Thursday, May 15, 2014

How sweet it is! (Part 1) by Francesca Amendolia

A few years ago, I started seeing more and more information floating around about how poisonous sugar is, how it feeds cancer, how it promotes inflammation, how it rots your teeth, how addictive it is, and so on and so on. It acted in the body like heroin, one science writer dramatically proclaimed.

Thing is, I'd known for years that I was pretty much in thrall to the sweet stuff. And it wasn't simply that I was overly fond of those foods that exist primarily as sugar delivery systems -- carrot cake, Twizzlers, warm chocolate chip cookies, pistachio ice cream, fat chocolate bars with layers of smoothly dripping caramel. I did (and do) like all those things, but I also loved and sought sugar in more hidden forms: in lovely, cushiony white bread warm from the oven, in bagels the size of my head, in drippingly sweet honeydew melon, in perfectly ripe bananas, in deep, dark rum. I even preferred sweet vegetables (like red peppers, snow peas, and carrots) to other vegetables (like broccoli, about which I am still pretty meh). Heh, when I was a kid, I used to pour sugar from the sugar bowl over my fingers and lick them clean (don't judge me).

My sweetheart!
I'd also known for years that I could get miserable, deeply depressive hangover-like reactions the day after too much sugar, or too much bread. I had already perceived the cycle of dependence feeding dependence. I knew I ate sugar not just because it tasted good, but because it made me feel happier, calmer. It played with my brain chemicals, comforting me when I was stressed. I realized I was behaving much like an alcoholic with a bottle. I frankly didn't care. What good is life, thought I, without the joy of a crackling crust splitting open to reveal its soft, warm promise, like a yeasty geode. What use in living, thought I, without vanilla soft-serve crusted with rainbow sprinkles, me racing the sunlight to consume its melting sweetness?

Then I read about the potential connection between sugar consumption and dementia. My relatively young, healthy, wise-cracking mother had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers, and I was (as were my sisters and all our family) deeply shocked. Having someone you love get Alzheimers is like watching someone get run over by a bus in super-slow motion. You know what's happening. You musn't look away. You know how it will end. And every second hurts. And every second breeds fear. Is that going to be my fate? Will my own family have to watch me vanish by creeping degrees?

So when I learned about some promising research suggesting that the overuse of sugar (in the standard Western diet) might essentially be the root cause of Alzheimers (they described it as type 3 diabetes), something went click. Here was something I could control, unlike my genetics. And I went cold turkey. No sugar, no bread, no bagels, no nothing. I decided I would read labels, I would eat less fruit, I would break my addiction.

It was horrible.

I called Maria. "I think I'm dying," I gasped hoarsely. "I'm shaking, nauseous, I can barely move off the couch. I can't think, and my heart is racing. I will never be okay again."

"You're detoxing," she said. "Wait it out. You'll be fine."

Suddenly the heroin comparison didn't seem so far-fetched. It was like I had a ten-day flu, and then it took another few days before I began to feel anything close to normal. And after that, it was, honestly, easy. I ate eggs and cheese and chicken and lots of vegetables, berries, full fat plain yogurt, nuts until they came out my ears, almond butter, and thick, thick cream. I didn't want sugar any more. I didn't wander through the kitchen looking for something to soothe me, restore me. It was an enormous relief. I ate whatever I wanted (as long as it was low in sugar, and for whatever magical reason, that didn't seem to be a problem).

The only disappointing thing was that I didn't feel THAT different. I wanted, I don't know, to be suddenly glowing and sparkling like some healthy fiend who willing munched kale for breakfast with flax-seed milk and spirulina (and other super-duper healthy stuff with weird names). In fact, I didn't know how different I felt until I went away to the beach and had an ice cream. I mean, come on! It's against the law to go to the beach and NOT have ice cream, and I'm very law abiding.

And one Dairy Queen soft serve cone with colored sprinkles later, I suddenly had a blinding headache. Dizzy and nauseous, I curled up on the couch for an hour. I felt sick. I felt poisoned. From one ice cream.

And I felt like maybe not having an ice cream wasn't the worst thing in the world. And I was all like, yes! I am sugar-free woman, hear me roar.

Then life happens, which it tends to do, but sometimes it happens in gentle, predictable ripples, and sometimes it's a riptide. I was swept out to sea, where I found one very large piece of reassuring flotsam to cling to, and it was called sugar.

I took a detour. And got a little lost.

(Read part two here.)


Christina said...

Love the guest blogger thing! Amendolia sisters share on! Just talking to someone today about sugar - I think there is a film coming out about it, Fed Up? Such poison! And so hard to avoid. And like a brain injury, challenges you in unexpected places. Strength to you both xoxo

charlotteotter said...

I hear you. I am in sugar rehab too. It is hard, because I love it in every possible shape and form, but it makes me grumpy, sleepy and bitchy.

PS Francesca, so great to read your writing again. I miss your blog.

Jeff said...

Really enjoying Francesca's way with words. "racing the sunlight" "yeasty geode". "watching someone get run over by a bus in super-slow motion" Vivid imagery.

Maria Amendolia said...

Francesca is definitely a wordsmith! Glad you enjoyed :-)

Shannon Wiersbitzky said...

I hadn't heard the sugar / Alzheimer's connection. Interesting.