A few days after Easter, I was working from home one afternoon while my feverish 2-year-old took a long nap. I wanted a snack, and began to look around.
Apples, bananas, carrots, cheese and crackers, snack bars. Then I remembered the Easter cake in the garage fridge, and snuck out to grab a slice. It was on the dry side, not nearly as good as when it was fresh, but I powered through, and finished it off, down to the last drop of frosting.
Then I stared at my plate and realized I had a problem. A couple months earlier I had cut the sugar out of my coffee and, truth be told, I used that to justify the sweets I was eating every day. A little peppermint patty after lunch. Maybe a peanut butter cup when the afternoon slump hit. And once the kids were in bed, my husband and I would sneak ice cream or cookies or cake and hope they wouldn’t catch on.
I decided I needed to make a change. I had a weekend filled with sweets – milkshakes, donuts, you name it. And then on Monday, I went cold turkey. “Dessert only once a week!” I declared to my family. But I don’t think they took me seriously.
The first few nights, the cravings were tough. I’d have a banana with peanut butter or maybe even a slice of cheese (not ideal, I realize). But the cravings soon passed.
I was more careful about the other things I ate, too. No more burgers and fries from the cafeteria on the days I worked from the hospital. Instead, I selected items like fresh or steamed veggies and grilled chicken. I started taking the stairs when I didn’t have my rolling bag.
One week in, I was getting together with friends and had a really fun idea for cupcakes. But instead of making a full batch of standard cupcakes, I made a small batch of miniatures. I ate just one, and didn’t need any more. I had turned a corner.
I met with Natalie Verderame, a registered dietitian with Banner’s employee wellness department, who gave me a little bit of coaching to keep going. Now that I’d largely cut out sweets, she suggested I also start looking at labels and paying attention to added sugar and serving size.
When the updated nutrition facts labels start rolling out over the next two years, they will specifically list added sugar. (Currently the word “sugars” on the label represents all grams of carbohydrates that are not fiber—so both natural and added sugar). The sugars on nutrition labels, as they are written today, show added sugar. While an apple contains natural sugar, she explained, if an apple had a label, it would show zero grams of added sugar. Sweeteners like honey or agave might be healthier, she cautioned, but healthier does not equal healthy.
Her recommendation was no more than 10 percent added sugar in total calories – meaning, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should eat no more than 50 grams of added sugar (50 grams is the equivalent of 200 calories of added sugar).
After our meeting, I started doing weekly weigh-ins and measuring my waistline. I also started reading labels more, as she suggested.
The first day I started tracking, I had a breakfast of 1/2 cup Grape Nuts, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, and 1/8 cup raisins, with 5 grams, 6 grams, and 12 grams of sugar, respectively. I was shocked to see how much sugar was in the raisins! Now I am adding fresh fruit instead.
The next day was packed with meetings and I failed to pack a lunch. I had only about 2 minutes to grab something, and ended up with chicken enchiladas from the deli – the only item that was ready to go. I ate the whole thing, and felt completely miserable afterward.
I kept at it. I was eating smaller portions when I ate out, and making better choices. In one week, I lost 2 lbs. The following week, I lost another. Then, a friend and dietitian invited me to join her clean eating group for a week.
She provided a meal plan. It cut out added sugar and added salt and there were no prepared foods. There was a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, plus, fish, chicken, turkey, nuts, yogurt, oats and whole wheat bread. I stuck largely to the meal plan throughout the week, although I mixed it up a bit when I didn’t have time to cook ahead for lunch or had leftovers. We were challenged to drink lots of water – half of our weight in ounces (so, if you’re 200 lbs., 100 oz. of water a day) – and encouraged to exercise daily. While I didn’t quite manage to work out every day, I did get out for walks with the dogs much more than normal.
I liked having the group to keep me accountable. I have some great ideas for meals now. I lost 5 lbs. that week – 8 total since I started tracking – and an inch off my belly, a problem area after having two kids.
But the most important thing is that I feel better. I don’t feel bloated or gassy after I eat. I have more energy (at least, I do when the kids both sleep through the night), and I’m not craving sweets at every turn.
I anticipate I will still sneak a treat every now and then – we all went out for ice cream to celebrate the end of the school year, for instance – but I hope to keep going with these changes so that I can be healthy, and provide a healthy example for my girls.
Five things you can do to eat cleaner
- Be aware of added sugars. Added sugars should only account for 10 percent of total calories (200 calories – or 50 grams – if you consume 2,000 calories/day)
- Choose fresh, unprocessed foods
- Look for herbs and spices to add flavor instead of oils or dressings containing fats and sugars
- Be mindful of portion size. You don’t have to eat it just because it’s there!
- Stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces each day (100 oz. of water for someone who weighs 200 lbs.)