I wrote this blog post in 2006, when I was beginning to write about my journey with sugar. At the time, I’d been a sugar addict for nearly 20 years and had also struggled with equal years of eating disorders. During this stage of my journey, I had come to a point of acceptance that I could never eat sugar again. And so I was writing about and exploring my relationship to this limit, what you’ll read below.
Now years later, my relationship with sugar and my food compulsions has changed. Today, I eat sugar moderately, and no longer abstain from it. That is a much longer story, and another ten year journey; the how of how I got to that point is chronicled here at growinghumankindness, too.
So even though this story may not reflect how I eat or even relate to sugar today, I continue to share it as a marker of my journey, for it is a part of it, and it belongs. What remains unchanged – whether I was abstaining from sugar for a period of time or whether I’m eating it moderately – is this: my compulsive, obsessive seeking after sugar, food, and the pursuit of a perfect body had to die. It was a grieving, a shedding, and a healing process, and it meant facing and feeling the holes that drove me to seek out sugar, food, or pursue a perfect body in the first place.
And what also remains unchanged is this: my experiences with sugar are a relationship, something to relate to, and not something to cut out or eliminate. They ask this question over and over: how do I relate to what troubles or scares me? And through that relationship, something is born in me, and in you.
If you’d like to learn more, you can explore this free video course to learn about where abstinence does and doesn’t fit into healing a sugar addiction. You can also explore this page here to learn more about my approach to sugar, and what fostered the transformation I’ve described above.
My childhood memories are punctuated with sugar: bakery donuts on Sunday mornings; a pillowcase full of candy on Halloween; Dairy Queen trips in the summer; pies at Christmas. Our home had a junk drawer brimming with potato chips, pretzels, cookies, and tortilla chips. This didn’t include the ice cream in the freezer, the muffin mixes in the cupboard, the Pepsi in the fridge and the candy bowl on the piano. I ate sugar every day, and thought nothing of it.
I ate raw cookie dough, baked cupcakes, or had popcorn and Coke when I was feeling sad. As a teen, I became bulimic, and my favorite binge foods were sugar-laden: ice cream, candy, cheesecake, donuts, pastries, and muffins.
In my 20s, I became cognizant of my sugar addiction. I was having children, and I wanted to eat better, both for my babies’ sake and my own. I could no longer eat whatever I wanted and still feel and look good. I also experienced the first inklings of depression that plagued others in my family, and was looking for a cure.
I read several books about sugar and its addictive qualities. The information changed my life: finally, I understood why I could eat an entire bag of Twizzlers in one sitting. The connection between sugar consumption and depression was eye opening, too: no wonder my moods were constantly swinging.
And yet, even with all this knowledge, even with all my experience of how terrible sugar made me feel, in body, mind, and spirit, it took me over a decade to find significant healing. I’ve gone on and off sugar more times then I care to count.
Here’s how my script played out:
I’d be sugar free for several months, and then have a piece of cake, justifying my indulgence by vowing to return to my sugar abstinence the next day. I would tell myself I would eat just one serving and put the rest away, forgetting that I have never been able to eat just one slice my whole life.
One cookie would turn to two, then three; to candy the next day; brownies thereafter, then an entire can of raisins. Before I knew it, I was bingeing on sugar, eating out of control, riding an emotional roller coaster of mood swings, depression, and irritability.
Finally, I’d reach my saturation point, and put myself through the painful process of sugar detox. Then the cycle would start all over again.
When I don’t eat sugar, I feel fantastic: my moods, blood sugar, and emotions are stable. And yet I’d go back to eating it because I’d feel deprived; or I’d want pleasure, or I felt like lightening up.
I ate sugar because it connected me to my childhood, and all my happy memories. Or I bargained with myself, justifying that I could handle sugar because I felt so good (forgetting that the reason why I was feeling good was because I wasn’t eating sugar.)
I rode this back and forth roller coaster for many years. Finally, after one too many sugar binges, I surrendered. I realized that I can’t eat sugar compulsively and also have the health and wholeness that I desire.
I didn’t want to accept this. I still secretly wanted to eat sugar, just without the negative side effects. I was heartbroken.
But I couldn’t escape the truth. While some people can have a dessert every now and then, I’m not one of them. When I eat sugar, it eventually leads to a binge, every single time. It eventually leads to obsession (where all I can think about is my next sugar hit) and addiction (where I’m bingeing or planning a binge.) Every. Single. Time. Sugar leads to pain. Every. Single. Time.
I realized that I can’t live the life I want to live if I’m bingeing on sugar. I can’t be the parent (my children will gleefully relay that sugar turns me into Witch Mommy), wife, woman (it’s really hard to feel good about your body when you feel sick and bloated from overeating), writer, or friend that I want to be while I’m depressed and eating sugar out of control.
It became a question of sugar, or my life.
I chose my life.
And I mourned. I mourned what I couldn’t change – that my body doesn’t react normally to sugar. I mourned the loss of sugar. And mourning enabled me to find acceptance. It’s what gave me the courage to move forward, to find the living in my sugar free life.
Yes, there are trade offs. Sugar free living means giving myself excellent self care, support, and nurturing. For example, I eat three to four meals a day, everyday. I do my best to get a good night’s sleep. (It’s hard to resist sugar when you’re exhausted.) When I go out to dinner, I choose a restaurant that has something I want to eat. I carry food with me when I’ll be gone for the day. I plan meals. I eat protein at my meals to balance my blood sugar. I primarily cook whole foods, and so I spend a lot of time cooking for myself.
Yes, this entails effort. Sometimes I get weary. And the effort is worth it, because it gives me my very life; my very health.
It’s much, much harder to look in the mirror and not like what I see; to feel the terrible shame of a binge; to hide myself from the world because I’m depressed and recovering from a food hangover.
Sugar free living doesn’t deprive me, but nurtures me. It’s what sets me free to give, to love, to experience the true joy and richness of my very life. And it’s a doorway that I enter, over and over again, to open me to love. To open me to grace.