Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sugar Crisis: The Update

Okay, I have a confession to make: I suck at quitting sugar.

I thought it would be so easy, since I didn't really eat that much of it to begin with. But once I started thinking about it, I started craving it. Suddenly, I was craving donuts -- which I normally don't like -- and dreaming of ice cream. What was going on???

I still have no answer. And, I still haven't kicked the habit.

Now my internal debate centres around whether it's really a big deal, after all. What if I was just being a fanatic, and it's really not the end of the world if I eat a brownie now and then? (Especially if it's a really, really GOOD brownie...) Then I wonder if it's my addiction that's talking and telling me it's okay to have just one. Ack!

You see how this could get out of hand.

The solution I've worked out, for now, is that I'll just do what I did when I was losing weight: I'll keep eating healthy, with lots of veggies and water and fiber (and coffee -- so sue me), and when I do indulge in a treat, I'll make it small. I won't completely deny myself, but I won't go crazy, either. A nice, happy medium. Hey, it worked for losing forty pounds, so I figure it could keep me from sugar-induced illnesses, as well. Maybe.

Anyway, that's the update. I hope you're not too disappointed in me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lessons From A Cottage

As a woman who lives in a small, rural town, who drives regularly past corn fields and cows, I had assumed that I lived close to nature. I take my kids outside to play when I can, and I occasionally pull weeds out of my overgrown flower beds.

But this last week, I was away at a cottage, and I realized how much I'd missed the countryside.

There is something so peaceful about a lake and a wide, spread-out vista of natural beauty. I was without my beloved internet connection; I left my responsibilities and telephone calls behind. I read books. I watched my kids catch frogs. I sat on a beautiful porch and watched the rain fall all around me and make tiny patterns in the lake's surface.

I breathed more deeply than I have in a long time. A deep sense of peace filled my heart.

What's the point of sharing this story? I'm not sure, exactly. I guess I've been thinking about the reason for this blog: I want to encourage each of us, including myself, to think differently. To make our lives better. To start with small things that we can change ourselves, to take responsibility for the state of our world, of our lives. To struggle and wonder towards self improvement. To instill curiosity, even indignation. To provoke change.

I realize that's a tall order to fill.

But there's also this: small things, like spending a couple days reading beside a lake, can make a big difference. They can change our hearts.

So go jump in a lake.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quitting Cocaine Must Be Easier Than Quitting Sugar

Here are my tips for going off sugar:

Don't do it two days before your best friend moves across the country.
Don't buy Ben & Jerry's the week before, even if it IS on sale.
Don't forget that the sugar withdrawal could be the real reason behind your sudden loss of the will to live... or at least of your desire to get up in the morning.

Yeah, that's pretty much it right now. Oh, except for one thing: Expect your coffee addiction to get worse for a while.

I'll let you know how I feel when the fog lifts from my brain.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Goodbye, Sweet Sugar

After I wandered around in a tired, confused, hungry daze late this afternoon, my husband looked at me and said, "You had too much sugar today, didn't you? You're acting like you're having a sugar crash."

I guiltily admitted that I'd had a delicious caramel macchiato this afternoon. But really, who knew that all that syrup and caramel would be such a big deal?

So, as I drove to the grocery store after supper to restock our pathetic cupboards, I decided not to buy anything with sugar in it. After reading Sugar Blues last week and really learning how destructive sugar is to our bodies, I'd thought then that we should probably eliminate it from our diets as a family. Then, after my erratic and depressed behaviour this week induced by ice cream, oatmeal (those little sugary breakfast packets), and now caramel, I figured it was time to stop for real.

It's hard, though. I mean, obviously sugar is delicious. If it weren't, we wouldn't all be so addicted to it.

Anyway, I started reading labels at the grocery store tonight on things that I'd always just trustingly added to my cart: Cheerios, Special K, bread, tortillas, Miracle Whip, vinegar. They've all got sugar in them!

I had a bit of an inner struggle as I walked past the granola bars, but I decided I'd make my own from the fabulous recipe in The Sneaky Chef, so that gave me the strength to move on.

The most difficult part of going sugar free, I think, is finding healthy foods to snack on that my slightly particular four-year-old will eat. But since he's a die-hard cracker fan, I read the labels on a couple boxes and settled on the President's Choice Blue Menu crackers, of all things. I also picked up some organic puffed corn and kamut for the babies.

I did cheat a little bit on my favourite cereal (which does contain sugar, darn it!), but I figured that since it's so high in fibre, I might be okay. Besides, I've never had a sugar crash after eating it, and it's just so tasty! I used the same theory with the bread: more fibre = less damage from the sugar. I'm not entirely sure if that's true, but at least the fibre regulates the absorption of sugar during digestion (I read that in Alive magazine), so maybe we'll be okay.

I skipped buying apple juice, too. The boys will just have to drink milk or water. Here's hoping they don't beg for it all week!

I really really really hope that we won't go through major sugar withdrawal symptoms -- cravings, headaches, irritability, exhaustion -- but I guess if we do, we'll survive. We're cutting back, but we weren't consuming that much to begin with. Except, of course, for the Ben & Jerry's I got on sale last week. And all the parties I've been to lately that had delicious desserts. But aside from those... Oh, never mind.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh yeah, and if this post was a little disconnected, I'm blaming that on the sugar, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It Seems That Antidepressants Aren't So Great, After All

In my life, I have been on Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor, and Wellbutrin. The first three of those antidepressants are SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and Wellbutrin is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor.

I was always told by my doctors that my depression would go away once we found the right drug, and I agreed with them once I started Wellbutrin, which seemed to me to be a magic pill with instant results.

But now I think they were wrong. Completely, horribly misinformed and very wrong.

My depression was most likely sugar-induced. Our bodies are not capable of consuming sucrose without many, many negative effects including anxiety, depression, obesity, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and so much more. (Read "Sugar Blues" for a more complete picture.) But I've written about this in a previous post.

The thing I've learned today, and which is making me cold to my bones, is about the antidepressants that my well-meaning doctors prescribed to cure me.

I always wondered why the list of side effects that came with each prescription were the exact symptoms I was trying to avoid: trouble sleeping, agitation, increased suicidal thoughts and anger. But I took the pills anyway.

I never felt better when on any SSRI. I slept most of the time, was emotionally numb, found it hard to concentrate, didn't want to eat, and, on Celexa, couldn't even drive because I was so out of it. I also never stopped feeling horrible; only a great numbness and lethargy overtook me, and I didn't have the energy to do anything about it except bang my hand against the wall -- to feel, at least, something. (That was on Zoloft.) On Effexor, I had no appetite at all, and my roommate had to force me out of bed and make me eat. Alternately, on that same drug, irrational anger and rage would overtake me, and I would imagine doing horrible things to myself and to other people. Thankfully, I only ever imagined.

In the list of side effects for Effexor, one more thing has quietly been added: homicidal ideation. There are reported cases of people actually acting out things they wouldn't normally do while on these drugs, the worst one I've heard of being the mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub.

I am not kidding.

And Effexor does not stand alone. All these drugs have been shown to be ineffective for treating depression while messing with the serotonin levels they claim to be helping. They act on the brain in the same ways that PCP and LSD do -- the only difference is that they take longer to work.

Even my beloved Wellbutrin, though not an SSRI, is one of the antidepressants that the International Coalition for Drug Awareness claims is dangerous.

I think I can safely say that next winter, when I start feeling blue, I'll cut out all sugar, take some vitamin D, and get lots of sunlight.

If you are taking any of these medications right now, do NOT stop cold turkey. Apparently, that makes the side effects worse. Go to the ICDA's website for their recommendations on how to slowly wean yourself off the drugs, and do it under a doctor's close supervision. The good news is that if you've been having horrible thoughts like I used to have, it's not you. It's the drugs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Toxic Clutter -- Is There Hope?

Have you ever thought about clutter? Okay, obviously, we all have; we either abhore it and keep it far away from us, or (this is my way), we lament at its ever-present, seemingly eternal state.

But this is what I'm learning about clutter: it sucks the very life-force right out of you.

That probably doesn't come as a big surprise to you, but it did to me. I made excuses for it, like, "I know where everything is," or "I just don't look at it, so it doesn't really bother me."

The truth is, it does bother me. I'd like to be able to sweep through my house in an hour and have the whole place tidied, without having to spend a couple weeks organizing and putting things away first. I'd like to sit down in my living room after the kids are all in bed and prop my feet up on a clean coffee table and take a deep breath and just relax -- without feeling guilty that I'm not picking up junk or filing piles of paper.

I'd like to walk into the house and feel happy to be home instead of tense and vaguely unsettled.

I'm not quite there yet, but I AM getting closer. I finally have my three main living spaces -- kitchen, living room, and attached toy room/computer spot -- down to a fairly manageable level. (Granted, as I type this, I am looking at the clutter still on my desk and thinking I really should tackle that next.) And you know what? It really does impact every area of my life.

Walking downstairs in the morning to a tidy kitchen makes we want to DO things that day instead of running and hiding somewhere safe. It makes the simple act of making coffee enjoyable instead of extremely stressful (which it was when I had to wash all the dishes just to get to the coffeepot).

What does clutter have to do with being an Eco-Newbie? you ask. Well, I think it has a lot to do with it. In my mind, eco-newbie-ness is more about self-improvement than anything else. We try so hard to remove the toxins from our foods and homes, but if we don't remove the stress toxins, what's the point? We want to learn about making our lives better for our kids, but if we let them play in tiny spaces taken up by mountains of __insert clutter vice here__, again, what's the point?

Now, having said that, I still have a long way to go! I let my kids watch too much tv, I still have two thirds of my house in total disarray, and I struggle to find clean, matching pajamas for them at bedtime. But hey, I'm an Eco-Newbie, too, after all. Cut me some slack.

In honour of making our homes better in all aspects, I've posted a link to, which is an awesome website for clutterbugs like me. Hopefully you'll be better at doing what she says, though! Small tip: don't just read her advice; do it. I've also posted a new recommended read, "It's All Too Much" by Peter Walsh, because that book got me to think about clutter in a way I'd never experienced before. Suddenly, it didn't seem so necessary to keep that hideous table cloth for sentimental reasons. His advice made it much easier for me to begin the de-cluttering process because he got me to see it through new eyes.

What de-cluttering advice or books do you have to offer? Don't keep them to yourself!! Share! Share!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hey, Pass Me A Can of Phosphoric Acid

I found this information by typing "phosphoric acid" into Google. The internet is so handy when it comes to researching chemicals:

"Hazards Identification

Emergency Overview

SAF-T-DATA(tm) Ratings (Provided here for your convenience)
Health Rating: 3 - Severe
Flammability Rating: 0 - None
Reactivity Rating: 2 - Moderate
Contact Rating: 4 - Extreme (Corrosive)
Storage Color Code: White (Corrosive)

Potential Health Effects

Inhalation is not an expected hazard unless misted or heated to high temperatures. Mist or vapor inhalation can cause irritation to the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract. Severe exposures can lead to a chemical pneumonitis.
Corrosive. May cause sore throat, abdominal pain, nausea, and severe burns of the mouth, throat, and stomach. Severe exposures can lead to shock, circulatory collapse, and death.

Skin Contact:
Corrosive. May cause redness, pain, and severe skin burns.
Eye Contact:
Corrosive. May cause redness, pain, blurred vision, eye burns, and permanent eye damage.
Chronic Exposure:
No information found.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions:
Persons with pre-existing skin disorders or eye problems, or impaired respiratory function may be more susceptible to the effects of the substance.

4. First Aid Measures

Remove to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Call a physician immediately.
If swallowed, DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Give large quantities of water. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person. Get medical attention immediately.

Skin Contact:
Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes. Call a physician, immediately. Wash clothing before reuse.
Eye Contact:
Immediately flush eyes with gentle but large stream of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting lower and upper eyelids occasionally. Call a physician immediately."


You might be wondering why on earth this matters. What do you care about phosphoric acid? You don't work with hazardous chemicals.

Just read the label on that can of pop you're drinking.

Does anyone else feel sick? 'Cause I feel like I'm going to throw up.

Here's an excerpt from "Sugar Blues," which is what got me looking up phosphoric acid online:

"The Navy nutritionist, Dr. McCay... 'I was amazed to learn,' he testified, 'that the beverage [cola] contained substantial amounts of phosphoric acid.... At the Naval Medical Research Institute, we put human teeth in a cola beverage and found they softened and started to dissolve within a short period.'
While the congressmen gaped, the doctor went on:
'The acidity of cola beverages ... is about the same as vinegar. The sugar content masks the acidity, and children little realize they are drinking this strange mixture of phosphoric acid, sugar, caffeine, coloring, and flavoring matter.'
A congressman asked the doctor what government bureau had charge of passing on the contents of soft drinks.
'So far as I know, no one passes upon it or pays any attention to it,' the doctor replied.
'No one passes on the contents of soft drinks?' asked the congressman.
'So far as I know, no one.'
Another congressman asked if the doctor had made any tests of the effect of cola beverages on metal and iron. When the doctor said he hadn't, the congressman volunteered: 'A friend of mine told me once that he dropped three tenpenny nails into one of the cola bottles, and in forty-eight hours the nails had completely dissolved.'
'Sure,' the doctor answered. 'Phosphoric acid there would dissolve iron or limestone. You might drop it on the steps, and it would erode the steps coming up here... Try it.'
'Since soft drinks are playing an increasingly important part of the American diet and tend to displace foods such as milk, they deserve very careful consideration,' the doctor suggested.
That was in 1951" (Dufty, page 178).

But since soft drinks and sugar are big business, the government hasn't done anything lasting about protecting us from such ingredients. Did you know that the FDA doesn't require ingredients to be proven safe before allowing them for consumption? The new ingredients -- additivies, chemicals, food colourings -- get put on the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list until proven they're unsafe, after all.

Who came up with this system?

I am, at this point, fairly convinced that health -- true health -- must be the responsibility of each of us, individually. If we rely solely on government agencies and research to protect us, if we buy products because of their great advertising campaigns, we are doing ourselves and our children a disservice. A huge one.

Did you know that many of the illnesses we have today did not exist a couple hundred years ago, except in cultures whose diet was saturated with refined sugar, like ours?

The way around it is proper nutrition. Whole foods -- not stripped, enriched processed foods like white flour, white rice, and white sugar -- contain essential nutrients in proper balances. The key is training our tastebuds to enjoy them again!

Just some food for thought. ;)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Great and Eternal Sugar Conundrum

I used to get anxiety attacks. I was also diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 19, but that diagnosis has changed to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But last winter was actually pretty good with a minimal amount of medication.

Want to know my secret?

The anxiety attacks stopped completely when I cut sugar out of my diet. (I have since then re-introduced it, but I sure don't consume as much as I used to.)

I did have a Pepsi about a year ago when my husband and I were out at a restaurant, but the next day I had an almost-complete mental breakdown (well, I guess it was an all-day anxiety attack), so I haven't had any pop since. And I haven't had any anxiety attacks since then, either.

I've been reading "Sugar Blues" by William Dufty today, and I just have to share this great quote from it about what endocrinologists have discovered:

"The brain is probably the most sensitive organ in the body. The difference between feeling up or down, sane or insane, calm or freaked out, inspired or depressed depends in large measure upon what we put in our mouth. For maximum efficiency of the whole body -- of which the brain is merely a part -- the amount of glucose in the blood must balance with the amount of blood oxygen."

Makes sense, right? The whole book is just blowing my mind. I wish I'd read it years ago, but I've only just discovered it. I bet I could have avoided years of fatigue and depression if I'd just known what sugar does to the body.

Then again, I was so addicted to it that I might not have cared.

Seriously, when I first went sugar-free, I had three days of absolutely insane withdrawal: headaches, grouchiness, utter exhaustion. Thank God it only lasted three days!

But what happened afterwards is just what this endocrinologist, John W. Tintera, said emphatically (and which was quoted in "Sugar Blues"):

"It is quite possible to improve your disposition, increase your efficiency, and change your personality for the better. The way to do it is to avoid cane and beet sugar in all forms and guises."

In case that's unclear, "cane and beet sugar" is sucrose: white, refined sugar as well as the less-refined brown sugar.

Isn't that amazing? And totally scary for our sugar-addicted & saturated society? It's even in ketchup, in beer, in bread... It's in places we'd never think to look and places that are obvious but soooo delicious that we wouldn't want to live without them.

We even give it to our small children as treats.


So, after reading about sugar today, I've realized how much has crept back into my diet. Those delicious granola bars I've been addicted to have a huge amount of sugar in them (which I read with dread, knowing that I'd have to give them up). So even though I've been drinking my coffee -- another vice I'll have to give up someday -- without sugar, I've been filling the void with other snacks. And here I thought I was doing such a good job eating healthy.

I also give the boys apple juice to drink, which is full of fruit sugar. I bet if I do some investigating into our pantry, I'll discover all sorts of things that I'll have to quit re-stocking.

I think it's worth it, though. I'd like my boys to grow up without the extra lethargy and the inclination towards mental illness that's obviously in my family. I'd like to have some more energy so that I won't "need" my coffee anymore. I'd like to just see what life is supposed to be like -- life like I can hardly even imagine because I've been entrenched in the subtle culture of sugar since I was born.

Is it possible to "escape"? Other people have done it and lived to tell the tale of less illnesses and more vitality. I think I'd like to join them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SRI's -- What The...???

Socially Responsible Investments. This is what I'm currently trying to puzzle my way through. It's about time we started saving for retirement, but I don't want to just randomly get some mutual fund that will give me a great return while funding the companies and practices that I'm currently trying to phase out of my life.

So I tried to do a little research today into funds that I could invest in. I thought it would be simple.

What was I thinking?

First of all, I have no idea how to read one of those investment charts that supposedly tell all about the funds' yearly returns. Is a minus sign before a decimal-point number good or bad? Is that the percentage of return earned or lost or something else entirely?

Honestly, I'm not even sure what other questions I need to ask. I can tell this is going to be one of those things that I plod my way through slowly, procrastinating and dreading each new step.

In short, I'm thrilled.

But it has to be done. We have to retire eventually, unless the world ends between now and age sixty-five. But I'm going to be optimistic and assume it won't. So that means I'm stuck delving into the scintillating world of percentages and ethics in big, money-making machines called investment companies.


I'll let you know how it goes. (Unless, of course, somebody out there reading this has already figured this all out. In that case: HELP!)