Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sugar Busted!*

Confession Number 1: Today I had a candy bar, sugary cereal, skittles, a Little Debbie cake, dried mangoes, jelly beans (thanks Gym Buddy Mike!), and teddy grahams. Oh yeah, and a giant chewy SweeTart.

I may as well have main-lined the sugar and saved my teeth the dentistry. In my defense the teddy grahams were force-fed to me by my very persuasive toddler. Okay, so that was no defense.

Confession Number 2: Due to a very entertaining out-of-town friend, I got 4 hours hours of sleep last night.

Exhaustion + abundant simple carbs = Girlfriend in a Sugar Coma (I know, I know, it’s serious… Extra candy corn if you are old enough to appreciate The Smiths!).

My earliest recollection of being a total sugar junkie was back in Kindergarten when I listed “popcorn and SweeTarts” as my favorite dinner. Yes, dinner. That progressed to a full-blown love affair with every sugared confection I came across. Willy Wonka was my dream date. Who knows the magic that could have happened if lickable wallpaper had ever come to fruition.

Many time we have broken up, Sugar and I. But I keep taking him back. I can’t resist his sweet talking. And sadly, now there are children involved. It isn’t pretty. Ex-Sugar makes Denise Richards look reasonable.

I feel so much better when I’m not on the bastard spawn of cane juice and bone char (yes, that’s how they make sugar). My mood is more stable, I have energy, clear(er) thinking and a slimmer waistline. So what is it that keeps this Pamela stuck to her Tommy Lee?

I’m a Dope for Dopamine
There’s a reason why we crave it when we’re down, why it is present at every party and why men bring boxes of it when they are trying to get back into our good graces - the simple science is that sugar is a short-term mood lifter. It operates on our dopamanine pathway, the same one worked on by SSRI anti-depressants. So it isn’t just your imagination that chocolate makes you feel better.

The only problem is that the feeling doesn’t last and then not only do you have to deal with the “lifetime on your hips” but you’ve got a mean sugar crash sucking all the fun out of your hip shaking.

How to deal? My fave magazine tip is things like “just have one really decadent bite of truffle. That will be enough to satisfy your craving.” Have these people ever met a really decadent truffle?? If one bite was enough to sate then Godiva wouldn’t be charging $30/lb and having people stealing whole sample trays. Now one bite of poo… yep, that would probably do it for me.

Moderation vs. Extremism
There are two schools of thought in how to deal with the white satan. Groups like Sugar Busters and followers of the Primal Diet, Jillian Michaels and many low-carb diets espouse the addiction theory: sugar is a drug that you become physiologically addicted to and unless you go all AA on it then you will remain forever in its grip. These folk avoid the s word in all its varieties. Eventually, so they say, you will stop craving sugar and won’t even miss it.

The second idea is the one touted by the Intuitive Eaters and Skinny Bitches (the book, not Lindsay Lohan): make your peace with sugar and it will lose its allure. Your body only craves it because it knows it isn’t supposed to have it. Give yourself permission to eat and eventually, so they say, you will start craving healthy food and stop obsessing about the jellies in your belly.

Same end, entirely different means.

My Experiment
You know I’ve tried both ways. (Not in the same day - that’s just called Bineging and Restricting followed up with guilt - otherwise known as The American Woman’s Diet.) First up was Intuitive Eating because, face it, that one just sounds like way more fun. I read the book and completely loved it. I started with eating an entire bag of jelly beans, seeing as they are the favorite of my forbidden foods. It didn’t end well. You can read the whole story here but my basic conclusion was that there are physiologic changes occurring in my body that the moderation group didn’t take into account. (Either that or I’ve just got an addictive personality. Which is probably true too. ) The chemistry combined with the endless variety in our modern eating society spelled death to sugar moderation, at least for me.

So then a couple of years ago, I finally decided that sugar and I were done. I was sick of the roller coaster and I figured if I could just white-knuckle it for a month or two (21 days makes a habit! Or a hobbit. Hard to remember when you’re that sugar starved.) then I’d be in the clear and never look at a Candy Apple Jelly Belly with a gleam in my eye again.

I set the experiment from October 30th to December 30th, just to be safe. 60 days that encompassed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah AND Christmas. And I did it. For real. Not a bite of cookie or a nibble of candy bar or a sip of nog. I didn’t even lick the frosting off my fingers as I made star cakes for playgroup.

I’d tell you how I did it except I don’t really remember. Those were dark days. The cravings never went away. It was just as hard avoiding the dessert buffet at the company Christmas party as it was not snitching my kid’s Halloween candy 60 days earlier. Finally on New Year’s Eve I said “screw it” and had some pie.

Whoooooeeee! It was like the first hit off a crack pipe (okay, I have never tried crack - or any other illegal drug - but I imagine that this is what it would feel like). My whole body just relaxed and I felt good. Not just good. Awesome. And we vowed to never be parted again. My friends were much relieved as I’d been skeeving them out by staring at their plates and drooling for the previous two months.

This uneasy peace is where I am now. I eat sugar. Sometimes, especially when I’m tired, I binge on sugar. I’m not so great with moderation in anything and that certainly applies here. The above methods work for some people. Alyssa has turned her life around with Intuitive Eating while Mark Sisson manages to abstain quite happily. Lean & Hungry fitness is in the midst of his own sugar experiment right now and was just informed that it actually takes 18 months (!!!) of cold turkey - both literally and figuratively- to kick sugar.

And me? Well, at least I got a SweeTart today.

These are the best jelly beans known to mankind. Just in case anyone was wondering how to bribe me. Photo credit: Candy Blog

*Note: In an effort to streamline my life and manage my blogger butt, I’m going to make Thursdays into GFE’s Greatest Hits. Yes, these posts are recycled but they are still fun and hey, doesn’t everyone love recycling now?? Today is the first installment (originally ran a year ago so for most of you this will be like your first time!)