Sugar

I’ve been noticing lately that my goals for my physical diet and my mental diet have had a lot of parallels.

I’ve been eating healthfully for years now – I ate terribly throughout my twenties, but in my early thirties I made significant changes in my life and I’ve been taking far better care of myself ever since. What I eat shifts and changes over time, as it probably does with most people, and I go through periods where I’m more or less strict with myself, but I’ve consistently done a pretty good job of maintaining a basic “real food, no garbage” diet for a good long time.

One of my coworkers gave up added sugars for Lent this year and it inspired me to revisit being more vigilant about added sugars in my own diet. I do like snacking on cereal and granola bars, and even the Kashi stuff, which is lower sugar than most of the big brands, still has a decent amount of it. So I’ve been changing my snacking habits. I’ve gotten obsessed with Cheerios, which only have 1g sugar per serving. I’ve been eating more nuts, seedy Dr. Kracker flatbreads, Ezekiel English muffins with natural almond butter … there are so many good snack options out there with little to no added sugar. And I’m a big fan of fruit, so if I really need something sweet I go for something fruit-based – Larabar Minis are another new favorite.

There are exceptions, of course. On Friday nights when Matthew and I have Date Night we typically go out for dinner and drinks and then somewhere to get dessert, frequently a nice gooey sundae. I’m a firm believer that the Friday Night Sundae (or whatever your version may be) is an important part of a typically healthy diet, at least one that’s sustainable long-term.

Anyway, my eating habits were pretty healthy already, but I feel good about paying renewed attention to my sugar intake. This evening I baked flourless peanut butter banana oatmeal cookies – I added a chopped-up Lindt 90% chocolate bar but nothing else to sweeten them besides the bananas. They’re delicious – I’ll definitely be making them again.

I do find that the less sugar I eat, the less sugar I want. I always thoroughly enjoy our Friday night sundae but I wouldn’t want to have it more than once a week. On Saturday night I’m not thinking “man, I wish I could have a sundae again tonight.”

Over the years I’ve really shifted to wanting food that I know is actually nourishing my body. I want my food to be delicious, but I also want to know that what I’m putting into me is doing me good. Everyone needs to indulge from time to time, and special occasions are special occasions (hell yes I ate beignets in New Orleans) but the idea of regularly putting non-nourishing crap into my body is just not at all appealing. That’s as much of a mental shift as it is a physical one, and one that happened gradually, over an extended period of time.

I now seem to be in the middle of a similar shift of my mental diet. It’s been about a year and a half since I decided to start paying attention to the news and began my ongoing obsession with the BBC Global News Podcast (I have such a crush on Jackie Leonard) – before that I was pretty embarrassingly unaware of most things going on in the world. I’ve been a geek all of my life and for most of my life I’ve let my geek world of fandoms and video games consume my headspace in my free time. Almost all of the books I read were genre fiction or “guilty pleasure” romance novels. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with any of this – I’ve got the newest Black Dagger Brotherhood audiobook on my phone to listen to when I’m in need of a mental break and I really wish the newest Dresden Files book wasn’t taking so damned long and it’s inevitable that at some point a new RPG will rope me in – these are things that I enjoy.

What’s changed is that I’m not okay with letting fluffy entertainment consume all of my free time anymore. I’m not okay with letting my head spend so much time residing in imaginary worlds.

Starting to follow the news set off a domino effect that was already progressing gradually before the election but that has escalated majorly since. At some point last year I started adding more challenging books to my reading list; for a while I would read a lighter book and then a harder book and back and forth. This year I’m determined to complete the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and so every book I’ve read so far in 2017 has been challenging. As a result I’ve learned a lot and found several new favorites that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise (and one classic that I dislike much more strongly than I expected, but I’ll post about that when I actually finish it). There are a few challenges in the list that will be super easy for me – for example the one to read an LGBTQ+ romance novel and the one to read a fantasy novel, since those are two of my favorite brain candy genres. I’ve been saving those challenges for when I needed a bit of a break – I might indulge in one of them after I finish the book I’m working on now.

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll want to try the 2018 challenge – because I spend so much time listening to podcasts (at some point I’ll do a post to run down the list of podcasts I follow) I don’t tear through audiobooks as fast as I did before I became a pod junkie, so finishing all 24 items in the challenge is going to end up taking me the better part of the year. Of course, I also decided that I wanted to read 24 individual books and not double-count – if I decided to do the challenge next year but wanted a little more flexibility in my reading schedule I could always give myself permission to count books for more than one challenge. That’s an option. Point being, I’m enjoying doing it the hardcore way this year, and if nothing else I’ll continue to use the list as a way to challenge myself even if I don’t go so whole-hog with it every year.

I also haven’t been spending much time playing video games lately. Since I committed to learning Spanish I find I’d much rather spend some time doing Rosetta Stone lessons than zoning out on a video game. My Spanish is still very much at a beginner level but I’ve made it through four units of Rosetta Stone and I think my progress is pretty good for having started only a little over three months ago. I’m really enjoying the way the language is starting to gel in my mind – being able to go to BBC Mundo and understand at least the gist of most of the headlines is really gratifying – and I know that the better I get at Spanish the better I’ll do with teaching ESL, and the more versatile I’ll be as a volunteer. Right now that’s way more compelling to me than video games.

I was talking to Matthew about this not long ago and I told him how I’m sure at some point the pendulum will settle back in the middle – when I make a change I tend to be a pendulum-swing person. I go extreme for a while, then settle into a steady rhythm. Right now I’m spending very little time on entertainment/brain candy – I just feel like I spent way, way too much time on it for so long and now that I’ve started feeding my brain more nutrition, that’s what I’m craving. The less sugar I eat, the less sugar I want.

At some point there will be a video game I’m dying to play, or there will be a year when all of my favorite fiction authors come out with new books – and that’ll be totally cool. Because now that I’ve turned this corner I’m pretty positive that I won’t ever go back to where I was. I don’t want to be back in that bubble again. I don’t want to feel like none of my free time pursuits are doing anything to either improve myself or help people (I also didn’t used to do any volunteering – that origin story is a topic for another post too). I’ll get into a video game and read some frivolous books but that won’t be all I’ll do. I won’t stop learning Spanish, I won’t stop volunteering (it’s my intention for the volunteering gig I’ve got to be permanent) and I won’t stop challenging myself to learn. Just like even when I’ve gone through periods of being less strict about my diet, in the 8ish years since I started taking good care of myself I’ve never even approached getting back to where I was in my 20s – no more sodas, no more fast food, no more hoovering candy, not ever; that’s not a place I want to be ever again.

And I’m pretty positive that I’ll never watch as much TV as I used to – at this point just thinking about marathon TV watching makes me twitchy. Right now my TV consumption is typically an hour a week and I’m totally okay with that. There will be times when it’s more, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever want to watch TV every day again, let alone multiple hours a day. It’s like the Friday sundae – I used to eat sweets every day without even thinking about what it was doing to my health; now not only do I not do that but I can’t imagine wanting to do that.

Less sugar. It was a real transformation for my body when I decided to start taking care of my health, and lately it really does feel like my brain is going through that same kind of transformation. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get there, just like when I made changes to my health I wished I hadn’t disregarded it for so long, but I’m here now, and I’ll keep moving forward. My goals for myself shift and change but my overall goal is to consistently work to keep doing a little better. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of that, and in the midst of the insanity in the world right now, knowing that I’m making progress – making an effort to help people and also to improve myself both for my own sake and for the way those improvements can help me do better for others – is really helping me take things in stride. There are so many things that I can’t do anything about – but there are things that I can do, that I am doing. And that’s way more satisfying than sugar.