How I made my own cake so I could eat it, too.
Something I've learned from eating retro since 2010 is that I didn't just have to go on a diet from contemporary diets or simply abstain from junk food. Just as I began to make food from scratch, I, too had to start from scratch and do a reset, especially with sugar.
2010, Year One
Things got very real. I was on a sugar time-out for a year. I ate no added sweeteners. I made use of unsweetened dates, figs and raisins in place of sugar for cooking and baking. I ate out on occasion and I know almost all restaurants use ingredients that contain sugar but that was the extent of my consumption.
Why would I do something so extreme? I was a sugar junkie, and my addiction had been fed by my previous dieting. My "enough" switch was broken. I ate so much sugar that I was cranky, spacey and showed no signs of being able to moderate my intake. I tried the pre-packaged approach as a portion control solution which is part of manufacturer's marketing, of course. This "fix" was just that: a sugar fix. Little packages of highly processed sugary junk labelled as being "smart" or "non-fat" were torn open and a whole box was gone. Listen, it wasn't just unhealthy; it was very inelegant and still embarrassing to talk about. Every time I overate it ate away at my self-confidence and hope that I could break free of the cycle. What I needed was self-control!
I had to address my sugar addiction so I went cold turkey starting right after Christmas 2009. Ironically I discovered that even cold turkey has added sugar! I read every label every single time, even when I bought the same product (and I still do this today). Why? Because manufacturers make sneaky changes. As an occasional treat during that first year I had Polaner All Fruit spread on pancakes until they, too changed their formula and added maltodextrin.
Even though I cut out processed foods, I found out that basic staples like cheese, vegetables and meats may contain unexpected additives (and sadly not all are required to be listed on the package.)
2011 - 2014
Other than Christmastime when my now 99 year old Nana sent me a stocking that I shared with others (which was a package with chocolates, sweets and nuts with the stocking on top) I continued to stay away from foods with added sugars. My taste buds had become more sensitive to sugar so that what once tasted like GIVE ME MORE NOW I DESERVE THIS TREAT GIMME GIMME became WHOA this is sweet. I was very in tune with how it affected me so I was aware of feeling a high and then not so great later on. It was hard to believe I ate that way every day for years.
As I stated in my book American Women Didn't Get Fat in the 1950s: It would be dangerous to ignore your own individual health issues to emulate something for the sake of historical reenactment. Besides, eating sugar and cake wasn't the secret to the 1950s diet. Eating foods in moderation was and I was learning how to do that through my own detox and retraining.
I used maple syrup, date sugar (which is made by turning dehydrated dates into powder) or molasses in my baking, but still avoided highly refined sugars, didn't buy foods with added sugars and limited my consumption to an average of one tablespoon daily. To get an idea of what that looks like in food, it translated to about two homemade cookies or a piece of cake or fresh fruit with a tablespoon of maple syrup on pancakes.
This level of sugar consumption was very satisfying and didn't trigger a binge. In place of eating sweets for fun I developed healthy hobbies.
After reading the new World Health Organization guidelines for sugar intake that suggest no more than 10% with 5% being ideal, I realized that my daily intake of "free" sugars was a mere 2.5% of my daily diet! I had learned to enjoy so many other foods and activities not to mention a STEADY WEIGHT that I never felt like I was missing out. Also, because I don't eat processed foods with "hidden" sugars I truly can keep track.
Keep in mind that the WHO guideline "does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars." This is great news! Fruit is not a sad substitute for junk or something you have to behave. Fruit is real food and it's really, really good! The same for veggies (although I have issues with kale. Sort of. More with it being made into chips and its celebrity status.)
New to my baking was that I began to experiment with unrefined granulated coconut sugar and permitted myself, on occasion, to have up to two tablespoons of added sugars a day.
Towards the end of 2015, even though my way of eating was working, I had to cut back on my food budget. This prompted me to delve into my recipes and cook books from World War One through the Great Depression knowing that many Americans had to be frugal. It was the beginning of my current continued journey going further back in time with my eating. My daily diet is becoming more diverse, creative, delicious and even healthier all while being more economical.
This slice is from the 1930s coconut cream pie I baked this week. It contains a total of 1.6 tablespoons of organic cane sugar that hasn't undergone a total refining process. This was my first use of cane sugar in my own baking since 2009!
The recipes for desserts I'm now using and recording in my cook book contain many wholesome ingredients and often call for molasses, raisins, prunes and dates in place of white sugar. I wish I had gone back to recipes from the 1930s and earlier much sooner!
I am finally at a point where I can eat a piece of homemade cake, or slice of pie with cane sugar and not fall back into my old ways because I've become true old school. That includes an important caveat!
I will never go back to, or be able to self-regulate current-day junk food.
Here is my own definition of junk food in the "sweets" category:
- A serving contains mostly refined sugars and little or nothing else.
- If it contains flour, it's highly refined, stripped of natural fiber.
- It contains ingredients that weren't in existence before 1950.
- It's impossible to replicate the recipe at home because you'd need industrial grade tools and processes, and likely a lab.
- It lacks any whole foods in combination with the added sugars.
- It triggers a binge and/or isn't satisfying.
- It doesn't matter if it's fair trade, organic or purchased from Trader Joe's. The above guidelines will always apply for me.
I still and always will count calories including every snack, meal and day. I will continue to weigh myself regularly. It's not a big deal, but the alternative just might be!