{reflection on food} Kicking Sugar

Villia Italia cookie counter

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.

villia italia cookies 3 biscotti

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.

villia italia cookies 2

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.

villia italia cookies 5

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


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeni B says:

    I totally sympathize. We did South Beach Diet a few years ago and kicking the sugar AND white bread/pasta habit was.. omg.. HARD. I remember standing in the kitchen sobbing and screaming “I JUST WANT A BOWL OF PASTA WITH BUTTER IS THAT SO WRONG!?”.


    There is a lot of research about why we crave sugar and the cycle it kicks into action in our neurotransmitters and hormones.

    If it helps at all, one of the things I found that helps ease that discomfort and sugar craving is spicy spicy food… You get a bit of adrenaline from the spice which replaces the seratonin rush you get from eating sugar and simple carbs. They are both happy hormones you can get to via different methods

    Also, living with a psycho-biologist has it’s advantages.

    1. Alexis says:

      I agree Jeni about the bread/pasta problem. Once you try to stop, just like with sugar, it’s shocking how much we usually eat!

  2. maria says:

    One thing that totally becomes clear after I’ve done a 1-3 week cleanse is how obvious it is that carbs and sugar are just insane addictions. When I first give up bread I find myself daydreaming about just a slice and NOTHING on earth sounds more perfect and innocent than a muffin! It’s the same with sugar. Just pure blood lust! BUT after a while it just suddenly goes away and going back to that slice of bread is kinda…meh. What was the big deal? It’s amazing. It’s just a drug….

    1. Alexis says:

      Yes, and also it becomes so much easier to not eat those foods the longer you go without them, in my experience.

  3. Amy Halloran says:

    Totally know the route. I’ve played on and off with sugar forever, and as a baker the exits are always worsened by a sense of dread about not connecting with people through that media.

    Now that my body has very clearly announced that sugar just won’t work — and I do mean just about all sweet things, even dried fruit — it is not such a struggle for me. It feels so bad now that I do not want it. I wish I could have moderation but that is not how sugar ever worked for me!

    1. Alexis says:

      Amy – for me also once it became clear that cutting out sugar made me feel a lot better, it became easier to cut it out.

  4. I completely understand! I recently went through another sugar detox just a few weeks ago. One bit of advice I’ll pass on from my nutritionist, that helped me immensely: when you’re craving sugar, put a teaspoon of honey on your tongue and let it dissolve. (I usually ended up using more around a tablespoon.) Before I knew it, I wasn’t craving dessert every night and it was absolutely the smoothest detox I’ve been through yet.

    1. Alexis says:

      Good to know! Although then you’re getting a teaspoon of honey every night…

      1. Well, it’s not meant to become a new habit. I did it 2, maybe 3 nights, in a row to curb the need. Plus, I’d rather have locally harvested honey, which has some benefits, than white refined sugar. Good luck with with it though!

  5. Andi Houston says:

    This post really hit a lot of buttons with me. I started back on the paleo/primal diet at the first of the year. Cutting grains? No problem. Cutting sugar? That’s a whole ‘nother thing. So I’m “stepping down” by cutting refined sugar but allowing myself honey, cane syrup, sorghum molasses, dried fruit, etc. Every person has to tailor their diet their own way, but we are also the harshest to ourselves.

    Much sympathy to you.

    1. Alexis says:

      Thanks Andi! Best of luck to you.

  6. BETSY says:

    Well, at 34 weeks pregnant, all I can think is those mice look cute and yummy 🙂 What a thought-provoking reflection though!

Start a conversation --> We love feedback!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s