When I gave up sugar in 2006, I was single and poor. It was hard, but I managed because it was more important to me than anything else in the world. I was in the throes of bulimia and exercise bulimia. I felt crazy and angry and I did not think I would ever be able to dig myself out of the hole I had dug with food and sugar, lies and manipulation. But I wanted to. My desperation was even bigger and more powerful than the impossible.I was single. And I had the luxury of only looking out for myself. And since I didn’t eat bread, or pizza, or pasta or rice, which are cheap and easy, and since I ate mostly vegetables, I spent almost all of my money on food, and my time on shopping and cooking.
Eating a diet free of sugars, grains, and starches is expensive. Not just expensive, but exorbitant. (Ask my husband. He’ll tell you.) What I pay for a piece of fruit, which is only part of my breakfast, can often buy two cheeseburgers at a fast food place. Of course the fruit is nutritious, but it’s hardly as filling as two cheeseburgers. And it doesn’t get you high, the way fast food cheeseburgers will.
It’s interesting how framing something can shift your whole outlook. I read an article this week that said that what we call “obesity related illnesses” are really “sugar related illnesses.” There were some compelling arguments. No, I don’t know if it’s true. But it makes sense to me. And it created a change in the way I think about the subject of obesity.
It makes sense to me that what we have been doing is exonerating sugar and the food industry that adds it to everything, while we disparage the people who are victims, for being fat, shameful, and totally lacking willpower. (Don’t blame sugar. Calories are calories. If they would just push away from the table and stop shoveling food into their faces, we wouldn’t be spending so much of my taxes on medical treatment for slobs.) We treat sugar as the victim and people as the problem.
I read labels. When I shop, I almost always buy the same things. And even then, I have to read the label from time to time, because ingredients change.
And most often, they change by having some form of sugar added. Because sugar is cheap. And, if you ask me, addictive. And it’s not like they put a big splashy notice on the front, NEW FORMULA! NOW WITH EXTRA SUGAR! It’s added in secret, so to speak. So you don’t know you are eating more sugar unless you read the label. (Which I happen to do as part of my food boundaries, which have been described before as “extreme.” So because I am “extreme”, I know what is going into my body.)
I cannot tell you the number of times I had to give up a food I loved because it made financial sense to some company to add sugar. To wheat germ. To fish. To meat. To flavorings. To spices. Why would it make financial sense? Because sugar is cheap. And addictive.
So as a culture, we take foods that don’t have sugar in them, secretly add sugar to them, shame people for being obese, and complain about “obesity related illnesses” costing tax payers so much money.
Look, I am a person who climbed out of the deep hole (a kind of grave, if you will) of sugar addiction. And I did it by making some pretty serious choices about how I would spend my money and my time (like reading labels and cooking from scratch). And it was not easy but I did it.
But what happens to poor people with kids? What happens to poor people who don’t have time to read labels and cook fresh food? What happens to people who work two jobs and don’t get enough sleep? I’m not saying it’s impossible, because I know it is not. What I am saying is that it can look impossible to the poor and tired and that is almost the same thing.
I don’t know the answer to our health problems. I believe in free will and I don’t believe in telling people what they can and cannot eat. I don’t believe that everyone has a genetic predisposition to sugar addiction (as I believe I have). But I think I am going to stop looking at obesity, a human condition, as the problem, and start looking at sugar. Humans have hearts and souls and minds. They need love and freedom and friendship. Sugar doesn’t need to be cared for and honored. And it sure as hell doesn’t need even more people defending it. But people sure do.