29 September 2013


Remember that time when Paul gave up sugar? It started the week before Christmas in 2011. While perusing the menu at Paul’s parent’s restaurant, I cracked a joke about having pie for dinner because I just didn’t seem to be in the mood for anything, but that apple pie in process pictured on the menu cover made me feel pretty happy.

It was then that the hilarious tiff began, with Paul making comments about how I should weigh 200 pounds and have diabetes. I retorted, “I get my sugar levels checked every year because both my parents are/were diabetic (were referring to my now-deceased father). I’m good!”

“WHAT?!” he piped. “You’re telling me that both of your parents have diabetes and you still eat that much sugar?! YOUR FOOT IS GOING TO FALL OFF!”

It was in that moment that he decided we both needed to just stop eating sugar…the week before Christmas. Could he have picked a worse time of year?!

Paul saw the challenge as, well, a challenge. I saw the challenge as imminent death. In my mind (maybe I am still a bit childish?), if you tell me not to do something, I sometimes want to do it more.

What started for me as a pretty easy ride to limiting and not eliminating processed sugars quickly spiraled out of control with a binge fest the first weekend that Paul went away on a business trip. I had deprived myself of cookies and cake and sweet treats (even fancy coffees) for a month and then, the minute the sugar police vacated the scene, it was an all-out sugar war that I oh so happily conquered.

After that crazy situation, I consulted with my doctor and she confirmed that limiting sugar was good, especially for my rising cholesterol ratio, but eliminating sugar altogether and later binging would cause more damage. So there, in front of my husband who can actually do what he sets his mind to do, I had doctoral confirmation that I could still have sugar…in small doses. Thank God.

I went through spells when I had more sugar than I should have (like a sweet treat every day for the seven days leading up to my 30th birthday – my cholesterol test the following week was so not great after that enjoyable monstrosity), but most of the time I was impressed with my ability to not have cookies or cakes in the house.

By limiting my sugar intake, I got creative when selecting sugars to ease my cravings. For instance, I learned that having a square of natural chocolate is a healthy alternative to the processed sugar and added sugars found in cookies, cakes and icings. One square of milk chocolate after a meal or a cupcake or a few cookies? I learned that sometimes all I needed was just a little taste of something sweet instead of an over-filled belly, so a chocolate square or two eased my cravings without the added calories, fat and processed sugar.

I also keep my sugar cravings in check by knowing that if I don’t have sweets in my house, I can’t eat them.

Last month I found myself facing another food elimination challenge: wheat. I got sick three times within a week and the only things that I could attribute to my symptoms were pasta and bread. So I e-mailed a friend with celiac disease asking for some gluten-free recipe recommendations.

I made it a few days thanks, surprisingly, to our local supermarket, which offered an astonishing amount of healthy and gluten-free products for a third-world country. Shocking.

Then I caved and had bread to test my theory. Bam. Sick. So I went a few more days without wheat- or flour-based products and tried again. Sick. I was starting to get the hint.

So I went another few days on a gluten-free diet, which slightly altered Paul’s eating options as well. I am the cook. He eats what he gets.

Then we went to Sydney and I decided to try one thing – a waffle for breakfast. Sick in the afternoon. The next day I faced the awful realization that I might not be allowed to have bread or pasta again. If I were born with such an allergy I wouldn’t feel this way. But the fact that I should have been born into an Italian family because I consume more bread and pasta in a year than all Americans combined means that suddenly not being able to have these foods again was going to be worse than giving up sugar.

When we returned from Sydney, I did my meal planning – gluten-free this time – and then I went shopping. I went an entire week on a gluten-free diet. During that week, I had another symptom that made me think that I might not have suddenly developed a wheat allergy after all. 

To test my theory, I went a little overboard. I had grilled chicken with spaghetti, an amazing slice of garlic bread and a fruit tart for dessert. No reaction! Turns out, I’m just fine. I guess I just had a bug or something that didn’t react well for a few weeks. I must say I was a little relieved – mostly because I didn’t have to put so much effort into meal planning.

It’s been two weeks since I have ended my gluten-free yo-yo diet and I must say that I learned quite a bit from my short experience limiting flour-based products. The key difference I felt was the ability to be satisfied without feeling overly full.

I also learned that limiting wheat-based foods left more room for proteins, fruits and vegetables throughout my day. I found myself eating oatmeal with fruit in the mornings, consuming more fruit and granola as snacks throughout the day and focusing more on proteins and vegetables for dinner. This is a great healthy plan.

I am glad that I had some experience with gluten-free meal planning because Paul has now joined the bandwagon. Last week I made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Though it’s not uber healthy, I did discover the Rachael Ray recipe the prior week and I had been looking forward to trying the oh-so-amazing-looking sandwich.

As I plopped the giant, tasty sandwiches onto two plates with a small side of potato wedges, Paul looked at his lunch and said, “Well, so much for giving up bread.”

“I’m sorry, what?

“I decided that I should stop eating so much bread. There’s this book called Wheat Belly...

“Well, it would have been nice to know before I started cooking.”

“No, I don’t have to tell you,” he jested. “You’re just supposed to read my mind and know these things.”

I’m semi-familiar with the Wheat Belly book. It’s the latest book in the gluten-free trend that is convincing some of my friends to alter their own diets for varying reasons. One friend has Type I diabetes; her doctor recommended she try a gluten-free diet so she started reading the book to understand more about wheat products and how they can benefit people who suffer from diabetes.

Others I think are just trying yet another diet fad. I explained to Paul that eliminating wheat-based foods from his diet can cause complications later when he reintroduces those foods back into his diet (see anything related to Adkins). He gave up sugar for a year but he won’t last that long without pizza, chicken parm sandwiches and, for that matter, chicken parm.

So we decided to go with a lighter approach – we will continue to plan – correction, I will continue to plan gluten-free meals but we will still have wheat-based products sporadically throughout the week so that we still have the ability to eat bread and pasta; we will just focus those products early in the day. Everything in moderation.

I will let you know how long this challenge lasts. 

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