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Cookie Detox: Using Food Combining to Beat Sugar Swings

Posted Dec 20 2010 12:00am
When bad cookies happen to good cartoons. (Nobody saw anything wrong with this before it went to production? Really?)

Cookies happen. It's the holidays. I know there are some of you that will completely abstain from the sugary fare - I commend you; I did the no-sugar Experiment for 90 days over Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and it was one of the hardest Experiments I've ever done - so you all can stop reading here. For the rest of us, chances are you are going to go gaga for ganache. (Or bonkers for brittle or cuckoo for cocoa puffs or tempestuous for treacle, although I have no idea what treacle is; I went a little crazy with the Thesaurus.)

The great thing about being an Intuitive Eater this holiday season is that I have not binged (I used that term not in the clinical sense of binge eating disorder but rather to mean eating to the point of discomfort) on any treats. I think it's partly because nothing is forbidden so there's no "last supper" mentality but even more so because I'm finally beginning to see the connection between how I eat and how I feel. Eating lots of sugar makes me tired, headachey and cranky. (In other obvious news, tights are not pants - what is the point of wearing a huge down coat, a scarf, a hat and furry boots if you are only going to cover your bottom half with very thin nylon? Snow is cold! Also, Minnesota has A LOT of it - you see the video of last weekend's blizzard collapsing our Metrodome ?)

This is the difference between eating what my mind wants (an entire pan of English Toffee) and eating what my body wants (some protein, fat and carbs in moderate amounts). Today as I looked at the huge pile of goodies from our friends I considered snarfing handfuls of treats only to be restrained by the thought that if I did I was going to feel really really awful in about 30 minutes, both physically and psychologically. But I still wanted to try the yummies! So how do you have your cake and eat it too?

It's called food combining and someone much smarter than I am made it up. Basically food combining is just a theory about how to eat food to maximize the benefits from the food and ease digestion. Some of it's just cracked out but there are some great tips in there. While you've probably heard most of them - drink OJ with steak; the vitamin C helps your body use all the heme iron! - using it to combat the ill effects of sugar swings was new to me.

I can't remember where I first heard this theory (I blame mommy brain) but the gist is if you choose to eat a dessert type food - which also includes white bread, pasta and other processed starches that are metabolized like sugar - then at least slow it down with some protein and fat before it hits your blood stream. The glycemic index (GI), a number that tells how much a food will raise your blood sugar, of a baked potato is 87 which is quite high but if you add cheese, butter and sour cream to it, it reduces the GI by over half. High blood sugar is bad because it can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Diabetes is bad because it will make you the four-fingered man and how then will you ever beat the six-fingered man and avenge your murdered father?

All good in theory right? After all, a baked potato tastes way better with all the fixin's anyways! In my life, as is the case with many things, it can look kinda crazy. It makes for some odd pairings on my plate. Tonight, for instance, my friend Rachel made her famous White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse, which happens to be my favorite dessert. There was no way I was going to miss out on all the crushed-candy-cane goodness but I also knew that if I ate a big bowl I was going to crash hard and, as demonstrated by millions of children everywhere on Dec. 25th, nothing sucks all the fun out of a Christmas party like a sugar crash. So I ate the mousse. And then I ate a huge bowl of steamed broccoli and a hunk of prime rib that were left sitting on the counter from dinner earlier.

My friends were amused. At first they thought I was trying to atone for my dietary sin but after I explained my food combining GI theory, they were even more amused. "We need to build up your tolerance, girl," my friend Cassie teased. "Charlotte can't hold her sugar." But I was happy. My body felt good as it didn't take a huge sugar hit to the brain and my mind was satisfied because I got to eat some of what I really wanted, and I enjoyed all of it: the broccoli, the meat and the mousse were delish!

What's your strategy for dealing with a sugar rush - do you try and "slow the sugar down" like I do by eating it with protein and/or fat or do you think that just adds extra unnecessary calories, especially if you are having the treat when you're not really hungry? Have any other food combining tips I should try? Anyone care to explain the tights-as-pants trend to me?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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