Last year our local grammar school sent out a survey in which they asked for opinions about whether the kids at school should be allowed to have chocolate milk at lunch. The students had asked for it but there were concerns about the sugar content in the milk. I love a good survey almost as much as I love sugar so the kids and I took the time to respond.
Did I really care if the kids could have that milk? Naaah. But I did want to make the point that I had just been up at school and saw that there was not only sugar in the tomato sauce and ketchup they serve but also antibiotics in their pre-grated cheese. To me, those hidden ingredients were more concerning than the 100 calories of milk that everyone knew contained sugar, no matter what Jamie Oliver says about flavored milk.
Like so many others, I love sugar. I grew up in the heyday of Big Sugar’s shameless grip on the general public’s consciousness. My brother still likes to mock my parents for putting a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola on the table at dinner time every night for us 5 kids!
How many times have I been given candy for comfort. Or as a gift? Or as a reward? I can’t help but think of “something sweet” as a symbol of love and care.
I really believe that sugar, itself, is not bad.
But having sugar at every meal and snack is very bad. That I do believe.
Just ask Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, whose video Sugar: The Bitter Truth, went viral about 5 years ago. Ever since I saw that video I have monitored the sugar I give to my kids.
Last year, when I started this experiment to truly change my habits and started scrutinizing my meals more carefully, I realized that it wasn’t my kids I should be worrying about, but me. I was eating sugar at every meal!
Whether it was sugar in my coffee, honey – – or better yet, agave syrup, that sounds better – – in my fruit and veggie smoothie, a few pieces of dark chocolate for an afternoon snack (for it’s antioxidant benefits, I swear!), or whipped cream with my fruit after dinner, I was eating tons of blatant sugar every day. I somehow justified it because “It wasn’t like I was eating a junky diet of fast and processed food.” My chocolate was organic, free range, and free trade from the co-op, dammit!
But I needed to lose some weight and I wanted to feel better (both mentally and physically) than I did. That’s why I joined GG40.
I decided that, while I didn’t have a problem with sugar, I should cut back a bit.
So I stopped adding sugar to my coffee. And I woke up every morning for about a month, angry. I was so resentful that I couldn’t have sugar in my coffee, even though it had been my choice.
That seems like a terrible way to start the day. So I decided I would have sugar with my coffee but try to cut back elsewhere.
No more honey or agave in my smoothie. Umm. Yeah. After that yummy coffee those smoothies tasted like crap. I didn’t want to admit that I wanted (and needed) that sugar so I just cut out the smoothies altogether. Problem solved.
I could go on and on about my denial and anger and bargaining. No matter how many examples I give, though, they all ended in the same place: sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty. I wanted to stop eating so much sugar but I couldn’t.
When I finally realized that I couldn’t actually control myself enough to skip sugar at even one meal or snack, I felt so embarrassed and defeated. I usually see myself as a strong, thoughtful, powerful woman.
Was I really going to be beaten by sugar?
It took about another month and a lot of thinking about my body image, my daughter, my real goals for GG40, and reading about how sugar probably kills as many Americans as tobacco for me to finally accept that sugar was a problem for me.
That day, when I finally accepted that sugar was my vice, I started to turn my habits around for real.
I started again with my morning coffee. Instead of being angry, I tried to acknowledge and joke about how hard it was to give that up.
It was still pretty rough.
I love, love, love to have a cup of coffee on the couch chatting with Joe in the morning. Those first few weeks, sitting there every morning with my flat, flavorless, coffee stunk. But I did it. One cup of coffee at a time.
Then I took on the smoothie, the snack, and every other sweet I longed for each day. It took months before I stopped thinking about cookies and cakes and ice cream and candy every day. I actually obsessed over sweets so much that sometimes I’d dream about devouring sweets I don’t even like, like bread pudding (ewww, wet bread), just because they had popped into my head.
I still eat sugar but really try to eat it only as a treat instead of as a regular ingredient.
Since I gave up sugar I have lost weight, have greater energy, have clearer skin, feel healthier, and I cope better with stress. I don’t have that roller coaster feeling I used to have.
But even with all the benefits I am feeling with this change of habit, if I found out tomorrow sugar was good for me, I’d go back to it in a second. That’s how I know I am an addict.