Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Bad and the Good, Part I

The bad news: my liver enzyme levels were elevated into the abnormal range when I had my annual checkup last February, putting me at risk for liver disease.

The good news: it was probably because I was living primarily on sugar: not only cake, brownies, cookies, donuts, candy, soda, sweet tea, and juice, but also sugar hidden in "real" food, from cereal and yogurt to crackers and peanut butter.

The bad news: I had to cut out my favorite foods and read labels to avoid hidden sugar and other unhealthy additives. I had to limit my sugar intake to 25 grams a day, for three months, until another round of liver tests. (And no Splenda or Nutrasweet, either.) I was told to exercise daily, too.

The good news: I was already in the habit of walking 5 miles a day, usually at a Bostonian clip. I had been taking a break for a few weeks to see if rest helped my knees. It didn't. It was easy to start walking again.

More good news: we both stopped eating several unhealthy, processed foods, rediscovered things like locally made pecan butter (Fastachi), and began eating more fruits and vegetables — and it was relatively pleasant. And there's no added sugar in cheese, milk, or butter. There are good crackers and pasta sauces, etc., that don't contain sugar but you have to look hard to find them.

Easter: No, no, no, no, no, no. 
(But those are indeed two jelly-bean topped cakes surrounded by chocolate bars.)

The bad news: I had some lapses. There were a couple of trips to Tasty Burger and Shake Shack, where my husband let me share his vanilla shake. There was Paris, where my pastry consumption was Spartan for me, but epicurean by liver-specialist standards. I broke down and baked brownies one night. There was that obligatory Brimfield apple fritter. And how I craved sweet drinks: Diet Coke, root beer, Nestea and Snapple iced tea, chocolate milk.

The good news: I figured out that one tablespoon of Nesquik (rather than the recommended two) doesn't contain all that much sugar. Thank god. Every sip was heaven. Also: a Lindt truffle has only 5 grams of sugar. I don't miss ice cream, pie, donuts, granola bars, trail mix, cereal, or most candy. I've become less tolerant of very sugary things. My husband's buttercream birthday cake was too sweet for me. I am only tempted by really nice baked goods, in small amounts (except for brownies). At night, I limit myself to a McVities digestive biscuit or a single square of a Lindt Crème Brûlée chocolate bar (5 grams of sugar in each) and a glass of skim milk.

The bad news: I hate our filtered tap water. I add a splash of cranberry juice, and then it's like drinking the ghost of some delicious, sweet, juicy beverage of my good old days. Unsweetened cereal tastes like styrofoam or cardboard, depending on the grains. Unflavored Greek yogurt tastes like, well, vomit. Stevia (a natural sweetener that's healthy) tastes weirdly powdery, even though it's liquid.

The good news: I lost a few pounds, which is ordinarily very tough for me to do. I'm surprised and pleased. It never occurred to me that I'd lose weight since I make up for my long-lost desserts with lovely cheeses and nut butters. I never feel hungry, just mildly deprived. All I really cared about was never needing another liver ultrasound or, god forbid, a biopsy, so not eating sugar was easy as long as I kept that in mind.

The bad news: I'd filled a bag last month with old, tight clothing, which I was finally ready get rid of (flared jeans, anyone?). Today, it all magically unshrank itself to fit me for the first time in years. I'll have to browbeat myself into getting rid of it now.

The very good news: I had my three-month test yesterday and my liver enzymes are in normal range.

The rotten news: The enzymes are still not low enough to appease the specialist. She told me to keep up the good work, add some intense cardio if my knees allow it, and return for more tests in six months. That's an awful lot of ghost drinks and digestive biscuits. But, first, I'll celebrate with a brownie or something.


  1. PB: that is good news. 25 g only a day is pretty tough, and I don't think I have quite as much of a sweet tooth. I have been trying for 1500 mg. or less of sodium a day, which is also stealthily high in so many foods. Have you tried sparkling water? The fizzy aspect can make it seem more like a "real" drink and less like plain water. Anything served in a wine glass helps too (even tho you don't drink).

    1. I love the idea of that orange-vanilla sparkling water but it never tastes as good as it smells. It's more like drinking an idea than a real soda. But I keep hoping it will grow on me! Limiting salt would be really tough for me, too!

  2. Very glad to hear you're making progress! I just looked at the sugar content of a few items in my pantry and I'd be hard pressed to do 25g/day. You definitely don't ever want to have to undergo a liver biopsy--I had to have one last fall and it was absolutely unnerving, even after the doctor gave me some drugs to "calm me down".



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