Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sugar Story

I was reading a recent entry by Jeanne of "Not Born to Run" infamy on her recent commitment to not eat sugar and thought it might be time to tell the tale of my own adventures with sugar.

Sugar's been a mainstay of my diet since childhood. When I was in grade school it was a very hip-slick-and-cool thing to bring a box of Jello for a snack. That's right. Put your finger in your mouth, dip your finger into the box of Jello, return your finger to your mouth. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

Lime-flavored crack. Had we thought to snort it there would have been a schoolyard full of sugar-crazed kids with green powder residue on the tip of their noses. Solitary adolescent souls searching their next hit of strawberry dope in the local Piggley-Wiggley. Wild knee-high party-goers with lampshades on their heads throwing back chasers of Mountain Dew laced with hallucinagenic orange sugar dust. Pass me a line of Blueberry Bliss or some of that south-of-the-border Raspberry Razamadaz. Groovy Baby.

As the years rolled on I continued getting more rolly-polly from chasing the sugar dragon. It wasn't out of the norm for me to eat an entire gallon of ice cream in an evening, polish off a two pound bag of M&M's, or make a batch of raw chocolate chip cookie dough disappear before it ever found it's way onto a cookie sheet. A six pack of Dilly Bars from DQ. Heaven on a stick, dipped in chocolate.

A little sugar is fine; moderation is a beautiful thing. I just didn't have the power to be moderate when it came to sweets because I was and am addicted to the stuff. A certifiable sugar junkie.

I was an addict because when I wasn't eating sugar, I was either feeling physically and emotionally sick about what I'd just eaten or planning for what I was going to eat next. There was no down time when it came to sugar. It had my full attention. Sit at home with a bowl of ice cream or go for a walk, visit a friend, stroll through the museum? Is that a question or a joke? Nothing was better than eating something sweet with sugar.

I was an addict because my addiction was continuing progressing. A little sugar was never enough because I always wanted more. Bet you can't eat just one! Sure I box, one container, one package, one carton, one gallon, or one jar. Not a problem. Easy-peasy. But even then, even when the one was huge, it wasn't enough. A little like the "recreational drug user" who given enough time goes from using on the weekends to every night to all through the night to being the next candidate for a featured role on "Invention."

I was an addict because I couldn't stop even though I clearly saw what it was doing to me pound by pound by pound. The weight I was gaining was limiting my life and making my world smaller and smaller as I got bigger and bigger. I was miserable but I couldn't stop.

And I was a sugar addict because sugar is an addictive substance. Just like alcohol, heroin, cocaine or marijuana, ingesting sugar has been found to increase the serotonin levels in the brain and the higher those levels are the calmer and happier you feel. Of course, the calmer and happier only lasted for minutes compared to the hours of feeling horrible but still, had sugar been made illegal and the price of Snickers spiked to 100 dollars a bar, I would have been selling packets of table sugar on the streets to earn enough to buy a mini-snack size of the chocolatey caramelly nutty treat.

Fast forward to January 1999. Phatgirl weighs in at 325 pounds and feels sick and tired and willing to try anything. And that's when....drumroll please.....I. Gave. Up. Sugar.

Statistics now calculate that the average American consumes approximately 135 pounds of sugar per year. That's 2-3 pounds of sugar a week, up from less than 1/2 pound twenty years ago. After some rough calculations, I've estimated that by the age of 26 and a 1/2 I'd eaten my life time quo of sugar so nada mas for me.

In my last few years sans sugar here are some little sugar-free tidbits:

  1. Read labels. Even if you don't keep a bag of pure cane sugar in your pantry, it's still there in foods like breakfast cereals, mayonnaise, seasonings, peanut butter, microwave popcorn, soda pop, spaghetti sauces, ketcup, canned kidney beans and in a surprisingly high percentage of the cans, jars, boxes, bags, and packages whereyou would least suspect to find it. While limiting all sugar is impossible, try to avoid foods that list sugar in the top five ingredients.

  2. Sugar by any other name is still sugar. Corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, dextrose, lactrose, cane syrup, cane sugar, molasses, maple syrup, and yes, honey. Even though honey is natural sugar and not refined sugar, it's still comprised primarily of simple sugar and contains more calories (65 per tablespoon) than common table sugar (48 per tablespoon). The only difference is that it's sugar that's gone through the body of a bee on its way to your blood stream. And remember, "sugar-free" doesn't mean "calorie-free."

  3. I gave up sugar all at once instead of cutting back gradually and that worked for me because the sooner the sugar is out of the system, the sooner the cravings will diminish. In other words, I only wanted to snap the fingertips of anyone who stood between me and a Hostess Cupcake for a couple weeks instead of a couple months. How long it takes clean out the system is up for grabs but time varies between 21-30 days.

  4. Once the physical craving diminished then I just need to tackle the emotional cravings or mental obsession; those ideas that told me that it wasn't really my birthday if you I didn't eat a piece of cake or starting the day without Starbuck's cinnamon crumb cake made it hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning. Those were just feelings and feelings pass and as time went along they passed quicker and showed up less and less. That doesn't mean I never hear the pastry shelves at the coffee shop talking to me but it's more of a whisper than a shout.

  5. I use Splenda as a sweetener, however the truth is the more I use it the more I crave sweet things that I see in the dessert aisle at the store. It just tends to keep that sweet thang going. When I minimize my intake of artificial sweeteners or remove them altogether, that's when I have the easiest time.

  6. The first 40 pounds I lost came from giving up sugar without making any other changes to my food or adding exercise. Even if you don't make any other change to how you eat, if you only give up sugar there's every chance you'll end up with a weight loss.

  7. Despite popular opinion there actually is life after chocolate and caramel and an apple with cinnamon or frozen grapes can be considered both fruit and dessert.

I'm not saying everyone should give up sugar. Believe me, if I could eat a dessert once in a while, or nibble on one cookie and then put the rest of the package away, or walk away from a half-eaten scone then I'd be eating sugar. But I can't so I gave it up. Out of necessity. And as a result life is sweeter than ever!


jeanne said...

Thanks for sharing that story. I would have asked you eventually about how you did it and why, so thanks!

I've only fallen off the wagon twice...i'm the donut lady at church. now, that's just cruel!

Anonymous said...

hey thanks for sharing your story. :)