Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘low sugar dieting

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.



Cookie Weekend

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It’s that time again! Cyndie’s two-day holiday cookie bake-stravaganza commenced yesterday and continues through today. Two years ago Cyndie’s baking intensity triggered a high-level alert from the Wintervale Diet Observation Administration (WDOA).

Cooler heads are prevailing this year due to Cyndie’s smart inclusion of a number of assistants who willingly engage in the intense labor of mass production and, most importantly, take home a plate of the goods to distribute the calories across a wider stretch of midsections. (pardon the pun.)

Don’t worry about me. I will survive this storm of excessive irresistible sweetness using a number of avoidance techniques that have worked for me in the past. My primary difficulty is that I choose not to entirely abstain. I like to sample, so I strive to do so carefully. Small or misshapen specimens are a target of my attention. Convincing willing assistants to break cookies in half so I can have just a taste works well for bigger delicacies.

It may not be fair, but I also bring a platter to work, forcing innocent coworkers to share in the challenge of enjoying the sweet bliss of Cyndie’s incredible effort without overdosing on the amped-up calories per morsel.

Misery loves comfort, you know. Sweet holiday treats and the love and laughter baked into them are a misery I am willing to share.

Luckily this level of sumptuous indulgence only happens one time a year, resulting from Cyndie’s always impressive, “Cookie Weekend!”



Written by johnwhays

December 8, 2019 at 10:57 am

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.



Other Examples

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As long as I’m on the subject of sticktoitiveness, there are two other examples in my life that have slowly rewarded me for staying the course day after day, in one case, for years.

When I finally took action to address an addiction to sugar which manifested in cravings that controlled my decisions, I had no idea what lay ahead for me. I had previously experimented with simply cutting out desserts and cookies or candy treats for a random period of weeks, just to see if I could, but I neglected to account for the amount of sugar I was getting from other sources.

My cravings for breads and cereals would ramp up to impressive levels, and I would allow myself those compromises.

After learning more about where I was getting most of the sugar in my diet, and discovering the actual measurement of sugar recommended by the World Health Organization for percentage of daily calories, I set out to control it by watching the numbers.

That made a big difference. First of all, it showed me how physically addicted my body, and mind, had become. I experienced withdrawal symptoms that included headaches, dizziness, nausea, and tremors, not because I cut out sugar completely, but simply by strictly limiting the amount of sugar in the food I was eating.

It has taken me years at the rate I am working it (because I waver with my level of strictness), but self-control slowly improved to a point where it hardly takes mental energy to employ anymore. Most importantly, I am not just doing this for a period of weeks. This is forever. I always measure how much cereal I eat, and I always check serving size information to figure out how much sugar there is.

A more recent adventure in every day tenacity that I am watching produce slow results is, my daily planking exercises. When I started back in the last week of March, I decided to see what results I might achieve if I did the exercises my physical therapist recommended for the entire month of April. These were focused on strengthening my core to treat the painful symptoms of degenerating discs.

It is really helpful to not be constrained by debilitating pain when doing daily chores to care for our animals.

Thirty consecutive days of planking in April established enough of a pattern that I found it easy enough to keep going through May. Then two months became four, and in a blink, I’ve made it eight months of pretty regular planking. In that time I have slowly gained enough strength that I have modified my methods to match.

The current plank that is my primary exercise is four minutes long, starting with a minute and a half of a basic horizontal planking, then 45 seconds of lifting an opposite arm and leg for a two-point plank, 45 more seconds with the other arm and leg, and then finishing with a final minute of the basic plank again.

There are other leg exercises and some yoga stretches that get mixed in after the planking, depending on how much time I have to spend, but the planking is key.

Between these two daily efforts of healthy controlled-sugar diet and regular exercise, practiced over months and years, my physical health is in better shape than most of my previous adult life.

That is providing plenty of incentive for me to stick to this indefinitely.

Maybe the fact that these steps are not a quick fix, makes the positive results that much more satisfying. It definitely provides a welcome bonus of boosting my mental health, as well.



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

Springing Forth

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The multitude of flora on our property is springing forth at a variety of rates this year. To our surprise, some of our trillium are flowering earlier than we’ve seen before. That’s particularly thrilling for us because most of the bloomers are transplants we brought from Cyndie’s family vacation home up north.

We’ve had a good run of consecutive dry days, followed by a perfect evening rainstorm Monday night and it is making growing things very happy.

Getting the water right is key to a lot of things. I went for a scouting bike ride on Sunday to investigate a route that didn’t involve gravel roads. I was successful in that, but in so doing, I out-rode my water supply. The last spot I was planning to get a refill hadn’t yet opened for the season.

I decided to push for the finish on limited rations.

It’s not that hard. I limped home safe and sound, but I was unsurprisingly under-hydrated. What intrigues me is how long the evidence has lingered. Two days later, despite consciously increasing my usual daily intake in hopes of catching up, my primary barometer (urine color) revealed I was still behind.

Working on a long game toward optimal health involves an unending series of small daily efforts. It involves making corrections along the way for intermittent deviations.

As I prepared my breakfast and lunch last night for today’s shift in the mine, measuring the amount of cereal to meet my goals for grams of sugar, it hit me again how different my diet is from just a couple of years ago. I don’t expect I’ve yet reached a point of undoing what decades of a high sugar intake produced in me.

It was probably in the late 1980s that I attended a lecture that touted a mantra of eating like a king for breakfast, a queen for lunch, and a pauper for dinner. I embraced that part about breakfast with gusto, figuring my high activity sports habit was more than enough justification to eat whatever I wanted.

Portion sizes swelled, guilt-free. Meanwhile, my body tended to swell, too –despite the constant exercise of soccer and cycling. I miss eating too much cereal for breakfast whenever I felt like it, but I don’t miss how it made me look and feel.

Pondering the difference helps to reinvigorate my inspiration for staying on course for the long haul.

I’m feeling renewed energy to spring forth into another year of living well. Maybe it will bring me into full bloom sooner than I expect.