So, the PI had this article about a woman who gave up refined sugar for a year. The thing that amazed and annoyed me about this article was the way giving up sugar was treated as being such a big deal. You know, a "test of willpower," a "reflection on the impossible."
The article is full of anecdotes about how hard it all was, how she huffed doughnut smell and ran around like a maniac and felt empty and lost when other people ate dessert and envious when people ate holiday-related sugars. And then at some point she makes honey-only toffee and pigs out on it, and somehow that isn't a break from the no-sugar rule, even though she feels terrible afterward, so whatever.
The article has a smug tone that gets on my nerves, but the kicker is that, by the standards of this article, I haven't eaten any sugar for almost twenty years. And you don't see me sending press releases to the PI. But then, I didn't give up sugar as part of a decision to "'create a simpler life,' leave their jobs and spend several months helping others." I stopped eating sugar because it makes me feel like crap.
Years ago, I realized that I have blood sugar issues -- if my blood sugar gets low, I feel nauseated, disoriented, anxious, and sometimes aggressive. I turn into the Low Blood Sugar Bitch From Hell, which is a bit like turning into a werewolf. Once I noticed this I started to pay close attention to, more or less, what is now called the glycemic index of foods. One of the first things I discovered was that sugary "treats" hit my system like a semi truck.
You know how too much sugar causes a spike, then a drop, in blood sugar? I swear, for me that cycle takes about ten minutes. One cookie and I go from manic to sick before I'm done chewing.
Some of that is the result of a long-term feedback loop. When you eat less sugar, your body gets even more sensitive to the sugar you do eat. So you eat even less sugar. Etc.
I can't say I'm one hundred percent sugar free. For example, many items which are not actually sweet -- sauces, baked goods -- actually do contain a small amount of sugar, for flavor-balancing or chemical properties or whatever. I get sweet cocktails, sometimes, because I can't go to New Orleans and not sit in the courtyard at Pat O'Brien's and if I'm sitting there I can't not get at least one giant hurricane in a fancy glass, and I think they make those things by adding rum to that stuff you put in hummingbird feeders, so that's about a year's worth of sugar right there.
I put sugar in very bad coffee. It's a measurement I have. "How's the coffee?" "Bad. It's creamer coffee. No, worse, it's sugar coffee. No, even worse than that -- it's cream and two sugars coffee."
There are a few sugary things that I like well enough to bother eating them sometimes, even knowing that I will feel like crap later. And some sweet items (like baklava) use honey, which, in small quantities, doesn't flip out my metabolism in the same way. And I sometimes eat things (like yogurt) that are fruit-juice sweetened.
But I still have to be careful, because too much fruit juice, or honey, is a problem. When you use fruit juice to make something as sweet as it would be if you used sucrose, and if you consume fruit juice in the giant quantities that people often consume things like pop, that can still be too much concentrated sugar. So I end up eating a lot of plain yogurt.
Yes, that's right, I eat plain nonfat yogurt. And I like it.
When you don't eat sugar -- especially if you don't just substitute artificial sweeteners -- your palette gets sort of reset, so that you actually notice the innate sweetness of things like grains and milk. And, oh yeah, fruit. Because I do get sugar cravings. I think, "mmmm, I want something sweet." And what I want is fruit.
I'm pretty sure fruit is the reason we crave sugar the way we do. Most candy and treatlike items are like a parody of fruit -- sweet, intensely flavored, brightly colored. It's like they are fooling a very deep part of our brains into thinking they are "good." It's like a joke. A very bad joke.
Which reminds me of cake.
Sometimes I give in to peer pressure and participate in social rituals like birthday cake. This has led me to realize that I hate cake. For a while I was convinced that cake was so awful that nobody actually liked it. I suspected it was all part of a gigantic conspiracy. The cake conspiracy.
Here is this hideous "treat" that is a traditional part of all our major commemorative ceremonies, and everyone hates it, but nobody realizes they hate it because the ritual is so deeply ingrained. And part of the ritual isn't just the fact that we have to consume this unpleasant substance, which manages somehow to be both dry and sticky, both flavorless and sickeningly sweet, part of the ritual is that we have to act excited about it. We're supposed to go, "Oh boy! Cake!"
Since then, I have been convinced that there are people who sincerely enjoy cake. So, maybe I'm alone, but I still feel strongly about this. Dear world, please do not ever give me cake for my birthday ever again, thank you. I will accept pie.
Like the woman in the article, I have become very sensitive to how much sugar permeates our daily lives, but unlike her, I'm kind of angry about it. I resent sugar. I see it as an adversary, me against sugar for all eternity.
I know, I know, I shouldn't be angry. People aren't deliberately bugging me by bringing in a box of donuts instead of bagels or croissants, or by putting a sugar frosting glaze on top of an otherwise acceptable cinnamon roll, or by buying the kind of peanut butter that, oh God, why, has sugar in it.
The fact that sometimes if I'm really hungry and there's nothing around except sugar, and I eat the sugar anyway, and then later I feel sick and like I want to kill everyone, really, that's my own fault for not planning better.
But sometimes it feels like a constant uphill struggle against the world -- no, I don't want any sugar, thank you. No, I still don't want any sugar. To tell the truth, I am never going to want that sugar. Honest, you can stop considering me when you offer people sugar. Please, God, would you stop offering me sugar!
And it bugs me that sugar, especially mass-produced factory sugar, is still considered a "treat." Sugar is cheaper than food, people! It's cheap and, let's face it, usually terrible. Fruit is a much better treat -- it's pricier, yummier, and still has a bit of seasonality about it, so that you can think "yay! they have those little Christmas oranges again!"
I am on a crusade, probably pointless, even in this world of rampant childhood obesity and type II diabetes, to de-sweeten the notion of what constitutes a treat, to de-ubiquitize sugar, to de-cakeify our social rituals. We have to replace it with something, and I don't want this to be only a negative crusade, so... fruit. It's about the love of fruit. It's about rescuing fruit from its dull "good for you" reputation and restoring its slightly naughty image as an object of indulgence and temptation.
The Fruit Crusade. Pointless, probably, but at least it involves fruit.