Thursday, 30 September 2010

Coming Off Sugar

We all know that sugar is not very good for you but after reading articles on the dangers of sugar, I was convinced I had to make an attempt to remove it from my diet. I’m not talking about just removing table sugar but also a lot of the fructose as well. So I look at ingredients and if it says, “sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or inverted corn syrup, or fructose”, I don’t eat it. Fructose in its natural form (fruits and vegetables) is fine but I do limit fruits with extremely high fructose content such as mango and nectarines. I must admit I was hoping I could abandon this effort and determine there was no big difference as I have a bar of Belgian chocolate in my cupboard that the kids have not discovered. I figure my chances of getting at that chocolate bar were good since I don’t have any major health issues to complain of. Okay, so I get tired and look haggard when I do too much. However, I don’t sleep well and am 42, a mother of an 8 and 6 year old and we just got a puppy so that’s a bit like having a new baby, except puppies don’t wear nappies (although I am considering this as an option). Also, I work as an acupuncturist, and am in my second year of my Chinese herbal medicine studies working toward my MSc. The biggest incentive for me to remove sugar in my diet is that despite eating healthily, I get blood-sugar dips so I know I’m not processing sugar well. Blood-sugar dips are a pain. I go from feeling great, jumping about with the kids to suddenly getting extremely shaky, edgy and worrying about what I can legally and quickly eat to prevent me from fainting in aisle four of the grocery store. These used to occur just when I missed a meal but I’ve noticed that now they occur even if I have eaten plenty but that ‘plenty’ contained sugar. What really shook me up is that ‘sugar’ could mean a freshly juiced carrot, and apple juice. After consuming such a healthy mix, I’d be ready to faint within the hour as if I had eaten a Mars bar for breakfast. Apparently, these insulin surges and dips are pretty bad for you. However, I’m also hoping that by coming off sugar I’ll benefit from being able to think more clearly, have loads more energy, and prevent premature ageing. So I decided to give it a go.
The first thing I discovered is that coming off of sugar is ten times worse than coming off caffeine. For one, it lasts longer. But instead of a headache like you get with coming off caffeine, coming off sugar could best be simplified as PMT with jetlag. Not the 3 or 4 hour time difference jetlag, but the jetlag you feel when you land in London at 6am from a Hong Kong flight where you didn’t sleep on the flight and then have to head straight into work. My mood was one of those that caused my husband to know that silence and long walks with the dog was the best way for him to get through this. And instead of lasting a day or two, like caffeine, it lasted an entire week. Some people report it lasting two. I’m not sure I could have lasted two weeks feeling like that. What shocked me is that I didn’t realise my body was so addicted to sugar. And that my body was depending on it, looking for it to run. I found that when I was tired, I really wanted to reach for sugar. Although I also knew that it was sugar that was causing me to feel so lousy. It’s now been about 9 days since I’ve been off sugar. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m sleeping really well. For decades I’ve slept lightly and wake up anywhere between 5 and 10 times during the night. That’s just not happening. I’ve also noticed that I now have no desire for sugar. I had a pear yesterday and it tasted so incredibly sweet that it was almost too sweet. Unlike when I’ve eaten sweets before, I had no desire for more sweet treats. Not craving sweets is liberating. And I've also noticed that my energy has picked up and I'm not having dips in energy. Previously, I craved sweets when I was dipping in energy. Without the energy dips, I have no reason to reach for that chocolate bar. The knock on benefit is that my kids are eating significantly less sugar. I have not asked my family to come off sugar but, naturally, their intake is coming down. I'd like their sugar levels to come down a lot more, however, I need to be a good role model first.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Autumn and Chinese Medicine

I love this time of year. With my door to my back garden wide open I can feel the cool breeze and sense that it is Autumn. I've never been able to grasp what makes that feeling but it both energises and calms me. Maybe its difficult to describe but this is the time of change, when Summer’s warm, vibrant Yang energy transitions toward the quiet, cooler Yin energy of Winter. Maybe its not meant to be pinned down. Regardless, it is an amazing time to observe our surroundings because through observing nature we learn how we should live to transition healthily to Winter. Nature acts as a metaphor for us. In Autumn, plants gather nutrients from their leaves and stems, pushing the nutrients downward and inward toward their roots. Impurities are sent upward into the foliage, which changes colours and is shed to prevent it from sapping energy that is now concentrated deep in the soil to ensure survival of the long, cold winter. In herbal medicine, many root herbs are gathered at this time of year because they are rich in chemical compounds. Autumn is a time where we prepare for the cold winter and time spent indoors. We arrange to get firewood for cozy, calm evening by the fireplace; we seal windows to prevent drafts, and begin to take out warm clothes from storage. Being busy and adapting means change. And change frequently results in emotional uprising. Organising and getting rid of the unnecessary (metaphorically, this can pertain to relationships as well as material things) can also lead to difficulty in letting go, grief and sadness. However, this is a season associated with wisdom. Through grief and sadness come lessons of life and self discovery.

As colder weather moves in, we need to consider eating warmer foods. In Summer, raw foods such as salads which are cold to the system were tolerated. However, in Autumn raw food will be difficult to digest and should be avoided. Warm foods, such as soups, roasted vegetables and meats are ideal. This very simple advice should not be undervalued. The strength of our digestion is paramount in our ability to make Qi and Blood. This is especially important in children who naturally have weaker digestive systems.

Seasonal eating of local foods is recommended because seasonal foods automatically and naturally contain the nutrients needed to prepare us for Winter. However, the convenience of freezers, fridges, pre-packaging and air travel has made it a challenge to know what foods are in season. The BBC Food website is an excellent resource for UK seasonal food and recipes.

And finally, enjoy the beautiful change of season. However, with seasonal change comes unpredictable weather. So bring an extra layer to cover up if needed. This is suprisingly effective to prevent catching a cold!

Friday, 3 September 2010

China with Children- Venturing Out

When I booked our hotel in the hutong, I ignored all the advice that suggested staying near Beijing centre because getting into Beijing by taxi could be time consuming. Wary of ignoring this advice, I decided that we should take the subway which was supposed to be around the corner. We walked out of the hutong alley onto the main road which was gritty, and big city grimy. The air was thick, hot and reminded me of childhood summers in the Midwest of America where the humid heat shocked your lungs as you stepped out from the air-conditioning. Having spent the last 12 years in England, I enjoyed the experience of this memory. Despite seeing a legless man pushing himself on a scooter begging for money, the kids said nothing. He did not request money from us, but instead stared curiously at us, the only Westerners in sight. As we walked on, we passed a stand where they were selling turtles and fish. Not knowing if these were for pets, food, or medicine I hoped the children woudn't ask questions... atleast not yet. The subway was easy to find. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was very clean, cool, incredibly easy to use and cost a mere 80 pence for the four of us to travel. We put our bags through security before entering which made me wonder that if China can put security in their underground system, then couldn't London do the same? The Beijing subway was incredibly simple to navigate. All the stops were listed in Chinese and Pinyin on the subway columns at each platform. The stop you were on was marked and the direction that train was going was shown. When I lived in New York City, you felt you were becoming a local when you could act like you weren't lost on the subway system. After three years of living there I once spent an hour and a half waiting for a train at 2am when I suddenly realised it was the wrong platform. I was sober. Atleast I was when I figured out I was at the wrong platform. After using the subway in Beijing once, I felt I mastered Beijing subways. Yes, this was most likely me being over exuberant and cocky, but it felt fantastic not feeling like I was completely lost in a big city. I loved it.
A couple of stops, an easy transfer and one more additional stop, we ended up at Tiananmen Square. We bought water to cope with the heat and found our way to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was crowded and again, I was surprised how few Westerners were there. In a crowd of hundreds we maybe saw two or three. And there were no Western children. Maybe this is because other parents were smart enough not to travel with their children during the hottest month in Beijing. Regardless, my children quickly became a hot commodity for family photos. Chinese families left and right requested my children pose for pictures. Very little English was spoken but the request was made clear and my children posed with Mums and Dads, and children and Grandparents. My six year old daughter was very unsure about this (see photo) until someone explained it was because she is pretty. I'm not sure what she was thinking before this. My 8 year old son loved his Rock Star-like status and happily posed and smiled and held toddlers hands and wrapped his arms around other kids. Several times I toyed with saying "no thank you" to these requests for photos as it seemed odd to stand back while my kids were photographed with other families. I wasn't sure how my daughter, who is shy, was feeling about having her hand grabbed by someone elses granny and placed in a strange kid's hand while Mummy and Daddy stepped away from them to be out of the picture. Lost for what to do, and seeing that people were genuinely loving the children, I went with the flow and hoped for no lasting psychological damage. I'm glad I did because this scene was a common one. Resistance was futile. At times we just wanted to move out of the heat, but overall, it was a beautiful interaction between people of different cultures enjoying and appreciating the differences between us. Grandmothers would thank me by touching my hand and were generous and laughed appreciatively of my attempted response in garbled Chinese. I realised that this interaction was very special and unique. I certainly would not have experienced this if I had been traveling without my generous, understanding, and accepting children. Again, and as always, I learn from my children.