03 June 2011

Just because I can doesn’t mean I should. Just because I want to doesn’t mean I will.

On a whim, I decided to join a round of a strange competition. For one month, I agreed to follow a very strict regimen that required me to do the following, daily: follow a strict and extremely healthy diet, exercise 20 minutes a day, get 7 hours sleep, avoid alcohol, drink 3 litres of water, give up a bad habit and take on a new good habit. Each day I received (or lost) points for following the plan (or not). I was a member of a team, competing against other teams. We all put $$ into a kitty, and the winner at the end of the month would have the most points and keep the $$. Most remarkable about this for me was a self-imposed abstention from what would quickly reveal itself to be my slave master: sugar.

“What's the big deal with sugar?” you may ask yourself. Nothing, according to the beet and cane growers of America. "Its natural!" they tell us. Maybe it is a source of empty calories, and perhaps it rots your teeth. But I intuitively sensed the white crystals were worse than that for me.  A month without sugar, would, in fact,  prove to me that sucrose ruled my life. I structured my entire day around its delivery to my body. I may have given up sweetening my coffee long ago, but sugar was in just about every single other thing I ate, even the things I wouldn't classify as "sweet". And that was before even factoring in my daily “treat”, be it dessert after dinner, something sweet whilewatching tv, or my mid-afternoon “pick me up”. When I was sad, I craved sugar. Bored? Think of something to do/somewhere to go that involves a sweet something to eat. Happy? Let's celebrate with a treat. Angry? Damn if I don't deserve a baked good! The list goes is endless. 

Part of my decision to join the competition and even consider dropping sugar was a recent NY Times  article extolling the malignancy of the sweet stuff. You can read it yourself here, or I can just tell you that it says sugar not only makes us overweight and puts us on a fast track to diabetes and heart disease, it more than likely feeds and grows tumors. Sugar, in other words, is deadly. 

Blah, blah, blah. 

Never underestimate a human being’s cognitive dissonance, the ability to justify doing something we know we shouldn't. (Cigarette, anyone?) Let’s be honest, the health argument is not always the most compelling. It matters, but was not enough to get me to make any major changes, especially changes that mean relinquishing a constant companion and source of pleasure. Just beneath the health argument, however, lay another motivator: vanity. Which was slightly more compelling. But the desire to look better in shorts withers very quickly on the vine when it’s just me and a triple flight of outdoor stairs for twenty straight minutes.

So how is it that I am still abstaining now that my month without sugar is up?

Before I started my healthy experiment, a friend with a similar disposition towards the sweet stuff told me her goal was to enjoy a piece of fruit like dessert. “Ha!" I barked at her. "I can tell you now, that will NEVER be the case for me”. Could a banana do the job of a hot fudge brownie sundae? Would you cast a headless mannequin to star in a Broadway musical?

Perhaps it is slightly extreme for me -- she of the perpetual sweet teeth -- to give up all refined sugars (even cane juice, agave syrup, sorbitol maltitol and xylitol). I really loathe to come off as one of those deprivation-as-virute, disordered-eating, California nutritional nutcase looney tune people. Those people have always bored me to tears. The irony, however, is that I’ve done more interesting things since saying sayonara to sugar than I have in the last year, perhaps. By emptying my life of sugar, and its ceaseless siren-song, whispering for me to indulge again and again and again, I found room for other activities. I’ve gone paddleboarding. Tried capoeira. Gone back to samba class. Started writing again. Researched artist grants and residencies. Began carrying my camera around with me again. Gone wine tasting and bike riding and created new recipes and asked my loved ones for what I need. Instead of a scoop of Thrifty’s Chocolate Malted Crunch, it turns out what I needed was something much more substantial. 

And if that makes me a bore, so be it.

 Man,  I could really go for a chocolate covered banana right now. 

I never said going without was easy.


  1. Right on! Proud, impressed, inspired....but wait, no agave? What about kind kreme?

  2. Jane! Thanks for reading!!

    Call it cheating, but I adhere to the philosophy of "all things in moderation - including moderation". In other words, I take one "day off" a week to eat whatever I want, and 100 calories of anything once a day. While I could use those allowances on deep fried chocolate covered red velvet cupcake batter, I find I pretty much only want one of four things: KindCreme, chocolate covered bananas (Go Bananas from Trader Joe's are a more important discovery, as far as I'm concerned, than the human genome),chocolate mochi ice cream, or raw brownies. Not raw like brownie batter (which I was once known to inbibe, with marshmallows folded in) but raw cacao nibs and coconut butter. Funny how once you give yourself permission to have something, you don't need it so bad. Hence the blog title.

  3. Truly an accomplishment! Well said as always Mrs. B. I have two questions, to what do you credit the new source of energy and spirit, the lack of empty calories or the healthy substitutes? Both? Also, what do you think of sugar substitues, ie; splenda, stevia, etc.?

  4. P! You are sweet (pardon the pun)to read this. I think my new energy is a result clarification of what I needed as well as eliminating what I didn't need. You can give yourself mountains of sugar (or cigarettes or online solitaire games or fancy cars or whatever) but if what you're truly longing for isn't sugar, tobacco, games or cars, you'll never really be satisfied. And yet our pursuit of those things, once habitual, tends to confuse us as to what we really want. I realized, once sugar was off the table, that sugar wasn't actually what I wanted. It was a creative outlet, and movement, and time for myself, and connection to people. Of course the sugar was letting me down - it couldn't provide any of that.

  5. OK, I gotcha. Very enlightening... So basically your post had some fancy subtext that my liquored brain couldn't process? I'm off to climb a sugar mountain and see if I can't get a better view of what I'm looking for! :D

    Glad you earned some life clarity and can't wait til your next one!