What about your friends?

This week I had the chance to talk about a friend. I’ve known him forever…at least since we were in elementary school. We’ve kept in touch pretty much since, not necessarily on a regular basis, but here and there and as major life events happened. So when given the chance to provide information about my friend, I felt pretty confident that I could provide good, solid information.

And then the questions started. I sat with a blank stare, trying to remember the year I met him..was  it 5th grade, 6th, 2nd grade? Hmmm ok next question, where has he lived…em…in his house? Where did he attend school? University? Degree? Em, em, em, em, how many…ok stop! This is my friend! I should know the answers to all these questions! But one after the other, I was left mumbling, trying to figure out if I could draw answers, mixing up his life with the lives of others in our cohort. Wow, I guess I don’t remember as much as I should!

Now I can say I’m a big picture kind of person. I tend to take a global perspective and ignore the little bits that make it happen. Of course since I’m complicated, in many situations like when I’m helping coordinate an event or editing, I become overly concerned with the itty bitty tiny details and often lose sight of the big picture. But I guess when it comes to my friendships at some point some of the details get replaced. As I interact with more people, the specific information about individuals mostly fade into the  background! I'm not sure if this is a good thing, but it was rather startling to realize how much I did not know/remember about many other friends, many of whom I relate to, very closely.

30 something year olds, not unlike 3 year olds, make lots of connections; on the job, at social events, religious gatherings, etc. In fact, it is imperative to keep connected to people of various backgrounds and trades as we ourselves climb up our career or social ladders - It really is about who you know. It's necessary to send a quick hallo every once in a while to that friend from college, as much as it is to stay in touch with your ace boon.

Many of us now rely on Facebook® to help us keep tabs on our friends. We often don't even reach out, just take a look at pictures or posts and say awww. We feel very informed about their lives based on the snippets that they share on social media. Our Facebook® friends list doesn't match our phone numbers list at all...and we have quickly grown accustomed to living life in this world of oversharing only a small part of what we are experiencing...much of it scripted and hollow.

So with this new realization, I am taking a closer look at my inner circle and trying to remember details about their lives - I might have to ask them a few questions! I recognize that I can't keep all details about everyone, but I should be able to answer questions about those that I hold dear to my heart!  

A quick exercise for you:
Who are your close friends (not counting significant others and blood related family)?
What do they currently do at their job/school?
What level of education have they completed?
If university level educated, what degree(s) have they completed?
Where have they lived in the last 10 years (cities/countries)?
What do they like to do for fun?
When was the last time you talked to them?

I would love to know what you learned. Please comment below and share!

Half-stepping diva


A sugar-free challenge

"I will NEVER eat chocolate again! OMG! What? Why? And who made that decision?! Seriously? Are you mad?!" -This is what was floating through my mind when I determined that a sugar-free lifestyle was more suitable for me.

The thought of never eating another piece of chocolate completely overwhelmed me, stressed me out and well, as you can imagine, I ended the day indulging in at least a bag of chocolate. Take that, sugarless lifestyle! 

It has definitely been a challenge working sugar out of my system and a bigger challenge convincing myself to sustain it. The forever aspect of it still overwhelms me...so you mean I will not eat cake at my wedding? (Oooh the brain travels far and fast, eh?) And how does it work with my family? Will others understand this lifestyle that I clearly do not understand myself? Will they support me? Will they sabotage and give me sugar whenever they can? Can I really stick to this? Do I want to do this? Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Ok, let's pause and get a hold of ourselves a bit. A sugar-free lifestyle is not much of a stretch for me, I mean I'm already vegetarian and have a highly restricted palate. In fact, my mom’s desire for me as a child was to live life without added sugar. She specifically fed me all the fruits and veggies she could so that I would develop a taste for them. When we moved in with my grandmother, she was instructed not to give me any candy as grandparents usually do, and as grandparents usually do, she went firmly against it and voila! the sweet tooth monster was unleashed! My mother herself at some point gave up sugar. For all my childhood, I never saw her eat candy or any of the delicious cake with lots of icing that she made. She didn't even add sugar to the foods that usually called for sugar. So why can't I imagine doing the same in my life?

Well, sugar has become such an integral part of our palate. Think of what you have eaten so far today or recently? How many of the foods contained sugar? Eating sugar really has become such a no-brainer for all of us. From breakfast to dinner, we have several opportunities to load up on it and we usually don't let the opportunity pass by. Even those who do not have much "taste for sugar" (what does that even mean?!) and prefer savory/salty foods still consume sugar in large quantities.

Since I've been working on this new lifestyle, there have been many opportunites to try again. I
usually set time periods for my goal that allowed me to focus and stay disciplined. After the time period, I would "briefly" pause to savor some of the foods that I had been avoiding. This would usually stretch out into a few days (or weeks!) after which I would recommit myself to my cause. At some point, I decided I had been off sugar enough not to crave it and could just have "a little here and there"...alas, no. Soon as I worked in back in my diet it was like we had never been separated! Come to mama!

So now what? I am currently working on a body sculpting goal that requires the utmost discipline, which means, no added sugar until the goal is met (however long I decide to stretch out getting there!) There will be some birthday celebrations in between, and I plan on celebrating however it comes - I won't go out of my way to pursue sugar. For other times, I will politely decline and if necessary explain.

And for the rest of my life?! Well it's still an overwhelming thought. Some of my favorite foods require, yes, require sugar. I bake quite often and though I can sweeten my pastries with fruit, sometimes a girl needs cookies that taste like cookies! And my chocolate -well, dark chocolate is very good for your heart. In fact, 1.6 oz/daily has been shown to improve heart health (but who can eat only 1.6 oz!) Everything in moderation, right? The bottom line, good health!

I am more aware of my triggers to binge (stress, boredom, emotions, just because, self-sabotage/ reward for doing well) and I will continue to avoid having chocolate at home. I know sugar is not THE enemy and avoiding it is only one part of the solution to good health, so I will not villainize or obsess about it.

I challenge you to work sugar completely out of your diet or at least reduce it. Can you imagine your world without sugar? Can you go a week, 3 weeks, forever without it? Do you already lead a sugarfree lifestyle -how do you do it?

P.S. In case you missed it, I discussed my love of sugar and our break-up in this post, and why we had to break up here.

Sweetly yours
Half-stepping diva


Still sugar loving

I'm sitting here enjoying my pudding...no worries, since I was reminded of my goals in life, I have definitely been really off the added sugar, though the last 2 remaining cones look so lonely in the freezer! Anyways, earlier in this post, I talked about my love for sugar and adopting a sugar-free lifestyle. So let's talk about how it worked out for me.

1. I started by assessing how much added sugar I eat.
In the U.S. sugar is added to the oddest foods. I had to stop using a particular seasoned salt because the second ingredient was sugar. It turned out many other foods I ate were chock full of sugar; many of the low fat options which have been touted as more diet-friendly and healthier have been loaded with sugar to make them more....well palatable.
I started reading about the different names of sugar, which include: anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, syrup, white sugar, carbitol, concentrated fruit juice, corn sweetener, diglycerides, disaccharides, evaporated cane juice, erythritol, Florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, inversol, isomalt, maltodextrin, malted barley, malts, mannitol, nectars, pentose, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, sorbitol, sorghum, sucanat, xylitol and zylose.

So how much sugar is in it
1 teaspoon of granulated sugar = 4 grams. So if my food contains 8 grams of sugar, I'm consuming about 2 teaspoons. In some foods such as fruit, naturally high in sugar, this number can look alarming: a serving of my daily banana contains 17g of sugar; about 4 teaspoons of sugar. As these sugars are naturally occurring, I did not eliminate them from my diet; my focus was on added sugar. An easy example of added sugar is a can of soda which contains 39 g of sugar; almost 10 tsp of sugar.

And how much added sugar should you eat?
Well, the new WHO guidelines recommend less than 5% of your daily caloric intake should come from added sugar. For most folks this will be around 25 g or 6 teaspoons of sugar.

I was eating more added than any of the recommended guidelines, even the previous ones of less than 10% of my daily caloric intake.

2. I found alternatives to some of my favorite foods that contain a lot of sugar.
I switched the seasoned salt, spaghetti sauce, and other foods that really didn't need sugar, like my honey covered peanuts. I love pancakes but between the sugar in the batter and the syrup was consuming almost 50g of sugar if I used 1/4 cup of syrup. So now I don't eat  pancakes as often, and when I do blend bananas into the batter and top it with fruit (berries etc).

3. I eliminated slowly.
The most obvious source of sugar for me is chocolate. I simply gave it up, there was no way to gradually taper that off. For other sugar sources, I started by using less. For example, I enjoy a nice cup of chai tea w a good serving of sugar and milk. I started by reducing the amount of sugar until I was down to a half-teaspoon.

4. I discovered new ways to eat my food. 
My breakfast consisted of high fiber cereal, most of which contains added sugar. I switched to oats which I did not sweeten and opted instead to top it with raisins and walnuts. I learned to love green tea, once I learned how to brew it and completely eliminated adding sugar to it. And though I don't drink it as often, drink my chai tea plain. I also diversified my palate and started adding more protein to my breakfast.

4. I avoided processed foods.
Cooking helps determine exactly what goes into the food and generally eliminates a lot of sugar. We trust the food industry a little too much with our health. Back to basics. My cooking has gotten more creative. The pudding I'm eating is sweetened with a few dates. The other ingredients are pure cocoa powder (the bitter antioxidant containing stuff), milk (cow or nonsweetened soy) and tofu (I know I lost you on that one!).

5. I gained an understanding of why excess sugar is bad for me.
My family has a history of diabetes and a slew of other chronic diseases. My dentist, well, she's probably amassed a small fortune from my dental bills. This year's checkup revealed my health indicator numbers are looking good and have definitely improved over the last year. With this in mind, I have become more determined that this is the lifestyle that fits my goals.

6. I set a specific time to adapt my new lifestyle.
The fast was for 3 weeks. I determined that during that time I would be super disciplined. I also realized 3 weeks was enough for it to become a habit. After the 3 weeks, I extended it and have continued since with mini pauses when life moments have happened or when fear has set it.

Of course it has not been all flowers and roses and cake...ooh cake with icing and ice cream and...! There have been many challenges and many opportunities to try again. Overall it's been a great success and I'm excited for my new lifestyle habits. I'll discuss the challenges in my next blog entry. In the meantime...

Stay sweet (without added sugar of course)

Half-stepping diva