It’s hard to make decisions about what to eat these days. There’s so much information and everyone has advice and opinions. One thing I feel fairly certain about, when it comes to food, is that sugar is bad for me. During periods of time when I’m eating sugar regularly, sometimes multiple times a day, I notice that I’m much more inclined to an irritable and anxious mood. I feel less energetic. The more I eat the more I crave. I know I’m not alone in this.
I’m not writing this to give anyone medical advice, but I do want to share that I’ve been told in the past that eating sugar makes me more vulnerable to sinus infections. Immediately following this past holiday season I committed myself to stopping consumption of all sweeteners in the hopes of improving my health. It seems to have helped in the past and doing it again this Winter also seems to have been effective. It’s worth it, but it’s hard.
I’m not exactly clear on the science behind it, but what I know from personal experience is that when I want sugar I find it very hard to not eat it. It’s especially hard when there is no obstacle other than my own will to stop me from doing so. What needs to happen in those moments, in order for me to resist eating sugar, is for me to tolerate my own discomfort. I think in our culture we tend to think of desire as a positive, pleasant thing. Upon my own closer examination, however, desire is rather uncomfortable. It is especially uncomfortable when it is unfulfilled. In the hours between dinner and sleep every evening during my periods of sugar elimination I found myself spending considerable amounts of time thinking about why I should or shouldn’t eat something sweet. The desire for sugar becomes distracting.
The belief that I “should” be able to just not eat sugar also gets in the way. It seems like it should be such a simple thing to not eat sugar. It’s a superfluous indulgence, so why not just stick to what I need to ingest? I realize mine is a “First World problem,” yet my guilt for struggling with this problem actually makes it even harder to tolerate it. Just like many of my peers, I judge myself a lot when I do eat sugar. Over two years ago the editor of this blog wrote a post that exemplifies the psychological trap we catch ourselves in with food.
The elimination of sugar, ultimately, is representative of my own reluctance to deal with discomfort. I put so much effort in to avoiding discomfort – taking ibuprofen when I have the beginnings of a headache, avoiding an unpleasant conversation, turning the tv on when I’m tired and no longer want to entertain my small children – that the expectation to tolerate my desire for sugar is sometimes strange and almost unfamiliar. Am I not tough enough? Perhaps this is both a personal and cultural problem. I am not yet sure of the solution, other than to be mindful of my struggle and, in the midst of my discomfort, remind myself that experiencing the discomfort is the means to an end.
Additional Reading: Yesterday, Mark Bittman wrote an opinion piece, about sugar in the American diet, on NYTimes.com