Don’t get me wrong. Being an avid runner—and also the nutrition editor at Runner’s World—doesn’t mean I can eat whatever I want, despite people saying this to me. Constantly.
I still need to fuel my body, and my runs, with whole foods, good fats, fruits and veggies, and make sure I’m not eating more than I’m burning.
But I’d been hearing a lot about this no-sugar craze, and the truth is I have an insane sweet tooth: I eat ice cream every day. I even held a taste test here at work. So if anyone could stand to cut back on their sugar, I figured it was me. I gave myself a month to see what happens. Here were my guidelines:
1. No Refined Sugars
Natural sugars, on the other hand, were fine. I would not cut out fruits, and I would still be able to sweeten my (full fat!) plain yogurt with a little bit of honey, for instance.
2. No More Than 8 Grams of Sugar a Day
My go-to breakfast is the aforementioned yogurt with granola in it, so I looked for stuff that contained fewer than eight grams of added sugar. If I’m being honest, I made that number up: I’m not a registered dietitian (although I work with them quite a bit). But eight grams seems like an appropriate amount of sugar, especially if it’s mostly natural.
Finding a granola with so little sugar turned out to be difficult so I ended up making my own and adding a little bit of honey for sweetness.
3. I Could Still Have Fun
This was about cutting back, not depriving myself and feeling miserable, so if something came up (a work birthday party, a nice dinner with dessert) I wouldn’t turn it down. Besides, I’ve learned over the years that it’s easier to form good habits if you’re not so strict with yourself. A total sugar deprivation probably would have lasted until day two. Okay, okay, 1.5.
HERE IS WHAT I FOUND
1. I Felt Lighter—at First
As you might expect, the first couple of days I felt great. Rejuvenated. The key word, however, is “felt.” A couple of days wasn’t long enough for the change to have had a physical effect—unless I’d been eating nothing but fast food for three meals a day. But I had gotten so excited at the prospect of cutting back on my sweet tooth that it had given me a lift. Over the course of the 30 days, however, I didn’t end up feeling any different.
2. I Uncovered Willpower
I don’t feel like I lack in the willpower department—I’ve run seven marathons, and I’ve prepared for all of them. I’m not scared of putting in hard work, whether it’s 90-degrees out or in the single digits. But when it comes to my sweet tooth, all bets are off. During Passover, for instance, I won’t touch a crumb of chametz (wheat, corn, rice, beans) because it’s not allowed. But in general I just can’t say no to a few scoops of ice cream.
This experiment helped me see that I could turn down that 2 p.m. bite of dark chocolate or the nightly bowl of frozen awesomeness, and that did feel good.
3. My Skin Broke Out
You hear stories of people cutting out sugar (or some other “bad” thing), and their skin glows, their hair is silky, their lips radiant. This did not happen. In fact, I broke out in chin acne. To be fair, I’ve been struggling with acne on and off for a while, so my dietary change may not actually have been the cause, but it happened within a week of cutting out most sugar. And I’m noting it here.
4. I Ate More Fruit and Nuts
I love fruit. I’m getting better at eating veggies (thanks to my local CSA!). But in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, I turned to fruit. I noticed I was feeling so much fuller due to the fiber content (something I often write in the pages of Runner’s World, but it’s always nice to be validated firsthand). Organic cashews (unsalted, roasted) became my staple snack. High in fat, yes, but filling, tasty and easy to munch on.
5. Sugar is in EVERYTHING
No, seriously. I thought I knew this when we covered it a few months ago. “Hidden sugars” blah, blah. But no, really. Sugar is in everything. (So is gluten, actually.) I learned to read nutrition labels even closer than I had been, which helped me make healthier choices.
6. I Got Creative
My homemade granola was just one example. I realized something my friend has been saying forever: it’s best to just make things yourself. I love making cookies, but they’re packed with sugar. So I took one of our recipes and tweaked it to make it a little healthier. (The office loved them. Although I’m not sure what they loved more: the cookies or the fact that the nutrition editor was bringing them in.) Instead of Nutella, which I normally add to my oatmeal (along with protein-packed peanut butter!), I made an avocado-based chocolate spread, sweetened with honey. And for better or worse, I took a few bites of that in place of my ice cream.
7. I Eat Pretty Well
I’m not going to lie. I thought that by dialing back my sugar the weight would fall off and I’d be at my lean and mean racing weight. You’ve read how that happens, right? But I didn’t lose weight. I didn’t gain weight either.
I realized that, despite my sweet tooth and my nightly bowl (okay, okay, scoops straight from the carton) of ice cream, I eat well and don’t have much to “cut out.” Sure, if I wanted to shed ten pounds and get to some elusive race weight, I could probably do it. But I’d have to cut out all sweets and probably dial back my caloric intake, which during marathon season, may not be high enough as it should be, anyway. So, chalk one up for me, for eating a pretty balanced diet and performing pretty well on the road.
Over the years I’ve learned that depriving yourself of certain foods or food groups is the worst thing you can do to your mind and body. I used to cut out carbs. I couldn’t maintain a healthy weight. I was miserable. Once I started eating everything in moderation my weight stabilized, I was happier, and I stopped feeling like I was missing out on things.
Where am I now, you might ask? I’m not as strict as I was during that month long period. But I am more mindful, or I try to be. I read the labels closely. I ask myself if I really need that square (or two) of chocolate that has (somehow!) made its way onto my desk. I try to limit the amount of ice cream in my freezer. And of course, I run a lot.
No, I can’t eat whatever I want, but a sweet treat tastes even sweeter after a good workout.
This article originally appeared in Runner’s World.
From: Bicycling US
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