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Friday, November 02, 2007

The Challenge

The email reached me on October 16. "A Holiday Challenge" said the subject line. One of my favorite people, the woman who runs the yoga studio where I practice shiatsu (who also happens to be an amazing astrologer/dancer/honey producer) was challenging me--and what, a hundred other people?--"to avoid eating refined sugar and flour for this holiday season."

I closed the email.

I opened it again. I read the compelling reasons for doing this. I reviewed the terms of the Challenge: no refined sugar or flour from the day before Halloween until the day after Easter. I closed the email.

I opened the email the next day. I thought about the amount of smack (that is, white sugar) I consume. I thought about the amount of white flour I consume: pasta, baguettes...I closed the email.

I thought about my winter mood swings and wondered if they could be related to sugar highs and lows. I contemplated that I cannot eat just one holiday cookie--it's a dozen or nothing. (In one sitting.) I pondered the steady march of 5 pounds a year onto my waist and hips since beginning work at a department inundated with holiday treats from vendors. It's been 6 years since. We can all do the math.

I opened the email. I read the line: "If it [the Challenge] does not work for you, you can enjoy next year's season knee deep in refined treats." I thought that was a good point. I closed the email.

I argued with myself about my love of baking bread. Whole grain bread? Too...too much chewing. I thought about opportunities for learning to make whole-grain treats with unrefined sugars, like raw honey, molasses, and Succanat. I talked with people about the Challenge. It was universally deemed insane.

Then that stupid, pesky (snotty, know-it-all) voice in the back of my head started saying, You know this is what you've needed to do for years. You know it. You've finally been called on it. Do it now, as an experiment. Do it when you have a support network doing it with you. If it doesn't work for you, eat crap next year. People have done much bigger things than this: marathons, walking on the moon, immigrating to foreign places with nothing but fifty cents and a trunkful of hope, quitting real addictions. You can freakin' give up sugar for a few months.

I took a deep breath, and on October 20 I wrote back: "OK, I'll do it--BUT I reserve the right to bake bread with a little refined flour alongside the whole grain flour. It makes the texture much better."

My friend replied, "Okay, we'll put a little star on your forehead so we all know."

Now I'm on Day 4 of the Challenge. Some early observations:

1. Regular, refined cookies taste like sweet clouds and I could eat 4-6 at a time. Whole-grain cookies sweetened with honey or Succanat taste like actual food and are very filling.

2. Same goes for the fruit-puree-sweetened malted milk balls I found today: filling.

3. Sugar withdrawal can create a mild but persistent afternoon headache.

4. Holy crap, my "sweet" tastebuds must be shot through. I made some honey-sweetened apple cookies and they were not sweet-tasting at all.

5. Quinoa is really, really good. I always forget this until I am reminded by eating it again. Dinner suggestion: shrimp flambe over quinoa. Breakfast suggestion: poached eggs over quinoa with tahini sauce. (Christened "Hippie Eggs Benedict" by my husband.)

About 60 people are doing the challenge. I wonder how it's treating them.


Blogger Larry Jones said...

This Challenge is a gift. Do it, babe! I mean it -- you have to go for it. Of the sixty, be one of the few who sees it through.

It takes about three weeks to beat a physical addiction, which you apparently have. Tapering off has never worked for me -- I'm a whole bag o' cookies guy myself: once I start, I have to see the bottom of the bag. So for three weeks, just don't start, and don't be tryin' to find substitutes.

Larry's tip of the day: yams are in season. Garnet yams, baked and smothered with butter. Yum. Natural sweetness.

Larry's life-tip: You are not "quitting forever." You are simply declining white sugar and white flour today. You'll take another look tomorrow. You're just not going to have any today.

9:46 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Thanks so much, Larry! For the encouragement, for the culinary inspiration, for the counsel. You rock, my friend.

I AM going for it. We ate dinner out last night. I did not touch the warm, crackly-outside, chewy-inside bread they put on the table. But I did enjoy an excellent baked potato with dinner. And we skipped dessert. It was weird.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Narya said...

A friend who grew up in Bolivia ate quinoa as breakfast food--which his mother called "gusanos," or worms, because of its squiqqly appearance.

I'm just glad I haven't sent you a box of croissants!

I'm of mixed minds about the flour thing, on some levels, but, on the other hand, if this is working for you? Go you!

I think perhaps it's that I'm not a whole-bag-of-cookies person, and perhaps also that, bakery notwithstanding, I'm not tempted by a non-stop array of crap. The bakery IS a challenge, and I have gained some weight, but I don't forsee difficulty in giving it up when I leave there. Back in my office days, I often could resist the goodies that people brought in (in part because I knew how many calories in each doughnut, and it wasn't worth it to me to eat them).

Nevertheless, as noted, go you! It'll definitely help you become a more conscious eater, as I think the cleanse did. And it sounds like that's toward what you're aiming anyway.

6:26 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Narya, there's nothing inherently wrong with alcohol, but alcoholics should stay away from it. Nothing inherently wrong with white flour, but it can be sort of addictive to some of us. :)

8:01 PM  
Blogger Narya said...

And that, my friend, is exactly what was floating around in my brain. Except not, you know, quite so succinctly.

And I think we all develop comfort habits of various sorts, some of which are helpful and others of which not so much and still others of which are helpful sometimes (at some points in our lives, in some circumstances) but not others. i really admire the way you have been sorting through your habits and becoming (more) conscious--appropriate for a Buddhist such as yoruself! and, indeed, a wonderful way to spread good karma around.

8:50 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Oh why thank you. My Tibetan Buddhist monk has been pointing out to us lately that Buddhism is really about choosing your life and karma instead of reacting, reacting, reacting.

9:13 PM  

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