Friday, February 7, 2014

Me and My Sugar (Addiction)

One of the main aspects of our Project Happy Life is Health and Well Being.  As I said in my post about my health history, I stepped back from the brink of becoming truly fat by having the shit scared out of me and finding myself trying the Zone Diet at the recommendation of a nutritionist.  But with everything diet-related, it's complicated.  And it's as much a mental game as it is a physical game.

I was a (doughy) teenager in the 1980's.  We thought back then that if something was "low fat", it was our key to keeping our weight down.  But we were gaining weight, so then we thought we just weren't doing the "low fat thing" well enough.  We thought we were weak when it came to eating the right foods, so we started trying to help ourselves by working out - aerobics, running, jazzercise...  People bought leotards and track suits.  We were determined, but we were misinformed.

Around 2002, while I was reading my copy of A Week in the Zone and trying to decide whether it was right for me, I thought a lot about commitment. . .

I once worked with a director, named Elaine Vaan Hogue, who gave a speech to the cast on the first day of rehearsals about commitment.  She acknowledged that as much as they wanted to be working actors, and as much as they wanted to be in that show (I think it might have been The Crucible), there is still a process of commitment we go through when we begin a project.  She said some of them might already find themselves fully committed.  Some of them might be experiencing full commitment at that moment - while she was talking, and for some of them, it might not happen until well into the run of the production.  She asked each cast member to choose a small, inexpensive item, and to present it to another member of the company on the day they finally felt they had committed.

That idea has stayed with me.  Before she said that, it had never occurred to me that a person could undertake something without being committed first.  Here was something new!  We can decide to do things with the full force of our abilities, but allow our commitment to come - in it's own good time.

The Zone Diet (my first actual diet regime beyond the smattering of diet-related thoughts that sifted out of 1980's TV commercials and talk shows) talks a lot about insulin and sugar.  It sounds obvious to me now, more than 10 years later, but at the time, my mind was blown!

Here's a typical day's worth of eating when I was a latch-key kid in middle school:
Breakfast - Fruit Loops, Sugar Smacks, or Apple Jacks with non-fat milk.
On the way to school - Hostess fruit pie or double pack of cinnamon rolls (my mother didn't know about this habit of mine)
Lunch - Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, small bag of chips, and a Twinkie or other Hostess dessert.
After School Snack - Another Twinkie (or other Hostess dessert), and/or spoon-fulls of peanut butter with chocolate chips mixed in, and/or hunks of pepperoni that I would cook until crispy in the oven, and/or flour tortillas with a stripe of peanut butter across them and rolled into burritos.
Dinner - Lowry's Seasonings Tacos, pizza (from Organ Stop Pizza - my favorite), or something from the barbecue.  I also loved hamburgers and french fries.  Mine was a single, working mother, so dinners had to be simple.

(Bear in mind that my mother was doing the best she could with what she had, and I turned out alright.  Also, I know I ate fruit and vegetables; I loved fruit especially.  I just can't remember eating them daily.)

Insulin and sugar!  I essentially spent my middle school years going from one sugar high to the next, and then I did the same in high school, but added a nice, sticky layer of guilt and weight gain on top.

So what Dr. Barry Sears was saying in The Zone Diet made sense to me: I needed to control my insulin levels by avoiding sugar and foods that turned into sugar once inside my body.  To do that, you spend a few days completely eliminating from your diet sweets, breads and pastas, etc. (which you can re-add later in moderation - or maybe I just made that part up).  And you eat a balance of 30 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat for three regular meals per day, and two small snacks.  Choose your food from a list of Zone "approved" protein, fat, and low-carb fruits and vegetables, and voila!  Magic weight loss.

This was unimaginable to me.  Okay, give up sugar, but GIVE UP BREAD?!

And yet, the reasoning made sense - to control your weight, you had to control your insulin levels.  I was without a better alternative...

I decided to try it.  For a week.  A week is finite.  A week let's you keep one foot out the door.

It took three days before I stopped thinking about bread and carbs all of the time.  But they weren't just casual thoughts like, "Oh, isn't bread nice?  I like bread."  No, my thoughts were more subversive.  They slithered into my mind like a snake.  "Oh!  Look!  Someone left this pita here... it would be a shame to see it go to waste."  Or, "You're an adult.  You're not beholden to anyone.  If you want to eat those M&M's, you can.  They're small.  It doesn't matter."  My thoughts tried to charm me away from my plans like a siren.

And then it occurred to me that I had a sugar addiction, and those thoughts - those insidious voices - were my addiction talking to me.  But my addiction was not me.  There could be a separation, a space between my addiction and my self.  My decisions could be my own.

It was in that moment I felt myself commit.

As I said in my previous post, one week turned into three weeks, which turned into three months, which turned into indefinitely.  I watched my body change, and I watched my addiction thinking come and go.  And come.  And go. . .  I began to feel less desperate about it.  I felt more accepting.

At my first wedding (in 2003), I was surrounded by food.  It was the Maine blueberry pie that un-did me.  That, and the fact that my then-wife had abandoned her own attempts with The Zone Diet.  I no longer had an in-house comrade and mirror.  She had a rebellious streak, and allowing herself to eat anything she wanted was like a big fuck-you to the diet industry, which she felt had raised her hopes and dashed them again her whole life.  I was angry about the abundance of pies and sugary food around me, and I secretly blamed her for her lack of support when I saw that my sugar addiction had come back.

With time, I grew to see that I could decide when to go through my withdrawals again and get things back under control.  It wasn't up to anyone else to facilitate my choices or to help me stick to them.  I stopped being angry, and I began to accept that this was the nature of my addiction.  Each time I let myself rekindle it, I knew I could also leave it by the wayside again.  All I needed was to truly commit.  "Forever" didn't matter.  "Now" mattered.

Yesterday morning, I read a thing by Russel Brand about addiction.  Death by sugar addiction won't come as quickly as it might for drug addicts, but a lot of the thinking we experience is just the same.

For me, knowing that I have an addiction to sugar, and allowing space for my relationship with sugar and my diet to change and grow (or fall backwards a bit) over time, makes all the difference along the way.  I haven't got it all worked out yet, but I'm making progress, and in a future post, I want to share some thoughts about the paleo diet and The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson.

Before I end for the day, I do want to say that one of the main things that makes all the difference for me is Cindy.  Cindy is one of those rare souls who loves working out.  She loves to move her body as much as I love to make things with my hands.  It is a source of her sanity, and it is inspiring for me to see.  And Cindy is game to try things (like The Clean Program cleanse we did last year), and having her to support and to be supported by is a gift and a joy.

Try and find yourself a Cindy.  You should.  But you can't have mine.


  1. I love your posts! Especially about your love for Cindy !! One of my most favorite people EVER ! I went through the same thing when giving up coke about 5 years ago...You are not alone !

    1. Thanks, Diana! I totally appreciate your solidarity - on both the Cindy and the sugar fronts!


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