The other day I was reading an article in the New York Times Magazine titled "Is Sugar Toxic?" Great article, but nothing really outside the box. We've all seen those alarmist articles about the dangers of sugar. One thing struck me, though: the author comments that in the early '80s, companies started to make the switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in their products.
"Hold the phone!," I thought. I had just seen a brilliant 40-second video that captured the spread of the obesity epidemic in the US in the past 25 years -- yes, beginning in the '80s, when food companies were sweetening their products. The video was as amazing as it was terrifying: using a color key, you can actually watch as the entire country gets heavier and heavier.
Most of the people who I see on a daily basis come to me because they want to live a healthier lifestyle. And for almost all of them, that lifestyle includes some degree of weight loss. When we take a good hard look at what they are eating, time and time again they will find that there is sugar in their diets they weren't even aware they were consuming.
And as soon as we wean them from these sugary elements, they find the weight comes off. I ran a quick poll on the Fitness Guru Facebook page and found that many people who felt energized and powerful throughout the day were also the ones starting the day with less sugar and more protein and fiber.
I say "wean" because sugar is like a drug, and our use of sugar on a day-to-day basis is akin to an addiction. Don't think that's true? Go cold turkey on all sugar and see what happens: you'll become cranky, tired, irritable and unfocused.
So to lose weight, one of the key elements will be ridding yourself of sugar. What should you do? Here we go:
- Keep a food journal. Write down what you eat, when you eat it and, as close as possible, exactly how much. If you don't write it down, it doesn't exist and you will never take responsibility for it. What are you looking for?
- Find the sugar. It's kinda like "Where's Waldo?" We're looking for foods that will spike your blood sugar and the fastest, easiest way to do that is with the Glycemic Index. The GI will help gauge just how "sugary" your foods are. 100 is the highest, so, for example, a banana would be a 52, an apple 38 and a grapefruit a 25. Instead of starting the day with a banana, try starting with a grapefruit.
- Unless you are one of those people who is really capable of "all or nothing", begin a strategy for weaning yourself off of sugar. If you have a banana every morning, have half a banana and half a grapefruit. If you eat sugary breakfast cereals, buy a healthier non-sugary cereal and add your own teaspoon. In a few days, make it half a teaspoon and slowly, over time, you will gradually remove the sugar from your system.
The benefits of getting out of the addictive sugar cycle are SO many: more energy, healthier moods, healthier skin, greater focus and, yes, the pounds will start to come off. There are other elements to healthy weight loss and we will get to those. But this is a brilliant place to start. Be gentle with yourself if necessary, but the sooner the better. Your body and mind will thank you.
To paraphrase: ask not what your diet can do for you, but what you can do for your diet.
Thoughts? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org Rock on!!
Michael Feigin, MS, CSCS, is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a DUMBO, Brooklyn-based health and fitness company. For the last 25 years, Michael has helped thousands of New Yorkers (and folks from other parts of the world) achieve their health and fitness dreams.