Living without… Sugar

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

I would like to preface this month with an honest, “Oh shit.”

Sorry about the language, but this is one of the months that are really making me nervous. I love sugar. I don’t drink it in my coffee and I don’t like to cook with it, but I like to bake with it – cookies, cakes, etc. I also really, really (really) like chocolate. Not milk or white chocolate mind you, but dark chocolate – that is the stuff right there!! Yet, I know it too has sugar in it 😦

Why would anyone even choose to do this?!

By the numbers

According to Statistica, from the middle of 2019 to the middle of  2020, Indians devoured 27 million metric tons of sugar. The European Union ingested 18.6 million tons, the Chinese downed 15.2 million tons, and Americans downed a measly 11 million tons. “The global sugar consumption exceeded 171.5 million metric tons that period.” 2020 was the first time in 40 years that the global consumption of sugar didn’t increase, mainly due to the Corona virus. Traditionally, sugar consumption increases annually at the same rate as the global population, at about one percent a year (Czarnikow, May 12, 2020).

Alcohol and Sugar both offer a hit of dopamine in the brain, which is harmless, occasionally, however, when it is consumed too frequently, the brain craves more of it. Fruits and vegetables do not have this same effect. The more sugar you consume, the more your brain thinks it needs – just like alcohol or other addicting drugs. 

Is it really that bad?

Okay, so perhaps you want to be as crazy as me and attempt this for yourself. What tips do researchers, writers, experts, and other lay people who have tried this have for us? 

In a 2014 Guardian article by Zoe Williams, she shares the basic truth between alcohol and traditional sugar.  “It is all sugar; it all does the same thing to your bloodstream, and it all begets an appetite for more of itself, as do fags and booze.” Williams also suggests going cold turkey, to be beware of fruits (but determine for yourself if you should give them up entirely), drink around six extra cups of water daily, increasing protein and fiber intake, and finally to also give up alcohol.

Williams continued, “If you are unsure whether a carbohydrate is refined or unrefined, ask yourself – have I ever thought: “I could murder an X”? Sausage roll, yes. Pearl barley risotto, no. Buttered crumpet, yes. Kale spread with cashew butter, no. The intensity of your desire is an index of the glucose it will deliver. This means a) all refined carbohydrates should be treated as sugars, in your sugar detox, and b) to avoid sugars, you simply avoid all the things you really want.” I really like this idea of asking yourself this question. I plan to begin using this to test myself in the future. 

Sugar also attaches to proteins in the blood, which creates harmful molecules that damage the body’s collagen and elastin.  In plain terms, this makes a person age more quickly. In excess, it can lead to fatty-liver disease  which can lead to cirrhosis and liver disease. It can also lead to heart disease, heart failure, heart attacks or strokes. “People who eat a lot of added sugar (where at least 25% of their calories comes from added sugar) are twice as likely to die of heart disease as those whose diets include less than 10% of total calories from added sugar.” (WebMD)

Getting personal

On a personal note, alcoholism and addiction do run in my family, so I feel I have even more reasons to succeed in this challenge. 

And you know what?! In 2015, I completed this challenge – I did it, that once, five years ago. 

Never mind that I completed this goal in the shortest month of the year, as it was the one goal I had the least faith in myself to complete. Wow, typing that admission really sheds light on my confidence then. What does it say about this second attempt in 2021? 

The shortest month

Beginning with Halloween at the end of October, the sugar begins to flow more freely and it doesn’t seem to stop until January when I have been drowning it over Christmas, when I decide to just go with the flow until I am utterly disgusted with every leftover remnant of the holiday season that still surrounds us. I would be perfectly fine with dumping all of it into a huge pit and lighting it all on fire. Or using a t-shirt cannon to toss that shit out into the void that doesn’t exist. The problem with that is that I know I would go through horrible withdrawal. So, here we are. 

Therefore, I have chosen February to attempt to complete this arduous task goal.

Memories

I remember, once I began learning about how prevalent sugar is in our everyday lives I also came to realize that alcohol is basically the same thing to our bodies – we can become addicted to both and both just end up wearing out the body and waistline. My initial assumption was that my daily bit of dark chocolate would be less difficult to give up than my evening glass of red wine. In truth, it was the opposite. The exact opposite.

The glass of red wine was the easiest to give up. The chocolate, however, caused much anxiety, withdrawals, and  needing to quell serious attacks of a sweet tooth. This would lead me to, at random parts of the day, wandering around the kitchen or pantry rummaging through our family’s food supply like a huge rat. The thing about our kitchen and pantry – we generally have only minimal amounts of ready-made food or snacks, simply because those items are more expensive. I remember I ate a lot – scads – of fruit and drank copious volumes of tea, only sometimes sweetened with honey. Honey was the only type of sweeter I allowed myself.

I also remember feeling like a struggling, low-energy, highly irritable failure until the last week. That last week I felt amazing. At that time I felt like I could go on forever. I also received so many comments on my skin. It was apparently “glowing”. And my attitude also improved as I didn’t feel like I had to constantly feed the beast of my sugar addiction. 

The problem at the time though was that as soon as it was over, I broke the fast, hard. In reality and retrospect, I should have not finished the month like that. File that under points to not repeat in 2021.

Now what?

If you are interested in a bit of history, here is an animated article from Saveur and a BBC video of the history of sugar and its introduction to Britain: 

Where Did Sugar Come From? – Addicted To Pleasure – BBC, Brian Cox, BBC Studios, August 15, 2015.

Did you know as a species humans didn’t have issues with our teeth, ie. tooth decay and cavities, until sugar was introduced to our diets going back to 1657 but also having been discovered in remains much older than that.

Have you or someone you know ever successfully attempted to cut out sugar and/or alcohol before? How did it go? What worked for you and what didn’t? Share your experience in the comments so that I can learn from your experience.

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