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
  • Print

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.

Bobotie num num

With a few tweaks, this hearty South African classic of mildly spiced ground beef topped with a savoury custard becomes 100% low-carb.

Raisins or other dried fruit are traditional, but they trigger my sugar addiction, so I replaced them with chopped apple.

I made this for a recent international potluck dinner with friends — I was proud to represent my South African heritage.

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At the potluck (photo taken by the hostess). The menu cards were fun!

The dish on its own is perfect for strict low-carb or keto diets, while adding side dishes of your choice makes it work for moderate or liberal low-carb.

The dish was originally inspired by the recipe at Foodie Goes Primal, but I’ve changed up the spices, removed the dried fruit (as described above) and made the dish larger to feed a crowd.

PS The title of this post references a certain classic movie. If you know which one, comment and let me know!

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Ready to go in the oven

 

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My favourite curry powder enjoying an early summer afternoon on our deck

Low-carb Bobotie

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Mildly spicy and close to zero carbs

Ingredients

For the meat mixture:

    • 3 tbsp of one of the following: coconut oil, olive oil, lard, butter or ghee
    • 1.5 large onions, finely chopped
    • 1.5 tbsp curry powder (I use Sun Brand Madras curry powder, which gets high ratings from Cook’s Illustrated)
    • 1.5 tsp turmeric
    • 1.5 tsp ground cumin
    • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 3 lb / 1.5 kg ground beef (free-range, if possible)
    • 1.5 tsp salt
    • 1/2 cup apple, finely chopped
    • 3 eggs (free-range, if possible)

For the custard topping:

    • 4 large eggs plus one egg yolk (free-range, if possible); the extra egg yolk gives the topping a lovely golden colour
    • 1 cup heavy cream or creamy coconut milk
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • Freshly ground pepper to taste, approx. 1/4 tsp
    • 3 bay leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 325 F
  2. Heat the coconut oil over medium-low heat in a large pot
  3. Add the onions and spices, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden and translucent
  4. Add the ground beef and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is no longer pink.
  5. Stir in the chopped apple.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk the 3 eggs together until they’re well combined, then pour over the meat mixture. Stir well.
  7. Put the meat and egg mixture into a large baking dish and pat to distribute evenly.
  8. Now make the savoury custard: In a separate bowl, use an egg-beater or a whisk to combine the eggs, egg yolk, cream or coconut milk, salt and pepper.
  9. Pour the custard evenly over the meat
  10. Position the bay leaves decoratively on top.
  11. Bake for about 45 minutes, carefully rotating the dish once after about 25 minutes to ensure even browning
  12. Bobotie num num!

How to quit sugar

Giving up sugar might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it’s worth it. You’ll be a lean, energetic, cravings-free inspiration to all who know you! So, huge congratulations to you for even considering it.

Also, if this doesn’t sound too pushy, I just want to say that if I can do my crazy no-added-sweeteners-not-even-in-vitamins thing, you should be able to give up the more obvious forms of added sweetener.

(1) Choose which sugars you want to give up

Of course, I want you to give up all of them. ALL of them. Addictive, metabolism-deranging white powders must GO!

You don’t have to be as extreme as I am, but be aware that all the following are still sugars and will still try and control you with their evil cravings: Honey, agave, rice bran syrup, maple syrup, etc. (see the full list). If you only give up table sugar, but keep eating honey or whatever, you’ll never be free of cravings.

  • Best option: Give up all added sweeteners
  • Next best (perhaps as a transition): Give them all up except stevia. I find it to be less addictive, and it may even help control blood sugars.

(2) Now, go cold turkey

You know what you want to do. Now, just rip the bandaid off – it’s less painful in the long run. Look at the list of sweeteners you’ve decided to avoid (hopefully all of them), and start avoiding. I always tell people it’s way easier to have none, than to just have a little.

Imagine an alcoholic who had a monthly cheat day, or who had a drink on special occasions. If they were anything like the beloved, exasperating alcoholic I grew up with, they’d be slurring their words and hiding the Smirnoff in the linen cupboard before you could say, “Pass the Antabuse.” Having “just a taste” or “just one” switches all your cravings back on again.

If you continue to eat just a little sweetener, you’ll be feeding your addiction, and your cravings will never die.

It can take 2 – 10 days for the cravings to pass, but hang in there – once this part is over, everything gets much, much easier.

Tips for getting through the transition:

  • Make sure your environment (at home and at work) is free of sugary temptations (see Step 6 below)
  • Make sure you’re not actually hungry. It can be hard to separate sugar cravings from true hunger. If you’re hungry, have a satisfying meal with ample fat and protein.
  • If you’re not hungry, but you’re still feeling sugar cravings, eat something non-sugary that you love. Some ideas:
    • A few slices of your favourite cheese – add an apple for extra satisfaction
    • A handful of delicious salty, crunchy nuts or seeds
    • Anything involving avocados
    • Some unsweetened peanut butter spread on a banana
    • A hot drink with extra cream or coconut milk
  • Make a plan for what you’re going to do when the cravings hit — go for a walk, read a book, call a friend
  • Remember that you can wait out your cravings; they will pass, like clouds moving across the sky

(3) Channel Yoda

In the words of Yoda, “There is no try – there is only do and not do.”  Never tell people you’re trying to give up sugar, because that opens the door to not trying (also known as failing). Just say, “I don’t eat sugar.”

(4) Tell the world

I strongly suggest starting a blog – no joke (it worked for me!). Telling the whole WORLD you’re going to do something has a way of making it stick.

Failing that, tell everybody in your life – your family, friends (Facebook and otherwise), coworkers, acquaintances. Put a sticker like this one outside your door at work:

Keep calm

(5) Reduce carbohydrates in general

This makes quitting sugar easier. Why? Because carbs cause insulin surges, which cause hunger and cravings

When complex carbohydrates are digested, they break down into … what? Simple carbohydrates. And what is a simple carbohydrate? A sugar, that’s what.

(6) Remove all temptation

Go through your house and throw away/donate/hide everything that contains sugar. I did a combination, mostly getting rid of stuff, but hiding a few things in a tucked-away basement pantry where they’re not staring me in the face every day. Don’t forget the bathroom! (Antacids, toothpaste, etc.)

  • Getting rid of antacids and toothpaste? Seriously?
    • Yup. But, you should do what works for you, while being aware that the sweeteners in these products can trigger cravings. I didn’t get rid of them, but moved them to my basement pantry in case anyone else might need them.
  • Why do I still keep sugar around?
    • I bought some of it before I embarked on this venture, and I’m a cheapskate.
    • Hummingbird food
    • Once or twice a year, I cook with small amounts of coconut sugar or stevia for other people
    • Some of the sugar-containing things are toothpaste, vitamins, etc. that I plan to use after my insanely-extreme-if-I-can-do-this-then-you-can-too year.
  • Why did I donate sugary food I think it’s so unhealthy?
    • I know, I struggled with this too. It’s like “This doesn’t meet the standards for the sacred temple that is my body. Here, food bank people, you have it.” Reasons:
      • The stuff I gave to my local food bank wasn’t actual sugar (I had no trouble tossing that). It was food containing small amounts of sugar: Bacon and other some processed meats, smoked salmon (sob!), and Thai coconut soup (also sob).
      • I knew I wasn’t going to change everyone’s mind
      • And again, as a cheapskate who finds it hard to waste food, it was hard for me to just throw food away that others might need and appreciate.

(7) Plan your rebuttals

Some people might disagree with your plan to quit sugar. Have your arguments ready to go:

  • “Your brain needs sugar.” Nope.
    • It’s true that glucose (a type of sugar) is one of the fuels your brain can use, but your brain definitely doesn’t need *added* sugars. Do you ever eat fruit or vegetables? If you do, then you’re covered — your body can make all the glucose it needs from them. (Other carbs, like grains – ideally whole grains — work too, although as a low-carb person, I don’t often eat them.)
    • But even if you ate a very low carb “ketogenic” diet – basically just fat and protein – your smart, wonderful body would step up and make glucose out of the protein. This happens in your liver, and it’s called gluconeogenesis. It’s something all human bodies are designed to do. Your body would also create ketones (hence the name of the diet) from all the body fat that would be breaking down as a result of the diet (body fat breaking down — woo!). Brains and bodies are perfectly happy to run on ketones – some studies even suggest they run better on ketones than on glucose.
  • “Sugar gives you energy.” You bet it does! You’ll get a rush, followed by a crash, followed by a craving for more sugar, followed by one more slow, inexorable step on the road to becoming an overweight person with diabetes. Sound worth it?
  • Some variation on “Just have a taste!” “One won’t hurt you!” “But Grandma made this especially for you!” This is just not fair. People should support us in our brave sugar-free ventures. We are Bravey McBraveFace! So, don’t be afraid to push back. YOU have the final say over what goes into your mouth. Nobody can make you eat something without your permission. Plus, people offering sugary treats are really offering love, the care they took in choosing/making said treat, and wishes for your happiness. So, genuinely react to that. Stuff that’s worked for me:
    • Oooh and aahh over the sugary treat: “Ohhh, it looks so good! Wow, you/Grandma/whoever really took a lot of trouble over this, thank you! I would love to, but I don’t eat sugar any more. I know it’s kind of crazy, but I really want to stick to that.” Then hug them and take pictures of the beautiful delicacy.
    • It also helps to say (if you feel strong enough to withstand) “Can I just smell it?” Then take a deep, appreciative sniff and go “Mmmmmm!” (Closing your eyes in bliss is optional). I always hope that this is almost as good for the person, as if I’d actually taken a bite. On the other hand, maybe they hate me for breathing all over their cupcakes. Hmmm.
  • “Everything in moderation.” Oh, really? So, heroin in moderation? Trans-fats in moderation? High-fructose corn syrup in moderation? Food dyes in moderation? Gluten in moderation, for celiacs? Alcohol in moderation, for alcoholics? I say, “No!” If we know something doesn’t work for our own body, we can and should draw a line.

I salute you for your courage

Giving up sugar is not easy, so huge congratulations to you for even considering it.

PS – Cooking

Giving up sugar will take a lot of label-reading, and if you don’t know how to cook, you might have to learn. Thankfully, basic cooking is not that hard – slap some meat in a pan, boil some veggies, and you have the makings of a healthy meal. There are hundreds of delicious sugar-free meals on sites like Mark’s Daily Apple and Diet Doctor (and I’m adding more to this site as often as I can).