Food: Fuel versus Pleasure
At a recent doctor’s visit, I received news that I had an elevated A1C. You might be more familiar with the blood glucose test which is elevated if it is above ~110 fasting and above ~140 two hours after a meal. The A1C blood test measures your average blood glucose (glycated hemoglobin) over the course of three months and is considered pre-diabetic if it is between 5.7 and 6.4. Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when the A1C is over 6.5. Below 5.7 is considered normal. I won’t bore you with the details of my own A1C – but needless to say, the last three months of grant writing, fast food consumption during grant writing, limited sleep, Christmas cookies, and sedentary winter behavior caught up with me.
These results led me to more deeply consider my relationship with food. I have always enjoyed food. I love to bake on Saturdays and try new recipes when I have time. I have often fantasized about going to culinary school. I derive a great deal of pleasure from a carefully prepared meal with divine flavor combinations, new recipes that make me regret not discovering them sooner, and the sweet smell of baked goods on a quiet Saturday morning listening to some jazz. I simply cannot fathom not having these pleasurable experiences in my life.
After a period of contemplation, I eventually arrived at acceptance that my habits need to change and began the process of preparation. In case you aren’t aware of Prochaska and DiClimente’s Stages of Change model of behavior change pictured below, I’ve just traversed the first three steps of the model and have started the 4th. The image below is a bit misleading – the goal is not to get to relapse, but we understand that relapse is a normal part of most behavior change – particularly complex behaviors such as eating habits.
During the preparation phase, I took the time to talk to family members who had successfully made nutrition and exercise changes to reduce their A1C, I did a lot of reading reputable internet sites, and recently read a book my sister loaned me – The MD Factor Diet by Caroline Cederquist, M.D. She describes how metabolic changes contribute to diabetes and other illnesses. She explains how the method of calories in and out no longer work after a certain age, particularly for women, so blaming yourself for not balancing your eating and exercise patterns is unwarranted (and unhelpful). As a health psychologist, I was aware of much of this information, but did find the book inspiring and hopeful. So I decided to move into the action phase.
This week, per her guidelines, I became a meat and vegetable eating machine. I had already reduced my soda consumption and stopped eating donuts on my way to work so I’d gotten through about a week of sugar, pasta, and carb detox crankiness before buying a dumptruck full of meat and veggies. These aren’t just any meats, though – they are pretty lean, for instance pork loin, chicken, and turkey. I love veggies so that part was easy; just load half my plate up with veggies. It was a bit hard to tolerate low sugar salad dressings – yuck! I’d appreciate any recommendations for a good one. I also struggled a bit to make the time to prepare meals ahead and got a bit bored with drinking water, tea, and coffee. But let me tell you about what I experienced turning my diet on its head!
The benefits of eating according to this plan were pretty astounding to me. First I had more energy than I’ve had in years. I didn’t feel hungry as I was eating protein every 3-4 hours. I was more hydrated (6-8 glasses of water or tea per day) which made my GI and urinary tract happy. My middle-aged bloating has declined and my pants are no longer shrinking. I am not a big fan of weighing myself (never have been), but I’d almost bet I’ve lost a few pounds that I won’t be looking for again. My mind felt clearer and mood was more chipper as well. Importantly, I didn’t feel that I was trading fuel for pleasure. I actually found pleasure in eating healthy, whole foods and new protein-rich snacks. I’d rate my first four days of this adventure an A+.
I’d like to invite you on the Food as Fuel learning journey with me. Particularly if you are in your 40’s to 60’s and have experienced difficulties with reduced energy, a spare tire around your middle, and mood or concentration difficulties – please talk with your doctor, get your bloodwork done, and follow your doctor’s advice. Diabetes is nothing to ignore – elevated blood sugars can lead to retinopathy and vision loss, kidney damage, bowel problems, neuropathy (numbness, burning, or tingling usually of hands and feet), and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Please join me for my next step on my preparation to action plan – read more about dietary changes and low glycemic index foods (which I will include here) and explore opportunities for increasing movement. Today, it was building a “snowcat” (cat shaped snowman) as the snow was melting.