Friday, July 27, 2012

How sugar makes you fat

The mechanisms may be a little obscure yet, but there are some researchers who have figured out quite a lot of the process. The evidence is saying more and more that it is the habit of eating sugar, and the consequent constantly high levels of insulin, that is making everyone fat. The "no grains" thing comes in when you learn that foods made with grains get converted very efficiently into sugar in your blood, which you don't use and that then gets stored as fat.

This series is rather poorly paced, but it does give the basics. The guy is Dr. Robert Lustig whose work is a bit "controversial," but no more than the whole idea that you should entirely cut out processed sugar and pre-processed foods in general. I'm not a scientist, but I have stopped eating sugar (mostly) and I can tell you it has made a huge difference in my recovery and general health.

I think the most horrible part is the fatty liver disease part. Not only does sugar it make you fat, it turns your liver into fois gras.

I've been using the basic nutrition template found on the "Primal" diet websites, like Mark Sisson's (He's also on the sidebar). These seem complex, and there are lots of debates in the "primal community" over this or that food, and I've been doing some research. But the basic thing is really easy: cut out sugar and grains. That's it. Don't eat sweet stuff, and don't eat things made from flour. So I eat a whole lot of fruit (because it's Italy and it's wonderful), veg, meat, chicken, fish and dairy. The debates rage all over the net about which combinations of things to eat, which specific foods within these categories are better or worse, about cutting out dairy and eating too much fruit. But the rock bottom basic thing is still: no sugar, no grains. If you do that, you're doing it.

No matter what I did, I have never really lost very much weight. Fortunately, I've never had a very bad diet and have mostly avoided pre-processed foods most of my life. So I've never been really fat and probably never will be. Therefore, I've never really needed to loose a whole lot of weight. Before the diagnosis just over a year ago, I had already started cutting back on sugar and grain-oriented food and had gone down a bit. But I was in my forties, and I was slowly, year after year, creeping up and getting more and more rounded. I wasn't obese, but I was certainly larger than was comfortable and a lot larger than I liked.

Cancer sort of interrupted everything, but I've taken advantage of the weight loss and decided to keep going in a serious way with improving my diet. And everything I've read, everything, has told me that sugar more than anything else is the biggest factor in poor overall health and weight gain.

In March, I purged my kitchen, getting rid not only of sweet things like jam and Nutella, but all processed foods. Which meant all packaged soups, boxes of juice, condiments with HFCS or sugar in the label, anything at all that came with an ingredients list that included sugar, and honestly, that was nearly all of it. I have kept a little German mustard and a bottle of ketchup which I use to flavour some sauces and soups and my precious tub of Thai green curry paste. Yesterday I finally gave in and tossed my equally precious jar of hoisin sauce (sigh).

The one thing I'm really flopping on is honey, but I think I can live with that. In addition, I got rid of anything made with flour or grains. All bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers or biscuits. Any baked goods. (And corn is not a vegetable. It's a grain. Corn is the seeds of a grass plant. Don't eat it or anything made from it.) I guzzle yogurt so much I've started making it myself. And any "diet" that involves me eating as much whipped cream and strawberries as I want is the diet for me!

Not having the stuff in the house has made all the difference in the world. It's no problem giving it a pass at the grocery store and I do most of my grazing when I'm at home working, and only having fresh food in the house to graze on has meant that there just isn't anything here to be "tempted" by. Now my pattern is to eat fruit and home-made Greek yogurt in the morning with tea, a lunch of meat and salad or veg, and "dinner" is usually a little salad or home made soup. My sleep is still pretty wacky and I'm often up in the wee hours of the mornings, and then the snacking kicks in, but if there's only fruit, cheese, olives, yogurt and left-over chicken, it's hard for that to be a big problem.

Likely because the surgery has made a lot of very large metabolic changes, I'm not (yet) really losing weight the way other people do when they eat like this. But I have no problem with this. I went down about 6 kilos (13 pounds) since this time last year. At Gardone I probably went up a bit (haven't checked), because the meals were all set for us, even though they were very good about substituting when asked, and I decided to have a gelato-oriented holiday. But again, not really bothered by this. I'm back to my normal eating now, and I know that I won't gain significantly. I've got a pretty good handle on how my body will react to things, and have more or less figured out how to manage it, when to say no and when it's OK to go easy. When I found out that people who have had (H-word) gain an average of 25 to 40 pounds in the first year (!!!), I remember that it's been seven months now and I'm actually losing weight a little bit, so I figure I'm winning.

Now, truthfully, I've had a pretty bad slump since the end of June. Just exhausted, and can hardly move or stay awake. But I think I simply overdid it. I had consciously given myself until April 9th to recover, and wasn't going to spend one more minute waiting. Art classes started then and I was going and that was that. I was feeling so much better, so I did the thing I always do and jumped up and ran off into full time life, going into the City five or six days a week, running about doing things, taking classes and working and even going to Pilates classes twice a week. I was able to keep it up for about six weeks, and then just fell flat on my face and stayed there.

Since then, I've just been very very tired and struggling with what were undoubtedly sleep-related problems with depression. The other day, I went into the City for Mass and then after the lunch went over to the Forum to do some drawing (someone's paying me!!) and stood there like an idiot in the blazing hot sun. Unsurprisingly, this totally did me in and I've spent the rest of the week paying for it.

But these systemic things, like chronic fatigue and insomnia, are just going to have to work themselves out over time. The good news is that I can work, almost as much as I did before, and I can go to the beach, see my friends and look after my house and Winnie, so it doesn't seem to matter too much that I sleep a lot more than before.

This morning, I made my little trip round to see the doctor and he says I'm doing remarkably well. I'm still about 2 months ahead of the normal, expected recovery time, and he agreed that cutting out sugar has probably had a lot to do with that. The Italian doctor is always very sanguine. Mostly he tells me not to worry, that I'm doing fine. Relax, have a holiday, go swimming more often... It's very Italian.

He's suggested that I try getting super-B-Complex vitamin shots to help speed up recovery of the nerve damage. As soon as I can find someone to help with calling the undoubtedly Italian-only phone number, I'll get that sorted. I've got to go have those endocrine system blood tests, which I put off because of Gardone, and after that we'll be able to tell for sure what my blood sugar and insulin, leptin and other hormone levels are, and whether I'm insulin-resistant, or what.

But it's been a fascinating experiment. Of course, it's impossible to tell how I would have responded if I had just carried on eating as I did before - you can't really do a proper experiment without a control - but I think the experience of other people is a good place to compare and if so, I'm way ahead. Way.

Stop eating sugar. Really. Everything will work a whole lot better.


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