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Guilt-Free Eating … an Easy Choice

I ate a doughnut yesterday. THREE, actually. And felt good doing it … before, during AND after.

Wheat-free sugar-free chocolate donutHow is that possible? The doughnuts were homemade from (nearly) all natural, unprocessed ingredients … things like almond flour, coconut oil, cocoa powder, sugar-free maple syrup sweetened with xylitol (processed and not ideal, but better than sugar, aspartame or saccharin).

You might hear the ingredient list and think I’m crazy, as if I get some sort of weird pleasure out of depriving myself of “good” food.

But that’s not the case at all. I feel no deprivation eating this way and it’s not a difficult decision. It takes no willpower to make the choice, only a dose of self-discipline to take the time to plan for and prepare the food. I truly enjoyed those doughnuts this morning… and I thought they tasted great. And the best part? No guilt.

None.

Prior to removing all wheat & most processed sugar from my diet, I was essentially incapable of guilt-free eating. Every bite that went into my mouth brought with it some sort of self-moderating … Does it have too much fat? Too many calories? Will it throw off my diet? Make me fat? Sluggish? Will I feel good when I eat it … but bad afterward?

If you can relate to the questions, you can also predict the answers … at least half the time (probably much more), my food choices didn’t live up to what’s been defined for years as “healthy.” I knew it … and hence, that ever-present sense of guilt tied to eating. Even during times of extreme self-discipline when I managed to choose a salad over a sandwich or pass on the cheesecake, there was a vague sense that I could (or should) have chosen better.

Is my current way of eating perfectly healthy? Probably not … I’m sure I don’t get as much variety as would be ideal. And I’m the first to admit my daily post-work wine & cheese habit is a bit of an over-indulgence and not doing my waistline any favors. As always, there is room for improvement in my food choices. I am confident, however, that my current way of eating is far superior to my former diet.

Is avoiding all wheat, refined sugars and other modern “staples” such as potatoes and rice a hassle? You bet it is … particularly in just about any situation in which I am not 1) at home and 2) cooking for myself. It definitely takes more time, effort, planning and money to eat this way. (It can also lead to the occasional twinge of jealousy when having to pass on all of those formerly tempting recipes that forever show up in my Pinterest feed.)

But is it worth not having a foggy head, that draggy, sluggish feeling after dinner, the myriad of health problems attributed to processed foods … or – most importantly – a sense of guilt every time I put a bite in my mouth?

Absolutely.

The Hardest Part About Giving Up Wheat, Sugar & Other Frankenfoods

It’s now been four months since I gave up processed carbohydrates, aspartame and flour. Since that time, I’ve actually decreased my workout levels a tad, trading my usual three days of running, two days of walking and four 15-minute weight training sessions each week for a little less stringent schedule of “most” days walking and two days of weights.

Danica2

Those 30ish pounds look a whole lot better on Danica than they did on me!

Interestingly, in that time I’ve also dropped two jeans sizes and about 13 pounds, bringing my total weight lost since beginning my walk-run program in April 2011 to about 32 pounds … more than the full weight of my almost 4-year-old daughter.

Those changes alone would be enough to convince me to continue this “new” way of eating… but an even stronger case is made by the improvements in the way I feel, not to mention what I’ve learned about how processed foods, wheat and artificial sweeteners really do to our bodies, thanks to all of the reading I’ve done during that time.

That doesn’t mean that foregoing my favorite carb-filled breakfast foods, sandwich-based lunches or sugary desserts << every.single.day.>> is easy. Sometimes it really is not. But not for the reasons you might think…

But I LOVE bread!

In the past, when I’d run into someone who shared the story of why they gave up bread … usually not because they wanted to but instead the result of an intolerance to gluten … I found it nearly impossible to imagine what it would be like to live that way. Give up bread? No more pasta? No way… I could “never” do that, I’d think. I love(d) bread too much and just knew the cravings would eventually get the best of me. I couldn’t imagine feeling okay about passing up so many favorite foods.

But cravings have not really been an issue. I’ve found what they say to be true… when you allow yourself to eat healthy fats and quit worrying about restricting calories, you really don’t get that hungry and the cravings just kind of disappear for the most part.

I also had a hard time imagining what I would eat if I didn’t have my usual fare to turn to. As it turns out, the power of habit works both ways and once I figured out some new healthier options, it didn’t take long for me to fall into my usual (now reformed) repetitive eating patterns.

Not eating the “Frankenfood” is not the hard part. It’s living in a world that so heavily revolves around that type of food that is more of a challenge. After all, I live in Montana … land of the “amber waves of grain.”

Apparently it’s sugar that makes the world go round…

Everywhere you turn … television, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, movie theatres (popcorn anyone?), social functions, bars, conventions, sporting events, vending machines, county fairs, ski lodges, gas stations, concession stands, even school cafeterias (including the more progressive “healthier” ones) … the environment and offerings are heavily, heavily dominated by “foods” containing processed carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, sugar and/or wheat in one form or another, even when the target customer is a health-conscious mom, outdoors fanatic or athlete. (Don’t believe me? Give it up for just a week and you’ll become hyper-sensitive to its presence.)

The food itself is a big factor, but even bigger are the continual messages we hear related to what we eat. If it’s not a commercial pushing low-fat this or multi-grain that, all in the name of “healthy” eating, it’s a reminder of how good these particular foods make you feel, at least in the short-term.

Also difficult, especially for someone like me who prefers not to rock the boat, attract attention to myself or be the difficult, hard-to-please one in the group (despite what my husband would tell you), is having to step up and request a substitution at that convention dinner or ask the family to make an additional stop on the way to the $5 pizza joint in order to have a healthier (and inevitably more expensive) option.

But perhaps most harmful … and most aggravating to me … are the messages we continually hear from supposed “experts” who, from what I’ve read and come to strongly believe, are the ones largely responsible for leading us all to this unhealthy lifestyle in the first place.

The science showing the connection between low-fat eating combined with sugar overload (including natural sugars we’ve been told are better choices and “whole grains” which eventually become sugar, albeit a bit more slowly) and a whole range of diseases (obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, all kinds of immune system diseases … the list goes on and on and ON …) has been around for DECADES, yet we are still given advice that flies directly in the face of that science… and that advice is coming from our doctors, our government and other professionals we generally trust to have our best interests at heart.

It’s disconcerting to find out just how much influence the producers of those products have on the advice disseminated through the health industry, oftentimes by doctors, nutritionists and others I believe aren’t even aware they are being fed … and then promote … inaccurate or incomplete information.

The hardest part is not avoiding the Frankenfood or passing on the bread basket or choosing iced tea over Diet Coke or being “that customer” in the mostly carb-based food establishment. The hardest part is having to continually remind yourself … despite all of these messages you hear, the mainstream low-fat/low-cal/high carb “health” reports on your favorite morning news show, and the fact that everyone around you is doing something different than you are … that what you are doing really is in your best, most healthy, interest.

I am hopeful that the field of “experts” on board with this new (if you can call the way our ancestors ate “new”) definition of “healthy” eating will continue to grow and that someday I and others who believe in their message will become the norm instead of the exception.

It sure would make a healthy lifestyle a lot easier to pursue.

 

Curious why wheat (including the “healthy whole grain” variety) may be far less healthy then you’ve been led to believe? Read Dr. William Davis’s book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health.