Category Archives: Sugar

Lagkagehuset

This is me pretty much every single time I walk past the Lagkagehuset by my office:

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The Danish Diabetes Bomb

The Danish Diabetes Bomb

Today in the Berlingske – one of the many reputable newspapers here in Denmark – there are two separate articles that attempt to address the issue of some recently released statistics that suggest that, by 2025, the number of Danes diagnosed with diabetes will have doubled from its current mark of 300.000 people, to 600.000.  The big concern everyone is sounding the bells about, is that the health administration has not currently allocated enough money to properly care for this inevitable rise in diabetics over the next 12 years.

Articles like this infuriate me for a variety of reasons.  First, and probably most notably, the blanket statement that the government should prepare for a diabetes “bomb” by 2025 by boosting the budget today is totally one-dimensional and reactive.  Has it occurred to anyone that we might use the current statistic (which states that the number of diabetes has doubled in the past ten years) to change our behavior now, and instead prevent the number from continuing to rise?

Diabetes is one of those diseases that is 100% caused by lifestyle.  You can argue this point with me until the cows come home and I will still stand by this fact.  If you have Type 2 diabetes, you make up 90% of all diabetic diagnoses, and your lifestyle and diet are what caused it.  You may have been genetically predisposed to the disease because of your parent’s diet, but your lifestyle is what pushed you over the edge.  If you have Type 1 diabetes, this is a genetic disorder, but the science of epigenetics (which, by the way, still hasn’t been added to my computer’s dictionary it’s so new) makes a clear case that even here, with a healthy lifestyle and a diet, anything you might have otherwise been genetically predisposed to, can be reversed (to clarify, the disposition can be reversed, not the disease itself, thus preventing the disease from occurring in later generations).  Look it up if you don’t believe me.  In fact, look it up even if you do.

Before I moved to Denmark, one could claim I lived in a hole that we will call New York City.  My closest friends and allies were either in the health industry, or actively involved in it, and we all got off on talking about body chemistry, physiology, spiritual energy, lifestyle, real food…  I’m not joking when I say that it was, and still is, rare to go to a party with these people where one of those topics does not come up, and then proceeds to get discussed ad nauseum for the next three hours.  I will also be totally honest that this fact is one of the biggest among many reasons why I love my friends so much.  They aren’t just interested in maintaining what works and passively listening to the media promote fad diets that serve as an easy button but ultimately never work – they are interested in challenging their threshold of what it means to be healthy, and finding out if it’s possible to feel even better than they do right now, in this very moment.

So suffice it to say, I’m still on the hunt for my crowd in Denmark who is willing to entertain a conversation about sugar, the definition of “healthy” food and what this all means for your body.  I’m feeling pretty thankful that my crossfit friends seem to be totally on board with the topic, so I’m obviously super jazzed about spending more time with these people.  Just last Friday we spent two hours talking about the negative effects of grain and sugar on the body, how that effects your genes if you’re sensitive to it, inflammation and what it means, how certain types of exercises can actually influence the way your cells behave…to sum up, I think I’ve found my kindred spirits of the Danish variety.  🙂

But alas, I digress, as I am wont to do.  I simply do not believe that no one in this 12-party Danish political system has come up with the brilliant idea of attempting to reverse reversible diseases via education, knowledge, and access to healthy foods so that the government doesn’t have to keep paying for sick people who wouldn’t get sick in the first place if they knew better, or their parents knew better (how’s that for a run-on?).  I know in the past the most prominent and minimally successful suggestion has been to add taxes to foods that are unhealthy (and we saw how long that lasted before everyone figured out people were just making more trips to Germany for their Haribo fix), but I also wonder if the gains from those taxes were then directed to caring for the very same people who ate the foods that made them sick in the first place.  I honestly doubt it.  At least not directly.

The sad truth is that I can almost expect this sort of reaction from an enormous, capitalistic society like the US, where not just the medical system and insurance companies, but also the agricultural and food industries, rely heavily on people staying sick and addicted to food that is slowly killing them (doesn’t make it right, but unfortunately this is the cold, hard truth).  But when the relationship is [supposedly] directly from people to government, and back again, as it is in Denmark, I believe we should expect more.

Either way, we cannot continue to live in an ignorant world where we blindly consume sugar and cake and candy and soda and then point our fingers at the government to support us when our bodies finally revolt and become diabetic (or develop any other dietary/lifestyle influenced disease).  BUT, in a welfare state like Denmark, we do have the power (and the money) to instead allocate energy and funds toward education, so that people might eventually understand how to live, and then maybe also aspire to maintain, a healthier lifestyle.

And just like that, BOOM, no more diabetes bomb.

(Oh, and apropos, it seems efforts toward becoming healthy and better educated can alter previously negative forecasts with other things too, like Dementia – glad to see Denmark was a part of this study, maybe there’s hope yet.)

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“Just Say No” To Cake

Now that I’ve roped you loyal readers in with a few delectable recipes, I thought it might be worth it to throw in another video with some good info in it about sugar.

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Danes really love their cake, and I blame it for the reason why I stacked on about 15 pounds when I moved to Denmark, actually.  So after begging and pleading with my colleagues to stop bringing it into the office, we managed to go two whole weeks without cakes or pastries sitting on our table in our department.  It was a glorious two weeks not having to fight any urges.

And so today, I rewarded myself with a slice of cake, because I like my now ex colleague, and it’s been a really really long time since I’ve had cake.  And then I had another slice.  And then I had a taste of a third.

Needlesstosay, five hours later I still feel sick (read: bloated, higher heart rate, lethargic, stomach ache, scatterbrained, can’t focus).  It was a bad choice, and I regretted it enough that I seriously considered bulimia for a hot second – not like that’s much healthier – so right now I can feel my body still trying to figure out what the heck I did to it this afternoon.

The above video breaks it down for you, and even though I know all this stuff already because I read about it in two very good books (that I cannot recommend highly enough), Why We Get Fat: and What to Do About It and Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, it’s nice to see it again and remember why I’m doing all this stuff.

You know how you know something’s bad for you?  When you cut it out, you feel great.  And then when you go eat that thing again after not having it for a while, you feel MISERABLE (think: first time you drank after not drinking for a while, and how mean that hangover was).  I won’t lie to you, it’s bittersweet, because now I can’t really enjoy mass quantities of sugar or flour (or beer, or rice, or oats, or alcohol) without feeling terrible, but what I CAN do is enjoy them in small proportions.  And knowing that this reaction is actually NORMAL, makes me feel really good about my decision.

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Sugar vs. Hormones

I read this article in the NYTimes yesterday and it got me all sorts of fired up: Puberty Before Age 10 – A New ‘Normal’?.

You guys, there is nothing NORMAL about going through puberty when you’re 6.  I can’t believe doctors can actually make statements like that just because it’s becoming more and more common.  The endocrinologist mentioned in the article, Robert Lustig, seems to be the only one who has a clue.

Here’s a 60 Minutes exposé he is in, by the way, while we’re on the topic: Is Sugar Toxic?

I didn’t get my period until I was 14 years old.  I was probably the last person I knew to get it, and it was so late that basically no one my age thought it was a novelty anymore.  My breasts didn’t really come until two years later (and then they came in full force!).  Suffice it to say, my hormones were pretty delayed and despite my intellectual interest in boys, my hormonal interest in them didn’t really join the party until midway through college.  And as it turns out, that’s not normal either.

I’ve learned some pretty crazy things about what sugar does to your hormones in the past few months.  It can directly impact your hormone levels in very simple ways (by way of altering your insulin response, giving you blood sugar spikes and crashes) or in more complicated ways mentioned in the NYT article, by creating estrogen outside of the ovaries, causing breast growth in 6 year olds.  It can also cause hormonal development delays in other people, like it did with me.

While learning about how sugar is linked with hormones, I also discovered that a lack of healthy saturated fats in your diet can cause more severe sugar cravings.  Makes sense I guess, doesn’t it?  Fat is an energy source, after all, but people have forgotten that in the past few decades.

As it turns out, some of these hormonal delays I experienced could be related to my low-fat diet growing up.  From about the age of 4, the moment I had the opportunity, I was hunting for sugar.  I would head straight for the cookies after church and stuff as many in my mouth as I could before I got caught, go to the candy jar at my grandparents house before even saying hello to them, and if I had any cash in my pocket, it went towards feeding the cravings.  I remember doing candy bar sales for fundraisers at school and eating half the box myself, having to then fund my fundraiser out of my own pocket.  I was like a heroine addict, always needing a fix.  It was a huge source of stress for my mom to try and control my sugar consumption.  See, she KNEW sugar was bad, and so she did everything in her power to keep it away from me.  What she didn’t know, was that part of the reason I had such killer cravings was because I didn’t have enough fat in my diet.  While we were definitely on the forefront of the healthy, organic food movement in our family, which meant no margarine or vegetable shortening in the house (thank god), we were also raised to understand that fat is bad like everyone else.  And when a growing child doesn’t get her energy from fat like she’s supposed to, she goes for the next best thing: the instant high of the world’s most favorite drug, sugar.

As an adult, those sugar cravings only got worse.  Especially after a couple years of eating primarily carbs (aka: sugar) during my vegetarian days.  It wasn’t until I met my boyfriend back in 2010 that it was not-so-subtly pointed out to me that having a blood sugar crash so bad I couldn’t function until I put sugar in my mouth at 3pm every day was NOT normal.  I had spent the past two years in New York at a stressful job where I mindlessly stuffed candy and chocolate into my mouth on a DAILY basis.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  And eventually I started to have side effects from it.

I had initially presumed that heavy cramps, spotting between periods, gaining five pounds every month before my period, and being emotional just went with the territory of being a woman.  I also blamed my copper IUD for the spotting and occasional heavier-than-normal-heavy periods, and even went to my lady-doctor a few times to make sure it hadn’t embedded itself in the lining of my uterus.

I have always been paranoid about anything related to my reproductive system because I can’t handle the idea of someday not being able to have my own children.  Poor Dr. L would get an earful about my latest goings on every time I came to her with a new concern, bless her heart.  Once we ruled out a reproductive problem, pregnancy, severe vitamin deficiency, the fact that some people (not me) just have irregular periods…the only possible solution could be stress.  I mean, I was living in Midtown, Manhattan, after all.  And working 60 hours a week in Finance.  Stress was obviously a factor here.

But when I moved to Denmark and my stress level all but disappeared, and the problems I had didn’t go away, I started to really worry.

One of the reasons why I ended up cutting sugar out of my diet last November in the first place was because I had read that sugar consumption effects your hormones, and I began to wonder if my recent increase in sugar consumption (by way of a mostly carb diet) since having become a vegetarian had anything to do with all those symptoms I was having, and that maybe it wasn’t stress after all.  I figured I was a perfect candidate to be my own guinea pig in order to find out, and so off I went, cutting sugar and anything that becomes sugar in your blood, out of my diet.

After two weeks of severe and miserable punishment by way of what I call The Drug Detox, I got my period a week early, with no cramps.  The next time I got my period, I only had cramps for one evening, and killed it with ibuprofen.  The next cycle was completely cramp-free, and so was the next, and so was the next.  According to my boyfriend, starting in about late January I stopped having such vicious mood swings (he’s thrilled about this part, and I have reason to believe it’s why he’s being so supportive), and finally, I’m not gaining five pounds every month anymore.

BUT HERE’S THE CRAZY PART.  I stopped spotting between periods also after that first cramp-free period.  And now, whenever I eat a good dose of sugar (no one’s perfect, and I’ve had a few benders), I spot immediately.  If that’s not a sure-fire sign that sugar was my problem, I don’t know what is.

So here I am, approaching 30, finally figuring out how I can control PMS after spending several cycles during my 20’s vowing to remove my uterus with my bare hands, and never leaving home without ibuprofen and extra tampons in my purse.  I feel like I’ve also found some resolve for why I wasn’t even remotely interested in being sexually active in high school like everyone else (though I will say, that was probably for the better).  For me, the fix was as simple as limiting my sugar consumption.

I would never go so far as to say that there is an “easy” button and that button is removing sugar from your diet.  Like everything, it’s a piece to the puzzle.  It’s also important to remember that our bodies are not the clean genetic slates that we like to believe they are.  So much of my quality of health was determined by my mom’s diet while she was pregnant with me, and also by her diet while she was young, and also by her mom’s diet while she was pregnant with her (this is called epigenetics, by the way, and you should read up on it).  And let’s not forget about the dads out there.  Most of us have several generations of the industrial revolution’s high-carb diet under our belts at this stage in the game, and at least one generation of the low-fat movement, so if we want to reverse any of those effects, it will take some time, and more importantly, a little dedication.

But signs of PROGRESS sure are encouraging, aren’t they?


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And So It Begins…

Back in 2007, I became a vegetarian.  This life-altering decision did not happen overnight, but was, rather, a process of unbiased elimination based on random things I had read at the time, and with a root goal of weightloss.

I guess we’ve all been there before.  College happened, and so did The Freshman Fifteen.  And if you’re me, a part-time job at Kentucky Fried Chicken ALSO happened, and with that, The Junior 40.  I liked to blame KFC for the weight gain, regaling my friends with stories of smelling like chicken fat when I got home from a work shift, and of how I actually didn’t even like the chicken, but instead, went for the biscuits, and the macaroni and cheese, and the mashed potatoes (and let’s not forget the bottomless soda I could drink while working).  {god if I only knew then what I know now!}  I thought I was doing myself a favor, avoiding potentially genetically modified chickens that were rumored to have been born with missing limbs and underdeveloped organs.  And I probably was, to be honest.  At least kind of.

Fast forward to my new and glamourous life in New York City post-grad.  Moving to New York slowly and subtly made me aware of my body mass.  Sardined like a heard of cows on the subway during rushhour, thighs rubbing together and chafing during those blisteringly hot summer nights, a wanton desire to wear clothes that didn’t come from the plus size department at Old Navy, and of course the less superficial things like wanting to feel good in my body, and worrying that I may someday end up with diabetes, or something worse…all these things and more provided me with the motivation to get my act together.

I thought it was about control.  I thought if I could just eat less, the extra fat would drop like flies, and I would magically become healthy.  I had Bikram Yoga to help me with that last part, because upon discovering that new obsession, I learned very quickly to not eat within three hours of class, because I didn’t want to puke.   And so began the weightloss.  I figured out that if I practiced Bikram Yoga six times a week (with an occasional double for good measure), and ate less than 1,000 calories a day, I’d inevitably lose weight.

And you know what?  I did.  After about eight months of regular practice, 30 pounds of Kentucky Fried Chicken Weight were finally behind me.

Encouraged by the weightloss, but frustrated by how terrible and unenergetic I always felt, I decided to follow in Beyoncé’s footsteps and do The Master Cleanse.  I figured I could probably use a severe detox after spending college and the two years afterward living off of fast food.  And detox, I did.  Admittedly, I turned grey after about 5 days, but mind over power, I made it to 13.

After completing the Master Cleanse, 20 pounds lighter and determined to keep off the lost weight, I took Stanley Burroughs advice seriously.  He urges in his book that people by heritage are hunter-gatherers, and lived off of nuts, simple grains, vegetables, and berries.  He suggests a lifestyle following this diet to the T.  And I tried to make it happen.  And that’s when I became a vegan.

After one month living off the vegan version of the real thing, I caved.  I gorged on cheese, and butter, and eggs and everything else I could get my hands on that wasn’t meat.  Not shockingly, I got constipated.  I thought it was because of the animal products.

Three years and three annual spring cleaning Master Cleanses later, I was sort of maintaining my weight (ie: gaining 15 pounds over the course of the year, and losing it with another Master Cleanse).  However, I began to notice that with each cleanse, I was seemingly becoming more and more resistant to weightloss.  Strangely, my cholesterol and blood pressure levels had also increased.  And my vitamin levels were decreasing.  I had developed a sort of eczema in my ears that never would go away.  And my PMS was getting worse.  And I began spotting between periods.  And then in the fall of 2010, I had an 8 day long so-heavy-I-bled-through-a-super-plus-tampon-every-hour period.

Clearly something was wrong.  Thanks in part to WebMD (I should be banned from that website, btw), I was certain I was developing an incurable hormonal disease.  I went to my natural leaning doctors and they confirmed that nothing was seriously wrong with me.  It must be stress.  Try to do some more yoga.  Make sure you get enough sleep at night.  Try cutting out gluten and see if that helps.

You know how sometimes even the people you hope can give you answers can’t give you the answers that solve the problem?  Yeah, it’s a major bummer.

So I moved to Denmark last March.  During all of this navigation of my health and vegetarianism, I had travelled to Mexico and met my current boyfriend on a train.  We fell in love, and I relocated.  It’s a beautiful story that I’ll save for another time.  And so starting last March, I started to eat like a Dane.  That meant pork was now commonplace in my diet.  Buh-bye vegetarianism, hel-lo omnivorism.  And with the pork, came cakes and pastries.  Before I knew it, I looked five months pregnant.  Only I wasn’t.  Again, I thought it was all the meat.

Conveniently, I stumbled upon a book right around the same time I diagnosed myself pregnant with a Food Baby, called “Why We Get Fat, and What to Do About It” by Gary Taubes.  Considering that I could feel myself getting fatter by the day and couldn’t figure out why, the title was obviously appealing.  I burned through it in about 4 days.  The resources I got from the book prompted a drastic change in my diet which started with cutting sugar out of my coffee last November.  I figured if I could live without sugar in my coffee, I could maybe live without all sugar.  So then I cut out regular sugar.  And fruit.  And fruit juice.  And potatoes.  And rice.  And corn.  And wheat.  And low-fat milk.  I essentially started replacing all those things with fat and vegetables.

As you can imagine, my body was NOT happy about this change.  I felt like I was going through a drug detox.  I went from having hardly any energy, to having no energy.  And I don’t think I have ever been so severely constipated in my life.

In a moment of extreme weakness, I sent a long email detailing all of these symptoms to my very dear friend and naturopathic doctor, Emma Andre, begging for advice.  And bless her, she gave me a TON.  She also suggested I pick up a book called “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food” by Catherine Shanahan to read as continued learning and support for my new lifestyle change.

Deep Nutrition blew my mind.  I won’t summarize it here.  Just read it.  ESPECIALLY if you think you might like to have kids someday, this book contains probably one of the most valuable bodies of information you could possess yourself with.

So now that the long story is officially not short (you’d be shocked at how much I actually left out), this blog is about this new path, and what’s been going on since November.  I’ll start by backtracking, and then once I’m caught up, I’ll move forward with stories of the adventures of carnivorism, share recipes I’m cooking, and offer up any sources I can find for making a traditionally fed lifestyle as stress-free as possible.  I live in Copenhagen, so I’ll start with the local stuff and expand from there.

Happy Reading!