As they say (whoever "they" are), you are what you eat. And it's amazing how what you eat can affect your mind, your mood, your energy levels, your immune system, and basically every system in your body.
As more and more research comes in, it looks like sugar is Public Enemy #1, which is unfortunate for those of us who have been addicted to it for 50 years. Yikes! Sugar causes insulin spikes and inflammation, which in turn cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and arthritis, but also things like exhaustion, cloudy thinking, depression, getting sick all the time, and even early signs of aging like wrinkling! Arrrggghhh! Not fair! And not only is it sugar that does this, but all those other wonderful goodies that turn straight to sugar in the body, like bread and white rice. What's a girl to do?
For me personally, I grew up with the habits of milk and cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on white bread for lunch, and meat and potatoes, sometimes with bread or rolls, plus a veggie for dinner with ice cream for dessert. I have had a love affair with sugar and flour my whole life. My mother made homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies all the time, and she made the most delicious cinnamon rolls, crescent rolls, birthday cakes, and award-winning pies all from scratch. When I was a kid, I could handle all this without really noticing anything, as I was very active and burned it all off. As I hit my 30's, 40's, and now 50's, however, it's a different story.
Up until I made some radical changes in the last year, I feel like I spent much of my adult life in an exhausted fog. Sugar cause an insulin rise, which makes you tired, which makes you crave more sugar to stay awake, which then makes you tired again, and on it goes, a vicious circle. Sugar and bread products for me are like heroin is to a junkie. I really have to do my best to stay away from them, or it's all over for that day.
I finally got serious about this last year and decided to really try to do things differently. I have always made a lot of things from scratch, like my mom, so I didn't have a whole lot of processed foods to throw out of my pantry, which is good. So my first step was to cut down on, and eventually do away with, sugar in my coffee. I'm not really a huge coffee drinker, but you gotta start somewhere, right? I worked my way gradually to where now I drink my coffee with half and half and some MCT oil, which is the healthiest component of coconut oil.
Step two, I started buying more organic foods. My father was a crop-duster and died young at the age of 60 from kidney cancer that was most likely caused by the pesticides he was spraying. So getting pesticide residues out of my life is personal for me. Research shows that not only are pesticide levels low to non-existent in organic produce, but the nutritional value is often significantly higher than conventionally grown produce. Organic fruits and veggies generally taste better, too. I figure I can pay extra to the farmer, or I can pay the doctor and big pharma later on. I'd rather pay the farmer.
Buying some fresh produce while on tour with Cimorelli in Madrid, Spain
Step three, I switched to whole wheat breads and cereals, and from there started cutting way back on both. I also added a lot more healthy fats to my diet. There is a great deal of newer research showing that fats like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, whole fat organic dairy, and grass fed organic butter are all actually good for you. Yay!
I had a panel of tests done in Feb of 2016, which showed that I had healthy cholesterol levels, so I wasn't too nervous about swapping out grains for more fats in my diet, even though that ran against the conventional wisdom that I had grown up with. I was a little nervous, but I figured if my numbers got worse, I could always switch back. So I had the same tests run again almost exactly one year later, and the results were astounding! My cholesterol dropped 30 points from 166 to 136, my HDL level stayed the same at 55, and my LDL dropped from 98 to 67.
Side by side comparison of my test results from 2016 and 2017
Now remember that I wasn't super strict about anything in that year's time; I simply cut down on sugar and added more healthy fats. I still had some ice cream binges, and I ate more than my share of candy at Halloween and Christmas, but over all, it was significantly different than what I had been doing before, and the numbers support that.
I really got serious at the first of this year, a month before I had the second round of tests done, when I decided to do the Whole 30 for the month of January. The Whole 30 program is 30 days of completely clean eating, featuring meat, fish, veggies, fruit, and nuts. And not much else. No dairy, no sugar, no grains, no beans, no peanut butter (because peanuts are technically legumes). I thought I was going to die the first week. My sugar and wheat cravings were so strong, it was insane. The only saving grace was that you can eat as much as you want of the few things that are allowed, so you are never hungry. What happened in that first week or two is that my digestive system gave itself an entire makeover, my tastebuds changed to where sugar and wheat didn't taste nearly as good anymore, and my energy levels were high and level the whole day.
During that time, I switched my breakfast to two scrambled eggs with ham or bacon and veggies (i.e. onions, peppers, mushrooms, and asparagus) and some fresh berries.
Lunch is a salad topped with chicken or steak, nuts, tomatoes, avocados, and more berries, plus vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar and either extra virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, or MCT oil plus spices.
Dinner is usually some kind of meat, chicken or fish and veggies.
Snacks are things like a homemade berry-protein smoothie or a chocolate-covered nut bar or a mandarin orange.
My favorite smoothie! See my Super Smoothie post for the recipe. :)
Something really useful is a food diary. I was using My Fitness Pal for awhile, but then I found www.cronometer.com/mercola, which goes much more in depth on all the micronutrients in your daily diet. Here is a pic of part of what it analyzes (I couldn't fit it all in one pic; this was for a partial day, including exercise activity pulled in from my Garmin VivoSmart HR, which raised my calorie target accordingly):
Which brings us to John Elway and how he ruined my diet. Mike and I started our Whole 30 adventure on Jan 2 of this year (because who wants to start on Jan 1??). Two weeks in, we went on a road trip to drive a new car out to California from where we bought it in Denver. I flew to Denver from Nashville, and Mike flew in from San Diego, where he had been checking on a construction project that he was finishing up there. We picked up our car, and then we went to Elway's in Denver for dinner. We were real good about our Whole 30, ordering an amazing salad with grilled chicken, no bread or anything we weren't supposed to have, and then the waitress says, "So are we celebrating anything tonight?" I said, "Well, we just bought a new car, so there's that..." Next thing you know, she brings us a complementary piece of chocolate cake that was an amazing knock off of a Hostess Ding Dong. Chocolate cake with an awesome whipped cream filling and a ganache chocolate frosting on the whole thing. Sugar addict that I am, I was dying inside. Mike is such a rock when it comes to this stuff that I thought, "If he can refuse it, I can refuse it." So I looked at him and said, "Well, what are we going to do with this?" He looked at me and said, "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm eating it!" Hahahaha! Good bye Whole 30, hello Whole 14. Oh, well. It was good while it lasted. Ok, it wasn't exactly John Elway himself who ruined my diet, but his restaurant did!
Elway's in Denver
The cake was amazing, and we went back on our Whole 30 mission the next day, although we were never again 100% strict like we had been (I really like a little shredded cheese on my eggs and some half and half in my coffee!). But on the plus side, we both lost about 7 pounds in those 2 weeks, and we felt a lot healthier all the way around, so I would highly recommend it, even if you only make it 2 weeks. Just don't go to Elway's in Denver in the middle of it!!
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