My Birthday Gift to You

Mirabel, Quebec

The year always ends with my birthday. Now, I am really — 55.

Solidly, absolutely, no question about it, middle-aged. But from the neck down, in my Levis, I can pass for a woman half my age.

My Birthday Gift to You

Confirming my five pound Asian weight loss in March 2012 on the truck scale in the hay yard in Hereford, Texas.

For my birthday, and in time for our annual obsession, the New Year GOAL, I am giving you, my dear friends, a priceless gift. The results of my seven month experiment. An experiment inspired by my mother-in-law. The secret of weight loss.

To be fair, it is a formula that my mother, who is the original crunchy-granola, back-to-the-land, tree-hugger, wearing-size-four-designer-jeans-at-86, has been advocating since I was a child. Unfortunately we don’t readily believe our own mothers.

I started 2012 worrying about this birthday. I have never minded getting older. Maybe it was because I practiced. On past big birthdays, when I turned 29 for instance, three days later when the New Year rolled over, I began telling people I was 30 THIS year, even though it was 10, eight or six months away.

I did the same this time, except when I said 55, my brain flashed 70, as in 55 + 15 = 70 because the 15 years since 40 vanished in a flash. I celebrated that birthday by traveling Southeast Asia, four years later MacGyver and I married. I jumped into running his creative business. We learned, we earned, we invested, we won, we lost, we won, we got bored, we hit the road. This I know for sure, the next 15 years will pass faster. I also carry around a terror about our lifestyle. That I will look like the stereotypical truck driver.

In March, we visited MacGyver’s 75-year-old mother, who has always looked ten years younger than her age. I was instantly struck by her appearance.

“You’ve lost weight,” I said.

“Yep, 15 pounds in three months,” she said. “I stopped eating sugar.”

She didn’t eat a lot of sugar, she said, but the little bits add up.

I had just lost five pounds during a month in Asia where I practiced daily, low-key, exercise because I do NOT love exertion and without realizing it, consumed less sugar.

Sugar is getting a lot of play in the media these days. My mother keeps the 40-year-old anti-sugar tome — Sugar Blues — as a bible. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is using the law to reduce sugar consumption.

In April, my Bangkok chiropractor emailed an article by a health writer who after reading the New York Times article on sugar went cold turkey and lost 25 pounds in five months.

In May, hot flashes were disturbing my sleep.

In June, I was at my highest weight since we began Life With No Fixed Address, 147 pounds, perilously close to the top end of the weight range for my height. I weighed 139 pounds when we began driving, after a year visiting the gym everyday in preparation for turning 50.

I decided we were quitting sugar.

It was easier than I imagined. It turned out we were consuming more than I thought. I had quit alcohol in 2011 because the buzzy warmth of one glass was no longer worth the pain. In its place I developed a passion? an addiction? certainly a reliance on Starbucks’ bottled Frappuccinos, which contain 46 grams of sugar — a third of that in milk sugar — in a 13.7 ounce bottle. That is 12, TWELVE teaspoons of sugar in one little bottle and 15 calories in each teaspoon for a total of 180 calories of sugar in a drink that contains 290 total calories.

We also developed a fondness for Wegman’s mini cranberry oatmeal cookies. I noticed that when I was really hungry, even when I had an apple available, I reached for a fistful of cookies. I was eating one or two made-in-Finland Panda licorice sticks every day and when I didn’t have those, I stopped at the truck stop for Twizzler licorice. We were consuming a lot of sugar.

The ground rules were simple. No obvious sugar. No ice cream, no desserts, no cookies, no candy and no chocolate. No more mints left by the TA shower attendants or departing restaurants. No sugar in my tea or coffee. But I would not wig out over small bits of embedded sugar because sugar is in everything. Our favorite multigrain bread, Dave’s Killer Bread from Oregon, has one teaspoon of sugar in EACH slice. I still have a little ketchup with my fries.

We continued to eat hamburgers and fries from In-N-Out, Smash Burger and Five Guys. We eat pasta, butter on bread and garlic smashed potatoes. Except for sugar, our food choices remained the same.

My Birthday Gift to You

Victory. Down 14 pounds in seven months by giving up sugar. Nothing else.

While I didn’t lose 10 pounds in ten days –ridiculously, I half hoped to — change began immediately. We consumed less food, one Five Guys fries satisfied both of us. If I am hungry, I can wait to eat, or have an apple. Overall, we are less hungry. Sugar is an appetite accelerant.

I still need the sweet taste. I have found three things that satisfy me, Mott’s unsweetened applesauce, Sunsweet D’Noir dried plums, which are soft and gooey like candy and dates rolled in coconut. Occasionally I have a Nature’s Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar because I buy them for MacGyver.

And as a bonus gift, try this recipe from the Dairy Free Chick. All real food, no sugar, and FANTASTIC.

In October, MacGyver took a photo of me in St. John’s, Newfoundland and I looked thinner.

In November, a friend reported I had lost weight.

In December, my winter driving pants fit better than when I bought them a year ago.

Christmas Eve in our hotel room I weighed myself. I am 14 pounds lighter in seven months.

When I talk to drivers who have lost weight, they report that when they gave up sugary drinks, Mountain Dew, Big Gulps, Gatorade and started walking around the truck stop they began losing weight. One driver on the Newfoundland ferry, from Gander, said he lost 30 pounds in 2012 by giving up sugary drinks. He has 30 to go.

Sadly, thin is NOT fit and thin does not mean healthy. My weight is where it should be but I continue in my struggle to incorporate regular exercise into our routine. Cardio for my heart and weight bearing exercise for muscle tone.

Surprisingly little effort is needed to get results, my cheeesy exercise, a brisk 30 minute walk and 10 minutes of exercise with five pound weights, three times a week makes a world of difference. I just have to DO it.

That is, again, my goal for 2013. Regular exercise.

Meantime, this 55 milestone deserved celebration so we stopped at the Lancaster, Ontario Denny’s on our return from Quebec, where I qualified for the discounted Seniors Menu.

“Most people aren’t as happy as you about it,” our server Ray said.

“She likes the deal,” MacGyver responded.

14 thoughts on “My Birthday Gift to You

  1. Congratulations! Wish I had your willpower. My goal this year is to get healthier by losing 15 pounds and finding some way to exercise. Not easy in a truck but not impossible. Great job on your blog!


  2. Thank you for reading. Happy New Year. The regular exercise is much harder than one thinks, especially since we get up most mornings in a different place. I need a routine for things I dislike doing, like exercise. I have a skip rope, which is excellent exercise, skip one minute, walk one minute. Do ten minutes of that and it's a good work out. A friend also gave me resistance bands, which I swear, I will take out this year soon. Try the sugar thing, I was surprised and how easily I adapted.


  3. I found that quitting sugar for me was not enough to get rid of my sugar cravings. I actually had to cut out fruit for a whole month before getting rid of cravings. Now I eat one piece of fruit a day and feel more under control. Congrats on your health goals, Marlaina. And Happy New Year!


  4. 55 and 133 looks good on you, Marlaina. Happy birthday and may 2013 be a terrific year for you and McGyver.Think you're right about sugar, and Tash is spot on about having to cut back on fruit (briefly) while setting better habits.


  5. Tash — I tried to make the experiment as simple as possible, and as easy as possible, so I didn't even think I'd lose the sweet taste. I started looking for real food to satisfy the desire. My eating plan is eat anything that is real, no added sugar, nothing processed, although I do have a little ketchup with my fries. That's why your recipe for chocolate sauce using dates captured my attention. Dates, plums, apple sauce — why food makers put high fructose corn syrup in apple sauce astounds me — as much fruit as I can shovel into myself is okay on my food plan.Belledog — Thank you. I am trying to live by the Frenchwoman's credo — to look good for my age, because the clock cannot be reversed and I'm not interested in padding the finances for the medical industrial complex for lotions, potions and surgeries. My mother's theory that if we can stay as healthy as possible, meaning Just say NO to pharmaceuticals, there's a good chance she/I will simply expire in our 80s or 90s. Of course, last that long and there's the next issue, how to finance it. Shit never ends!


  6. Great advise and i am trying,3/4 of my plate is vegetables with very little meat.My big thing is coffee and tea without sugar although i have cut down.


  7. Can't wait to try the chocoloate sauce. We got a Yonanas for making the ice cream substitute with bananas plus other fruit. On exercise: I separated my shoulder playing hockey in November and the physio has me doing resistance exercises just with a flat length of stretchy rubber or plastic. Toning the injured and non-injured sides, and it's much lighter and more compact for life on the road than weights. Can do many of the exercises sitting or lying down. while MacGyver is driving.


  8. I know exactly what you mean by giving up sugar and losing weight.Ten years ago, after reading about how sugar aggravates allergies, I decided to go cold turkey. No baked goods, no sugar in tea, no soda, no sugar in anything! The only sugar I allowed myself was fruit.Besides giving up sugar, I also ate fresh vegetables, fruit and more protein (cheese, yogurt, eggs, chicken, fish, lamb). No breads or other grain-based form of carbohydrate.I shed 20 pounds in six months and have not struggled to keep them off, until raging hormones hit. Still, my raging hormones caused me to gain only 5 pounds, which I hope will disappear once the hormones calm down.Fresh vegetable and fruits, and more protein is definitely the way to go.


  9. This is a depressing read, because I eat very little sugar (although I went off the wagon at Christmas), but have steadily gained weight over the last 5 years. Most of it came on board as a side effect of a birth control pill my doctor put me on – and I can't seem to shed it, even though I stopped taking the pill 2 1/2 years ago. This is probably because my cycling routine went out the window once I started teaching full time.I make my own bread with no sugar (but will put a spoonful of honey or home-made jam on it at breakfast). No soft drinks, no dessert, no candy except for dark chocolate, only black coffee … my minimal-sugar diet makes me think of Mark Twain saying that if you don't devote yourself to cultivating bad habits (he thought drinking and swearing and smoking were especially beneficial), you have nothing to drop when you need to make a lifestyle change.Guess the next step is to cut out the alcohol and find the time to get even minimal exercise. Congratulations on your own achievement – that is quite something!


  10. There's a new book out by Robert Lustig — Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food and Obesity, — he is the anti-sugar champion, been fighting the battle for many years. I heard him interviewed a few days ago, he says the only way forward is to cut out processed foods because everything processed has sugar in it. This is a modern day development, since the 1980s. We have largely maintained our weight since we began trucking because we mostly eat real food, very little processed. Now, quitting sugar.June, here's the good news on the tea/coffee without sugar. Not too long down the road, it will start to taste sweeter. Eat the protein, eat the vegetables, eat the fruit, avoid the processed and eliminate the obvious sugar, the pounds melt away slowly. A few months down the road you will put on your jeans and think, hey, these fit nice.Phil, I am embarrassed to say that I have had resistance bands in the truck for more than a year, a gift from a friend. But for some reason, I cannot use them, the same way I cannot seem to take my vitamins EVERY day or put on sunscreen EVERY day. This lifestyle has no routine, the boring things, we do by routine. It is my challenge.Virginia, you are my inspiration, one day I will be as lean and buff as you.Jennie, check out the book above, Fat Chance, I think you'll find some helpful ideas. He was interviewed on NPR, Ira Plato on Science Friday, so there may be a podcast somewhere. One thing shocked me, orange juice, has as much sugar as 8 ounces of Coca Cola. He says fruit is to be eaten, as much as you want, but not consumed as a beverage.


  11. June, need to clarify, little brain burp, if you drink milk with your tea and coffee, it will start to taste sweeter as you go without sugar because of the natural milk sugar. My mother made us a chocolate cake with spelt flower and very ripe mashed bananas as the only sweetener. Then she whipped up some real cream, no sugar, and amazingly it had a sweetness to it. She could have added a tad of vanilla and that would be delicious as well.


  12. RE sugar: am thinking along the lines of St. Augustine: give me temperance. But not now.Tailing off my evening Manhattan cocktail. Finished last of sweet vermouth tonight, and not replacing it. (I know, the horrors, the horrors.) One bad habit down. Don't know if I can manage "no sugar", but getting rid of 90% sounds feasible. Not quibbling over sugar in bread, for now, but actively avoiding sweets. Do drizzle a little honey into my greek yogurt when needed. Grapefruit's in season; that's a refreshing snack.Have stepped up walking, a lot. US News reports the DASH diet (NIH's blood pressure-lowering diet) scored highest. Very surprised at how many grains you're allowed: pasta, brown rice, whole grain breads.Here's the link to the US News (US Snooze) roundup on diets: you will have to help keep us motivated! And it's been great to see others' suggestions on this post.


  13. June — It's worth the effort. Think of it like I did, an experiment. I, like most, people run from anything that smacks of trying to change my behavior. I simply cut out the obvious and added sugar. And told myself, I don't do that right now. It's how I quit smoking way back when, I only didn't smoke today. I didn't quit, I just didn't smoke today. And here I am 22 years down the road, and I don't smoke. Belledog — Thanks for the link. I am a devotee of the K-I-S-S principle for everything I do. Anything complicated? Ain't gonna happen, I can't even take more than one vitamin on a regular basis, and not even that. Simple exercise works just as well as going for the burn, the difference is that simple exercise needs to happen every day. Standing up for 20 minutes at a time is supposed to help in the exercise department. And that's my kind of exercise.The greatest reward for the experiment was the one I picked up last night after we rolled into our Florida home. I immediately ran upstairs and pulled out my cute black wool Audrey Hepburn ankle capris, size 8, which I have been an uncomfortable squeeze for at least two years, and they fit! Comfortably. So this morning? No sugar is NO problem!


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