No Desserts Diet Update
It’s been over three weeks since Christiaan and I started our “30-Days of No Desserts Diet”. The first few days were the worst. We were craving dessert in the evening after dinner. Thankfully we both supported each other in our goal.
I’ve learned a lot, and the experience has also revealed some “answers” to questions I hadn’t asked. I know that sounds convoluted, but here’s what I mean:
- When I first meet with a new personal training or nutrition client I engage in a discovery process to learn everything I can about their lifestyle, level of fitness, health, and eating habits.
- Meeting face-to-face, or via Skype, I start with basic questions, but I will work with what the client tells me and delve in deeper where required.
- Once I have a history, or a “big picture” of my client’s health, fitness and goals I can make some assumptions about how to proceed with coaching, and actionable steps to make positive changes.
This process works great when I’m the “investigator” and the client is comfortable enough to show the pieces of the puzzle so that I can create a solution.
However, it’s a different situation when the investigator is also the client! I’m biased when observing my own behaviours.
Without even thinking about it, I didn’t engage myself in a process of discovery, rather I allowed the process to be the discovery itself, and this is what I meant by discovering answers to unasked questions.
Lesson #1: Carbohydrate Requirements
I have a better understanding of my carbohydrates requirements since giving up dessert. I have often wondered how many starchy carbohydrates I need to eat in the day, but have never taken the time to find out.
When you’re eating too many desserts or too many refined, processed foods and sugars in the week, your insulin levels will be skewed, constantly spiking and crashing.
This is not normal. For optimal health and stable blood sugar levels you want you insulin to rise slowly and gradually, and to level off in a controlled fashion.
When your insulin levels are stable you won’t feel the highs and lows, have mood swings, energy crashes, brain fog, and so on.
You also won’t know how many “healthy” starchy carbohydrates you’ll need per day because the excess sugar intake will have you constantly craving sugary carbs.
Having eliminated desserts there were days when I had little or no rice, pasta or bread. These were the days I was more hungry and craving carbs.
There were a few days when I also experimented with longer times between meals, which definitely resulted in carb cravings in the evening, and most definitely dessert cravings.
Wanting dessert was more of a knee-jerk reaction — I needed more glucose stores to fuel my energy needs. Grabbing a dessert seems like the quickest way to get that energy, but it’s not the healthiest choice.
Lesson #2: Meal Frequency
I need to eat about every 3-4 hours.
What I’ve known for years but became very clear after giving up desserts, is that I need to eat a large amount of vegetables with my main meals. The best meal balance for me consists of a very starchy vegetable like squash or sweet potato (which will fill me up) combined with any other type of vegetable.
I also need a lot of healthy fats in my diet. Be it peanut butter, other nuts, olive oil, avocado, and sometimes organic butter, or organic coconut oil.
Lesson #3: Carbohydrate Timing
Again, I also know that I need more starchy carbs after I exercise and well into the next day. In particular if my exercise was strength training.
I perform best, have enough energy to lift heavy, and not be over-hungry if I eat to pre-fuel my workouts (enough food and carbs), as well as plan what to eat post-workout. I don’t do well energetically if I don’t eat the right meals at the right time relative to my varying Caloric needs.
In other words how and what I eat varies day-to-day: I’ll eat less on non-workout days, and if I didn’t workout the day before.
The take-away lesson is that our energy needs change depending on if we sit all day or have a very active day.
Lesson #4: Specificity and Individuality
This is something I teach my clients:
However, there are basic health and eating fundamentals, as well as corresponding fitness and activity fundamentals.
Eat too much without enough exercise and you’ll get fat.
Eat the wrong foods and you could damage your health and get fat.
Eat too little, or too infrequently, you could lose muscle and never seem to lose fat.
This is why I found our No Desserts experiment so fascinating for what I learned about my body. I still metabolize food quickly and I’m highly active during the day. Thus, I need to eat to support my energy needs.
Taking the sugar and excess saturated fats that made up the desserts out of my diet I had a “clean” digestive system that I was able to better understand and respond to.
Your body will tell you what it needs if you learn how to listen to it.
Lesson #5: Alcohol Makes Me Crave
Four days into the diet I woke up with a bit of a brain fog and felt very slow and unfocused — perhaps because I had a beer with dinner the night before.
Beer isn’t dessert but alcohol acts on the body very similar to sugar. I’ve always been sensitive to alcohol and can’t drink too much without feeling the side effects the next day.
I skipped my morning workout and waited to eat breakfast until 8:30. I ate three meals that day — lunch at 12:30, and then dinner at 5 at a restaurant: a burger with fries and (another) beer.
At 8:30 pm at home I was hungry. Three meals is too little food for me to eat in the day. All I could think about was eating a bowl of Shreddie’s. There’s very little sugar in Shreddie’s but I wanted to minimize my sugar and processed foods intake as much as possible. So what were my options?
Listening to my body I knew peanut butter on bread would not work. I didn’t want fat. I wanted carbs. I looked in the fridge and realized I had 2% cottage cheese. Perfect! I added a few fresh strawberries and a small handful of walnuts. I felt satisfied and the strawberries were so sweet that I felt like I had a treat — it was almost like having dessert.
On Day 10 I had the same craving for Shreddie’s after dinner — probably because I had them in the cupboard in the first place (this is why you don’t want to have these foods at home if you’re trying not to eat them).
I wasn’t craving dessert but I could tell I needed some carbohydrates of the quick-digesting type. I ate half a slice of bread with all-natural peanut butter and a bowl of Shreddie’s with natural, unsweetened almond milk.
I actually took 30-minutes to think about if I should have the cereal — I really wanted to be sure I needed the carbs (physically and energetically) as opposed to something sweet like dessert (psychological craving).
After I ate the cereal I knew it was the correct decision — I immediately felt better and calm. Over the past week I ate extremely few starchy carbohydrates, like rice or bread (probably only about ½ cup of basmati rice with a few meals).
(Note: I haven’t had Shreddie’s in my cupboards in years. But for some reason I was craving them, and wouldn’t you know it, I bought a box days before I decided to do my 30-Days of No Desserts Diet.)
Lesson #6: When to Cheat on Your Diet?
On day 15 of the No Desserts Diet (Sunday June 1), we drove out to Port Dover to spend a few hours on the beach and then have dinner with Christiaan’s family.
Instead of eating beach tourist food for lunch (burgers and hotdogs) we bought an organic roast chicken, a large salad, and fresh-cut strawberries and pineapple from the grocery store.
I knew that Christiaan’s family would have dessert for dinner. This is a family that eats big meals and loves their desserts as a course all to itself. I decided ahead of time that I would allow myself one piece of dessert if it was something I wanted. I knew I would be full from dinner, but I also chose ahead of time not to overdo it and wind up feeling physically uncomfortable.
That’s exactly what happened — they had made a rhubarb custard pie with a streusel topping from scratch. It was delicious! However, in less than 10-minutes after eating the pie I could feel the sugar rush in my brain. It was a fascinating observation two weeks into the no desserts diet.
There was another temptation around the household: miniature Halloween sized chocolate bars. Normally I would open up a number of these without thinking. I looked at them, realized how tempting they were but decided it wasn’t worth it. I think because I’d made the choice ahead of time to eat dessert at dinner, I therefore didn’t feel like I was missing out.
The Last Lesson
As I mentioned, the first few days of giving up desserts was the hardest. There were times when I felt I could “taste” something sweet and yummy in my mouth.
Sugar is an addictive substance and it had been an excellent learning experience to feel just how strong a craving regular sugar intake creates.
It was only a few days, at most five, before the psychological craving diminished, and it became easy to simply say, “Nope. I’m sticking to my diet!”
Learn More About the Effects of Sugar
- Research Review: Sweet stealth – tasteless sugar addiction
- All About “Natural” Sweeteners
- Sugar Daddy: A year without desserts