SmartPoints and Sugar

In an earlier post, I said I would do a post about the healthy eating aspects of Weight Watchers new program using SmartPoints.  Actually, I plan to do three posts.  One on sugar.  One on saturated fat.  And a third on the other aspects of healthy eating.

When I posted earlier about whether healthy eating must be restrictive, I talked about some of the objections I’ve seen to SmartPoints.  One of the main ones is some people feeling that the new WW program is too restrictive and too much like a diet.  I have seen this mentioned most often in connection with sugar.



There is no doubt at all that Weight Watchers has devised SmartPoints to discourage us from eating too much added sugar.  While foods with added sugar are not forbidden on the plan, they are expensive enough that we are much more limited in how much of that kind of food we can eat on SmartPoints as opposed to PointsPlus.  And, this is no accident. [Read more…]

Great Lab Results

I just got back lab results from my recent doctor’s visit.  I was thrilled with the results.  And, I believe that some of the results are mostly attributable to the way I have been eating which is aligned with the goals of Weight Watchers’ SmartPoints.  In particular, the fact that I’ve reduced the sugar that I eat and am overall eating a healthier diet.  This is one reason I do like SmartPoints a lot.

Last year, I had some routine blood work done and was unhappy with some of my lab results.  Although my fasting blood glucose was normal and my triglycerides were OK at 104, I was shocked to see my A1C was 5.9% which was in the prediabetic range.  By then I had already lost down to about 159 pounds and was overweight and not obese.  I had worked on limiting bad carbs and during 2014 had eaten about 118g of carbs a day (96g net).

My LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol were a little high, my thyroid function was borderline low, my Vitamin D was shockingly low.

Based upon the results, I really worked on the eating part of it.  I bought a blood glucose meter and spent and tested my blood sugar in the morning and after eating to find out what foods raised my blood sugar.  I learned that I was definitely insulin resistant as some foods really spiked my blood sugar.  And, I really started eating in a way that I now realize aligns really well with SmartPoints.  I often eat a salad like this for one of my meals:

Salad 12-22

[Read more…]

Low Blood Sugar and Exercise

On Monday, I had what I think was an episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) after exercise.  This is apparently common in people with diabetes.  I don’t have diabetes, but I am insulin resistant and do have elevated blood sugar at times.

Monday I went to training.  I did the elliptical to warm up and then went to do strength training with my trainer.  On several exercises, we upped the weight so it was a little more intense than usual.  I do this as a circuit where I do one set of each exercise, usually with no rest between exercises except walking to each place.  I had my heart rate monitor on and I usually will stop and rest 30 seconds or so if my heart rate is above 140 or so.

On Monday, I noticed that I soon felt really tired.  Resting for 30 seconds or a minute to get my heart rate down didn’t help.  I also started feeling shaky and nauseated.  Finally, about halfway through the third set of exercises, I told my trainer that I was done.  I went out to the reception area where my husband was waiting for me.  Normally, we then go out to the car.  But, I felt like I couldn’t possibly walk out to the car.  I sat down at the table and my heart rate quickly came down.  But, that didn’t help.  I still felt shaky and nauseated and was worried that I would faint.

At some point, I realized that my symptoms would fit with what I had heard about as low blood sugar.  I’ve never really experienced it to that extent before, but it seemed to fit.  I recalled that I hadn’t eaten much that morning.  I had a Kind bar about 3 hours before exercising (about 15g of carbs).  Then, right before we went to the Y I had a cheese stick (no carbs) and a small piece of dark chocolate (9g of carbs).  At that point, once I thought about that, I had my husband go to the vending machine and he got me a Zbar which had 12g of carbs.  A little after eating that, I started feeling better.

While I can’t be entirely sure, I think my problem was low blood sugar.  While I don’t eat totally low carb, I do eat lower carb than most people.  I usually end up averaging about 100g of carbs a day (70 or 80 net carbs).  I think I need to pay attention to my carbs before exercising particularly on the more intense days when I am seeing the trainer.

I read some articles about eating before exercise for people with diabetes, which gave me some ideas.  So, this morning I tested my blood glucose when I got up.  It was at 94.  Then I had a Quest bar (chocolate cookie dough for breakfast) for breakfast.  Then, right before leaving for the Y I had a sandwich.  I used 2 pieces of 100% wholegrain sprouted grain bread (28g of carbs) with 2 ounces of turkey and a piece of Weight Watcher pepper jack cheese.  Normally I wouldn’t eat that much carbs early in the day (I often go a week or two without eating any bread, although I do sometimes eat it and do eat some other grains).  When we got to the Y, my blood sugar was at 124, which made sense given what I had eaten.

I went in, did the elliptical and then did my training session.  I did not feel awful during it.  A couple of times my heart rate went over 140 and I rested for 30 seconds or so, but all went well.  When it was over, I didn’t feel nauseated or awful.  I did test my blood sugar, which was just over an hour after I had had the sandwich.  My blood sugar was 90.

Blood sugar

That is actually really low for having eaten a sandwich an hour before.  So this really reflects how much exercise had lowered my blood sugar. I knew that exercise lowers blood sugar and diabetics are often told to exercise to help control blood sugar. I just hadn’t thought that it might lower blood sugar so much that I might become hypoglycemic.  If my blood sugar was 90 today after having about 30g of carbs at lunch, then it was probably much lower on Monday when I had had much lower carbs that morning than today I had 26 Monday including breakfast, versus 52 today including breakfast. From a net carb standpoint (carbs less fiber) it was 17 Monday versus 30 today.  So, chances are my blood sugar on Monday was well below 90 when I got finished exercising and may have gone below 70 to hypoglycemia.

And, I do remember there have been some times that I’ve finished at the Y and felt shaky and a little sick but never as bad as this last Monday.  I suspect that was on days when I hadn’t eaten much.  So, I’ll be watching this much more carefully going forward.

NWI and Busy Week (+ More Decluttering)

I did not weigh in Saturday due to the Texas Ironman Triathlon which starts very close to where I weigh in plus, during the morning, the bike ride was passing near my subdivision.  So, when this comes around every year, we stay at home until afternoon, and then don’t go near where the Triathlon finishes.

My week was overall…pretty good.  My big risk when I know in advance I’m not going to weigh in is that I’ll lose focus on eating later in the week.  With a Saturday weigh in, I’m usually super careful on what I eat the last 3 days of the week, but if I’m not weighing in I am sometimes not as careful.  I don’t mean eating beyond my points available, just eating more of the available points later in the week.

I did reasonably well overall, but the activity kind of fell part later in the week.  Sunday was Mother’s Day so I ate more than usual, but I had planned for that.  I went to my first personal training session on Monday.  I exercised Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday like usual.  Then, on Wednesday, I was supposed to have my first real full training session.  I arrived on time at the Y for the session to find the gates locked!  There was one of the workers there and he told me that the Y was closed to prepare for flooding.  We had had some heavy rain the days before that and more was expected (although there wasn’t any at the time).  This Y actually has horses and is in a low area, near a creek.  So they were anticipating there might be flooding (and they looked to have moved out the horses).  The building itself is up high, but the outside stuff isn’t.  Anyway, I went back home and I was a little tired from the exercising I had done earlier in the week so I decided to take the day off (I was already planning to make it a low cardio day, just basically doing the strength training).

Instead I worked some on decluttering and trying to find which possessions spark joy.  I’ve been working on this periodically and, by Wednesday, was mostly working on the things in my home office.  I had originally planned to exercise on Thursday, but I ended up taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets and drawers  This was a massive job to take out almost everything (some things were too high up and a few things I didn’t have room to take out) and put them out on tables and counters and the island.  As I did it, I threw away stuff that was in bad shape and I laid out similar things together.  This was tiring, but didn’t burn all that many calories, alas.  After getting finished I was exhausted and the kitchen was totally torn apart, so we decided to go out to eat at Panera.  I hadn’t really planned for it so I ended up eating a couple of hundred calories more than usual.  I still had plenty of weekly points left (and the activity points I had earned) so it was fine, but I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had been planning to weigh in on Saturday.

Then, Friday was exhausting as well.  We are going to a family wedding out of town next weekend.  I had bought my dress, but my daughter needed hers.  So we went to the mall and walked around finding her dress, then various things to go with it.  I actually earned an activity point from all the walking around I did and my calorie burn was respectable even though I did no formal exercise.

My Fitbit says my calorie deficit for the week would have supported a .8 pound loss.  I wouldn’t actually have gotten that since I ate out Thursday evening, but I was happy with the overall calorie deficit shown.  I was glad I didn’t get derailed by not weighing in Saturday.

On Saturday, once it was afternoon and we could leave the subdivision easily, we went out to lunch at Chipotle.  I had a salad with chicken, brown rice and beans.  I skipped the cheese and didn’t get any chips (I was tempted)!  Afterwards, we went to the Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt shop next door to it.  We’ve been meaning to check it out forever and today was the day to do it.  I had a lowfat cookies and cream frozen yogurt with about 1 ounce of mix ins.  I ended up getting more than I thought I was getting (I thought it was about 4 ounces before I weighed it and it was really about 7 ounces of frozen yogurt).  From a calorie standpoint, it was OK, but with the lunch it was more carbs at once than I usually want to have.

The combination raised my blood sugar to 157 an hour after having the frozen yogurt.  I’ve measured after Chipotle before and it doesn’t usually cause me any major problem, so I think it was the combination of the two.  I think I could have a smaller serving of the frozen yogurt sometime not close to other foods with carbs or I could Chipotle …but not both together.

When we got home, we finished going through the kitchen stuff and organized what was left in our cabinets.  That was a lot of fun.  Before, our cabinets and drawers were just jam packed full of stuff.  We had everything stacked and it was so hard sometimes to unearth the pan at the bottom of the stack.  Now, it is totally different.  First, I put the most used items in the drawer that is right next to the cooktop:


And, nothing is stacked!  When we were done, we had some cabinets with little in them:

Upper cabinet

My husband wondered why I didn’t stack the bowls, but I pointed out that I really didn’t need to, given the unused space.

We even ended up with a few cabinets that have absolutely nothing in them:

Lower Cabinet

I am sure they won’t stay empty for all that long.  With eating less processed foods, I am now cooking more, which means buying more cooking things.  I actually bought a lot of new kitchen items from Amazon after we finished going through stuff.  These haven’t arrived yet and I have some other things in mind that I haven’t bought yet.  But, I am going to be careful to only buy things that I have a present use for.

After not formally exercising for 3 days I really wanted to get back to it today.  With going out this afternoon and then working on the kitchen I didn’t get started until 10:00 PM.  I did almost 40 minutes on the treadmill.   I wanted to do another 20, but Charles was eager to go to bed (the treadmill is in the bedroom), so I stopped.  I was going to just do computer stuff until midnight, but around 11:30 I realized I was close to getting to 1800 calories burned for the day.  I couldn’t use the exercise equipment in the bedroom, so I pulled out my laptop and found a Leslie Sansone video on You Tube and did that for 20 minutes.  I had done a few of those early last year when I wanted to do something at night when I couldn’t use the treadmill.  I had stopped it after my leg injury, and had forgotten that they are kind of fun and quick to do to burn a few extra calories.  I ended up finishing the day with 1812 calories burned, 1257 calories eaten, and 55 minutes of exercise.  I was very happy with how my day ended up.

My Eating Going Forward

I wanted to talk a bit about how I’ve been changing how I eat lately. Let me first say that I think the choice of a way of eating is highly personal.  I don’t really advocate my way for anyone other than me, since we are all individual.  Other people may be sensitive to foods that don’t bother me.  On the other hand, I may want to avoid some foods that others can handle just fine. And, I’m mindful that I’m not really an expert in how to eat. On that point, I enjoyed this essay by Dr. David Katz. But, I have tried to figure out what I think makes sense to me, for me, based upon what I’ve read and what my experience has been.

I posted previously about how we ate when I was growing up.  And, then I posted about how my eating evolved over the years after I was out of school. I have made a lot of changes over the years.  For example, I gave up eating beef 14 years ago.  I also have slowly limited the refined grains that I eat and mostly eat whole grains when I eat grains.  And, I’ve increased my intake of vegetables and berries.  But, there are other changes I’ve also been starting to undertake.

1. Probably the most major change is to lessen my intake of highly processed foods and to be far more selective of where I eat out.  I am not giving up all processed foods, but I am giving up (or severely limiting) the ones that have little nutritional value, are highly processed with lots of artificial ingredients, and are more created in lab than really being a food that would be found in nature.  So, I would still buy frozen chopped vegetables, but would not buy Cheetos.

One of the major reasons is that I am focusing on what I think is best for maintaining weight loss.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food over the past months.  I’ve looked at various ways to eat and I’ve tried to come to some sort of synthesis of everything I’ve read to something that makes sense for me.  I’ve really come to believe that the industrial food system — which includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, many chain restaurants — has become a force that really promotes overeating.  I found The End of Overeating by David Kessler (former FDA commissioner) and Salt Sugar Fat:  How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss to be really eye-opening.  They really demonstrated to me how the food industry really tries to use fat, sugar, and salt to make food so appealing and so rewarding that we want to eat more and more of it.  I’m not saying that no one should ever eat fat, sugar, and salt.  But, these books show how this stuff just gets added on beyond a reasonable amount in so much processed food.  To get an idea, here is an article by Moss in the New York Times adapted from Salt Sugar Fat.  Another great book on the industrial food system and why corn seems to be in everything was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  I really loved this book and how it tells us there can be alternatives to the industrial food system.

I also have been very fascinated to read about food reward theory and obesity.  Stephan Guyenet (a neurobiologist) on his blog did a great series talking about food reward: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII.  I found the entire series very interesting to read.  I hasten to add that I don’t know if he is right on the science, but a lot of what he said resonated with me.

Here I thought he did a good job of explaining the concept of food reward and how it relates to obesity:

Reward is a psychology term with a specific definition: “a process that reinforces behavior”.  Rewarding food is not the same thing as food that tastes good, although they often occur together.

Food reward is the process by which eating specific foods reinforces behaviors that favor the acquisition and consumption of the food in question.  You could also call rewarding food “reinforcing” or “habit-forming”, although not necessarily in an addictive sense.  Food reward is a perfectly normal and healthy part of life, although I believe it can be harmful if it exceeds the bounds of what we’re adapted to.  Food reward is essential for survival in a natural environment, because it teaches you what to eat and how to get it through a trial-and-error process.


Here’s the fundamental concept that I think explains a lot of obesity in industrialized nations.  We live in a more or less Darwinian economic framework (capitalism).  Food manufacturers are in constant competition, and any food that sells poorly will rapidly disappear from stores.  How do you get people to buy your product?  You produce something that causes them to come back and buy it again.  In other words, the goal of processed food manufacturers is to create a product that maximally reinforces purchase and consumption behaviors– food reward!  If the product is not extremely rewarding, it won’t sell because it’s competing against other products that are extremely rewarding. Only the most rewarding products survive.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you like the Little Debbie cake once it’s in your mouth.  It doesn’t matter how you feel afterward.  The only thing that matters is whether or not you’ll buy another one tomorrow.  That’s food reward.

 When I look back on when I got to goal weight (actually, I got down to 117 pounds) many years ago, I think the above was a key part of why I regained.  The environment then (early 1990s) wasn’t as obesogenic as today’s environment, but I was a big processed food eater, and I loved fast food and I ate out a lot.  I did for awhile (when I was losing weight) start cooking a lot, but it went by the wayside after I got to goal.  I was very busy at work and it was easier to just cook a frozen meal, or drive through Jack in the Box, or go out to eat.  And, I loved those very rewarding foods.

When I regained 30 pounds ofter we moved 3 years ago, I see that it was because of that kind of thing again.  We were busy finding a new house, then moving, then doing some remodeling to the new house.  And, we ate out a lot.  And, when we didn’t eat out, I was buying packages at the store.  Cookies, chips, ice cream, and frozen (diet) dinners.  We would eat fast food 2 or 3 times a week and then go to a restaurant a few times.  No wonder I regained 30 pounds.

And, to be honest, I’ve resisted for years the idea of giving up or limiting the highly processed foods.  Yes, I’ve modified how much of them that I eat.  I’ve counted calories and Weight Watchers points and when I do that, then I can eat those foods and still lose weight.  But…the rub is that many of those foods are designed by food manufacturers to be foods that I want to eat more of.  So, I now think that if I avoid or limit those foods then the weight loss I have left to do and maintenance will be far easier for me.

Weight loss isn’t the only reason I want to limit my intake of highly processed foods.  I think that doing so will result in overall healthier eating.  I am also being more cognizant of where the food I eat comes from (particularly the animal protein which raised ethical concerns to me).

2. Eliminated soft drinks.  I implemented this a couple of weeks ago.  Since this I have had no soft drinks at all.  I gave up sugared soft drinks many years ago.  But, giving up my Cherry Coke Zero has been difficult.  I tried for awhile to just not have it at home and to only have it restaurants or when out and about.  But, what always happened was that I would maybe buy a 20 oz. Coke Zero at the gas station to drink on the way home…but then I would buy a few more to have at home.  So, I ended up drinking as much as I drank when I was buying 12 packs at the store (and the 20 oz. ones from  a convenience store are really expensive).  I finally realized that I would do better to just not drink them at all.  Since then, at restaurants I have either water or unsweetened tea.  At home, I have iced green tea, water, or sparkling water (the kind with no sweeteners).

3.  Carb limitation and modification – In January, I posted about my blood test results which really suggested my body wasn’t handling carbohydrates very well.  After that, I bought a blood glucose meter and started testing after meals.  Over time, I’ve found that some things do raise my blood sugar high enough that I don’t want to eat those things any more.  I find that refined grains raise my blood sugar a lot.  Of course, something with high sugar will raise my blood sugar (the cinnamon crunch bagel from Panera was, alas, really problematical for me).  On the other hand, I’ve found that limited amounts of whole grains (a small whole wheat tortilla or half a cup of brown rice, for example) are OK for my blood sugar.  I guess most days my carbs are around 90 to 100 grams (net carbs are probably closer to 70 to 80), and that seems to work out well.  I tend to spread them out throughout the day and a lot of them come from berries and vegetables.

So what am I eating?  I’ve gotten some ideas from various sources.  After The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan wrote a great book about what to eat, called In Defense of Food:  An Eater’s Manifesto.  He famously summed up his approach as: “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants.”  That seems simple, but it really succinctly makes some important points.

Eat food – My first thought when I read this quote (long before reading the book) was to wonder why he was saying that?  I mean, what else would I be eating?  But, that is his point.  Not everything we eat is really food.  Some (a lot) of what we eat isn’t food, but is more like food like substances.  His point is to eat actual real food, not something that is really a science experiment created in a lab.  S0, he suggests that we not eat anything that our great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.  And, to avoid food products that have ingredients that are unpronounceable or are unfamiliar or that have more then 5 ingredients, or that contain high fructose corn syrup.  I don’t totally follow this.  For example, I buy stuff with more than 5 ingredients if I can read and understand what they are.  And sometimes, I buy things with uunpronounceable or unfamiliar ingredients (but I do look them up first).  But, the general rule holds.  Buy real food and cook it at home when possible.

Not too much – Well, yes.  I still am losing weight and then will need to maintain my weight loss.  Calories still matter.  Now that I am cooking more at home, though, I find that I get to eat a lot more volume of food for less calories than I was eating when I would eat out or buy processed foods.

Mostly plants – I think the point here is that Pollan says to eat mostly plants, yet he doesn’t say to eat only plants.  I was a vegetarian for a couple of years (lacto-ovo, not vegan), but I feel comfortable now with having some animal protein.  But,  I m eating a lot more vegetables now than I used to eat.  And, more berries.  I find that on some days, without setting out to do so, I end up not eating any chicken or fish.

Another book that I found helpful in translating this into actual eating was 100 Days of Real Food where a family transformed their eating inspired by In Defense of Food.

So, what am I doing?  More cooking.  I truly don’t like to spend a lot of time cooking, so I looked for recipes that were easy to do.  I make a large salad several days a week with a lot of veggies in it.  I make a simple balsamic vinaigrette (really simple – olive oil and balsamic vinegar).  I add a little cooked chicken to it or maybe a pouch of wild salmon or even a couple of tablespoons of hummus.  Maybe a little cheese or a few almonds or not.  I make some simple recipes that don’t take a long time to make such as a vegetable frittata that I modified from Food Matters.  I buy frozen fish and cook it.

I do sometimes eat some processed foods.  I buy frozen vegetables (but look carefully at the ingredients).   I look carefully at ingredient labels and decide whether I feel comfortable with the food.  I am avoiding the really ultra processed foods.  I am avoiding fast food restaurants.  I could certainly envision eating at one such as when traveling, but not for everyday eating.  We do still eat out a couple of times a week, but I’m much more careful about where we eat and what we eat.  I really make an effort to eat simpler foods where I know what is in them. Some of my favorite places currently: The Counter (burger place where you can build your own burger — I have mine in a bowl with no bread), Panera (I don’t buy the pastries, basically I eat some of the salads and a couple of the soups), Chipotle (I have a bowl, not a burrito).

This is very much still a work in progress, but I’m definitely feeling better and feel that this will help me sustain my weight loss for the long term.