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.