My childhood memories are punctuated with sugar: bakery donuts on Sunday mornings; a pillowcase full of candy on Halloween; Dairy Queen trips in the summer; pies at Christmas. Our home had a junk drawer brimming with potato chips, pretzels, cookies, and tortilla chips. This didn’t include the ice cream in the freezer, the muffin mixes in the cupboard, the Pepsi in the fridge and the candy bowl on the piano. I ate sugar every day, and thought nothing of it.
I ate raw cookie dough, baked cupcakes, or had popcorn and Coke when I was feeling sad. As a teen, I became bulimic, and my favorite binge foods were sugar-laden: ice cream, candy, cheesecake, donuts, pastries, and muffins.
In my 20s, I became cognizant of my sugar addiction. I was having children, and I wanted to eat better, both for my babies’ sake and my own. I could no longer eat whatever I wanted and still feel and look good. I also experienced the first inklings of depression that plagued others in my family, and was looking for a cure.
I read several books about sugar and its addictive qualities. The information changed my life: finally, I understood why I could eat an entire bag of Twizzlers in one sitting. The connection between sugar consumption and depression was eye opening, too: no wonder my moods were constantly swinging.
And yet, even with all this knowledge, even with all my experience of how terrible sugar made me feel, in body, mind, and spirit, it took me a decade to quit sugar for good. I’ve gone on and off sugar more times then I care to count.
Here’s how my script played out:
I would be sugar free for several months, and then have a piece of cake, justifying my indulgence by vowing to return to my sugar abstinence the next day. I would tell myself I would eat just one serving and put the rest away, forgetting that I have never been able to eat just one slice my whole life. One cookie would turn to two, then three; to candy the next day; brownies thereafter, then an entire can of raisins. Before I knew it, I was binging on sugar, eating out of control, riding an emotional roller coaster of mood swings, depression, and irritability.
Finally, I would reach my saturation point of self-disgust, and put myself through the painful process of sugar detox. Then the cycle would start all over again.
When I don’t eat sugar, I feel fantastic: my moods, blood sugar, and emotions are stable. I don’t suffer from cravings. So why did I eat it, besides the fact that sugar is ingrained in every holiday, outing, or celebration? I ate sugar because I felt deprived; or I wanted pleasure, or I felt like lightening up. I ate sugar because it connected me to my childhood, and all my happy memories. Or I bargained with myself, justifying that I could handle sugar because I felt so good (forgetting that I was feeling good because I wasn’t eating sugar.)
But this spring, after one too many sugar binges, I embraced a new truth about myself: I can’t eat sugar. Ever. I’ll be sugar free for the rest of my life.
I didn’t want to accept this. I still secretly wanted to eat sugar, just without the negative side effects. The prospect of never eating apple pie or a chocolate chip cookie again was so heartbreaking that I couldn’t stay the course. But I had to accept my truth: that my body doesn’t react normally to sugar. I can’t eat a sugary treat, every now and then, without leading to a binge. I had to get to the point that my sugar binges were making me so miserable that the alternative, abstinence, looked appealing.
Here’s what woke me up:
I can’t live the life I want to live if I’m binging on sugar. I can’t be the parent (my children will gleefully relay that sugar turns me into Witch Mommy), wife, woman (it’s really hard to feel good about your body when you feel sick and bloated from overeating), writer, or friend that I want to be while I’m depressed and eating sugar out of control.
It became a question of sugar, or my life.
I chose my life.
It was an easy decision. Easy in that I knew what I wanted. And yet its implementation means giving myself excellent self care, support, and nurturing: I eat three meals a day, everyday. (It’s hard to resist sugar when you’re starving.) I do my best to get a good night’s sleep. (It’s also hard to resist sugar when you’re exhausted.) When I go out to dinner, I choose a restaurant that has something I want to eat. I don’t buy Halloween candy or do Christmas baking. I carry food with me when I’ll be gone for the day.
Does this sound hard? No, what’s hard is looking in the mirror and not liking what I see; not being able to fit into my clothes because I’ve been diving into the granola; hiding myself from the world because I’m depressed. That is hard. Supporting myself is easy.
I don’t crave sugar now. Really. It’s a no-brainer for me. When we made chocolate cupcakes for my son’s birthday a few months ago, the sickeningly sweet smell of the cupcakes made me sick.
Abstaining from sugar doesn’t deprive my spirit, but nurtures it. Avoiding my life purpose because I’m sugar addicted, however, does. An easy choice, after all.
Karly Randolph Pitman is the founder of First Ourselves, devoted to helping women love their bodies, feel beautiful, and make self care a top priority.