I haven’t posted in a (very) long time, mostly because I couldn’t decide what to post about. While I have posted a lot of ideas here about ways to get healthy and lose weight, none of them felt like the root cause of why I was successful this time. People would ask what my secret is, and I’d say “healthy eating and exercising” and while that was true, it didn’t feel like the whole story. They would say “you must have worked very hard,” and I would just nod my head, but honestly it didn’t seem that hard. That was the big mystery: Why did it actually seem relatively easy, when every time I have tried to lose weight before I have failed? This Saturday, I will have maintained my 100 pound weight loss for a year (hooray!), and I think I may have finally figured out what my secret really was.
A few weeks ago, I noticed that my weight was on a very slow upward trend. Thinking about it, I realized that I was still having some sweet cravings, and in response had been eating a lot of dried fruit–healthy, but also very high in calories. I also was still having honey in my coffee in the morning, the last bit of added sugar I still had every day. I decided to try an experiment, and do without the honey in my coffee and see if I could still enjoy a cup of coffee without it. I told myself I would just try it for a week, and then I could always start putting it in again. I started just having my coffee with milk. Almost instantaneously, I stopped having cravings during the day. My weight has been slowly dropping again, with no extra effort from me.
Around the same time, my sister-in-law, who had recently gone gluten-free the right way–removing all the processed foods that contain gluten, and not replacing them with gluten-free processed crap–commented on how her appetite had regulated, and she was finally getting normal hunger cues.
I knew that cutting processed foods was an important part of why I lost weight and have kept it off. Processed food has almost no nutritional value, and just adds a bunch of unneeded calories. It digests quickly, so you get hungry again fast. I now think that wasn’t the whole story.
So, here is what I think is my secret: Sugar and other highly processed carbs were messing up my satiation (fullness) and satiety (hunger) cues. Previously, I always felt out of control of my weight, I was just hungry more often than other people, and had a bigger appetite when it was time to eat. I thought that people like me were just different, and that if I wanted to lose weight I would just have to always resist those factors, and be hungry all the time. Now I believe that I was partly right. I think some people are different, in that sugar and processed carbs affect some people more than they do others.
These foods with a high glycemic load raise blood sugar levels quickly. Insulin is released to drop blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels cause hunger, and may lead to cravings for more foods that will quickly raise blood sugar levels again, and the cycle begins again. According to a study published about a year ago by Dr. David Ludwig, these foods also trigger the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, which can have an addictive quality in some people, and lead to overeating. We all have that friend who eats tons of junk, and still stays lean. Just like some people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics, some people can eat these highly processed carbs, and not end up with weight problems. But for others, like me, we are better off abstaining.
By starting to exercise vigorously, I think I was able to break this cycle without even realizing it. There is some evidence that exercise helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and that is what I think happened with me when I started doing Zumba. After that, I was able to start down the path of healthier eating without my cravings being overpowering, and as I cut out more processed food, I had even less cravings. With the removal of these highly processed carbs, my fullness and hunger responses corrected themselves.
I think this also may explain why some people are very successful on low-carb or paleo diets, since those would also cut out added sugars and other processed carbs. However, I feel like these diets are often too restrictive, and cut out some carbs that are actually pretty healthy.
I’m also not saying that all you have to do is cut out added sugars and processed carbs. Other things I’ve discussed such as eating lots of vegetables and fruit and watching portion sizes are still very important. However, I think by cutting out the added sugars and processed carbs, it may make everything else infinitely easier.
I still allow myself a sweet treat now and then, but only occasionally, so it actually is a treat. I savor every bite, and I eat it with the knowledge that I will have to exercise a lot of willpower to not give into cravings later. Often I will have the treat at the end of the day (say, for dessert after dinner), and just make sure to not eat anything else after.
So, if you are struggling with your weight, my secret may or may not be your secret as well. There is no one who argues that added sugar and other processed carbs are good for you, and almost everyone agrees that they are bad for you, so you have nothing to lose by not eating them (except some unwanted weight), and you might gain a control over your eating you never thought possible. The process of cutting out the added sugar and processed carbs will not be easy, but I feel like it is incredibly worth it, to finally feel like I have some control. I’m unsure how long it will take for the cravings to completely go away, or how much processed carbs you will need to cut to feel the effects. It could be (and likely is) that each individual is very different in this. Over the next few days, I plan to post some tips on getting rid of added sugar and processed carbs.
Please, give me feedback on what you think of this idea, and whether you are going to try reducing your added sugars and processed carbs!