The Case Against Sugar

The first step toward your healthier future is to Eliminate Sugar, which is why it leads my #BodyBabySteps.

I realize it’s a big challenge. Sugar is in everything. Especially “low-fat” processed foods. If you’re going to succeed in cutting it out, you’ll need sufficient motivation.

Dr. Robert Lustig, one of my Health Sherpas, makes a strong case, particularly against fructose.

Investigative science and health journalist Gary Taubes, another of my guides, continues the prosecution in the video below with The Case Against Sugar, a summary and introduction to his book by the same name. It’s well worth your time:

See also Taubes’ talk from the same conference on The Quality of Calories: Competing paradigms of obesity pathogenesis.

Excessive carbohydrates are a problem in our diet generally, but sugar is an extra specially bad type of carb, for the reasons Dr. Lustig and Taubes outline.

You may be surprised, as I was, to find how much sugar is in food and drink you consider “healthy.”

More on that next time.

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#BodyBabyStep One: Stop Sugar

Just as building a $1,000 starter emergency fund is Dave Ramsey’s indispensable first step toward financial freedom, eliminating sugar from your diet should be first in your #BodyBabySteps.

Why is this so important? I previously recommended a 2009 video from Dr. Robert Lustig, which does a great job of explaining the damage done by all kinds of sugar, and the special case of fructose. Here’s an updated version of Dr. Lustig’s talk, from 2013:

Stop the Sugar is #1 on my top 20 list as well, because sugar sabotages every other helpful behavior you attempt.

Sugar spikes your insulin, which causes your fat cells to accumulate energy instead of releasing it.

You cannot burn fat when your insulin is high, and as Dr. Lustig shows in the video, insulin also blocks leptin, the hormone that reduces appetite and increases energy expenditure.

In leptin resistance, as he describes it, your brain can’t see your leptin, and so you think you are starving and are driven to consume more fructose.

Every diet Lisa and I have used during the last four years, from Trim Healthy Mama to Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb diet to Dr. William Davis’ Undoctored plan to our current low-carb healthy fat diet, has called for limiting or eliminating sugar.

In fact, cutting sugar is the common thread in almost every popular diet that works.

So as you’re starting the #BodyBabySteps series, taking time to understand the sources of sugar in your diet will pay off in helping you to avoid self-sabotage. I’ll have more on how to do that, as well as insights from others I count among my Health Sherpas, in future posts.

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Body Baby Steps

My last post in the My Health Journey series was something of a summary of what I’ve learned so far, boiled down into a top-20 list. Even as I hit the “Publish…” button, however, I recognized two things:

  1. I had left off some important items, such as sleep hygiene, and
  2. A list of 20 things to do is overwhelming. With so many “keys” to remember, it’s easy to feel defeated and not make progress.

Dave Ramsey has understood this as he has helped millions through his radio show, his New York Times best-seller, The Total Money Makeover, and his Ramsey+ offering, which includes Financial Peace University.

As he helps people achieve financial fitness, he recommends 7 Baby Steps, which proceed in a logical order:

  1. Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your household income in retirement.
  5. Save for your children’s college fund.
  6. Pay off your home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

To create the starter emergency fund, you have to begin spending less on a daily basis. Once you’re reached that goal and you’re moving on to Baby Step 2, that emergency fund protects you from having to use a credit card.

If you do need to dip into the emergency fund, you shift back to Baby Step 1 and build it back up to $1,000 before continuing to attack debt.

The idea behind the baby steps is to build momentum and a reality-based sense of accomplishment. You feel better because you are better.

The way you do that is through focus.

If you’re paying a little of your credit card debt each month and putting a few dollars into retirement, regular savings and the kids’ college fund, it’s likely you won’t make noticeable progress on any of them, and then when an emergency arises (like the water heater breaking down) you’ll need to borrow still more to meet that urgent need.

That’s why Ramsey recommends pausing retirement contributions for a time while pursuing the first step with gazelle-like intensity. Then you start paying off your non-mortgage debts, smallest to largest, without regard to interest rates. Go for the first debt you can totally eliminate.

When you pay off that debt, you roll the amount you had been paying on it into the next smallest debt payment, increasing your and repeat the cycle until they’re all gone.

That’s the debt snowball. That’s momentum.

The key is to get a quick win with the starter emergency fund, and then to continue getting positive reinforcement.

I think Ramsey’s Baby Steps metaphor for a personal finance makeover is helpful in thinking about a process for improving health and fitness, too.

The individual tips in my top 20 list are good on their own, but trying to do them all at once could be self-defeating.

I didn’t make all of those changes at the same time; it’s been a four-year journey.

But I did find that having made some changes and finding success gave me confidence to try the next thing.

I just didn’t know at the time what that next thing would be.

Now, looking back on what has worked for Lisa and me, I think I can outline a process that would make sense and help you build momentum toward a healthier 2021…and beyond.

So tomorrow I’m going to start a new series called #BodyBabySteps.

Like Ramsey’s money recommendations, the first few will be foundational, and I’ll spend a week or so looking at each of them from various angles.

Because we’re pursuing behavior change, we need that reinforcement. You don’t change habits in a single day.

I hope you’ll join the journey. You can subscribe by email, and I’ll also post links on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you think your friends might find this series helpful, I hope you’ll share by email or on your social networks using the buttons below.