Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Year of No Sugar: A Review

Most of us know the challenge of avoiding wheat, dairy, grains, potatoes, and high-carb foods in general, and a lot of people find it tough, especially at the beginning. But to avoid all added sugar in food--I hadn't guessed how hard it would be until I started reading A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

Specifically, Schaub and her husband and two young daughters avoided all added fructose and most artificial sweeteners (fruit was OK), making a few exceptions: one dessert with added sugar per month, one personal exception with a bit of sweetener (such as ketchup or diet soda), and for the kids, they could choose for themselves whether to indulge at school, parties, etc.

I can relate to the difficult transition to a non-whatever diet. Back in the 90s, I found out that almost everything contains wheat--not just bread and noodles, but almost anything in a box or a can. Same for sugar--salad dressing, most sausage, bacon, yogurt, cereal, pasta sauce--it's in there. Put on an apron and fire up the stove: if you want a variety of food you can eat, you'll have to cook it yourself.

I can also relate to changing tastes and reactions. Like many of us who curtail our sugar intake, Schaub's diet honed her sensitivity to sweetness. Regular "treats" became cloying. To me, as a long-term low-carber, even the grocery shelves full of flavored coffees smell like the candy aisle. It's mildly sickening, like fruity-smelling perfume. (I quit eating fruit in any significant amount years ago because it gives me a stomach ache.) By the fourth month, a sugary dessert left Schaub with a bad headache. The last wheat-flour cookie I ever ate gave me sinus congestion, acid reflux and a stomach ache; some of the symptoms lasted for days. It was the last wheat I ever deliberately ate.

What surprised me was how much sugar gets shoved at kids. When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, we didn't get snacks at school. It was BYO, buy at the vending machines (in high school), or wait until your next meal. Nobody went into a hypoglycemic coma or wept from feeling unloved. At Halloween, we got candy from trick-or-treating. There was some candy at Easter and Christmas, too, but it wasn't like finding yourself in a candy store every day for a month as it is today during every holiday, meaning nearly year-round. Is it any wonder so many kids are overweight or ill?

Many will relate to Schaub's struggle with moderation now that the experiment is over. (You can read her blog about it here.) She says that having a hard, fast rule was simpler than flying by the seat of one's pants. The phenomenon is called decision fatigue--each decision to resist something or control yourself saps your will power and your energy. Revisiting your decision all the time requires you to stop and think about how much sugar you've had, how much you should have, what should the yardstick should be--I know, I was on and off of wheat for years until I completely gave the stuff up. Perfection is so much easier than moderation.

I couldn't relate to Schaub's displeasure at skipping the snacks and the long lines at a gathering. Maybe it's because I've been on a wheat-free diet for so long, or because I don't care for parties, or I have a repertoire of no-thank-yous, or I'm what psychologists call a low self monitor (i.e., I don't make much effort to follow the crowd--it rarely occurs to me to do so). Still, I'm wondering why Schaub was unhappy that there was little her family could eat at a benefit, since everything likely had sugar in it. The family had just eaten lunch and the chow line was very long. What was the problem with skipping lunch #2? Or in the fact that Schaub no longer enjoyed standard sugary fare that she kept describing as "poison"? Likewise, her worries about giving her kids an eating disorder from the experiment seemed excessive. As for a certain cancer rate dropping and rising 60 years after World War II sugar rationing came and went, wouldn't that be around 2003 to 2007 or so--when the Atkins diet enjoyed a revival?

All the same, the Schaub family conducted a difficult experiment and sounded like they were generally good sports about it. Schaub writes about her family's experiment without preaching or hubris, describing their struggles and successes and why the experiment was important: cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic levels and the problem, she says, is too much fructose. It's added to many, many products, but a family can whack most of it out of their diet if they're determined to do so.


Galina L. said...

Probably, it was also a social issue, especially for the family with kids. As soon as you start avoiding something, you have to stop behaving like everybody else which for some people seems even more problematic than skipping some food ingredient. For me saying "no, thank you" is also not a problem, but I noticed for many others it is, may be following a crowd is a wide-spread instinct, and suppressing it requires a significant effort.
I don't know how valid is the concern about not giving a child , especially a doter, an eating disorder by avoiding sugar.It was an experiment without addressing a body image. I guess it is less damaging that being too preoccupied with own thinness.

Lori Miller said...

I don't have any problem saying, "Thanks, but I've already eaten."

They did the diet for health reasons and, as Schaub acknowledges, for a project to write about--losing weight wasn't the goal.

Lowcarb team member said...

Yes, some people do have problems when it comes to saying 'no thank you' and for the young their is a lot of peer pressure.

All the best Jan

Lori Miller said...

As long as food isn't the focus of the occasion, or if you at least warn your hosts about your food intolerances to avoid having them go to a lot of trouble, I don't see that saying no thank you is impolite. If they take offense at a polite no thanks, that's their problem, and if they persist in offering you food you can't eat, they're the ones being impolite.

For the very young, it's good practice for saying no to a lot of other things.