Three years ago to the date, I was living sugar-free. Actually, I was consuming no more than ten grams of sugar per serving. Unless you count naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit, which I did not. I gave up all sweeteners, including artificial ones, so no diet sodas and nothing in my coffee. I definitely gave up daily dessert and near daily sugar binges.
What started out as Sugar-Free January got a little easier and continued into February until a few bites of rice krispie treat on a family trip started a slow but undeniable unraveling. It wasn’t long before all the wheels came off the dessert cart.
Sugar is a real slippery slope for me. I gave up drinking completely over four-and-a-half years ago and tore open a bag of Starburst in one fluid motion. Sugar didn’t make not drinking easy exactly, but it provided a little cushion. Sugar–cookies and candy in particular–provided immediate distraction from stress and possibly some emotional boost, though I never felt better after a binge. So why do I consume it so compulsively?
It’s no secret that sugar is highly addictive. Some claim sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Wow, no wonder I have trouble quitting Oreos.
And what happens when I do give up sugar for any length of time? Oh, it’s not pretty. People stop loving me pretty soon after. The sun dims and clouds roll in from the west and I realize what’s the point? There’s an unhealthy side of agitation.
After about a month of this, the sense of power and control (the high?) I get from eating right mostly replaces this, but I still miss that emotional cushion. Not that eating whatever I want makes me feel very good about myself.
This brings me to moderation. Yes, please, I’ll have some of that. What I really want is to have my cake, but make it a small piece and hold the ice cream. And I only want it on birthdays, plus maybe a handful of times a year where cake is appropriate, like Bob’s last day or Polly’s baby shower but not Monday through Sunday.
People I know who successfully kicked the sugar demon have a different tale to tell. There is no such thing as moderation with sugar, they warn. Addiction is addiction, they tell me. I think they’re probably right and look for powdered sugar at the corner of their mouths. They seem pretty normal, well-adjusted, not curled into a fetal position.
So no more ice cream, you say? Like forever? Why can I commit to a lifelong with no booze but the thought of no ice cream makes me melt like a soft serve cone in July? Is it the more addictive thing or is it just that I don’t have much more left to give up? Don’t I get to keep a couple good vices for the hard times, parting gifts for my sobriety?
While there are many similarities between how I drank and how I eat–obsessively, secretively, shame-filled–sugar is no booze. I can eat a pint of Häagen-Dazs and safely drive. A sugar binge might make me a little spacey, but it doesn’t affect motor skills or make me say terrible things I won’t remember later. It is, afterall, just dessert.
Since that Sugar-Free January three years ago, I’ve had a couple more semi-successful quits. I say semi because I’m still eating sugar, overeating it if I’m honest. My weight is about the same now, though it was lower two years ago.
I think I have healthier eating habits now. I strive to eat more greens and protein in hopes I’ll feel satisfied enough not to want to binge on sugar. This occasionally even works, though not as often as I’d like. I also eat better because good food tastes good. I never noticed this before I did my first sugar-quit.
Last month I came this close to declaring another Sugar-Free January. Then I read this post and it hit me. I have never been at a weight where I’m like “okay, perfect” and I’ve always felt anxious about how much I exercised and what I ate. Even when I weighed ten pounds less and ran almost every day, I still thought my ass was too big. I have never been enough.
So I’m taking a break from expectations this month. This week I’ve eaten a cupcake every day, not as some sort of obscene experiment but because my daughters and I made some after school and work on Monday. It was a bad day, a very bad day you see, and I picked the one thing I knew would rouse us all: sugar.
We stirred and mixed and poured and baked and frosted, mouths watering all the way into the first few delicious bites. We laughed and talked and everything became a little sweeter. Sugar saved the day again, it seemed, but really I know it was the conversation and connection. Next time I’ll try it with a nice brussel sprout casserole.
Kristen lives in the northeast US and writes about important life stuff and assorted nonsense at Bye-Bye Beer. She has also written about recovery for After Party Magazine and The Fix.
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