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3 Simple Steps to Lose the Muffin Top (Step 2 of 3)

Step 2: Ditch the Liquid Candy

Simple, but not easy.

Liquid candy, a.k.a. soda, pop, coke, coca-cola, pepsi, mountain dew, red bull, monster, sweet tea, lemonade, Jack and coke, juicy juice, apple juice (yes, apple juice), and the list goes on and on.

There's nothing like the cool, thirst quenching taste of liquid candy rolling over the tongue in the middle of the summer. That sweet burn and sizzle of the carbonation dancing around the mouth. That jolt of alertness and satisfaction from the sugar that brings you alive, if only for a little while. I love it! But I've learned to kind of hate it. Don't get me wrong, an iced cold Coca-Cola out of a bottle on a hot day is about the pinnacle of tastebud highs for me, but there is a steep downside that I've learned and it's multi-faceted.

Most of us in America, especially in the South, are weined on sugar and it sets us up for a life-long struggle to escape the cravings, keep our weight down, and even keep our digestive system in perfect balance with the right gut flora or gut microbiota (more about gut flora and sweets in another article).

Growing up in the South I was barraged with sweet tea, Coca-Cola, lemonade, and more. I've even seen moms give little babies some water with sugar in it to supposedly get them to drink it and calm down. Good luck. This country has such a sweet-tooth that even our toothpaste has sweeteners added to make it more pleasant to brush your teeth. If you haven't realized this about your toothpaste, I encourage you to buy a tube of one of the more natural toothpastes (available in the natural section of your grocery or nutrition store or on this site - link below) without all the sweeteners. They are more expensive, but these are truly much better for you than the normal drugstore variety and well worth it in my opinion. I recommend Tom's Peppermint or Tom's Spearmint. You will definitely miss that sweetness until you get used to it.

So why is liquid candy so bad? If I maintain my normal calorie count, I should be okay, right?
Contrary to what you may have heard, a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. In other words, every calorie is different and has its own nutritional and physiologic value. Your body treats 140 calories of liquid candy differently than 140 calories of celery. Some calorie counting may be important for you to get a general sense of what you are eating, but the "kind of calorie" is just as important as total calories. Don't believe me? Other than lots of research to back it up, just ask Weight Watchers, probably the biggest weight-loss outfit in the nation. They have overhauled their rating system to include the fact that some calories are better for you than others from a "getting fat" perspective.

Getting back to liquid candy, below is an enlightening list of some of the more commonly consumed beverages. All references to sugar include cane sugar, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. If you do the math with some of the products, you can see it is not perfect since some of the different types of sugar may be off slightly with its calorie content, but it's very close.

To give you some reference (all are in US measurements):
1 teaspoon of sugar is about 4g and has 15 calories.
There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, so there are 45 calories in a tablespoon of sugar.

Some commonly consumed beverages and their sugar/calorie content

  • A 12oz. (355ml) Coca-Cola can has 39g of sugar and 140 calories.
  • A 12oz. (355ml) Pepsi can has 41g of sugar and 150 calories.
  • A 20oz. (590ml) Coca-Cola bottle has 65g of sugar and 240 calories.
  • A 20oz. (590ml) Pepsi bottle has 70g of sugar (even more than coke!) and 250 calories.
  • a 20oz. (590ml) Orange Juice bottle has 48g of sugar and 255 calories.
  • A 7-Eleven 44 oz Super Gulp (38 oz soda + 6 oz ice) has 128g of sugar and 512 calories.
  • A 20 oz (590 ml) Mountain Dew bottle has 77g of sugar and 290 calories.
  • A 8.3 oz (250ml - very small) Red Bull Energy Drink has 27g of sugar and 108 calories.
  • Even a 20oz. (590ml) of Vitamin Water, B-relaxed has 33g of sugar and 125 calories.
  • A little 6.75oz (200ml) Capri Sun, Pacific Cooler juice pouch has 18g of sugar and 70 calories.

This list is meant as a little wake-up call to show you how much sugar some of us are throwing down, and most people don't even realize it.

For an even more impressive list, here is an infographic from Dr. Mercola that shows how much sugar is in many of our consumed items.

Now that I have your attention, this food group (liquid candy) if you will, is loaded with empty calories that increase your insulin response as talked about in Step 1 of this article series. That insulin response drives calories into fat cells. That's so important to understand, let's say that again... when you drink liquid candy your blood sugar goes up, your pancreas releases insulin to counteract the rise in blood sugar, and that one biological process has the tendency to drive calories into fat cells for the body's long-term energy storage. And when your insulin spikes, it has the double-whammy of not only converting that sugar to fat, but it turns off the body's ability to use fat as energy. I don't think that's what you want if you are trying to get rid of that muffin top.

Now that's an over-simplified version of what really happens, but it has been scientifically proven that this process functions this way. If you want more detail about carbs and fat, feel free to read the following article written by Dr. Mercola on the subject where he even advocates avoiding grains that have a tendency to spike insulin levels.

I thought Apple Juice was natural and that makes it okay, right?
Well, it is if you eat an entire apple, skin and all, part of which is the sweet juice. The apple has quite a bit of fiber and nutrients that help you more slowly digest the natural sugars, which decreases your insulin response and therefore prevents some of the problems mentioned above.

If you are talking about apple juice in a bottle or can, that's an entirely different story. Bottled apple juice is nothing but real apple juice, devoid of all its naturalness and without the pulp and fiber that normally comes with it. It's like pure liquid sugar. And sometimes it even has added sugars because the sweet apple is not sweet enough for some people's sophisticated palette. Drinking that bottle is like getting an intravenous pancreas-splitting dose of sugar in convenient bottle form so that you can grab it in any convenience store and repeat many times a day. And of course you think you are making a nutritious choice since it's apple juice and it says "All Natural" on the bottle. "Natural" is not a regulated term. Rocks are natural, but I doubt you want to try and eat them. That bottle of apple juice gives you practically instant energy, drives calories into your fat cells, and to top it off, you get a nice sugar-high followed by a big crash an hour later. Not good. And not good for kids either. And I'm not just picking on apple juice since all bottled juices are very similar and almost as bad as choosing a can of coke.

So, with liquid candy you get empty sugar-laden calories with a very real tendency to put more fat on your body, especially on your muffin top. If you currently drink fruit juices, colas, coffee with packs of cream and sugar, sweet tea (hot or cold), then armed with this information and if you continue down the road you are on, you might be more attached to that muffin top than I was anticipating.

And I don't even have room in this article to talk about how sugar affects the candida (yeast - a type of fungus) in your digestive system. You don't want to feed them, but they thrive on sugar and they love your little liquid candy habit, possibly causing other health issues that you didn't even know was linked.

If kicking your liquid candy vice is hard for you, then try and give it up in stages. If you drink several of these a day, I wouldn't go cold turkey unless you're the type that can handle it. If you drink, say five cokes per day, I would say drink four per day for a week, then three per day the next week and so on. When you are down to one, then try to drink just one every other day. It may take you a month or two to wein yourself off of the influx of sugar and caffeine, but every bit you are able to give up makes you that much closer to your goal with a much smaller muffin top.

You've also got to be thinking of liquid alternatives since you shouldn't stop drinking liquid altogether. You should ideally be drinking more liquid, but in the form of plain water. Yes, plain filtered water. And go easy on the plastic bottled water since it most likely has BPA in it which deserves another article entirely. I bought a great glass bottle with a protective sleeve at Target that has worked wonders. I fill it up with my filtered water every time I leave the house. Throw a few ice cubes in it in the summer to keep it cool for awhile.

Following are several liquid alternatives worth mentioning. If you like the carbonation, I recommend Perrier (in a glass bottle) mixed with something like Cranberry juice, 4 parts water to 1 part Cranberry. This concoction might seem watered down, and it is, but will give you a little fizz and a little taste to make it worth drinking and different than plain water. Watch out for the sugar content in the Cranberry or whatever you decide on. I choose diet Cranberry, even though there are the problems with sugar-free alternatives. Sugar-free is not an alternative since some studies have shown it has a similar effect on the body with an insulin response all its own.

More alternatives? How about a few fresh slices of cucumber in cold water? Refreshing. A squeeze of fresh lime or lemon into water makes regular water taste a lot better too. I always have fresh limes and lemons on hand for something like this. For my morning ritual, I like Green tea, no additions like sweeteners. Or how about hot or cold tea, no sugar, no cream. Herbal tea is good too, no added sugar. Some may be tempted to add honey, but resist the urge if you are trying to lose weight. And Vitamin Water that you spy in the convenient store fridge sounds healthy, but its not and has all sorts of additives. With alcoholic drinks - no mixers, try Club Soda and a Lime with your favorite vodka or tequila.

If you're like me, you'll eventually get used to having the sweetness not "be" the drink and sweet drinks will eventually become so sweet to your newfound tastebuds that they become a little disgusting.

Giving up liquid candy seems easy to me, but maybe it's because I've been avoiding them for years, only giving in on special occasions. I had a friend in college that drank a 12-pack of coke every day. Unbelievable! He finally realized he should "cut back". He cut back to three per day and didn't change anything else. He told me he lost 30 pounds in about two months. He got used to the three cokes a day and didn't even miss the other nine per day. His goal, like yours should be, became to get that number down to zero a day and only on special occasions to dip into the sugary elixir.

This is one of those "way of life" changes that will really change your life.

Ready for the last, simple step? Step 3 »