Losing the Sweet Tooth

Christmas cookies

This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Carnival.

The holidays are here, which also means that frosted cookies, candy canes and boxes of chocolates are, too. But two weeks ago, I embarked on a mission to radically alter my diet. Some friends cautioned me against it. “Just wait until after the holidays,” they encouraged me. “It’ll be much easier.”

Sometimes, though, you just know when it’s time to make a change. I could feel it when I struggled to button up my jeans (the ones I saved for those days). I could feel it when I went hiking with my family this summer, and had to stop and rest on the side of the trail while my boys ran up the hill. I could feel it every afternoon, as I reached for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie for a burst of energy.

I wasn’t always like this. In my younger days, I was always naturally slim and didn’t give that much thought to what I ate. Not that I craved terrible things. Like most Taiwanese immigrants, my parents didn’t serve us many sweets. If there was dessert, it was fresh fruit — wedges of melon in the summer and slices of oranges in the winter. And many American treats didn’t appeal to me anyway. Halloween candy languished until Valentine’s Day, not to mention what happened to my one Hostess Sno-Ball. But sometime between the midnight ice cream runs during college and the coffee-and-muffin play dates of early motherhood, something shifted. I developed a sweet tooth. Studies have shown that within one generation of immigrating to the United States, Asians tend to adopt American eating habits — along with the weight gain and health problems. And I’ve come to the painful realization that I fit right into that pattern.

Most of all, I want to make changes for my family. My kids are lean and active, thanks to soccer games and tae kwon do classes. But our diets are equally bad. Too many refined carbs, too much sugar, not enough vegetables and fresh fruit. That’s just being a kid in America, these days, I’ve sighed to myself many times. And after all, it’s not like I was putting Kool-Aid in their baby bottles or allowing them to drink Big Gulps full of soda. But I can’t ask them to make changes without modelling those changes myself.

And now we’re in the holiday season. How do I manage to make these changes happen? I’ve been sticking to my plan for two weeks, and after the first few days of saying no to the 4 o’clock sugar high, I’ve felt much better. My pants button up, and my energy is more even-keeled. Earlier this week, I ate a donut from a tray at a kids’ birthday party, and honestly felt pretty crummy afterwards. Not because of guilt, so much as the roller coaster jitters and crash.

Here are my healthy food goals for the holidays

Eat at home more often. It’s ironic that during this time of year when we try to spend more time with loved ones, we often eat out more. Not just the special occasion dinners, but the eating on the run, because we’re out shopping or rushing to the next event. No one wants to order a salad with mingy slices of chicken when the air is filled with the aroma of steak frites and pasta carbonara.

Stock the pantry with healthy foods This seems obvious, but I’ve fallen into the habit of buying big bags of chips — or possibly worse, boxes of little lunch-box sized packages — because that’s what the kids want to eat. Of course, we all end up poring over the box, negotiating who gets the Cool Ranch Doritos and who’s stuck with plain Lays. I shouldn’t be eating stuff like that on a regular basis, and neither should my kids. I’m trying to keep things like hummus and cucumbers (or even sliced pita for the kids) or even celery and peanut butter for after school snacks.

Skip the packaged sweets Those Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s look very inviting on the shelf, but they don’t taste that good. Okay, maybe they do… but it’s hard to keep track of how many you — not to mention, your kids — are eating. Same goes for the bowls of Hershey’s kisses and those fancy holiday espresso drinks. I’ll skip the egg nog latte while strolling through the mall and just have a cup of the real thing on Christmas.

Limit the drinking Speaking of nog, it’s everywhere during the holidays. Cocktails at parties, wine at family dinners, champagne on New’s Year’s Eve. Being a lightweight, I don’t drink much, but it’s a good time to remember that a glass of wine or a mixed-drink contains 100 (empty) calories.

Enjoy baking with the family and share the goods This one is both easy and hard for me. Easy, because baking special cookies is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season– and something my children look forward to. Hard, because even though I enjoy it, devoting an afternoon to mixing, rolling and frosting requires free time and advance planning. This year, I hope to focus on enjoying the time we spend together in the kitchen and teaching my boys about cooking.

Comments

  1. says

    I am not my family, we like subtle-y sweet treats rather than sugar-laden ones. I’d take a piece of nian gao over pie anyday. That said, you have a great list of getting healthier for the new year, especially the ones about eating home more and buying packaged food less. I’d say I eat out more and packaged food more because of convenience but limit it to 1 or 2x a week. Good luck girl! You can do it!

  2. says

    My mother was very strict: no soda, no chips, no cookies or candy, except at your birthday party. No cereal for breakfast, sugary or not. Dessert was a special occasion. I didn’t have McDonalds or Taco Bell until high school.

    Unfortunately, that meant in college I got very fat, not making good food choices because I was suddenly eating what my friends ate, and my body was not used to it, and I had no experience with fattening fast food. It didn’t help that I was no longer exercising.

    I guess the good thing is I’ve never developed a sweet tooth, but it does mean that hand me some french fries over a piece of cake any day.

    I think what bothers my mother the most is that after all her careful food management, my brother and I still ended up obese because we tried to eat the same as our friends, and our heritage couldn’t handle all that.

    • says

      That’s really interesting. I’m no doctor, but it seems to me that Asians are affected by carb and sugar intake more than whites. Maybe it’s all the dairy, too. And alcohol. All the stuff we can’t digest properly! I find it interesting also that being any race other than white increases your chances of Type II Diabetes. Then again, those studies were probably conducted in America, so maybe it’s the American diet that’s causing minorities to be at risk for these health problems.

      Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you well on your health journey.

  3. says

    I took a class on cultural and ethnic foods recently in college, and one of my research papers was on minorities and the American diet. I was shocked to find that both Native Americans and Japanese Americans have higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes when they adopted a westernized typical American diet according to research done here in America. Japanese Americans also have trouble with osteoporosis on a western diet, being more likely to avoid milk products.

    It was a wake-up call. It made me realize that just because I’m part white doesn’t mean I can eat like one.

    Part of me blamed my white side for being fat (Being a teenager does wonderful things for denial of self-responsibility). I hoped my “skinny Asian genes” would prevent me from getting fat, but that’s just a myth when you eat highly processed carbs and sugar!

  4. says

    I’m a terrible offender on the sugar front; I eat dessert even after breakfast. (Yeah, I know. Very small desserts, but still.) But I cook most of my meals at home, so I tell myself that’s okay. I developed some dietary restrictions about five years ago that basically prevent me from eating convenience foods (you would be AMAZED how many of them contain soy); that, while a pain, definitely helps me keep things healthy.

    I hope your voyage to healthy eating goes great for all of you!

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