Growing up, I ate a lot of sugar. The health kick my parents went on in the 70's, the one where we ate puffed wheat and cod liver oil mixed with apple juice (Mom, promise me you'll never make anyone drink cod liver oil in apple juice ever again), turned into a sort of collective junk-food binge in the 80's. I was on my own during those summers—hanging out with my friends, riding my bike to the White Hen Pantry, loading up on candy then heading to the River Forest Tennis Club to swim and eat frozen Snickers bars until it was time to go home. It wasn't just me, that's what we all did. And it was almost worth all the cavities I had. As I got older, I started eating desserts after my desserts. I needed Jolly Joes after my Twix bar, and Laffy Taffy after my Reese's. Soon enough, sugar became the bulk of my diet.
In my 20's, I started to care about the food I put into my body—especially after Arden was born. That didn't stop my sugar intake, however, it only meant that instead of eating candy bars and drinking Hawaiian Punch, I was eating organic chocolate and locally made brownies. It was better for me to eat that instead of the high-fructose corn syrup and the partially-hydrogenated oils of my youth, but I started noticing that I would get a headache every time I ate something sweet. I discovered that if I ate protein before the sugar, I wouldn't get a headache. But that eventually stopped working and I could never eat enough protein (before or after) to stop the headache. Drinking lots of water would help, too, but only for a short time. For years I played this game and then I finally just gave in to the headaches and figured it was the price I had to pay for eating sweets.
On top of my head hurting all of the time, my heart was skipping beats and I didn't know why. It didn't seem to have anything to do with sugar so I didn't put the two together at first. The heart-skipping thing really started to stress me out, though. Because of it (and because of a series of other factors), I started to have panic attacks. I'd be in line at the grocery store and my heart would skip or race and then my head would spin and I would think I was dying. (Trust me, when you have a panic attack you absolutely think you are dying.) One day, after realizing how much I was suffering from headaches, panic attacks, heart skips, terrible seasonal allergies, skin break-outs, and the general feeling of losing my mind, I decided to get a grip. I finally started looking at what I was eating and I wondered if it had anything to do with how I was feeling. Though I'd hoped sugar wasn't part of the problem, I gave it up to see if it was.
Unfortunately (and fortunately), it was.
In October 2008, I gave it up. Cold. No cookies, no pie, no muffins, no chocolate, no cake, no juice, no soda, no ice cream—none of it. I could not believe how good I felt. I could not believe how good I felt. The headaches were totally gone. After a few days, the heart skipping stopped. After a few weeks, the panic attacks stopped. My skin looked clearer. My clothes were looser. My seasonal allergies were non-existent for almost all but a few days. I could not believe it. No, my life wasn't perfect. Yes, I still got zits and, yes, I still was (am) a major stress-case but things were making sense again, or at least making as much sense as they were ever going to make. And then that was that. I was done with sugar.
Is it hard for me not to eat it? Yes, sometimes. Some things are still hard to say no to—other things I don't miss at all. Halloween candy? It's surprisingly easy to say no to it. Homemade cookies? A very difficult thing to say no to. White chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake? I won't let it into the house. In the beginning of my experiment, I was completely hard-core and didn't eat one bite of sugar. Now I'll have a sliver of cake or something every once and a while and it will be just fine. Any more than that, though, and I'm back on the headache, heart-skippy train. And, almost always, the fear of riding that train again is enough to keep me off of it all together.
Do you know what I miss most about sugar though? It is remembering who I was when I still could eat it. Sugar represents a time in my life when I was young, and when life was easy. Sugar is romantic and lazy. Sugar is celebration and fun; it 's relaxation and escape. As strange as that may sound, that's what it means to me. One day last year, I saw a woman in a coffee shop eating a doughnut and drinking a hot cocoa with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and I said to myself, Does she know how lucky she is to be able to eat that? I wish I could be a person who could eat that. She must be a person who doesn't have any problems. I left with my boring peppermint tea and a frown on my face but when I walked outside, something hit me and I had a moment of clarity. A moment in which I thought: Maybe everyone wishes they could do something they can't do anymore. Maybe everyone wishes they could be something they aren't any longer. For me it's sugar. For someone else it's coffee. For someone else it could be going back in time before the panic attacks. For someone else it could be walking again, or maybe talking again, or even living again. And I accepted that we all have to figure it out anyway, in our own way, every day. And that it's okay because it has to be.
Thank you, world, for those moments.