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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dessert-less December*

*Alright, you caught me. It is not an entirely dessert-less December. But, certainly a minimal dessert December.

If you're like me, December is the hardest month to avoid sugar. Sugar is everywhere in December: in Christmas cookies, hot cocoa, warm spiced apple cider, pies, cakes, fudge, divinity, and candy canes. December is a month of celebrations and feast days. So, how do you even begin to avoid sugar?

For the past few months, I haven't been able to cut sugar out of my life as much as I would have liked (And thus haven't been great about posting here). I slid down the slippery slope of one small cookie here, one cup of hot cocoa there. I wasn't able to follow my once a week sugar rule of last spring. So, as the months creeped closer and closer to the HOLIDAY SEASON, I felt worried that I'd never get back on track with my reduction of sugar (and thus inflammation). 

Two books have really helped get me back on track: I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson and Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve O. Schaub. In these two books, Wilson and Schaub share their process of detoxing from sugar and minimizing sugar intake. Additionally, I recommend watching this lecture by Dr. Lustig entitled Sugar: The Bitter Truth.

Through reading these books and watching Dr. Lustig's 90 minute lecture, I found a renewed sense of urgency in cutting out sugar but didn't know how to hold myself accountable through the holiday season. 

Because I have been overly excited for it to be Christmas this year, I started looking up holiday decoration inspirations early. One decoration that kept popping up was the Christmas Advent calendar. If you are not familiar with an Advent calendar, it is a 25 day calendar leading up to Christmas day. For each of those 25 days before christmas, the owner of the advent calendar is to open a window or package to receive a small treat (usually sugar). This gave me an idea. What if I made an opposite advent calendar? What if I gave myself a treat for every day that I didn't have sugar in the month of December? Instead of a small piece of candy each day, I'd get one small purple strip of paper for each day that I didn't eat sugar. At the end of the month, I'd get to count up how many purple strips were in the calendar and each strip would be valued at $1. At the end of the month I could buy myself a guilt free Holiday gift (but not a sweet one) with my advent money! 

I do not want to deprive myself of feast days and celebrations though, because that would not be sustainable. So, I am making an alteration to my spring time sugar reduction plan: instead of sugar being allowed once a week, I will allow a maximum of 7 (one week out of the month) days of sugar eating in December. (In future months if I follow this plan, this will be limited to 4-5 sugar days in a month. But, because it is the holiday season, I made an additional 2-3 day add on exception.) I have looked ahead at my month to see what days I know I'll be very tempted to consume sugar. For each of those days I have slipped one of  7 green celebration slips in to that day. A green slip does not mean I HAVE TO EAT SUGAR that day, but instead means that I'm prepared ahead of time to know that I have to avoid sugar on other days so as to be able to celebration that day if I want to. I am hoping that this calendar will hold me accountable because I put it in a very visible place in my studio apartment, where I can see it from my bed at night and where others would be able to see it if they were in my living room area during holiday festivities. I believe that this public and ongoing display will keep me honest with myself. 

In this whole process, it is very important for me that:
  1. I call my sugar eating days "Celebration Days" rather than "Cheat Days." The point is not to feel like I am cheating myself, but rather to feel like I am being reflective and thoughtful about when to celebrate and allow sugar in to my life.
  2. That I create 1-2 small exceptions. In Year of No Sugar: A Memoir, Schaub and her whole family follow a simple set of rules. One of those rules is that each member of their family is allowed 1 exception sweet that they can have regularly with the caveat that though it has sugar in it, the amount of sugar in that item is low. So, I am choosing chocolate that is 85% or more cocoa. I am also allowing a minimal amount of trace local honey because I add a small amount of it to my homemade almond butter.  Here are my exceptions: 

For the sake of avoiding community defensiveness, I'd like to state that I am trying to minimize my Sucrose and Fructose intake, not my Glucose or Dextrose intake. Glucose is pretty much our life force and extremely essential to everything we do. Dextrose is essentially Glucose so it is fine as well. Many people may think it sounds crazy to remove Fructose because we all think of fruit as Fructose and we think of fruit as being healthy. Fruit is fine. It is when Fructose is removed from it's fibrous encasings when it becomes more dangerous. Schaub explains:

"How Fructose Makes You Fat and Sick:
  1. All sugar contains fructose.
  2. Fructose does not satisfy hunger, so you eat more food than your body needs.
  3. Fructose may not be used by any of the cells in your body, except the liver.
  4. In processing fructose, the liver produces bad things: uric acid and fatty acids.
  5. Too much uric acid causes:
    1. Gout
    2. Hypertension
  6. Too many fatty acids cause:
    1. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
    2. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
    3. Insulin Resistance & Type 2 Diabetes
    4. Obesity
  7. The clustering of two or more of the four conditions above is called Metabolic Syndrome. Virtually unheard of only a few decades ago, one in five Americans suffers from it today.
  8. Additionally, circulating fatty acids have been proven to speed the growth of cancer cells.
  9. Consumption of fructose has risen 341% in the last century and continues to climb.
  10. So what do you call something that your body has no need for and that, when we take it in, creates toxic by-products in our bodies resulting in debilitation, disease, and untimely death? Well, doctors call that a poison."

So, as you can see, I'm starting to realize that my sugar intake is a bit of a problem. Now I am doing something about it. My plan is to make this my New Years resolution (one month early). One. Month. At. A. Time. I'll be sharing my progress here with all of you and would love to hear about others who are creating their own Sugar-Free Advent calendars! Please send me photos of your Sugar-Free advent calendars and we can work to make sure that our Holiday is still filled with joy  and celebration... without much sugar!

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