fitness · food

NY Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge review: skip the print, look at the pictures

It’s January. Everyone’s on the behavior change bandwagon. Or, if not already on it, they’re waiting for the right bandwagon to come by.

Comic of one person waiting at a bus stop, and loads of folks waiting at a bandwagon stop. Literal, but still amusing.
Comic of one person waiting at a bus stop, and loads of folks waiting at a bandwagon stop. Literal, but still amusing.

Cate wrote about the Yoga with Adriene 30-day yoga journey (a kinder, gentler challenge which I really like), and we get to see many of the good features of challenges there.

Out of curiosity more than any actual desire for radical change, I signed up for the New York Times’ 7-day sugar challenge. Here’s what they promised:

Every day for the next 7 days, we’ll share a simple new strategy for cutting added sugar from your daily diet [and] …readings about how sugar affects your body.

The Sugar Challenge will show you, step by step, how to cut all that added sugar in your diet as well as tricks for satisfying your sweet tooth. Each day you will take on a new challenge while repeating the challenges from the previous days. By the end of the week, you will have adopted several new healthful habits and discovered that life really is sweeter without all that extra sugar!

Great! I will have a whole new relationship with sugar (that of total abandonment, I assume) in just seven days. Wow.

Color me skeptical.

You never know what images will come up from Googling; I really like this one. It's a hippo, and the print reads Skeptical hippo is skeptical.
You never know what will come up on Google images. “Skeptical hippo is skeptical” is my new favorite sentence.

So as not to waste your valuable blog-reading time, I’ll put all seven days in a list:

  • Eat breakfast foods with no sugar (no grains, sweetened dairy, doughnuts, etc)
  • Start jettisoning packaged foods from your diet, as lots of them contain added sugar (even those that don’t seem sweet)
  • Eat fruit (but the higher-fiber and lower-sugar fruit– no bananas or grapes)
  • Drink only water (or plain selzer– whew…)
  • Eat spicy food (and you can maybe have some berries or orange slices after)
  • Roast root vegetables, and enjoy their sweetness
  • Savor a small piece of dark chocolate sometimes (but not every day)

Now, I do give the NY Times credit for finding scientific research behind all of these suggestions (which you can find in the articles). But honestly, this is pretty much advice of the buy-low/sell-high variety. Who doesn’t know that most sodas, juices and sports drinks contain a lot of sugar?

What they don’t do is what (almost) everyone doesn’t do– they don’t tell you HOW to bring yourself to the point where you can make what may be big changes and maintain them over time. Like almost everyone, they just say, “decide to do this, and before you know it, it’ll be a habit”.

(Brief aside: even though I’m skeptical hippo, I think Nia Shanks really gets that we need to dig deeper into the narratives we place ourselves in that keep us in habits we wish we could change. Check out what we’re writing about Nia’s 100-day reclaim here. Now back to the current blog post…)

Lest you, dear readers, think I’m just writing another rant about how media gets nutrition advice wrong, let me say this: I come here not to bury the 7-day sugar challenge, but to praise it. Well, its illustrations anyway. Check these out:

And these:

Yep, there are more:

And then there’s the chocolate:

Yep, this chocolate is made of paper, too.
Yep, this chocolate is made of paper, too.

The artist responsible for these marvelous yummy creations is Reina Takahashi, a paper artist and photographer. She does magnificent creative renderings of food, ordinary objects, scenes, all sorts of things. Her illustrations made me much more interested in beets and water pitchers and chili peppers than all the articles the NY Times could throw at me. Here’s what she said about some of her work:

This paper beet is my favorite of the series for the way that it photographed. The green leaves have crisp edges against their shadows and a good bit of texture, while the rest of the beet has a clean range of light/dark.

The little green hats on these red chili friends were my favorite part to make!

I bought a bar of dark chocolate in order to use its silver wrapper in this illustration (the contents went to good use, I promise).

Reina’s paper food art reminds me of the whimsy and fun that we can have with our food. Food is about color and texture and depth and light and little green hats and silver linings and more. Seeing my food in a different way– MADE OF PAPER!– made me think about possibilities for preparing it, serving it, displaying it and eating it differently. And that, my friends, is a good way for us to open pathways to new ways of being, seeing, doing, and maybe even eating.

These illustrations tickled me pink. I hope you like them too.

Oh, and about the sugar challenge: I say go straight to day 8: Make or draw or construct or paint or prepare some food (out of paper or just out of food), and enjoy its beautiful qualities.

So, readers, are you as transported by these illustrations as I am? Did you go to Reina’s blog? Are you impressed or unimpressed by the sugar challenge? Do you want to meet skeptical hippo? Let me know if you have inquiries about any or all of these issues.

10 thoughts on “NY Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge review: skip the print, look at the pictures

  1. I enjoyed reading this over breakfast including coffee with milk and sugar! NYTimes’ info is so obvious. Sort of click-baity, and appeared a few times in my twitter feed as “promoted” content. Glad I didn’t read it. Hurray for paper art! Will use the skeptical hippo photo soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Mary– I can’t you how happy your tweet makes me. May skeptical hippo touch and improve all of our lives soon… 🙂

      Like

  2. The illustrations are amazing, and I will definitely check out her blog. Also I can’t wait to meet a skeptical hippo 🙂
    The sugar challenge is, of course, bullshit. Urgh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Check out her tumblr feed; she does incredible things with simple objects like tortellini. Love the abstraction and materials and artistic vision!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No cereal, no bananas (or many other breakfast staples, such as raisins)–what are we supposed to eat? This challenge sounds extremist to me. Sounds like one of those programs where they tell you to ditch coffee and tea (a sure sign of crackpottery). A small piece of dark chocolate but only once in a while? Can’t be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Sugar demonizing has hit a fever pitch. And it’s hard even to talk/write about it without huge backlash and moral panic. Thanks for the sensible comments. I’m with you on breakfast!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I want to meet Skeptical Hippo and any other Skeptical Creatures.

    I too was extremely disappointed with the sugar “challenge.” That’s it, that’s all it is, I thought. How ridiculous! No grains for breakfast? No grapes or bananas? The authors clearly failed to distinguish between naturally-occurring sugars like fructose and added sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. We need to limit the latter, not the former.

    And, as my gynecologist said, everyone needs an occasional cookie.

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