I get into my car at the Temple Street Stop & Shop and look around furtively. My boyfriend, J., is home, waiting for me, so I know he won’t see me, but I feel guilty and need to get rid of the evidence. I stash it away into the center console. “Oh no!” I think, “I can’t kiss him when I get there. He might smell it on my breath.” So I place a Listermint on my tongue and hope I can brush my teeth before I greet him. I feel like a cheater, but, really, I'm an addict. This needs to stop.
J. laughed when I told him this story about my nightly habit of swallowing two bags of peanut M&Ms on the way to his house. “But you hadn’t even decided to quit sugar yet, why would I care? You didn’t make me any promises.” It’s true, I hadn’t professed to give up sugar yet, but J is my conscience. He listens to what I say and admires me for the path of physical and spiritual health I have chosen. I see J almost daily and so he reminds me daily of who I am and who I profess to be. When I behave contrary to the person he sees, I behave contrary to myself--I am deceiving both of us. This is what sin is--acting in a manner that is hurtful to yourself and others. No doubt I am not the only woman around who feels some bit of shame when she gives in to the very thing she is trying to avoid, am I?
And it’s embarrassing to have so little control. Looking around furtively, eating or hiding the evidence before anyone can see it, these are the actions of an addict! I have known addicts in my life and prided myself for not succumbing to the addictions that plagued them. Now I understand what it means. I went through this once before, I have suffered the horrible shock of severe and sudden withdrawal--the sweating and shaking that comes with hypoglycemia--and the effects of too much sugar on my body—the aging skin, the acne, the mouth sores, the abscessed tooth, the arthritis, the brain fog, the moodiness. I, more than most, know what sugar does to the brain and body, and, yet, here I sit, alone in my car late at night, fervently munching through two bags of M&Ms before hiding the evidence. I feel ashamed. But I also know to have some compassion because sugar is more addictive than crack.
This is no joke. A scientific study published in a peer-reviewed journal (http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000698) reported that Sugar is more addictive than Cocaine. When you eat sweets the brain releases Dopamine (the neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s rewards and pleasure centers and regulates addictive behaviors) and Serotonin (a hormone that regulates appetite, memory, sleep, depression and more). The more sugar you have, the more sugar you need to get the same levels of dopamine and serotonin. The lower your levels of dopamine the more likely you are to feel anxious. And the lower your levels of serotonin the more likely you are to feel depressed. One look at the aisle as you enter the Temple Street Stop & Shop, or the cash register aisle at any supermarket, or the labels of any packaged food, and you start to understand why anti-depressants are one of the most prescribed drugs in America. And this is why I felt compelled to give sugar up for J on New Years. I am an independent woman! I do not want to depend on a pill or substance for my happiness. I would not smoke crack, nor would I shoot heroin because, besides being illegal, I know they are addictive and I know they are harmful substances. I try to avoid alcohol for the same reasons. Sugar is right up there with these and I need to regain control.
If regaining my independence is not enough reason for me to give up sugar, there are plenty more. Avoiding Diabetes should be good enough, but, let’s face it, who among us really believes we will get Diabetes until we get it? I’m not obese and Diabetes is one of those things obese people get, isn’t it? Don’t kid yourself. Just watch the documentary “Simply Raw” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG3V22cLUF0) and see how Type 2 Diabetes can affect young and old, fat and thin. More and more children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes every day. Though I exercise regularly and maintain low body fat, I am as susceptible as the next person if I don’t give up sugar. Type 2 Diabetes has tripled in the past 10 years and, at that rate, will catch up to me right soon if it hasn’t already. Unless you’re living under a rock or not paying attention, you likely know someone who is pre diabetic or already has Type 2 Diabetes. I know I do. If I don’t like having to give up sugar now, I try to imagine sticking myself with a needle every day and giving up anything that spikes my blood sugar (including fruit). Diabetes is not a fun disease. I don’t want it and it is totally preventable by cutting out the added sugar.
And how many people do I know with Cancer? Most of us have participated in some race or another on behalf of someone we know who survived Cancer or died of it. Cancer is everywhere. No one ever believes that they will get it, certainly not from eating sugar. But, Harvard Medical School recently reported (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11864854) that sugar is at the heart of inflammation and inflammation, more than genes, is believed to be the root cause of Cancer among other chronic and deadly diseases. Soon the ones who survive these will be caring for the ones who succumb to dementia. Two recent studies show how the brain shrinks (http://www.neurology.org/content/79/10/1019) and how cognitive function declines (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006295212003504) in the presence of too much sugar in the diet. It is no joke, folks. Sugar really is as bad for you as heroin and cocaine. I noticed the effects almost immediately after my binge. I was absent-minded, moody, tired all the time, and unable to focus. My skin started sagging and breaking out. I developed an abscess on my tooth, and I caught whatever bug was out there making the rounds.
On day three of this little gluten-and-sugar-free adventure I was at J’s recovering from the cold I got after eating every cookie and chocolate bar in sight for the whole week between Christmas and New Year’s. It was time for breakfast and J's not good at planning meals, so there was no Kefir for me. I missed making him his favorite blueberry pancakes on our 6-month “anniversary” so I ask, “How about blueberry pancakes? Didn’t I leave some non-gluten flour here?”, he nods. “Have you got eggs?” he nods, “well then, I think we got us some blueberry pancakes!” Maple syrup is an acceptable sugar substitute.
Though feeling better, I’m still not 100% so J doesn’t let me cook the pancakes - more from fear that I’ll contaminate him than consideration, but who’s complaining? “Tell me what to do and I’ll make them”, he says, and we get to work--me giving directions, and J, with his broad shoulders cloaked in the navy blue robe I gave him for Christmas, measuring, sifting, mixing, pouring, flipping and serving, both of us collaborating to discover something new together-- the surprisingly delicious taste of sugar-free-oat-flour pancakes loaded with berries. “your mother’s pancakes were definitely better, but these are good”, says J. We look across the table at each other with our mouths full and our lips sticky from syrup. We smile. The dopamine levels in my brain surge as I feel the bliss of gratitude for having a guy like J to go sugar-free with. This is the pleasure of love, and, though it is addictive, it is not the least bit harmful.