Not long ago someone asked me to name my favorite food, and without a second of hesitation I replied: “Wheat Thins.” I love Wheat Thins the way other people love chocolate cake. I have eaten a box of Wheat Thins while watching a movie, instead of popcorn. I have a favorite flavor (Original) and a preferred way to eat them: facedown, so that the salty side is applied directly to the tongue. When I lived in London, visiting friends and family would bring me as many boxes of Wheat Thins and Krispy Kreme donuts as they could fit into a carry-on. Baked goods, obviously, are my weakness.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the wisdom not only of my Wheat Thins addiction, but my reliance on what I’m calling “boxed carbs”: Wheat Thins, of course, but also pasta and cookies. (Did someone say Walker’s shortbread? Yum!) I don’t wake up in the morning dying to get to the gym, but I like working out; I’ve run two marathons and dominate my family during our Fitbit competitions. I travel a lot, so I rotate between my favorite workout DVDs when I’m on the road—mostly P90X (the original) and Insanity. It’s a good thing I’m into fitness, because my nutritional habits are, at best, questionable, and at worst, negligent. I’m generally a believer in a low-key attitude toward diet—I put a lot of stock in the ideas behind the “non-diet diet,” which holds that your “your body instinctively knows what it needs.” Unfortunately, my body has, too often as of late, been suggesting what it needs is spaghetti and cookies. My head, however, does not believe this to be true, and I’m pretty sure my reliance on boxed carbs is a matter of having a basic palate and poor planning (“I’m hungry and have nothing else to eat”), rather than my cells crying out for penne and pesto sauce out of a jar.
This realization has been on my mind while reading new, ever-conflicting studies about low-carb versus high-carb diets (sample headlines: “Low-carb diet may make you unhealthy, shorten your life: study”; “Low-Carb Diet Most Effective for Weight Loss”). Of equal interest are famous investigations like the Tokelau Island Migrant Study, which followed Polynesian islanders as they transitioned from a diet rich in fat (typically from coconuts) and fish to one where processed foods took a more central role. Processed grains, you probably could have guessed, have not been kind to this population.
I decided to make one small change. I didn’t think it was necessary to strip all refined carbs, or wheat products, entirely out of my diet. I’m not gluten-intolerant or celiac, though I do have an aunt who struggled with weight loss for decades until she stopped eating wheat products. (Not sure what gluten is? You’re not alone! Check out this video from Jimmy Kimmel Live.)
I also decided to skirt the low-GI/high-GI issue, which acknowledges that not all carbs affect body chemistry in the same way, and makes it clear that a non-fat yogurt, for example, is less disruptive to blood sugar levels than a glazed doughnut. My ban would not affect carbs that didn’t come out of a box (or its equivalents). White bread out of a plastic bag, no. A sandwich from the local shop, with bread made that morning and stale by evening: fine.
All that makes my change a small one—which I think is the way to go, since every time I’ve naively tried to make a big change in my diet, it’s backfired terribly. (A recent Lent without chocolate ended in a massacre of candy bunnies at Easter.) So for a month, I’m going to lock up my Barilla, my shortbreads, my pancake mix and even my Wheat Thins—one whole month without boxed carbs. I’m not sure what I’m going to eat, but I’m positive it’s going to be better than what I had for dinner last night. Which may or may not have been pancakes.
Would you be able to give up boxed carbs? Share your tips for Diane in the comments below! (She’ll be letting us know how her “one small change” diet is going in the coming weeks.)
Photo: Toy Master/Flickr