Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Giving up Gum, and More on 'Bad' Habits: Go Cold Turkey? Moderation? Or What?

I gave up gum. I was addicted for years. Substance of choice? Orbit... Trident... It may sound frivolous, but it's a nasty little habit and I knew it was doing me no good. There were days when I would chew more pieces in than I'd like to admit. Just imagine the wasted money going toward that habit. Ridiculous. Not to mention the negative health effects, which are real. I'm kicking myself for the years of not letting go sooner.
Warning: DANGEROUSLY addicting (this brand, especially!)

I am so excited to have broken this habit that I want to share with everyone, and hopefully inspire more gum addicts to quit -- I know you are out there; I see plenty of athletes popping in gum especially those concerned with body image and staying lean, using gum as a tool to control eating. So here's my story...

I don't know how or when the gum habit got bad. It must have been my early days at SDSU. It went from being innocent -- a random piece of gum here or there to freshen breath or whatever -- to a vicious habit that was a tool for controlling appetite. (Yes, I do believe my gum addiction has roots in its use as an appetite suppressant; read my blog on suffering from anorexia). Whatever I was doing, gum was around: Working at The Daily Aztec (endless hours editing and writing), during class, working out, before and after meals, at parties.

When I became a triathlete I chewed while training, all the time. I was already addicted but it gave the perception of keeping my mouth moist and seemingly prevented dry mouth, which in retrospect is probably a stupid idea on my part. I have no idea if this is a legit reasoning, but I wonder if I caused some dehydration due to artificially altering my perceived needs for hydration? Hm.

I felt symptoms but ignored them, i.e. often by the end of the day after chewing frequently I'd have bloating and gas all the time (this was likely related to other gut disorders that were "brewing" by this point, but I was clueless to the severity at the time). The bloating, gas and strait-up stomach pains would get incredibly uncomfortable especially when I was around others at work or socially or in class (holding it in), and it was also very annoying to walk around looking bloated to the point of pregnant. But I didn't let that stop me from gum.

For the record, I didn't race with gum in my mouth because I didn't want it to give me GI distress, nor would I chew gum the few days before a race, which shows I knew better! That alone should have been a red flag to never chew it at all, right?!

This habit continued into recent times, and because I work from home (or in the gym, or out in the world coaching) and have a "chill" job environment I could chew gum whenever and didn't need to worry about whether it was "professional" or not. I would always have gum on hand, and never ran out, I made sure of it. But it in bulk at grocery stores or on Amazon and always had a stash around.
Holy hell, I even dressed up as the Orbit girl for halloween in 2010! #issues #lol

The Science of Gum & Why it Sucks
Research shows that gum can help with weight loss or weight control in that it helps prevent over-eating or eating certain things; it can even help prevent the consumption of sugary/sweet treats (1). Unfortunately research also shows that there's no reason to believe gum is effective for suppressing appetite or limiting calories intake (2). Zero-calorie sweeteners in gum may actually stimulate appetite and drive you to eat, and may cause weight gain (3)! Why? Because your brain is smart. How I understand it, when you ingest these substances that have no calories (i.e. artificial sweetener/sugar-free gum), the brain gets the signal that it is time for calories, and the result is food cravings -- sugar/carb cravings in particular.

Furthermore, the artificial sweeteners in gum wreak havoc on the gut and our health (including potential long-term complications). Just how? Recent research is showing that artificial sweeteners "alter the gut microbial communities, leading to glucose intolerance in both mice and humans"(4). Glucose intolerance can lead to a slew of problems from Type 2 diabetes (on the extreme end) to loss of muscle mass or fatigue (5). There's not necessarily concrete evidence to show artificial sweeteners negatively affect insulin response, but with the other associated risks, it doesn't seem worthwhile to have them.

The fake sweet stuff is linked to neurological problems, cancer, you name it. It can even negatively affect your ability to produce natural digestive enzymes, meaning you cannot break down food well. The Food Babe wrote a good article on this. She suggests, instead, chewing on fennel seeds, which I may just have to try! She also mentions the brand Spry being safe (in low doses), and I agree that can be ok (and perhaps socially smart after a garlic-heavy dinner lol). However, this is not something I've done since quitting -- I went cold turkey.

With all these negative health effects and appetite issues, in my opinion I want to think that gum probably has some sort of negative effect on not just your health but... athletic performance? I don't have research to back that up, and don't quote me, but it seems possible.

Why & How I Suddenly Quit
It's easy to read all the potential harms of gum, and hear my anecdotal evidence of why it's disruptive and an unhealthy nuisance, but to pull the trigger and quit a habit? Not as easy. We as humans will still do the things we know aren't necessarily good for us, I don't think I need to cite that fact ;)

I briefly tried quitting gum in the past, and usually I would do good at cutting back during peak race season when I was racing a lot. Or last year I cut back when I started fixing my gut health (with good results). I actually held off on gum-binges for once, and would stick to just a handful of pieces a day, not having that bad of associated symptoms. But then more crept back in and I didn't stop it. My gum addiction wasn't even a conscious habit anymore... it was just a response, and something I always did. Tons of pieces a day...

Enter my homies:

Dr. Phil Maffetone
Chris Kelly of Nourish Balance Thrive.

I'm always having ongoing email conversations with Chris and Phil. I told them both about the gum habit earlier this year, and that was the catalyst to finally quitting! Admitting my little secret to two guys whom I respect a ton and two guys who I know do not approve of such a thing made me accountable. I am a strong girl, but my brain apparently is not strong enough to break this habit on my own. Phil and Chris both sternly suggested I quit, as if there wasn't even room for discussion. Just do it. I didn't want to let them down. I knew I needed to kick the habit, this was my chance.

So for me making it public to others -- Phil, Chris and now on this blog -- was a very effective way for me to commit to changing habits, and following through. It doesn't mean I'm weak, it just means there are certain tactics that work for me when it comes to extremes like this.

In fact, talking with Chris, I told him I thought I was having a gut setback from some symptoms I was feeling (including that bloating and gas in the evening, and whatnot), so I sent him a list of everything in my regular diet -- including gum -- and it was like, "bingo!" He was like, "Tawnee... c'mon!" And it made sense whether I liked it or not because it is true that I think my gum chewing had recently increased as I mentioned...

Furthermore, upon starting to work with Phil, he had me do a diet log/snapshot into what I eat (side note: I do this as well, and I think this should be part of a coach's program -- ask when interviewing coaches, or ask your current coach!). Not surprisingly, Maffetone doesn't stand for artificial crap in the diet! Gum was out.

And with those two guys giving me their "zero-tolerance policy" on gum, I said to myself, "It's time. Let's kick this habit once and for all!"

And that was it.

Oh and two other things helped me quit: 

1) John and I made a bet/deal on what I would have to do if I chewed any gum (and that's a secret between us lol).

2) I am out in the world promoting clean eating, good gut health, and the ultimate in health and wellness and I couldn't go on any longer chewing the very ingredients I was against!

Quitting: Cold Turkey or Moderation?
I won't lie, quitting the gum addiction was terribly hard! Cold turkey was the only way to finally get the result I needed. There was no "weaning off" and no "just keep it in moderation" as I had tried before...

Speaking of moderation, Maffetone just wrote a wonderful article titled The Moderation Myth, give it a read here. I can go both ways on his argument. Personally I think some things in moderation are good for us and prevents us from being too extreme (i.e orthorexia or some other eating disorder). Letting loose on occasion may help us not get overly stressed. I see some folks who are just way too worried about every little thing they put in their body -- those are the folks who I think can let go of the fear and enjoy a little more balance/moderation. But I see how the "word" moderation or "letting loose" can go wrong. Sadly, using these phrases just turn into an excuse to continually indulge or do the things you know aren't the best choices. Personally for me there are some things I can control in moderation and be just fine (i.e. wine, chocolate, caffeine), while other things I have to be careful (i.e. the gum) because I like many others can easily get addicted and once what was in moderation is now in excess. (Hm, perhaps training went this way, too.)

Back to gum and quitting.

For 1-2 weeks, I experienced intense cravings for gum for a solid week or so, and they were worst after a meal. Not shockingly, if the meal had something like onions and garlic the cravings were even worse, but in those cases I'd go brush my teeth (also not to offend anyone). I just did my best to ignore the urge to grab a piece and I focus on something else -- including sometimes just resting my jaw and mouth. I noticed a slight increase in having little tiny snacks after a meal like nuts or fruit, and I can see how popping in a piece of gum can prevent those unnecessary snacks. But on the other hand, without gum I find that I am better at eating a meal, stopping, and not grazing throughout the day... when I chewed gum my brain was always thinking it was time for food so I probably snacked more frequently! Now I can just turn it off until it's time to eat again.

So, my take on quitting a habit that you know is unhealthy: Just have to suck it up and go cold turkey. Taking a road of moderation usually means that habit will come back -- I'm a perfect example of the times I eased up on gum; it always came back.

Finally the cravings stopped, and I totally stopped thinking about gum. In fact, in the grand scheme, it didn't even take that long -- just the two weeks of self-discipline to let go, then poof, FREE!

Most importantly, am I symptom-free and do I feel better without it? YES. In quitting gum, I noticed a few positive results right away: bloating, gas, and any discomfort GONE -- especially the kind that I would get in the evening after a day's worth of chewing pieces. Gone just like that, no other diet tweaks. Soooo lovely and long gone are those times when I'd be straight up uncomfortable with my stomach/gut in knots from the gum.

It also underscored the damage the gum alone was doing. I'm glad I found this out and know that it wasn't a worse issue that I was going to have to figure out (i.e. a parasite, etc).

It's worth noting, while giving up gum, I've also cut back drastically on stevia. Not totally but stevia can be addicting where more and more creeps in, and I had to let it go. I haven't replaced less stevia with more sugar for the record. Instead, I'm just tasting real food on its own! (For the record: I'm not limited servings of real sweeteners like a good local, raw honey, or maple syrup.)








  1. I think the artificial sweeteners had a lot to do with the bloating, if there was sorbitol in the gum. The label says it can cause GI issues with excessive consumption.

    I didn't realize that people chewed gum as an appetite suppressant. I had heard that it can be useful for mouth health, because it promotes saliva production, which helps maintain healthy teeth. But I don't use gum often. Really only a couple times a year. I will buy a pack but after a couple days, I stop using it. Then one day, I pick it up and realize that I hadn't touched the pack of gum for 10 months.

    On the moderation myth, I think it can depend on the person, but I understand the point. Far too many inactive people have that view about soda, that only one will be OK, but it's never just one. It's one in the morning, then one at lunch, another at mid-afternoon, then late afternoon, then early evening and so on. A lot of these people have serious weight and body composition issues. I read that something like half of all the excess sugar calories that people consume, comes from soda and other sugary drinks. So that's a quick and easy way for inactive people (who do tend to have worse diets, in my experience) to start on their way to a healthier lifestyle. It's a simple act, just cutting out soda. Much easier than counting calories and fussing about with all those numbers.

  2. My dirty little secret is Diet Dr. Pepper! I know how horrible the artificial sweetners are for me and that's why I quit cold turkey the day I found out I was pregnant and all while nursing my baby. But then just like that 2 years later I started back up. I agree that cold turkey is the easiest for me I just need to recommit and I keep finding excuses not to!

  3. I don't like gums. It makes my teeth brittle. Good decision for giving up on it and other bad habits. Keep moving forward. Stay happy with your life.