken too early. Bonus: Sometimes when I save the treat for the end of the day, I end up not even wanting it!
  • Keep it Real. I tend to stay away from processed food on the regular but I find it’s especially helpful to limit the store bought junk during the holidays. For me, the worst feeling is if I’ve gone overboard on stuff that’s not really worth it. Just a few days ago I was discussing the Christmas menu with my mom (I normally cook almost the entire meal) and we decided she would make a few different kinds of cookies for dessert. My mom makes good cookies. When I eat 4-8 of them throughout Christmas day, I’ll do so happily and with no regret. On the other hand, if I’ve wanted something sweet and ended up killing an entire bag of crap gluten free glutino cookies while I’m grocery shopping, I tend to regret it for almost as long as all those preservatives take to pass through my system. I figure even if I’m giving my body a bit more than it wants of something, at least let it be food that’s real and that it knows how to digest.
  • Move intuitively. We travel back to Michigan and stay for about a week every Christmas. I’m an active person, so wherever we go, I’m going to find time to fit exercise in. Just like back at home, I always keep my workouts in the AM. I f I plan for later in the day, the number of legitimately good excuses not to get it done just keep on piling up. While I try to fit in enough workouts to keep myself feeling good, I also make sure I’m not missing things in order to get in exercise. I get back to Michigan two, sometimes three times a year. The gym is always there–but the time I get with my friends and family is limited. During the year, I’ll often choose a run or a yoga class over something social. Intuitively, it feels fine; I know that I am taking care of myself. During the holiday, that intuition remains, but it often guides me in the opposite direction. Sometimes it even says that a day on the sofa with my sister and my hubs watching old Grey’s Anatomy episodes is the only activity I need. When I listen to my gut on these days and end them feeling relaxed and restored, it helps me trust that voice the rest of the year. Knowing when to push and when to rest is key to my health, my fitness, and my overall sense of wellbeing.
  • Remember, tomorrow is a new day. I said I don’t believe in diets. I never said I didn’t believe in cleanses! I’m actually a big proponent of hitting the reset button once in a while. I’ll discuss this more when we get into the New Year. I mention it though to emphasize that after the holidays, we have a whole new set of weeks to restrict ourselves and workout like maniacs if we want to. For me, life is too short and food is too joyful and delicious to pass up the opportunity to celebrate with it. I mentioned that I cook almost the whole meal on Christmas day, but other members of my family contribute in a big way as well. My sister is in charge of appetizers. Every year she outdoes herself, and it always makes me think of that episode of Friends where Monica puts Phoebe in charge of ice. A normal person in charge of ice might pick up a few bags at the bodega and call it a day. Phoebe brings an ice sculpture, spooky dry ice, a snow cone machine–she really pulls out all the stops. So does my sis. While she may do a minimal amount of cooking because I am occupying the ovens, the spread of cheese and charcuterie and dips and crudite and other insanely delicious little snackies that we get to feast on all day, is a serious culinary achievement. My little bro’s task is the mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are supposed to be this super simple thing, but mine suck. His are buttery and creamy and garlicky and delicious. And this year my mom is here to up our cookie game? I’d say the eats are not to be missed at Henderson Christmas 2017! 

When the New Year comes, I’ll clean up my eating. You’ll definitely see a post in January about slaying the sugar beast. But for these last couple weeks of this trying and exhausting year, I’m learning to live with this monster inside. As long as I don’t over or underfeed him, he doesn’t get too loud. In fact I think maybe he speaks up just enough, to make sure I get at least a taste of all the deliciousness the holidays have to offer.

How about you? Are you game to indulge and enjoy during the holiday season, or does all the overeating stress you out? What makes your holiday satisfying, happy, and healthy? Anyone looking forward to a specific dish?! I wanna hear about it! x

 

 

header: bethany newman

38 thoughts on “Making Peace with my Sugar Beast

  1. I’m with you on this. I work hard to tame the beast all year, and when I go home for the holidays I losen those reins right off. I’m doing alot of visiting and chilling at my mums so it’s easier to relax on the food front too. My exercise losens off a bit too. I try to just maintain rather than push and have to constantly remind myself that it’s a good thing 😂. Come the new year I will find that iron resolve again, but for the next two weeks, Fuck it! 😁 xx

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  2. If someone says they can’t relate to this they are lying. lol. I think with my family eating is a social thing and we all bask in the most happy wonderful moments surrounded with food. I know that is old school and the new generation is supposed to be more mindful of less food celebrations. Personally, I have all my favorites, but since I am older and no longer a runner, I have learned to do it in moderation. Enjoy your vacation with family.

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    1. I LOVE celebrating with food! I don’t care what the “experts” say, I’m always going to create memories around food and they are always going to make me joyful. I’m like you, I’ve learned moderation–I work that way the whole year, so when the holiday comes, I’m not afraid to indulge.
      Enjoy lady!! x

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  3. So right about being active. I try to walk at least 4 miles every day. Now, that doesn’t always happen – it’s really hard to do this every day in a month, let alone in a year – and your body does need to recover some days, but I feel so much better even after a walking 4 miles at just over a 15-minute mile (which is a slowish walk for me, I always want to get my heart rate up).

    Also as far as being active goes, I love my Garmin. Chris and I have the Vivoactive and for the past 2 years that we’ve had them, we do step challenges against each other every week and that also helps drive me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. My competitive brat wants to win! Also, if I’m on a streak of hitting my step goal, I hate losing that streak. So many things to motivate me to get out of bed!

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  4. Michele

    I can definitely relate to the hitting the reset button. I have good days and bad days through the week. I can’t say I’ve cleansed, but days of gluttony are followed by all veg and lower (not low)calories the next and an added amount of time running. I feel so guilty its my way of healing.

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  5. I used to have a rule that stated ‘if you’re going to eat sugars/carbs, it’ll only be at lunch.’

    Worked brilliantly. Then I let it go and have spent two years trying to get it back. Pasta + running is just too good of a combo!

    Maybe I’ll try your trick of only a little snack at night 🙂

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  6. I’ll take the tip about saving the sugar until the end of the day. I’ve found myself in the same position before: start early in the day and you get drawn into that cycle.

    I’m making slow and steady progress. Recognising the impulses, taking a second to think about it. If I don’t make the right call, not letting that derail me (tomorrow’s a new day). I think I’m heading in the right direction.

    The thing I’m thinking about more is my tendency to order (or crave to order) take-away or go out for a meal at the end of a long run or hard effort. That’s not necessarily totally sugar related, but as I’ve been doing more races and slowly increasing the mileage, I think I need to get out of the habit of “13 miles or more = takeaway pizza or eating at cafe/bar/restaurant when I finish run in city centre”. I mean, that’s fine in moderation, just a case of getting impulses and expectations realistic.

    This will be my first Christmas as a vegan, so I’m just looking forward to sampling some new foods and continuing the exploration. My mum has been great already: she done a make-shift advent calendar with some vegan friendly snacks (honeycomb chocolate, sweets, chocolate, etc). It’s sugar (!), but really thoughtful idea and she still manages to make me feel like a kid at Christmas as a 28 year old.

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  7. Pingback: Oh Sugar! – Curious Steph

  8. I don’t follow a diet either, but a few simple rules (that are sometimes hard to stick to): eat a salad for a meal once a day with protein and beans, avoid drinking calories (that means I’ve cut the half and half from coffee and sugar and drink tea plain as well; I do drink Gatorade for long rides and runs of 2 hours or more), limit snacking after 8 or 9pm, unless I’m truly hungry and not bored, and try to go to the coffee shop once a week, unless I order a black coffee or just tea. I have the same problem with pancakes: if I start the day with them, the rest of the day is lost! My weakness is cereal because I’ll snack on it relentlessly and chocolate chips.

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    1. Ahh, I am glad someone else understands the pancake problem!! I love them though! Def going to treat myself and have a good stack at least once in the next coming weeks!
      I don’t drink coffee anymore but when I did, I was always a black coffee drinker. I keep my tea sugarless now as well. I think it helps so much when we don’t add sugar to stuff we can like without it!!

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  9. I carry a similar philosophy, although since I’m in the final weeks of my second pregnancy I’ve been indulging in sugary evening snacks more than usual. Most mornings I start the day off with a smoothie, whether I’m craving one or not, because mentally I find it’s easier to stay healthy the rest of the day. And even if I don’t, I can take comfort that I’ve at least had one serving of fruits and veggies haha

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    1. Hey Kristin! I am the same, I actually eat steamed veggies in the AM, it’s how I start every day. I try to get them at every meal but if I don’t get it first thing, it tends to get harder to clean up later on.
      Final weeks of pregnancy #2? I’d say a few sugary snacks are deserved 😍. Good luck the rest of the way lady, and happy holidays ❤️.

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  10. Mandi Em

    I think this is one of my favorite things I have read! We have very similar food philosophies sure but you had me hooked at that yeast story. Helps to explain how once I cut down on bread everything else falls into place more smoothly. Love these tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww Mandi, what a huge compliment, thank you!! Isn’t the yeast story awesome? The first time my mom (she’s a holistic nutritionist) told that to me a few years ago it was like total WOW. It just made so much sense!
      I’m so happy to have you here Mandi, I hope you come back and join the discussion often. Take care. x

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  11. One major trick I learned over the years was to not have soda if I’m indulging in sugary desserts. Too often I had both at work holiday parties and felt absolutely awful later that day. Now I stick to water and enjoy the dessert. If I indulge in alcohol (rum and Coke is a particular fav) I’ll eat something first and have it and wait awhile to enjoy dessert. I find that allows me to enjoy the desserts without feeling horrid for it. I’m the type of person who will eat a cookie or piece of dark choc each day and that prevents me from going crazy for desserts. I definitely eat extra treats around the holidays though particularly since Jason wanted to make 2 types of cookies this year (even though he’s more anti-sugar than I am and will eat 1 or 2 from the batch and that’s it!) – rum balls and volcano cookies!

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    1. Hey Tracy. Definitely good idea with the soda. I actually haven’t had soda in probably 8 years or so. After i stopped drinking booze, I just started hating the idea of the wasted calories. Over the years the idea of soda just started to gross me out–it’s literally just liquid sugar. It doesn’t even quench your thirst either, which is why it always boggles my mind that people can drink so much of it.
      My little bro is a bigger guy. One year several years ago, he gave up soda for an entire 12 months. He pretty much ate the same while he did it–a good amount of fast food, frozen dinners. He dropped like 25 lbs. Just from the soda. It was crazy!

      Sounds like you have a good moderation thing going over there with your piece of chocolate or cookie to keep you from going overboard. I used to do that too, and felt like I got pretty good at it. But then when I did a cleanse, I realized how much i desperately needed that little sweet at the end of the night. Because it was such a small amount, i thought i wasn’t addicted at all to it–but I was totally wrong. It was crazy I was doing a cleanse once and I was craving sugar so badly one night, so I grabbed an apple. I sliced it and as soon as the first bite hit my tongue, my whole mouth filled with saliva. Literally my glands were like “YES, GIVE ME THAT SUGAR NOW!!” It was crazy. Ever since then, I’ve limited treats to weekends. I think just cause I’m an addict anyway, it doesn’t make me feel good to be addicted to anything–I don’t like feeling like I NEED substances. I am jealous of people who don’t have that same nature!!

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  12. That sugar beast! know it well, and its chewing on me these days. I don’t feel good when I indulge more than a little and I do it anyway. Does meet all the criteria for addiction, including not doing what I want to do because Im hung over. Well crap on that.
    Working with moderation. Had a great workout this morning. Balancing the permission with the necessary mindfulness to truly listen to myself.

    All for entering rehab as a group in Jan!

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    1. Honestly, I wish more health care professionals talked about sugar in terms of addiction–I think it would be useful-it really is harmful in so many ways! It’s ironic too because all the companies with sugar in their products are big now at making you feel like “come on, all this is fine, just in moderation. as long as people control themselves, this sugar soda is a fine part of your healthy diet.” Meanwhile with every bite and sip, people’s bodies grow more and more dependent–they get to the point where they don’t feel right till they get that fix. With so many other problems, soda and candy can feel like the lesser evil, but they really are wreaking havoc on our country’s health.

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  13. Wow, so much to love here. First of all, I’ve never heard of a bread starter and it sounds horrifying. 🙂 I’ve never thought about bread cravings as feeding the yeast inside of you and it makes so much sense. And I totally put off treats until the end of the day too. My breakfasts are light and lunch is almost always a salad. That way at the end of the day if I want a bowl of Cracklin’ Oat Bran (seriously one of my favorite snacks) or some cinnamon sugar pita chips, not only do I have room in my calorie count (yeah I’m kind of addicted to myfitnesspal) but I don’t feel as guilty.

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    1. OMG Ari, doesn’t the yeast thing make SO much sense? The first time my Mom explained it to me a couple years ago, it was like, MIND BLOWN. Suddenly it was much easier to understand what was happening when I did a cleanse, why my body was literally SCREAMING at me for sugar!
      I really haven’t had cereal in years–but ooh, I remember Cracklin’ Oat Bran, I think I remember that one being kind of delish. I think if I bought cereal I would just eat the whole box in one sitting–I can def thrown down on some Honey Bunches of Oats–WITH almonds. But anyways–yes–later in the day treats, totally the way to go. If I start my day with sugar, it’s all over!

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  14. A few years ago I started choosing more carefully what to eat when it comes to parties or holiday dinners. Instead of eating that store-bought piece of cake, I’d skip it and instead choose something that was homemade and undoubtedly would taste better and be better for me. Instead of eating a couple of cookies at work just because they were there but they didn’t really appeal to me, I’d choose to not eat them and choose something later at home that was still an indulgence, but something I truly wanted (like an ounce of dark chocolate for example). I started making my choices actually mean something rather than just eating whatever happened to be in front of me. For me, it’s also all about moderation as well.

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    1. I’m right there with you Donna. Our office always has so many treats–the PAs like to randomly bake break n’ bake cookies some afternoons–but the holidays especially bring out the big sugar guns. I don’t say this as a criticism, but I notice that a lot of my co-workers just eat indiscriminately–something’s put out and they just grab. I’ve found the choosier I am, the less regret I tend to have at the end of the day, and the more I actually enjoy the more selective choices that i do make. If something is going to make me feel icky cause it’s just too much sugar or full of processed crap, AND it doesn’t even taste that good–that’s the worst! Definitely rather save my treat for something I really want!

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  15. My over indulging started when the calendar said DECEMBER, Christmas parties and cosy nights in are a killer for my diet! BUT it just makes me all the more determined to get back on track in January!

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    1. Girl, I was right there with you!! As soon as I saw that D on the calendar, it was over, lol. One thing that’s been good though is I do feel like I’ve been able to distinguish between, “do I really want this” vs “am I just in robot eat everything holiday mode”. I’ve actually been indulging less than normal when I’m able to make that distinction.
      I’m enjoying though—you’re exactly right, January is right around the corner, there can be plenty of discipline to be had there!! Enjoy hon! x

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  16. Great and timely post. I struggle with the amount of sugar I eat – more than the average person I would bet. I consider myself a moderately healthy person – I run and get pretty regular other exercise, however, sugar sabotages my efforts. I really want to consume less but I just can’t seem to – boredom maybe. I loathe this time of the year for this very reason. Regardless of how much exercise I will get the entire month of December, I WILL gain weight and it will be miserable getting it back off. Good luck to all other readers out there.

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    1. Honestly, I think more people are addicted to sugar than anything else! There are definitely ways to get off of it. It’s hard, but it can be done, you can get to a place where you’re not craving it all the time. It’s really tough but I think it’s so worth it not to feel chained to it and not to feel stuck in that vicious weight loss cycle.
      By the end of December I will be pretty sugar addicted myself, but will definitely be sharing how I get off of it. Maybe we can all work on it together and it won’t be quite as miserable! Good luck, and I hope you can enjoy the holiday ❤️.

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