It starts slowly, a cookie here, some dark chocolate there. A piece of homemade plum tart on my birthday. Traveling, I find our hosts have provided a cookie jar laden with Oreos. Somewhere along the way, the dreaded switch gets thrown in my brain. I’m craving sweets, thinking about the next snack or treat. It’s hard to go through the supermarket without looking for cookies or candy, pondering what might satiate this yearning.
Some of this response is mental “I want, I need, I’ll feel better if. . .” I’m a little edgy, more irritable than usual, sensitive to sound and light, so physically impacted as well. All this after cookies with my bedtime herbal tea? Yes.
Years ago, an acquaintance was defending her habits of cigarettes and alcohol, condescendingly informing my ignorant self that sugar was “much more toxic” than her particular vices. At the time, as a family doctor who had spent time working in a substance abuse treatment center, I was doubtful to say the least, and probably just as judgmental in my response to her, whether spoken aloud or in my head.
Many years later, I continue to hold that tobacco and alcohol are not good choices for health. There’s way too much solid scientific evidence for me to decide otherwise. I am also coming to understand that too much sugar is not good for one, either. We have ample evidence that I’m not the only one who has a problem. Obesity is a worldwide health issue, particularly prominent here in the US. Type 2 diabetes is a huge problem, as are heart disease and cancer. All show an increased incidence with increased sugar consumption.
The biggest problem for me with sugar is the cravings that start developing. If I’m eating my normal diet of lean protein, lots of vegetables, and some fruit, I do pretty well, and don’t have a lot of food cravings. And if I do have a “treat”, if its modest in size and infrequent, I can tolerate it. If, on the other hand, I have cookies, and do it a few days in a row, then I’m in trouble. I start thinking about more sweets: cookies and candy, and start craving bread and pasta. Ice cream, what about some ice cream, ice cream would be great! Again, on an occasional basis, I’m okay with this, but once its daily, I start losing control.
So what? Well, the big problem is that I don’t feel as well. I get more irritable, am more prone to a depressed mood, and my body doesn’t feel as good, I’m achier, and some of my joints that have had injuries in the past are more prone to hurt and swell a bit. It becomes easier to skip an activity and just hang out, maybe have another snack. Things can snowball out of control quickly. Bottom line, the quality of my life is deteriorating and I’m not showing up in the world as well as I can.
I wrote most of the above in October. I got off of sugar again and was doing pretty well. Then it was Thanksgiving. A little treat here and there. Stuffing, a bite of pie. And since then, the seductive allure of holiday treats–chocolates, baked goods, caramel. Not good. Its helpful when I read again what I wrote 2 months ago. The symptoms are the same, with a very similar sequence of events. SSDD (that’s same shit, different day). Not subtle.
My blogging friend Cat wrote about this a few days ago on her site: https://cathbradley.com/2017/12/10/making-peace-with-my-sugar-beast/, and we corresponded a little about this issue we share. We both agree that many of the responses to sugar are those of addiction: craving, taking in more than you want/intend to, feeling bad without the substance in your system, and having undesired consequences from ingesting the substance, to say nothing of the withdrawal symptoms when stopping. And then there’s another of the tell-tale addictive behaviors: being secretive about it–no need for anyone else to know that I’m eating cookies.
It’s clear to me, sugar and I are not friends. Tastes good for a little while, but then it deteriorates from there. One approach would be no sugar at all. I’m not so good with absolutes, and it may come to that. In Cat’s article, she states that she keeps it for an evening treat, and generally limits it to weekends. My friend Seven has Friday as treat day, when he eats whatever he chooses. What will work for me?
In the spirit of curiosity and experimentation, here’s my first experiment, with its accompanying logic (or lack thereof). Current state–moderately hooked. Not good, and I’ve definitely been worse. Goal–to feel better and not be craving. Plan–stop all sweets and refined carbs (bread, pasta, rice) for the next 10 days. I need to clear things out of my system. Support myself by tracking symptoms (mood, body pain, sensory sensitivity, energy, cravings) as well as by drinking lots of water, keeping up my exercise routines, and getting the rest I need.
I’m choosing the 10 day time frame to give me time to clear things out, and am also recognizing the those 10 days will end before Christmas, so if I choose a treat or two, it may be okay. I also give myself the right to decline all sugary foods, if that feels better to me, even if that leaves me in the position of being an ungracious guest.
Here I go, stay tuned for progress updates. Oh Sugar, I’m so over you, we’re breaking up.