I entered the word sugar on Google search, and it found 678 million sources. Wow!
Most of us know that one thing most experts agree is that consuming too much sugar is detrimental to our health. But how much is too much? How much is enough? We know that if we eat healthy, we become healthier, but is the potential damage we have caused to our bodies by consuming too much reversible?
When I was in high school, during the summers and part of the school year, I worked in the afternoons and/or on weekends at a snow cone stand close to my house. The snow cones were delicious, and I ate them every day all day long! A combination of the flavors “Leche and Ice Cream” were my absolute favorites. These were, and I guess still are two syrups, one with vanilla and the other with cinnamon flavor, each mixed with evaporated milk, and both poured over a cup of finely shaved ice and topped with condensed milk…the best raspa (snow cone) ever!
I could still eat it every day, but I don’t anymore. I pass by this place that is still in operation on my way to visit my mom, but I don’t stop often.
When my daughter was little, I would stop and get one for each of us, but it was not very often on purpose. When I knew that we were heading in that direction, I always warned her ahead of time if we were not going to stop. This was so that she would be prepared when she asked and I said no. It was hard to be consistent, but I did not want her to consume too much sugar. I would tell her that too much sugar was not good for us, and at home we already had ice cream or other candy. My concern was that I knew she would enjoy her snow cone, and later she would still want candy or some other sweets at home.
One thing I am guilty of is using sugar to increase communication with her. On the way home from school, we passed a snow cone stand, and she frequently asked for one, but did not get it often. As she progressed through the upper elementary school grades, the responses to what she did at school were less detailed, and I always wanted to know more. So, I began to agree to the snow cone more often if she gave me specifics of what she did in every one of her classes at school before we reached the snow cone stand. If she did not give me enough details, she would not get the snow cone.
As she got older, and when the fluidity of the conversation was no longer an issue, it was not difficult to convince her that perhaps it was not a good idea to get a snow cone. It also helped that I stayed up to date with what was going on in her classes all the way through high school and I could ask more specific questions that required more detailed answers.
When it comes to sugar, there were two things that I stressed to her often, and how I think I managed to minimize her requests for candy, soda or similar foods, or the amount that she consumed. One of the things I told her was that the manufacturers of products were interested in selling more product, and that the packaging did not contain the right proportion of candy or soda, according to what we should eat. I pointed out that we needed to make the adjustments ourselves, otherwise we were eating too much, and it would result in too much sugar in our bodies at once.
So I would say “yes, you can have the candy bar (soda), but remember, don’t eat (drink) the whole thing, save the rest for tomorrow”. I would also tell her that she could have it only if she agreed, otherwise she couldn’t have it. Her choice was to agree. I tried to do the coaching at home and or on the way to places, and not focus too much when we were out in public. The candy was there for her the next day, and the soda sometimes she forgot about. This was good, because it went down the drain. Soda has never been stored in my refrigerator. It is stored in the lowest shelf of a cabinet under one of the kitchen counters, and the package lasts for months.
Another thing I talked to her about often when she was little was how TV commercials, in-store displays and all types of advertisement were designed to make people want to buy things. I added that not all things were the same. Some things are better than others, and sometimes the better ones are not necessarily the ones that get promoted more. Pointing examples often, especially when we weren’t at the store confronted with a choice, were the best times to prepare for those times when choices had to be made.
There was one painful scene at a store once, when she was maybe three or four. It was a drugstore, and she was wining that she wanted a candy. I told her no because we have candy at home. She insisted, and she burst into a fit about it. I paid and she was still crying. She didn’t want to leave until I got her the candy. I struggled, but I picked her up and she cried and screamed sideways all the way to the car. From that point on she would still ask for candy at the store. Sometimes the answer was yes, and sometimes the answer was no, but no fits ever happened again.
She’s a young adult now and she does absolutely love sugar and eats desserts and candy, but she drinks soda infrequently, and she tries to moderate her sugar intake over all. The part that I mostly focused on as a parent and still am reminding her about often is that too much sugar at one time is not good for our bodies. When she shares that she had a latte at Starbucks, I ask whether she omitted the whipped cream, I can’t help it! I also remind her that she doesn’t need to eat all two inches of frosting when she eats cake. Something else I try to emphasize is that she should avoid eating sweets on an empty stomach.
If we want children to adopt healthy behaviors, we have to model those behaviors for them. We can cheat occasionally when they are not watching, if we have to!
Our brain has such a capacity to help us adopt healthy behaviors. We need to learn strategies to help us do so little steps at a time. The ability to visualize is a good tool to use to our advantage. Think of the body as a machine, and how the individual parts work together. We can’t mentally torture ourselves, but we do need to think more about what food does to our body at the moment that we are eating it.
As I mentioned cake earlier, I was reminded of a time that I specifically found myself thinking about sugar in a very mindful way. This picture is clear in my head. I was at a work luncheon, a table of 30 or so people, and we were served dessert. It was a small beautiful piece of cake with a delicate fluffy icing. Everyone I could see from my seat ate the cake as if they were racing to see who finished it first. After they ate, some commented on how small it was, and how great it would be if they had more. I remember sitting there thinking that even though it was small, it had too much sugar, and too much sugar at once couldn’t be good for the body. I can see myself sitting there, holding the fork, and thinking about it. I said to myself that I was going to eat it slowly, and I did, one bit of icing at a time. I enjoyed the conversation, and fully enjoyed the cake throughout it. Something snapped in my brain that made a lasting impression. Since then, I always think twice before eating the icing on a cake, I eat the cake slowly, and most of the time I try to eat the least amount of icing possible. I don’t think of left over icing on the plate as a waste. It is better for the plate than for my body!
Cakes are a beautiful thing and they fill us with joy. However, we need to separate the beauty designed for our eyes from the beauty for our health. I have great respect for the artists that create the beautiful cakes. I also have no problem thinking about the beautiful left over icing on the plate when I have eaten cake because I focus on the joy the rest of the cake already provided.
Of course I didn’t know about mindfulness then, but it appears that’s exactly what I was doing. I was being mindful.
Have you heard of the raisin meditation exercise? I worked for Yale University as a research assistant on a local research project for a little while a few years ago. It was through their program materials that I learned about this exercise which is pretty common in nutrition circles. Yale uses the exercise in their Expect with Me Prenatal Care Program. It is designed to help practice mindful eating. Check out the link above.
A few days ago I came across this article, Is Sugar the Most Popular Drug? The author, after addressing all sides of the sugar debate, states that that it is ultimately up to the individual to make choices about sugar consumption, just as it is to make choices about everything else in our lives.
I feel that by establishing small habits at a time I am making a good amount of progress toward consuming less sugar overall. I don’t stress over it, but some days are better than others for sure. I hope that adopting better habits overtime will help me reverse any of the possible damage that I may have inflicted on myself when I ate sugary snow cones multiple times a day for several years!
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