Jumping off the sugar/white flour treadmill

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken lots of heat for his recent proposal to limit the size of the sodas vendors can sell in New York City – as much heat as a bartender would take for telling an alcoholic he can only have one drink.

Bloomberg asserted that a ban on oversized drinks would combat the growing problem of obesity, and maybe it would. But according to many nutritionists, sugar – and its partner in crime, white flour – have addictive qualities that make them difficult to give up or limit. In other words, nutritionists say that if you are addicted to the quick fix that you get from sugar and white flour, you shouldn’t be drinking any soda or eating any sugar or processed foods at all.

This is a tough pill for our fast-paced, highly stressed society to swallow. Sweetness is a taste associated with good times and love. Pastries, cookies and cake do fill you up fast. Advertising campaigns support the notion that this is the way life should be.

Yet many people are beginning to realize that sugar and white flour are the culprits behind other health issues besides obesity. Evidence is growing that in susceptible people, they can lead to inflammation of joints, heart disease, forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Much of this evidence is based on science (and there are scientists who dispute it, of course). But it’s the anecdotal evidence that is the most persuasive – and you don’t have to go very far to find it.

Susan Sedenka, a school teacher in Gorham (and a neighbor of mine) was scheduled for hip replacement surgery this past April. She’d been battling osteoarthritis so severe that it had been affecting her activity level for more than a year.

Sedenka describes herself as a carboholic, a label many women can relate to. Like many of us, she can give up sugar and processed foods temporarily if she wants to drop a few pounds, but when she’s under stress, she craves carbohydrates – and not the good kind found in vegetables and fruit. This is a cycle, she says, that has made her a yo-yo dieter since her teens.

“I’ve always been able to lose weight because I have great will power,” she says. “So, I lost on Atkins, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet, you name it. The problem was, I couldn’t maintain the weight once I lost it, hence the yo-yoing.”

Last December, Sedenka decided to go back to the nutritionist whom she’d seen 21?2 years ago before her son’s wedding. Back then, he’d tested her muscle resistance and determined that she’d been weakened by sugar and white flour products. He suggested a diet that eliminated those things, as well as anything processed or artificial.

“I lost weight, gained energy and felt great,” she says.

But after the wedding, she got out of the practice of eating well and taking supplements. The weight returned and her hip really started bothering her.

After her decision to have hip surgery late last year, she decided to return to the sugar-free and white-flour-free diet. At the time, she was just doing it in hopes of feeling better and having more energy. She wasn’t thinking it would have any effect on her hip, even though her chiropractor had suggested it might.

“As the months progressed, I noticed that I wasn’t experiencing as much hip pain,” she says. “When I went to the pre-surgical meeting with other (patients), I realized I didn’t need the surgery. The others were describing their pain as a level 9 or 10 and I was barely rating mine at that time as a 1.”

Sedenka went home and did some research on the causes of joint inflammation. She found that the common denominators were sugar and white flour. A recent backslide in her eating habits in the last two weeks of the school year (why does everyone celebrate with pizza or cake?) brought a twinge to her hip and confirmed for her that she needed to get back on the (sugar-free) wagon.

“It took a few days, but I’m back on track,” she says. “I am going to start experimenting with some protein, fruit and vegetable smoothies as another alternative for breakfast and lunch. I don’t feel deprived and I’m not craving.”

Most of all, Sedenka says, she’s learned to forgive herself for her occasional treats. The key to success is keeping her long-term goal – a pain-free hip and an active lifestyle – in mind.

“I still want to enjoy a glass of red wine and a piece of chocolate from time to time, and I love gelato!” Sedenka says. “I just enjoy the moment now and start fresh the next day. I love that I am controlling what I eat rather than being controlled by what I eat.”

And she didn’t need legislation to help her realize that.

Joanne DiMauro, formerly of South Portland, does nutritional and lifestyle counseling in her New York City business, called Know Your Body. She knows how hard it is to give up sugar because she’s tried it. She recommends eating fruit instead of juice, and substituting natural sugars for the processed white stuff in dessert recipes.

On her blog, joannedimauro.com, she also advises people who want to give up sugar and processed foods to read labels carefully (because sugar is an ingredient in so many things) and to prepare healthy snacks for those times when you are hungry between meals.

Here’s a recipe from her blog that DiMauro says will satisfy anyone’s craving for sweets in a healthy way.

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