“The Wellness Diet” and actual healthy eating are different things, and why I quit sugar, but love carbs.

First I want to recommend this blog post about “The Wellness Diet” in which Christy Harrison argues that in order to sell diets, the diet industry has moved on from weight loss promises to health promises. She writes: “We know that diets don’t work—and the diet industry knows we know.” So, it’s all about health now, and people who want to eat better for health reasons are actually targeted by the diet industry.

But wait, what if it’s a good idea to care about one’s own health more? I’m not 25 anymore, I’m 45, and that has consequences. I need to take care of my health much more, compared to when I was 25, and if I don’t, my body hates me and I feel like shit.

Back in 2015 I read “Health at Every Size” by Linda Bacon. I think it’s a really good book, and it addresses not only nutrition and the science around it and shows why diets do not work, it also talks about social justice issues and environmental issues, and it talks about discrimination, instead of making individuals responsible for stuff that we aren’t responsible for.

But it’s a book about health, it’s in the title. The books’ message is: you don’t have to lose weight or become thin to be healthy. You can be healthy (or as healthy as possible for you), no matter how much you weigh or what your body looks like.

For me, selfcare was always an important topic, and with healthcare systems that get more and more eroded, and are more about the profit than about actual healthcare, DIY healthcare is becoming even more important to me.

Christy Harrison writes in above linked article:

The Wellness Diet is my term for the sneaky, modern guise of diet culture that’s supposedly about “wellness” but is actually about performing a rarefied, perfectionistic, discriminatory idea of what health is supposed to look like.

Christy Harrison: How to Avoid Falling for the Wellness Diet

There it is. it’s about redefining health. They used to say we needed to be thin, and everything else was unhealthy, and now they say we need to be healthy, but what they really mean is that we need to be that thin, white “clean eating girl”.

We need to actively reject this image we are sold about how health is supposed to look like. I am going to reclaim health and I refuse to allow the diet industry to define what health is. Because if I let them have health, I am in the shit, and my body will hate me and I’ll feel quite bad. I’m going back to “Health at Every Size” because this is not only about health but it’s also about how health doesn’t look like they make you think it’s supposed to look like!

It’s also about eating the “right” things and removing supposedly “impure” foods from your life

that’s another quote from the same text

That’s so true and I feel very much opposed to “clean eating”, I get angry when people demonize foods. I’m a baker and I really hate this trend of demonizing wheat. If you don’t have celiac disease or a similar condition, why would you hate wheat?

I still decided to quit sugar, at least for a while. I don’t think sugar is a poison, and I don’t even think it’s impure or bad for me in itself. Sugar is a very natural thing and humans and other animals have always eaten it. But I do think that large amounts of sugar are actually bad for my health, and I do think eating sugary food every day instead of having it as an occasional treat, is bad for my health.

And I do think that the food industry, which hides the bad quality and taste of their cheap mass-produced food by adding massive amounts of sugar to it, is doing so at my and other people’s expense, for their own profits, and I don’t want to cooperate. Some people call it “clean eating” and make it a question of purity. They act as if they were more enlightened and elevated above the “dirty” masses of people who are not as good as them. And I hate that approach. But when I try not to buy packaged, branded, industrially made food and instead make my own food from scratch, it looks like I had joined the clean eating cult. But I’m actually doing a different thing, I’m doing it for personal and for political reasons. Like back then when Slow Food was political and radical.

Slow food once was about reclaiming control over the food you eat, make food yourself, and be independent from big companies. It was about gardening together and cooking together and coming together and creating a better world. That idea also got commercialized and branded and sold to bored middle class intellectuals. But originally it was a great idea. It was an idea of a community, not about the behavior of an individual person.

Yes, there is the difference! Clean eating ideology acts as if some plants are just bad, like wheat. As far as I know, the Slow Food Movement has never demonized a food, it has only criticized how food is made and sold and eaten.

For the Slow Food Movement, the problem is not processed food, but the problem is who processes it and why. The problem is that food is mass-processed by machines with profit in mind and not hand-processed by teams of people with enjoyment and good taste in mind. Okay, I’m not against machines, I use them as a baker. But I know that if you do artisanal baking, there is no need for the dough to always be exactly the same consistency. Because you can see it, feel it, and react accordingly to how it is on that day and still make good bread from it. A machine can’t do that. And so the bread dough in the baking industry has to be the same all the time, and to achieve that, the baking industry uses additives. In the bakery, we also do make bread with the help of machines, but the machines do not determine how our food tastes like. We don’t have to make the dough “machine friendly”. We can make the food for ourselves, for human beings, not cater to the machines.

Why I quit sugar instead of using it “in moderation”.

In above mentioned book, “Health at Every Size”, Linda Bacon explains how sweet and sugary foods override the body’s own signalling system that tells you when you are satisfied. What she recommends is not cutting sugar out. She recommends enjoying sweets and desserts, but doing so consciously, and learning to eat the stuff intuitively and still in moderation. Also she recommends eating desserts after a meal so that the fiber you ingested with that meal stops the dessert from driving your blood sugar levels wild.

And I agree with that. Ideally, nothing is “bad” and nothing is “impure” it’s just how we deal with it and how we balance it out. And it’s best to eat intuitively instead of restricting oneself. Alas – In my personal experience, that doesn’t work for me at the moment. Maybe it will work later, after I have quit sugar “cold turkey” for a while, but right now, it doesn’t work.

Because I’m trying to reduce my waste, especially the plastic waste, most industrially mass produced food is already out for me. The food I eat is homemade by me. And we had no candy and sweets at home for almost a year, but still I needed several servings of sugary food per day or I’d have cravings. I ate homemade jam, organic chocolate chip cookies from our bakery, cake from the same bakery, and honey. Every day.

So if I don’t even eat industry food any more and I still eat and crave sugar every day, something is off. From a biochemistry point of view, maybe that indicates that my blood sugar became too low too fast after eating something sweet, and that’s why I felt hungry shortly after I had eaten something. I even remember that I ate a sugary thing and then went somewhere by bicycle and then I would feel suddenly dizzy and become unable to maneuver in traffic because my blood sugar levels were most likely super low.

I have cut out sugar for a week now and I’m surprised how I can clearly sense when I’m hungry – and when not. Most of the time I’m just not interested in food. Yes, there are moments when I want to have something sweet, but these are only moments. I used to be slightly hungry all the time when I ate more sugar.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have dieted only once in my life, and that was a very “sensible” diet, not some restrictive crash diet. It was more a diet where you eat everything, just more consciously, and you check how much you eat and just have a very small caloric deficit, and not on all of the days. So, while this diet didn’t work in the long run, it luckily didn’t do any damage, as far as I can tell. My system returned to it’s own equilibrium after my body it had reached its weight again (and then some). Today, I’m pretty fine! If I don’t confuse my body with foods that throw off it’s own balance system, it works very well.

And sugar does throw off my body’s sensors. I find that starch doesn’t, at least not as much. And I have eaten foods with added sugar (a sweet chili spring roll sauce, for example) in small amounts and that didn’t do anything annoying to my body as well. Fruit works fine as well.

Starch is not sugar in my book

As a baker, I had to learn about nutrition and food for my job. So, of course I know, starch is a carbohydrate, and sugar is one as well. But they aren’t the same. Sweet sugars are either monosaccharides or disaccharides, that means that there are only one sugar molecule or two of them linked together. Starch is a polysaccharide, that means that lots and lots of sugar molecules are linked together into a chain.

If your body wants to use that energy, it takes the molecules apart and then uses them. if they already are separate, like with sugars, they are immediately available as energy. Starch has to be broken down into smaller chains and then into single sugar molecules before it can be used, so it takes longer until the energy is there, and therefore, it doesn’t go directly “into your blood” like sugar does. Saying that starch is sugar is like saying a brick wall is a brick.

Linda Bacon writes in her book “Health at Every Size” that you can eat sugary food with fiber, and the fiber will act like a sieve for the energy in the carbs, slowing down the digestion of the sugar molecules so that you don’t have the blood sugar spikes. For starch, it works for me. I rarely eat white rice or pasta without fibery food, I eat them with veggies. (I don’t like whole grain pasta so much, even though it has gotten better since the 90ies. And whole grain rice is a pain in the ass to cook.) Sadly, I’ve tried it with sweets, desserts after a meal, for example, and that doesn’t work. Probably with sweet food, the energy/fiber ratio is just not right for me.

So, for me, it’s “no” to sugar but “yes” to white rice, white bread, and white pasta. (I mostly eat whole grain bread, but I do occasionally eat white bread, too.) And the reason is that starch and my body can obviously live in harmony ;)

Bottom line is: I try to find what works for me.

this is becoming quite the long read, so I just wanted to say: I’m trying stuff out to see what works for me and what does not, but I’m very sceptical of eliminating anything from the foods I eat. Ok, I’m vegetarian. I wouldn’t have any objections to being vegan. But that’s for ecological and ethical reasons, not because of health reasons.

I admit that going completely off sugar is something I would have rather avoided, but the moderation thing didn’t really work so well. I plan on returning to eating sugar, and I hope that eating it in moderation works better after my phase of no-sugar, but I don’t have a real plan how long I want this sugar free phase to be. I’d like to do it for a month at least.

PS: I also read this article by Christy Harrison “Processed food aren’t as bad as you think” and I agree with everthing!