Monthly Archives: January 2012

Week #4: The cookie was taunting me and I just had to shut it up

I had a breakdown at work in which I ate two cookies (re: I cheated and had refined sugar on purpose for the first time since I gave it up).  It was a setup: I was stressed, hungry, tired, staying up all night—seeking quick energy, and unprepared with healthy alternatives.  The cookie was taunting me.  I just had to shut it up.  The first one tasted good.  The second didn’t.  I expected this to begin a huge downward spiral, to go on a total binge from which I wouldn’t recover.  This did not happen.  What did happen was this: I felt my heart racing and then I fell asleep.  I wished I could brush my teeth; it didn’t sit well with me as I stayed up all night.  I had some peanut butter toast and finally felt better.  I am rather amazed.  Two cookies in one month?! Compared to what I was doing before.  Two cookies and I stopped?!   A mini-victory and an unexpected affirmation of this little sugar-free mission.

 As you’ve probably noticed, work is where the temptation to eat sugar is the greatest.  This is for a few reasons: as I’ve said, it’s stressful, as I’ve mentioned, there is a lot of sugar around, and as I haven’t explicitly pointed out, it’s a night shift.  I’ve actually developed some sympathy for myself for the way I was eating/snacking before, particularly during those nights, because my biorhythms are so confused at this point, and have been ever since I started keeping this schedule.  It feels wrong to eat real meals late at night, so I would just turn to quick-energy sweets, even more than I usually do.  This is why it has been an important discovery for me that eating more real food is actually better at helping me sustain my energy during the night and giving me the nutrients I’m not eating as I sleep through regular mealtimes the next day.

Another relevant fact here that I haven’t explicitly acknowledged is that I am, and have been for ten years now, a strict vegetarian.  Part of why I decided to give sugar up is that for awhile now I have been aware that perhaps my sugar cravings are related to my vegetarianism and consequent deficiency of certain nutrients, like amino acids and proteins.  The author of Get the Sugar Out says it. (See: Sticking Points).  I heard a talk at Kripalu three years ago from a nutritionist that advocated for a largely plant-based diet supplemented by a small amount of fish protein.  This inspired me to try, for a brief while, eating fish.  I couldn’t do it.  I’m contemplating taking a fish oil supplement.  But, in any case, cutting out sugar forces me, as I said, to look more closely at my nutrition and to focus on eating good proteins everyday.  I do think it helps with the cravings.  I’ve also noticed I gave myself, in anticipating this, a bit too much credit for craving sugar constantly, where an embarrassing amount of the sugar I consumed was just because it was there.  I wasn’t used to saying no, and didn’t want to.

I visited with a college friend this week and said, “Hey guess, what? I did something with my diet that you will never believe: I gave up sugar.”  He said, “Well, it was probably that or early-onset diabetes, right?”

(Owch.) Sad, but true.

What followed was a discussion in which everyone in the room admitted that during the time they were vegetarian, they craved sugar and carbohydrates all the time.  It’s becoming undeniably clear to me that there’s a connection here.

And that I’ve been avoiding it.  It goes back, in part, to resisting that body image pressure.  I’d already long-wanted permission from my parents to be vegetarian when they finally granted it as a sort of birthday gift when I turned 14.  This put an end to the years of fights at the dinner table over my distaste for meat.  But they, along with my pediatrician and eighth-grade English teacher, respectively, sat me down with the concern that this new vegetarianism would be a gateway to cutting out other foods, and developing an eating disorder.  I certainly was at-risk for one.  I was only just moving out of a phase that I saw nearly all my female peers go through at that age, of being “weird about food,” concerned about my appearance and weight, stealing my mom’s Slim Fast shakes, and not eating regularly in hopes of being thinner.  Ultimately, the commitment to a vegetarian diet made me feel more food-positive overall, and I’ve never gone back to that dangerous phase.  I assured everyone, I won’t stop eating.  And I didn’t.  Especially not sugar and sweets.


What happened to my sweet girl?

Week #3: What the sugar has been covering up

Something terrible happens at work.  I don’t resort to sugar when I come home from this bad night, but I’m aware that it’s a moment where I usually would.  I am enraged and overcome with sadness.  I am totally adrift with this emotion, raw with it.  I don’t know what to do with myself or how to calm myself down, I feel without resource.  I realize: What the sugar has been covering up is all this anger.

Perhaps I can no longer swallow this anger.  And perhaps I can no longer be sweet.  Stripping back the sugar-coating.

Sticking Points: Get the Sugar Out!

Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet, 2nd ed.

by Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., C.N.S.

New York: Crown Publishing, 1996; 2008.

Here are a few things that stuck with me from this first primer on nutritional research about sugar and ideas to help me live without it.

No wonder I can eat SO much candy:

By replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup, you can override your body’s natural ability to feel full, so you eat more.  Without this type of signal you don’t know when to stop eating.  Now that is downright scary,” (7).

“Your body is not designed for high levels of refined fructose,” (23).

“When you eat refined simple sugars, such as table sugar, candy, cookies, or other sugar-laden foods, your blood sugar levels rise very quickly.  Your pancreas responds by releasing a lot of insulin.  That’s not good.  High insulin levels are one of the biggest risk factors and promoters of breast cancer…excess sugar fuels the cancer fire in areas beyond breast tissue,” (20).

“Though diabetes is caused by high blood sugar, hypoglycemia is low blood sugar, a condition that often precedes the development of adult-onset diabetes.  In hypoglycemia, the pancreas reacts to excess processed carbohydrates in the diet by sending out so much insulin that blood sugar drops too low, resulting in fatigue, lack of concentration, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability.  Several health professionals, such as research psychologist Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., believe that alcoholics and drug addicts start out as hypoglycemics first and that hypoglycemia can also lead to criminal activity.  Since almost all Americans eat too much sugar, many nutritionists think that most Americans are on an almost certain collision course with hypoglycemia,” (21).

“Sugar is a known immunosuppressant,” (25).

Understatement of the century:

“If you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, moodiness, depression, irritability, and fatigue, you most certainly are addicted to sugar, just as others are addicted to coffee or alcohol.  Like alcoholics, who need to avoid alcohol, you also need to eliminate all forms of sugar in your diet, at least until your body chemistry improves,” (44).

“If you can’t go long without eating sugary foods, you probably have a physical dependence on sugar to give you the quick energy your body is lacking.  Switch to eating five or six small, protein-rich meals a day.  This will better balance your blood sugar and give you more long-term energy so you’re less apt to grab for the sweets,” (45).

“If you crave sugar or even complex carbohydrates, that’s almost always a sign that you’re not getting enough protein,” (45).

Hmmm…“If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to consider having your amino acid levels tested.  Plasma and urine tests often reveal that vegetarians are deficient in the amino acids lysine, methionine, tryptophan, carnitine, and taurine.  Without sufficient amounts of these amino acids, vegetarians can develop numerous problems, not the least of which are blood sugar imbalances and sugar and carbohydrate cravings,” (46).

A trick that has already helped me: “Chew on a cinnamon stick to help you beat your sweet tooth,” (47).

“Cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves might soon be just what the doctor orders to help regulate blood sugar levels.  Test-tube studies conducted at the USDA’s Vitamin and Mineral Laboratory have shown that these spices triple insulin’s ability to metabolize sugar and remove it from the blood.  To give your body extra help maintaining blood sugar balance, add these spices to foods and drinks whenever possible,” (52).

Somewhat of a revelation for me and a new practice: “A treat doesn’t have to be sweet,” (50).

“The Alchemy of Hope”

A dharma talk given at Upaya Zen Center by Jimmy Santiago Baca, April 13, 2011.

Week #2: Hopeless, caught on an updraft

It’s stupid, but I find that I’m determined to prove to myself that I can still eat junk food even though I’m not eating sugar.  Not enjoying cake at a birthday party, for probably the first time in my life, I fill my belly with bad pizza and beer.  I eat French Fries on the Tuesday even though I don’t really even like them.  (Warning: Ketchup is totally sugar-filled.)  Refer to point A: it’s stupid. At other times when I gave up sugar, and I know how pathetic this is, I felt rather hopeless.  Groundless and cut adrift, no exciting prospects in sight.  I listen to a dharma talk called “The Alchemy of Hope.”  Jimmy Santiago Baca says he thinks about his life as a journey of hopelessness, caught on an updraft.  “The alchemy of hope,” he says, ” allows you to enjoy gifts you never hoped for.”

Take honey for example.  How do we presume to improve upon this perfect sweetness?  I feel rather guilty stealing it from the bees, ever since my brief but affecting stint with a beekeeper this past summer through WWOOF Italia.  Without hope of sugar or all my favorite sweets, I feel unexpected contentment at the thought of having only honey forever.  Honey, like water, in many ways, is medicine.  Yet the creators of this sweetness in the world are dying.  Another more healthful outlet for my pursuit of true sweetness would be to fulfill my goal this year of learning beekeeping and keeping bees organically.  Guarding these alchemists of sweetness.

I am coming into a sense of acceptance about my new lifestyle.  The author of the book I’m reading says, try not to think of it as giving up sugar but making room for more essential foods.  Normally, I would be downright offended by the sheer annoyingness of this statement, but now, hopeless yet caught on an updraft, I find it rings true.  The way my brain works I’m always looking forward to where I’ll find, buy, or make a sweet treat next.  Cut off from this line of thinking, I’m forced to use this mental energy for more healthful meal planning. I find I’m eating more overall to keep my blood sugar stable, more healthful, more substantial snacks between meals.

A traveling musician appears at a friend’s birthday party.  We join him in singing a song that came back with him from a psychedelic experience,

I know why

I know why we eat

To keep us in

To keep us in

our bodies.

Week #1: Feelin’ a little crabby, are we?

I told my food guru, my friend Meghan, “Hey, guess what I did for a New Year’s Resolution? Gave up refined sugar.”  Her immediate reply was, “Oh, wow, feeling a little crabby are we?”

A reply of SO FRIGGIN’ CRABBY pretty much sums up how this first week felt.  Extremely raw.  After an exasperating night at work I found I could no longer suppress my anger at the sexual harassment I’ve been putting up with (nicely, sweetly even) from both clients and coworkers.  I was enraged and the rage gave me the clarity and courage to resolve—finally, all of a sudden, to start finding ways to effectively stand up for myself/against this treatment.  Part of it was not being nice about it.  How much of this rage was aggravated/heightened by the irritability that typifies sugar withdrawal?  How much was clarified/inspired by hormones?  As with every situation there were many causes and conditions feeding in, hard to weigh each one.  Yet I can’t help but wonder whether it helped me move forward not to settle into comforting myself with sugar.  Perhaps there is a parallel to be drawn here between eating sweets to ease bad days and frittering away the energy of my anger with complaints.  With all the energy of my raw (unintoxicated) emotion I found I had more power.  Instead of eating, swallowing it, letting what was eating at me making me smaller.

I started the New Year with a cleansing day at the hot springs with my friends.  Meghan my food guru friend said the more I could down the filtered water the more it would cut the effects of the sugar withdrawal.  Our universal, planetary solvent, water is the answer to so much.  This week I read the book The Hidden Messages in Water, and get awestruck anew by the power of words on water.  The power of the words—written or spoken with the energy and consciousness of their meaning— “love and gratitude,” together bring out the most beautiful ice crystals in pure water.  Then remembering that we are bodies of water.  The effects our words are having on ourselves.  And the miraculous effects water has on us.


Sticking Points: “Is Sugar Toxic?”


New York Times Magazine, April 17, 2011 pages 46-54; 62  “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes

Read it here:

Cover Headline: “Sweet and Vicious: The Case Against Sugar.”

“That the sweet stuff makes us fat is something we take for granted.  That it might also be making us sick is harder to accept.”

“…It’s entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it.  Suggesting that sugar might kill is what zealots do.  But Lustig, who has genuine expertise, has accumulated and synthesized a mass of evidence, which he finds compelling enough to convict sugar.”

“In Robert Lustig’s view, sugar should be thought of, like cigarettes and alcohol, as something that’s killing us.”

“Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” by Dr. Robert Lustig

“Can sugar possibly be as bad as Lustig says it is?”

“If it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, they say, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer—some cancers, at least [esp. colon, breast, and other cancers common to women] radical as this may seem and despite the fact that this suggestion has rarely if ever been voiced before publicly,” (62).

“ ‘I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet,’ the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering says.  ‘Ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.’”

One of the most shocking things this article impressed upon me was how little research has been done about sugar and how little is even in the works.  Naturally, in the boys’ club of science, a patriarchal rivalry may be close to the root of this issue.  Taubes highlighted that there was an intellectual rivalry and “loathing” between British researcher John Yudkin, one of the first people to demonstrate the link between sugar and disease, author of the classic book Sweet and Dangerous (1978), and the U of MN nutritionist Ancel Keys, a champion of the idea that “dietary fat is the cause of heart disease.”  As a result of their dislike for one another, fat was pitted against sugar in the research world, and as it ended up, “Yudkin was so discredited…He was ridiculed in a way. And anybody else who said something bad about sucrose, they’d say, ‘He’s just like Yudkin.’”  As a result, we had the low-fat/non-fat craze in our country, and we still haven’t popularly questioned the detriments of sugar.  The amazing thing about this is, where the evidence stands now, they could both be right.  “The evidence has always been able to go either way.”


I know who you are.  Your love’s as sweet as candy.  I’ll be forever yours.  Love always, Mandy.