If you’ve followed this blog at all, you may know about my addiction to dark chocolate, and to sugar in general. It was something I just assumed I’d never be able to give up (having tried many, many times), and figured I’d just have to learn to live with the consequences. Said consequences encompassing fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, menstrual cycles from hell, and vicious mood swings.
For awhile I chalked it up to getting older. It was just natural that these things were happening to me. Wasn’t it? In one of my earlier attempts at quitting sugar, I’d read a book (Lick the Sugar Habit, by Nancy Appleton), which had gone into incredible detail about what sugar does to the human body. So I knew it probably wasn’t just about getting older. But there was a part of me (the addict) that didn’t want to accept it. Despite the fact that it was affecting my quality of life, I didn’t want to let go, at least not completely. I’d cut down. That’s reasonable. But that “just one piece of chocolate after dinner” turned into just one candy bar, and then that turned into one after dinner and one before bed, and then that turned into…
But after nearly 47 years of ingesting this sweet poison, I’d come to a place I decided I simply couldn’t tolerate anymore. One of the signs was an increase in headache intensity. My life has been a constant battle with headaches, but the past few months have seen instances of hellish new levels where I’ve felt nauseous and had to lie down in the dark without moving. Was this what a migraine felt like? I had a sneaking suspicion it was.
There’s a long list of physical ailments that make me miserable, but it’s the mood swings that convinced me something needed to be done. Some days I felt so depressed I seriously wondered what the point of getting out of bed was. If my daughter didn’t need me to get her ready for school, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Other days, I seethed with rage for no particular reason. Or rather, everything was a reason to get angry. I hated everyone and everything, but mostly I hated myself, and this monster inside me. Other days, every errand and chore seemed insurmountable, my list of responsibilities endless, and though I wasn’t having complete panic attacks, a low-level anxiety ran through me almost constantly. I couldn’t cope. It was seriously affecting my life, making it difficult for me to take care of my family and my writing.
Perimenopause? Maybe. But could it be lessened somehow? Was something making it a lot, lot worse than it needs to be? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, and I’m also pretty sure the culprit is sugar.
So, I decided that beginning on March 1 of this year, I’d quit sugar. For good this time, and I mean it. Now, I need to explain just what I mean by “sugar”, because it can get confusing. For now, at least for a few months, I mean mainly desserts–chocolate, yes, but any other kind of candy, pastry, ice cream or sweet confection that I’ve routinely eaten in the course of my life. That seems to be the obvious place to start, because I eat a lot of it (But you’re not fat! people say. Hey, I walk. A lot. But inside, I’m a mess.) I’ll worry later about the hidden sugar in other (processed) foods–it’s there, folks– but mostly I’m trying to incorporate more whole foods: fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and lean meat. You get the idea.
I bought a book called “Year of No Sugar” by Eve O. Shaub. It’s a memoir chronicling her family’s project of avoiding all added sugar (fructose) for an entire year. There are two young children in this family, so you can imagine the challenge of avoiding not only desserts (it’s amazing how we equate love with offering sugar), but all the insidious sugar added to the American diet that we don’t even think about. I’m not going that far–yet–but I was inspired and got a lot of ideas for reducing sugar in my family’s diet.
For instance, Lilly has decided she wants to be a baker. A serious baker–forget the box cake and cookies, she wants to get the flour and sugar and baking soda out and make desserts from scratch (thanks, Food Network). Unfortunately for her, her mom is NOT a baker, nor has she ever wanted to be a baker. But I feel, as a mom, I should encourage her in her ambitions and hobbies, and so bake we must. What to do about the enormous amounts of sugar we’ll be making and presumably ingesting? In the book above, the writer discovered a palatable sugar substitute called dextrose, which can be swapped with sugar in most recipes. Dextrose is glucose, a form of energy the body can actually use without harming it in the process. And she pinky swears it tastes pretty good, too. Problem solved!
So it’s Day 14 with no desserts, and I can honestly say I feel better already. Like a sticky, sugary film has been removed and I can see a little more clearly now. I wake up in the morning and feel rested, rather than like a truck hit me. My moods have been fairly stable (the fantasy of beating something with a metal bat hasn’t even entered my head!). Of course, this is my “good week”. The real test will be in the next couple of weeks, when I usually feel the worst during my cycle. I’m tentatively confident it will at least be less torturous.
Sure, I miss those little brown squares of chocolate. But it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be. Now, whenever I eat something slightly sweet, like yams, it tastes like candy. A bowl of cinnamon Life cereal is a sugar blast that tastes like dessert (and I do save it for that dessert-y before bed snack).
So the sugar party is over, but that’s okay. Like with any addict, there will always be challenges ahead (our sugar-infested culture being just one of them), but I’m confident I can overcome them. Feeling good is just too sweet to give up.
What are your thoughts on sugar? Is your sweet tooth out of control? Avoid it like the poison it is? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!