Another reason to be healthy: Being able to take of yourself (and others) during emergencies

I live in northern British Columbia, Canada, where wildfires this summer are impacting thousands of people.

So far the flames have spared my community, but we’re hosting thousands of evacuees — some of whom are unhealthy — who’ve been driven from their homes by fires and smoke.

My sympathies are with all the evacuees, most of whom carry on bravely despite their losses. I wish them all a safe return to their home communities.

Being evacuated from your home — and possibly losing it — is stressful enough, but if you have a medical condition, that adds a layer of complexity:

  • The need to bring oxygen, walkers, canes, prescriptions, etc., when you’re evacuated
  • New and unfamiliar procedures for getting your prescriptions filled (and possible interruptions in that service)
  • New and unfamiliar procedures for accessing medical care (and possible interruptions)
  • Temporarily losing access to your own doctor, who knows your history
  • The effect of stress on your existing condition(s)
  • And probably more stuff I haven’t thought of, not being a medical professional!

All this makes me more determined than ever to stay fit and healthy.

In emergencies, I want to go on being a volunteer, rather than someone in need of help, and if my husband and I are evacuated (touch wood!), I want us to be able to look after ourselves.

I want to be able to run down (or up) stairs if escalators are disabled, and I want to be able to have a least a chance of helping to rescue others — for example, carrying someone away from a fire or area of earthquake damage. (My deadlift is currently only  85 lb (38.5 kg), so only small people can apply to be rescued, but I’m working on it!)

I realize that physical fitness isn’t all, and no matter how healthy we are, there are still situations where we might need to be rescued.

However, we can tip the odds in our favour by eating a low-carb diet (including avoiding sugar) and staying active. Being healthy will make us less of a burden during an emergency, letting resources flow to those who truly need them. It also sets us up for being able to actually help during a crisis.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but what emergencies is your community vulnerable to? What are you doing to prepare?

Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

6 months of total sugar-free-ness!

Whoohoo! Today marks six months since I started my no-added-sweeteners-of-any-kind journey on January 1, 2017. All the details are in this post, but in a nutshell, I’ve been avoiding all added sweeteners, including honey, stevia, maple syrup and more — even in my vitamins, even in my toothpaste.

To mark this milestone, here are some common questions I get:

Do you eat fruit?

This is the most popular question by far, often asked with a look of horror, or phrased as “But you still eat fruit, right?”

Actually, I think our modern fruit is mostly too large and too sweet,  and I think many people eat too much of it. However, I enjoy berries and I’ll eat bananas, especially if I have an upset stomach. I’ve been avoiding dried fruit since January 1, though, because it triggers my sugar cravings.

Does it take a lot of willpower?

Not after the initial adjustment period. For me this was only a couple of days, because I was eating a mostly-low-carb diet anyway, and low-carb makes sugar-free waaaay easier (see Step 5 in my post How to quit sugar).

Also, as I always say, it’s easier to eat none than to just eat a little!

For about the first 6 – 8 weeks, I didn’t consciously crave sugar, but it sometimes featured in my dreams. During those weeks, my mouth would also water when I thought about sugar or smelled something sweet.

Since then, though, neither of these things happen.

I don’t crave sweets – I don’t even think about them, really. This is why I think a one-month “cleanse” is not long enough (at least based on my experience). For me, it took longer for those changes to occur.

When writing this post, I asked myself, “What sweet food do I miss the most?” and what came to mind was …. nothing. A blank. I even forced myself to think about cheesecake to see what would happen, and my reaction was, “Meh.”

Strange…but a powerful indicator that sugar has really lost its hold on me.

Do you feel any different? What changes have you noticed?

I see one big psychological change, and one big physical one:

Psychological: I’m no longer controlled by sugar cravings. I LOVE this, maybe even more than I love the physical changes. As I described in my two-weeks-in update, my evenings after my husband went to bed used to revolve around sugar cravings. I usually found a way to talk myself into giving in to them, and I always woke up puffy and regretful the next day.

Partway through January, I actually sat on the couch one night and thought, “So what do I do now?”

The answer? Lots of things! It’s great to have the mental space and energy freed up for more positive evening activities, such as reading or walking.

Physical: I’ve definitely only hungry when I actually need to eat. I noticed this in 2000 too when I switched to a Paleo diet, but cutting out sugar takes it to a new level.

After a solid meal, the thought of more food of any kind — whether sweet or savoury — is actually repugnant for an hour or two. I remember this from my childhood, and I think this is the way it should be. I think a lot of our “hunger” today in the industrialized world is false hunger triggered by sugar and processed carbs.

Oh, and also: My skin continues in its improved state (much less adult acne, no more bumpy skin on upper arms). Yayyy! My energy also continues to be insanely high.

Weight loss: Weight loss was not a goal. I was lucky enough to be at a normal weight anyway, thanks to being on a low-carb Paleo diet for many years (see My story for the before-and-after pics).

Since the end of January, my weight has gone up by about 2 pounds (1 kg)  but my waist size has decreased 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) – unusual for a fifty-something woman. This is great, because it means I’m losing fat and adding muscle — exactly what I want!

To be fair, this has probably been helped along by the even lower-carb diet (almost ketogenic) that I’ve adopted recently.

Have you been successful so far?

Overall, definitely yes. No cake, no cookies, no ice cream, etc. Not even a bite.

As I said above, it’s easy once you entirely eliminate sweeteners – you end up not wanting them any more. It doesn’t take a lot of willpower. I know, because I definitely don’t have a lot!

There have been two slips, though, one definite, one possible, plus an unknown number of times I probably ate sugar without realizing it, despite my best efforts. The details:

Definite slip: In the spring, I was travelling and had an attack of restless legs (grrr) in the middle of the night. Tylenol (acetaminophen) helps with this. Without turning on the light, I fumbled for my little travel tube of Tylenol and swallowed one. As it was going down, I realized, too late, that it was covered in a red sugary coating ….arghhghg. When packing, I had tossed the tube into my luggage without opening it. Lesson learned. When I got home, I replaced them with the un-coated kind.

Possible slip: The Shrimp Toast Incident (see my One-month update).  Basically, I took one bite of some shrimp toast at a potluck, even though I’d been told it contained Asian fish sauce and Sambal sauce, and I knew some brands of those sauces contain sugar. It didn’t taste at all sweet, but it was a humbling lesson on how susceptible I am to the lure of a new and interesting dish, and the importance of being careful in social situations.

Unknown random sugar consumption: I realized in about February that because regular table salt contains sugar (yes!), pretty much any time I eat at a restaurant, I’m probably eating sugar in the salt (unless, of course, it’s a high-end restaurant that only uses sea salt). Also, meats are often marinated in a sugar-salt solution; for this reason, I avoid restaurant chicken.

—–

That’s it for the 6-month update.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know if have any other questions!

Sugar-free jerky

Jerky is a great low-carb snack / travel food. However, it’s almost impossible to find commercial jerky that doesn’t contain sugar. But – good news! You can make your own, and you don’t even need a dehydrator. I’ve made jerky many times in my oven, both for gifts and to take on trips, with great results.

This recipe gets saltiness from the soy/tamari, a touch of sweetness from the onion powder, and a complex, layered heat from the red pepper flakes and the freshly ground black pepper.

Note: Because of the long drying time needed, plan ahead. I usually put it in the oven early in the morning, or last thing at night. You don’t want to be getting up at 3:00 a.m. to check your jerky!

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A few simple ingredients
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Marinate status is GO!
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All patted dry with paper towels and ready to go in the oven
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You want to prop the oven door open just a *little* bit — the  interior light should not come on

Sugar-free jerky

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Portable, meaty, and delicious!


Ingredients

The meat:

  • 2 lb baron of beef or other fairly lean cut, thinly sliced. Ask your butcher to slice it for you, or if doing it yourself, put in the freezer for about 45 minutes to make it easier to slice thinly.

The marinade:

  • Large ziploc-type bag(s)
  • 3/4 cup sugar-free soy sauce  (e.g., Kikkoman brand) or tamari
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp onion powder. Note: Onion powder, not onion salt – if it’s lumpy, sift it.

Directions

  1. Slice the meat thinly.
  2. Put it in a large ziploc plastic bag (or a couple of smaller bags) and marinate it in the fridge for 2 – 4 hours, turning once or twice. The longer you leave it, the stronger and saltier the taste.
  3. Take it out of the bag, drain it, and pat it dry with lots of paper towels. If you like, you could try saving the marinade to use as a gravy (add heavy cream or coconut milk).
  4. Spread the meat on racks over cookie sheets, taking care to spread each piece of meat fully open – any folds will cause that piece to dry more slowly.
  5. Place in the oven on the lowest setting (my oven’s lowest setting is 170 degrees F / 75 C).
  6. Dry in the oven for 8 -12 hours with the oven door propped partly open. I use an oven mitt or folded tea towel jammed in the door. You want air to circulate, but you don’t want the oven door to be open so much that the interior oven light comes on, because this means the oven will try to heat further and the jerky may bake rather than dehydrating. The timing is variable because it depends on the moisture content of your meat and of the air, the temperature of the air, your oven heat, and the thickness of the slices of meat.
  7.  The jerky is done when it cracks, rather than bends; it may have beads of fat on it.
  8. Cool the jerky on racks, then store in freezer bags or food storage containers. It will keep at room temperature for 2- 3 months, or longer in the freezer.