Monday, August 22, 2011

A Balanced Diet?

Part of living a balanced life is recognizing when maybe things aren’t so balanced and you need to find your way back to that happy place where you feel calm, centered, and healthy. Unfortunately, that requires the daunting tasks of a) identifying when something isn’t working so well anymore and b) doing something about it.

I am in the beginning stages of applying this two-step process to my diet. While it’s jam-packed with whole foods – most of them organic – and very few processed, packaged foods, I recently realized that it’s jam-packed with something else: Sugar. Yes, sugar. Now, it’s not like I sit at my desk stuffing my mouth with heaps of sour patch kids all day long (as much as I wish I was). But the sweet stuff, even in its natural form, happens to make an appearance in just about every piece of food that passes my lips throughout the day.

One of the biggest culprits? Fruit. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m insane for pointing my finger at those succulent strawberries, plump grapes, and tart blackberries. But here I am. I’m pointing my finger straight at those suckers and telling them that I love them dearly, which is why I eat them – too many of them – every single day. I’m pointing my finger right at the bowls of freshly sliced fruit that have taken over my fridge all summer long and I’m telling them that I know they’re good for me. I know that they’re full of fiber and water and vitamins and nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. But around my sweet, summer fruit I am rendered powerless. I find a way to sneak them into every single meal and snack and I ride that sugar coaster from morning until night. And every time I feel my blood sugar teetering on the edge and then plummet straight down, I crawl back to those bowls in my fridge for another sugary hit so I can climb my way up again.

I’m done being a slave to my food. There’s so much darn fruit in my diet that I’ve shoved (also healthful, though less sugary) veggies to one measly meal per day: Dinner.

Fruit is hardly the only source of sugar in my diet, I might add. It’s also found in:

The high-fiber, whole grain cereal I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast

The squirt of Agave I add to my plain Greek yogurt at breakfast

The wheatberry bread I use for my peanut butter sandwich at lunch

The peanut butter on my sandwich at lunch

The cup of candy I enjoy each night for dessert

Okay, so there it is. Step A accomplished: I eat too much sugar. And as a result, I often feel edgy, and irritable throughout the day and am constantly thinking about my next sweet fix. Fortunately, I’m the only one who needs to be around me for most of the day, but when that’s not even a pleasant experience you know you’ve got a problem.

Now on to Step B: WTF do I do? Here’s the thing: I don’t do diets. Never ever will. I’m not about to pick up some super low-carb, low-sugar diet book and follow it to the word because I know I’ll be miserable and I know I can’t maintain that forever. I love food and I’m all about eating healthy for life. In my diet, there’s room for every single food. It’s just about finding the quantities of each kind that make me feel great. So what types of tweaks can I make to my overall diet that will satisfy my taste buds while keeping my blood sugar in check?

I gave it some thought, did a bunch of research and decided to take things in another direction altogether. Are you still with me here? Instead of cutting something out, I decided to add something in. The way I see it, if you tell yourself you can’t have something you’re only going to want it more. (At least that’s my experience.) But if you tell yourself you should have more of something then you find ways to sneak it in, hopefully edging the not-so-good stuff out. Hey, it's worth a shot.

So, I decided to focus on protein. Good old-fashioned protein. Besides the fact that lean protein is good for you, helps build muscle, and is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, which means it keeps you feeling fuller longer there’s something else to my protein theory. It doesn’t pair so well with sugar.

Now, instead of focusing on where I can cut back on sugar, I’m focusing on where I can add more protein. Let’s see: I can snack on hardboiled eggs or mixed nuts instead of, say, fresh cherries or dried apricots (oh how I love my dried fruit—those chewy morsels of concentrated sweetness). I can replace my PB sandwich and apple with a salad (more veggies, less fruit!) and chicken breast or tuna at lunch. Of course, I’ll still be sure to get plenty of whole grains (I love my quinoa (also protein!) and brown rice, which I often serve as sides with dinner) and there’s still space in my diet for fruit in small amounts. For instance, I can have an energizing fruit-protein combo as a pre-yoga snack: sliced apple with peanut butter instead of a Luna bar (oh yeah, probably should have added that to my sugary list above.)

One thing I’ll never ditch, however, is dessert. You’ll have to pry that cup of Swedish Fish out of my cold, dead hands before I ever consider giving that up.