Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Killing Me Softly with French Fries

I'm very much like many middle-aged Americans. I don't have a lot of terribly bad habits, but I eat an occasional muffin for breakfast, have a burger sometimes, succumb to the chocolate-chip cookie every so often.  Okay, maybe I do this a little more than "every so often." But I try to offset this by staying moderately active, eating a good volume of vegetables and fruits. I take my daily fish-oil capsule, a multivitamin. I don't smoke; I drink in very small amounts. 

It hasn't been enough.

In the last year or so,  I've been increasingly aware of what seemed like signs of the years encroaching. Energy level ebbing a bit; spare tire around the middle continuing to expand uncomfortably. My sleep hasn't been great, nor my mental focus. I was peeing, very, very often. Mind you, these weren't terrible problems, and I more or less just assigned them to the process of aging.

At my routine physical a few weeks ago, though, my doctor gave me a reason for this quiet malaise. Though my blood pressure and cholesterol and PSA numbers are within acceptable levels, my blood sugar is now becoming uncomfortably high. Although I technically have "prediabetes", if subsequent physical exams show the same rate of glucose increase, I would be two years or so away from having a formal diagnosis of diabetes.

A rather stern lecture from my doctor, as well as a fair amount of reading over the past few weeks, has sold me on the merits of radically changing my diet. At first, I ruefully felt that this diet pretty much cut out everything that might be at all tasty. I joked that I was allowed to eat all the spinach I wanted, plus three cashews each day.

But what my research, and my own experience, is now telling me, is that modern Americans are being quietly poisoned by food that is as deadly as it is tasty.  The food corporations in America are not your friends.

We all might guess that sugar and fat are bad things for us, but as my doctor and other experts are telling me,  the more insidious culprits are corn, potatoes, refined flour. These food substances are now present in so many food combinations, and are available for such ridiculously low prices, that they have come to dominate the modern American diet. Incredibly rich in starchy sugars, these substances alone are creating the blood-sugar emergency in America. The U.S. food industry has demonstrated true genius at combining food flavors in ways that make their product every bit as habit-forming as cocaine.

Stay away from white foods, I'm told, or foods containing these substances,  and we very likely can avoid the epidemic of diet-related diabetes that threatens so many of us. And it's not only older Americans susceptible to this; young kids are showing up with this kind of diabetes at alarming rates.

So I began to eat nuts, vegetables, salads, certain "safe" fruits, lean meats almost exclusively. Whole oat cereals in moderation, an occasional  low-carb cracker heavy in fiber, but no bread at at all. Non-sugar yogurt. Green tea, but no other caffeine. During the first week of this new diet I felt simply awful. Avoiding cookies, muffins, burgers, french fries was very, very hard, even though I hadn't seen myself as a glutton for these things. That's how powerful the hold is on these foods, engineered for "mouth-feel" and flavor combinations, and dissolving instantly in your mouth. For a week, it really did feel a lot like withdrawal from an illegal drug, with headaches, irritability, digestive distress. I began to pee even more often than before. "Holy hell," I thought. "If this is health, I'd rather be diseased."

But after a week or so of different eating, I suddenly began to feel much better. The monkey was climbing down off my back.  Seven pounds evaporated from around my waist almost overnight. My energy level began to climb a bit, and my mental focus was better.  The sluggish late-afternoon doldrums that I'd had come to view as inevitable faded away, and I found that I could focus adequately right up to closing time at the office. Most encouraging was the fact that my appetite became more manageable, even though I was eating less. The rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows was seemingly largely behind my sometimes ravenous appetite. While my fasting blood-sugar levels haven't yet diminished much, I feel considerably better and have a good likelihood or reversing my pre-diabetic condition, given a little time. 

So there you have it...I'm the poster child for that coming epidemic of food-related diabetes we've all been reading about. It would be ludicrous for me to proclaim myself a victor over my eating urges. I've only been at it a few weeks, and I don't pretend to have such self-control that I can avoid every slice of pizza that winks at me. But what I have learned recently does help , as I've come to see delicious food offered so plentifully and so cheaply as something of an evil conspiracy against consumers. 

For those of you interested, I can recommend a book and movie that will open your eyes to these issues. The movie is "Food, inc."  The book is "The End of Overeating,"  a truly revelatory expose of how the food-engineering industry has successfully made legal addicts of many Americans. 


Jerri said...

And a lovely poster child you make.

I agree that the food industry is a conspiracy. I once read that Oreos have 19 ingredients that have no purpose other than to make you want to eat more Oreos. Don't know if that's accurate, but wouldn't be surprised if it is.

Molly said...

Good for you having the will power to change your eating habits! I've heard that before about not eating super refined "white" foods. My husband should see this! Pizza and what? no more french bread? would be the rock he'd perish on.....but I can try. Nothing succeeds like success, as you have found out. said...

Good for you! We are doing almost 100% organic (and 100% for Seth), who has had his immune system wiped out by genetically modified foods.

This food business is no joke.