ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’m sick of making excuses for my sugar addiction. There is more sugar in my diet than I want there to be. And I want to cut back to something closer to “dietary guidelines” which put allowable consumption at about 20 grams a day for women. But I have tried this many times before and failed miserably. But I have a new strategy. A commitment contract.
Everything I’ve read over the course of the past few months has stated that added sugar in the average American’s diet — not just from the obvious soda, candy, cookies and other sweets — but from processed foods like bread and cereal is just accounting for way too many calories. We’re born to love sweets, it’s true. But this dietary overload has just got to stop.
Nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar. That’s how much added sugar the average American consumes every day, according to a 2011 scientific report, and that’s not even factoring in the sugars naturally found in fruits, vegetables and milk.
Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Francisco, is loudly sounding an alarm. He has called for taxes on added sugar and age limits for certain sweets. In April, he stated on an episode of 60 Minutes that sugar is a “toxic substance” that has created a public health crisis.
To be fair, other nutritionists say it’s not as bad as Lustig says. That sugar is not the sole cause of metabolic syndrome — a dangerous collection of complications that includes high blood sugar, high blood pressure and decreased sensitivity to insulin. By some estimates 1 in 4 U.S. adult already have the syndrome.
In a story in the Los Angeles Times on the subject, Joanne Slavin, professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says: “Sugar isn’t a poison — diet is more complicated than any one single villain.” She says that people who try to cut sugar from their lives could end up cutting out sugary-but-nutritious foods such as chocolate milk, fruit juices and many whole grain cereals.
But back to me.
I decided I needed to really take a look at what I’m eating. Read labels. And I decided to eliminate all processed sugar (and dried fruit because I just eat way too much of it) for two weeks. Now I’ve tried this before and found that by the second day or so all I can think about is sugar.
So I decided to take my challenge to StickK.com. StickK users set a goal (it doesn’t have to be about diet, exercise or health) and have to forfeit a preset amount of money if they don’t reach it. The lost money goes to a user-designated friend or foe. Some choose charities, others “anti-charities” The anti-charities are things like PACs (you can choose the candidate you really don’t support)
I read some studies that suggest that people who put up an amount of money they don’t want to lose to a cause they don’t support have better results. So that’s what I went with. I picked an candidate I really can’t stand and put in my payment details. The site also lets you invite people to support you and you can designate a “referee’ who verifies your results. I picked one of my workout buddies I see a couple times a week, so that’s good. Some face-to-face accountability is a good thing.
So far, so good. I’ve made it through the first critical days with a new appreciation of just how many food choices we are faced with in a day — how many BAD food choices. And that it is hard when you are surrounded by food to eat well even 50 percent of the time, let alone 90 percent of the time. And reading the label of everything has reminded me how much junk there really is in our food. Even foods that should be good choices — like yogurt and bread.
It’s a good thing.
Nancy Tipton enjoys running, cycling, skiing, weightlifting and rock climbing when she isn’t working on the Journal’s web site and FIT magazine. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org