Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘healthy diet

Imperfect Improvement

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Five years. It’s been almost five years since I saw the 2014 documentary movie, “Fed Up” and decided once and for all to commit to a long-term intentional change to address my uncontrolled craving for sugar. (See “My Addiction“) My solution was admittedly an imperfect one, but I have very slowly achieved a noticeable improvement throughout the ensuing years.

One of the imperfections of my plan to take command of that insidious nagging urge to eat something that will produce the intoxicating dopamine reward is that I allow myself to have a little sweet treat or treats every day. I liken it to trying to live a sober life while still continuing to have an alcoholic drink every day, (no disrespect intended to those who are working a program to manage alcohol or any other substances). From my understanding, total abstinence is the more effective practice.

Since there are natural sugars in plenty of foods, total avoidance of sugar is an extreme I chose not to pursue. After watching “Fed Up,” my plan was to avoid the added sugar in processed food, especially in cases where it is well hidden and unexpected. I was surprised to learn how much sugar might be included in buns and some types of bread, in sauces, dressings, and yogurts, to name a few.

I decided to start paying attention to labels and serving sizes and plotted to achieve the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Food and Drug dietary guidelines of 10% of daily calories consumed.

Based on an oft-referenced 2000 calorie per day average (your mileage may vary) that amounts to 200 calories or roughly 50 grams of sugar per day. I decided to aim for 10 grams of sugar per my three main meals. That gave me a full 20 grams of headroom to account for variations and a modest cookie or dessert bite for moments of rewarding bliss.

One serving size of a Girl Scout S’mores® cookie equals two cookies coming in at 16 grams of sugar. I eat just one.

These S’mores taste incredibly sweet to me. One welcome improvement over the five years of measured sugar intake is that I have developed a heightened sensitivity to sweetness. That’s probably one of the things that helps me to be able to stop at just one cookie per serving.

It’s an imperfect formula that I’ve settled on, but since I started this practice, I have controlled my hemoglobin A1c levels and avoided the all-too-typical annual weight gain that normal aging usually brings on.

The craving? It’s still a constant companion, but one that has become much easier to contain, …one measured serving at a time.



Occasional Lapse

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Despite any perception my blogging may lend to the contrary, the path I am on in a quest toward optimal health in mind, body, and soul is not one of unwavering perfection. It is not uncharacteristic of me to fail to live up to my own expectations at random intervals along the lifetime trek of intending to make healthy choices.

The secret to success hides in one very simple and obvious step. Never let an occasional lapse permanently redirect focus away from the primary long-term goal.

In an exercise toward teaching by example, I am sharing today’s post for your reference, but I am really writing this message to myself. I need to take heed of this:

It is okay that I failed miserably on Saturday to control my impulse to eat too much Chex mix. Also, overindulging on the arguably best blueberry scones Cyndie has ever baked, in addition to the generous serving of her banana cake with homemade dark chocolate ganache frosting, and then, come dinner time, agreeing with Cyndie that neither of us felt hungry enough for a meal.

An hour later, giggling like kids left unsupervised, we decided to have a bowl of ice cream as our dinner, instead. Oh, so despicably decadent.

Does this mean I have given up on striving to limit my daily dose of added sugar to World Health Organization suggested levels? No, it does not.

It means I ate more carbs than I should for one day, despite my goal to do otherwise. That’s all.

By the next day, I was back on track measuring my servings to monitor my intake.

Luckily, I have a new taste treat to satisfy cravings on the cereal front, thanks to Cyndie’s willingness to explore the grocery shelves for lower sugar options for me.

Even though it was Gustola Granola I was gushing over a month ago, my desire for variety drives me to seek alternatives to exclusively eating granola for breakfast during the week. Today’s cereal-crush is Heritage Flakes® from Nature’s Path Foods.

It’s got millet! Say no more. I have a thing for millet.

Oh heck, I will say more. Heritage Flakes cereal has only 5 grams of added sugar in a serving size of 1 cup! That’s impressive. I generally need to limit my serving sizes to 1/4 cup of most cereals I like in order to stay close to 5 grams.

That doesn’t mean these flakes don’t have a sweetness to them, though, but it’s a more satisfying sweet coming from the multiple grains. That wonderful flavor is then bolstered by a fantastic crunchiness that really helps to set this cereal apart from most others.

With that, I will say, “Onward toward optimal health,” regardless my occasional temporary lapse!




New Love

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My love for ready-to-eat foods, especially cereals, is no secret. That passion fell under severe constraint a few years ago when I became better informed about the impact of excessive sugar in my diet. I quickly came to recognize that I was very much addicted to sugar and took steps to address that fact by significantly adjusting my eating behavior.

One of the most dramatic changes for me, since I already had chosen to avoid one of the highest sources of sweetness: the liquid sugar of soft drinks, was to control the amount and kind of cereals I ate. I learned to pay close attention to serving size.

My rough guideline was based on the World Health Organization’s suggestion to constrain intake of free sugars to 10% (or better yet, 5%) of total calories consumed. I converted that from the very approximate measure of a 2000 calorie diet to allow myself less than 50 grams of added sugars per day.

To allow some occasional treats, I aimed to stay at or below 10 grams of sugar per meal. That required BIG changes in the cereal I eat at breakfast. To stay below 10 grams, I was rarely able to allow myself to have a full serving size.

When it came to my much-loved granola cereals, it was hard to stay below 10 grams without constraining myself to a mere 1/4th cup.

Since Cyndie does our grocery shopping, I relied on her creativity to explore the options available on store shelves. One day, she came home with a package of granola that I had never seen before, Gustola Granola.

Oh. My. Gosh. I now have a new love.

The first flavor was pistachio, pumpkin seed, coconut, & cherry. It had a tantalizing hint of saltiness mixed in with the natural sweetness of the ingredients that I think is one of the great appeals. It enhances the mix of flavors wonderfully. Best of all, in a serving size of 1/3rd cup, there are only 4 grams of sugar.

That is amazing compared to the granola cereals I have previously been eating.

After finishing off that first bag of pistachio, etc., I pleaded with Cyndie to find more. She decided to order online, direct from the source and served up an additional flavor: almond, pecan, cashew.

Just as good to my taste buds and equally low in sugar. I’m in love!

I can’t wait to try the other flavors.

Now when I measure out the normal quarter-cup sized serving I have become accustomed to for breakfast, I can let it overflow just a little and not worry. Only 4-grams in a third-cup!

Every bite is pure joy. Mixed with a fraction of a serving of Fage plain Greek yogurt, I get textures I adore and flavors that are above and beyond satisfying. It’s like a celebration going on in my mouth.

Sorry, Grape-Nuts (5-grams per 1/2-cup) cereal, I’ve got a new love in Gustola Granola.



Cereal Torture

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With our Thanksgiving holiday less than a week away, the inevitable overindulgence of delectable foodstuffs is close enough to taste. Yesterday, Cyndie unleashed the first assault with one of my all-time favorites: Chex mix.

The most difficult healthy change I made in my diet when I decided to monitor my daily sugar consumption was to control how much cereal I ate. Sure, I love ice cream as the absolutely best treat around, but I even garnish some of the best scoops with Grape-Nuts cereal to take it over the top in extravagance.

Admittedly, one of my big reasons for loving cereal so much is the fact it is ready-to-eat without cooking. Can you say instant gratification?

Unfortunately, most cereals are also high in sugar, among any number of other less than ideal potential additives. While I used to avail myself of unfettered bowlfuls, my servings now are precisely measured to keep portions at or below 10 grams of sugar per meal.

It’s torture.

I have one other persistent craving. I like snacking almost more than a meal. Appetizers are better than dinner. Finger foods are the best!

Yesterday, the house smelled amazing. There was a fire in the fireplace and Chex mix baking in the oven. Butter and salty spices slathered all over the cereal, pretzels, garlic chips, and nuts, slowly roasting.

This morning the giant oval roasting pan filled with gold sits atop the stove and I am desperately trying to pretend it isn’t there.

I already snitched a double-dose beyond my ration yesterday, so I would like to demonstrate a little more restraint today.

Cyndie is gone for the day, so I had a very respectable serving of some banana nut crunch flakes for breakfast. Two bowls of a half-cup each. Ten grams.

I closed the box and put it away. Washed my bowl.

Then I lifted the lid on the roasting pan, just to see if the treasure was still there.


I told Cyndie yesterday that I noticed she forgot to include any Cheerios.

As if that will make it any easier for me to resist.

Oh for the love of cereal.



Written by johnwhays

November 18, 2017 at 11:19 am

Power Treat

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With thanks to my sister, Judy, I have discovered a new homemade energy treat that offers a sweetness, but is not particularly high in sugar. One reason it is a low sugar snack for me is, my ability to be satisfied with a single serving.

I can get a batch to last more than a month, barely eating one per day.

What makes them so satisfying? I think it is the brilliant balance of ingredients, including crunchy peanut butter, honey, oatmeal, and as of last night, a few of my own enhancements.

With Cyndie’s guidance in the kitchen while making dinner, I concocted a souped-up version of the recipe Judy originally shared with us. Per Judy’s suggestion, we replaced raisins with craisins. Beyond that, I added some millet, chopped coconut, chopped almonds, chia seeds (because Cyndie found some in the cupboard), protein powder, and chopped pumpkin seeds. Finally, as much as I love crunchy peanut butter, I reduced the quantity and finished the amount with the addition of almond butter.

If there is a “super crunch” version of almond butter, I haven’t discovered it yet. I would dearly love to try that.

Cyndie did the honors of buttering her palms and forming the bite-sized balls for me. I’m not that interested in getting my hands covered with ingredients. She shaped these a tiny bit bigger than a previous batch she made from the original recipe. Even when small, my method of enjoying them involves nibbling to get many more bites than one per serving.

At this size, we calculate a single ball is about 3-4 grams of sugar. The average cookie often comes in around 7 grams.

I’m still aiming to stay below 50 grams per day in my average 2000 calorie/day diet. By trying to stay close to 10 grams per meal, I have almost 20 grams of space available each day to keep from being a total party-pooper when treats are served.

Having a choice available with only 4 grams of sugar gives me a quick and easy option and helps me land well below my goal on days when these are the only treat I end up eating.

Of course, this would never have satisfied my old palette, when my sugar addiction was allowed to direct my choices, uncontrolled. Having weaned myself off the high sugar diet, I am now able to get sweet satisfaction from much lower amounts.

It is a great reward to have arrived at a healthy pattern of eating and find out it no longer feels like a place of deprivation. It is perfectly pleasurable and sustainable, as long as I acknowledge and remain vigilant about paying appropriate attention to my history of addiction to the sweet reward my brain celebrates every time I give my body sugar.



Written by johnwhays

October 31, 2017 at 6:00 am

Craving Again

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It has been about two months since I watched the movie, “Fed Up,” and decided to do something about the amount of sugar I was ingesting every day. I decided to work on reducing the sugar I was consuming by focusing on nutrition labels and paying attention to serving size and the amount of sugar in each serving. By simply doing that for a little over a week, I noticed a physical reaction and experienced some surprisingly intense withdrawal symptoms.

I think the dramatic physical response helped to bolster my motivation to stay vigilant about seeing this through to a point of achieving a lasting break in the pattern of consuming an unhealthy amount of sugar.

It isn’t easy.

Just when I was beginning to feel as though I was satisfied with the new routine I have established, I discovered a significant resurgence of cravings.

It’s not the first time I’ve been through this. Several times in the past, I have made attempts at not eating sweets. One thing that always happened was a robust urge to eat breads. Even though I recognized that I was exchanging sugar for more complex carbohydrates, I didn’t tend to restrict that urge. I figured the struggle to avoid sugar was hard enough. I didn’t want to take on two things at once.

Well, it wasn’t two things, really. It’s all part of the same issue I’m facing. My blood tests repeatedly revealed my glucose levels to be pre-diabetic. This time, I am working on a more thorough, and a more informed, change in diet. After only a few weeks, I began to notice a reduction in body fat.

I suppose it didn’t hurt that I went on a bicycling trip for a week, and then sweated through the process of putting up over 250 bales of hay.

I also noticed an increasing level of satisfaction from my reduced portion sizes. By regularly making healthy, low-sugar choices, I was discovering a new appreciation for not-so-sweet alternatives. It was refreshing and felt very rewarding. It gave me hope for the possibility of my satisfaction being met by a healthy, balanced menu.

But it wasn’t a cut and dried sure thing. There is a bit of a gray area. There are high and low tides. My diet isn’t rock solid, by any means, and the sweetness I am getting swings above and below the optimum. More than once I have caught myself feeling precariously hypoglycemic.

Then there are the days when the cravings rise up. They can be insidious and particularly tenacious. If I ignore them, they don’t generally go away. I need to work the program. I allow myself some modest treats. There is a slippery slope there, though, and I am cognizant of past experiences where I have succumbed and chose to give up altogether.

I feel like the difference for me this time is that I am better informed. Between my new understanding and the experience I’ve gained in the past, I believe I have the tools and inspiration to endure my cravings and thrive on a healthy diet for much longer than ever before. I hope it’s for the rest of my life.

I need to keep thinking big picture. What I ultimately crave, after all, is optimal health!












Written by johnwhays

July 27, 2015 at 6:00 am