When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.
I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.
This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.
This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.
But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.
Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.
I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)
When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.
Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.
Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.
Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.
I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.
The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.
I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.
And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.
I am a food addict. But I can laugh about it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Yesterday I bought a cantaloupe and a honeydew, both of which smelled amazing, and I kind of agonized over which I was going to have for breakfast today. This is what is known as a “luxury problem.” I eventually went with the honeydew. It was incredible. I will get to eat the cantaloupe in due time. All of it is mine! (Luckily, neither of these things is a fruit my husband wants in the slightest, or there may have been trouble. And I take this stuff seriously, so in the event of, say, a fight to the death, I’d put my money on the food addict.)
I found these exquisite specimens because my husband took me to a different grocery store than my usual yesterday. It was a date. Because to a food addict, that’s some romantic stuff, right there. I found Italian sausage and Chicago-style giardiniera that I can eat! (Mom, you don’t have to drive it up from Chicago now!) And my favorite full fat Greek yogurt that I can usually only find in NYC or Florida! Plus all of the other things I need like sugar-free bacon, lots of salsas, and my Liquid Aminos! (Look at all of those exclamation points! That is how exciting that was!)
Food is still exciting to me. It is actually more exciting because I eat guilt-free. I love being in a comfortable body. I love being able to jog, and fit into my clothes, and I love not feeing like I don’t have the right to take up space. But I would do what I do, all the shopping, prepping, portion control, and food restrictions, just for the guilt-free eating.
I was always embarrassed and ashamed of my eating before my boundaries. Now I can eat without a thought to if I “should” eat something. I love my guilt-free full fat yogurt. I love making it into guilt-free “ice cream.” I love my guilt-free bacon and pork rinds. I love knowing that whatever it is that I am eating, I am doing the right thing.
The other day a friend told me she was going to eat a decadent breakfast that was totally within her boundaries and that she was going to love every last bite and I said “good job!” And I meant it. It was not sarcasm. There was no “but.” I was proud of her for loving her food. I think it’s important to love our food.
How can I love my body if I hate what I nourish it with? How can I love myself if I hate my body? I don’t think I can. At least I have never been able to. So I love my food, my body, and myself. And my husband who takes me on dates to fancy grocery stores. *Swoon* Maybe I would let him have one of my fruits if he wanted one. Maybe.
I used to have a life coach who used to say (and probably still does) “If you really want to be a rebel, follow the rules. Nobody else is doing that.”
I was talking to some friends the other day and one was saying that she always thought she was so valuable that the rules didn’t apply to her. I know this feeling. Not the valuable part. Maybe I would say “precious.” Or “special.” But I was always clear that rules were for other people. They didn’t apply to me.
When people both “go on diets,” or try to change their lifestyles, they are talking about making rules around food (and often exercise.) One reason diets don’t work is people decide the rules don’t apply to them. Even when they make them up themselves.
There are always good excuses. Or sometimes pretty weak excuses. But for some of us, any excuse will do. And we play dumb. Like we don’t know how feeble our reasoning is.
I was guilty of this for a long time and on many levels. Lying to myself about whether I *could* follow my rules. Lying to others about whether I *did* follow my rules. Lying about why I gained weight, coming up with far-fetched stories. I even believed a lot of them.
Getting off of sugar and carbs was hard. It sucked. And I will tell you why I was finally able to do it.
1. I *really* got off of sugar and carbs. As in entirely. As in no cheat days, no special occasions, no eating things out of obligation. (I loved my Gram very much, but I never ate her lasagna again.) Just plain no sugar ever. And that meant no cravings. And no cravings meant I stopped feeling out of control around food. 2. My rules are so specific that I know if I am following them or not. I am either in my boundaries or out of them. There isn’t a lot of grey area in what I do. There isn’t room for doubt. And 3. Since I know exactly what I am supposed to be eating and exactly what I am eating, I could finally be honest about it.
It’s not that I was incapable of being honest before. But I had often been dishonest about what I was eating and how much. But also, I kept everything ambiguous on purpose. I wanted “freedom.” Really I wanted grey areas. I wanted wiggle room. I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, and then I wanted to blame something besides my eating for my weight. I might blame the diet. I might blame my genes. I might blame circumstances, like too many parties in a week (because how could I go to a party and not eat?) or that time of the month, or that I had a hard week and I deserved to treat myself.
Now, I love rules. I love to follow rules. I love when things are clearly spelled out and I am fully aware of what is expected of me, and what I can expect in return.
I always wanted “freedom” in my diets. But sugar was controlling my life. I was a slave to it. I had freedom to eat what I wanted. What I didn’t have was the freedom to not eat. When sugar cravings told me I was going to eat, then damn it, I was going to eat. I didn’t have a choice.
By following strict rules, I have freedom that I never had in all my years of wiggle room and grey areas. Freedom to not eat.
My husband has been on a cooking jag lately. We eat very differently. When I cook for us, I generally make us the same protein, like steak, pork, or chicken. But while I may have broccoli or Brussels sprouts, he will have corn on the cob and potatoes. I don’t eat corn or potatoes.
And when he wants the kinds of things where you put food in your food, well, I’m out. My food boundaries require that my portions of protein be separated from my portions of vegetables. At least when I am measuring them out. Of course, I can, and sometimes do, mix them up later.
So last weekend he made a Sunday gravy complete with wine, braciola, meatballs with breadcrumbs, and sausage (with sugar, because, as you already know if you read this blog, it is nearly impossible to find an Italian sausage without sugar in the grocery store.) It’s the kind of thing I already could not eat, even if I wanted to put it on spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti.
And last night he made steak fajita quesadillas.
But wait! I can have steak fajitas. I can have the homemade salsa he made that has the whole kitchen smelling like heaven. No, I can’t have the tortilla. And my cheese portions are too small to make cheese worth it most of the time. But it got me thinking. I want tacos! I want lettuce wrap tacos with cilantro lime (cauliflower) rice and meat with homemade taco seasoning, and sautéed peppers, and my husband’s salsa! I want that!
So when I am done writing this blog, I am going to the store to pick up some ingredients. Because when I gave up sugar, I did not stop loving food. I still loooooooove food. I still get excited! I still look forward to every delicious meal. And I am a great cook, so I make sure every meal is delicious.
It sometimes takes some creativity to eat the things I want and have them fit my boundaries. I like simple foods very much. I can be deliriously happy with a nice portion of steak with some roasted vegetables. But I will tell you that a “fried rice bowl” of riced cauliflower sautéed in sesame oil with garlic and ginger topped with soy sauce is positively transcendent! And fits my food plan. And feels decadent. And doesn’t set off food cravings, or fuel my self-loathing.
So I am going to make myself some “tacos.” Yes, I know that to some people, lettuce wraps are not tacos. And cauliflower rice is not rice. I got it. But when you haven’t had corn products or rice or starch in over 12 years, it doesn’t matter. It’s good nourishing food with an abundance of complimentary flavors that are satisfying and pleasurable. I promise, my “tacos” will make me just as happy as your tacos make you. And significantly happier than your tacos could make a sugar and carb addict like me.
I saw two things on social media this week that frustrated me. Both of them were about how sugar is “not the problem.”
One of them was a tweet from an obesity doctor that said that when people come into his office and say they gave up sugar and lost weight, they really mean they gave up junk food. What they really did, according to this doctor, was reduce fat, starch, and calories, not just sugar. He literally ends his tweet with “It wasn’t just the sugar.”
And the other was an article about debunked health myths. And one of the “debunked” myths is that sugar is addictive. First, the title of the section is “Sugar is as addictive as heroin.” This is the last line of the section:
“So, scientists don’t know what addiction in the brain looks like, yet, and until that mystery is solved we should not be living in fear from something as fanciful as sugar addiction.”
Fanciful. Total silliness! Ridiculous! Go get yourself a cake and hang out in a food coma until scientists agree that sugar addiction is a thing. Or better yet, a diabetic coma. Whatever.
The thing that really pisses me off about both of these is the condescension . If you believe that sugar is the problem, you are an idiot. You are delusional. “What people are *really* doing is cutting calories, but they are too stupid/brainwashed to understand.” “Its fanciful to believe that sugar could be addictive.”
I believe in science. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But I also believe that science, and our true understanding of the effects of something, can be limited by our biases, preconceived notions, and beliefs. I believe that the food industry has knowingly and purposely propped up sugar as “innocuous” for over half a century. “Food is food.” “A calorie is a calorie.”
But we have paid the price for it. There is more sugar in our diets than ever before, and there is more obesity in 1st World civilization than ever before. And I cannot stand this defense of sugar, and the subsequent shaming of people suffering from obesity, in the name of science.
“It’s not the sugar. It’s you. You are the problem.”
First, I do believe that sugar is addictive, but that not everyone is as likely to become addicted. I happen to believe that I have a predisposition to become addicted in general, and that I am addicted to sugar. But I know plenty of people who can and do eat sugar in moderation and do not suffer from health problems in any way from their sugar consumption. My husband is one of those people. I buy him sugar all the time. I pack it in his lunch. I keep it in the house for him.
And second, I am for freedom. True freedom. If you want to eat sugar all day, I believe that is your right. Even if it means morbid obesity. Even if it leads to diabetes and hypertension and Alzheimer’s and stroke. Even if it means suffering. I am not going to tell you how to eat. That is none of my business. And I don’t think it should be.
But I am not for the shaming of humans in defense of sugar. Nor am I for the belittling of my intelligence because science has not come to a consensus on whether sugar is addictive. As a person with a very clear experience of sugar as an addiction, I do not doubt that science will eventually show what I already know. But even if it doesn’t, that in no way diminishes my experience that when I abstain completely from sugars, grains, and starch, excepting some whole fruits and vegetables, I do not crave more than is healthy, and I do not suffer from food obsession.
But I can’t help but be frustrated that an obesity doctor would be so obnoxious about people, his own patients, who say they gave up sugar and lost weight. Is *he* a sugar addict? Or is he being paid off to downplay the effects of sugar on a person’s health? Otherwise, I can’t see why he would go out of his way to point out his patients’ “wrongness,” to defend a substance. It seems cruel and rude to me.
I will close with this. My whole life, growing up fat, doctors and nutritionists would tell me to eat sugar in moderation. But I cannot eat sugar in moderation. I cannot eat a slice of cake. It is either no cake, or the whole cake. I don’t have a done button. So, as far as I am concerned, any obesity doctor who can’t even consider the possibility of sugar addiction for some number of his patients, is not very good at his job.
I have been eating a lot of things that are not my favorite lately. It’s fine. I’m not exactly complaining. (OK, maybe a little.) But I’m not unhappy.
When I gave up sugar and carbs over 12 years ago, I realized that I could. That I could have power over what I “wanted” or “craved.” And while I would never eat things I didn’t like as a way of life (I am not “on a diet”) I can eat in a way that is not my favorite for a limited amount of time. I can do anything for 2 weeks or a month.
I have been taking a supplement that *ahem* backs you up. I will probably need to take it for another week or so. So that has meant, and will continue to mean, lots of big salads, and even more water than usual. Plus, I am staying away from my fattier proteins for the moment. In other words, more eggs and lean meats, less sausage and pork rinds.
Look, I make really good salads. But they are big at a time when I am not looking forward to big meals. And they are not gooey onions, or spicy, greasy Asian style cauliflower rice, or deep-fried Brussels sprouts. And I love steak. But I love pork products more.
But the other thing is all things in moderation. (Except man made sugar and carbs because that shit will kill me. Literally.) So yesterday, I ate a big, delicious portion of pork rinds with my big, crunchy, roughage-laden salad. And it was amazing!
I can become obsessive when it comes to “doing it right.” I can get so bogged down in perfection, that I can fail to see that sometimes I’m hurting more than I am helping. So today I am back to eggs and lean meat. But one night of grease and crunch was just what the doctor ordered. And I am sure that the doctor will order something along those same lines again before I’m done.
I have been struggling for the past few hours to write a post. I read part of an article on bariatric surgery that made me so mad I had to put it down. The beginning of the article says that since it is already established that diet and exercise don’t work, people should be turning to weight loss surgery. And that they don’t because they wrongly believe that obesity is a problem with willpower.
Now, I absolutely agree that obesity is not a character flaw, nor do I believe it is the result of a character flaw (i.e. lack of willpower.) I could never “just push away from the table.” And boy did I want to. In fact, if you think you have “the answer” to the obesity epidemic and it begins with the word “just,” like “just stop eating so much,” I promise you don’t have the answer.
But one factor that I do believe is a problem is our culture of prizing and romanticizing junk food. By everyone, including the medical and scientific communities.
I keep reading over the past year that “diet and exercise don’t work.” But I am not convinced that this is “already established” as a truth. It is my personal experience that diet does work. Just plain diet all on its own works. No exercise necessary. And I personally know hundreds of people for whom this is true.
Is this true for everyone? Of course not. But to come to the conclusion that diet doesn’t work, is ridiculous. And I have to question the science that claims it. Especially when the biggest change in the past 40 years, the years leading to our current “obesity epidemic” has been a significant increase in the amount of sugar, carbs, and processed food we eat.
So changing the American diet made us fat, but changing our diet won’t fix the problem?
Of course, the “problem” for most people is the extremity of NEVER! I never eat sugar, or simple carbohydrates. The only carbs I eat are fruits and vegetables. And not even some of those that are high sugar/high starch. Because “in moderation” has never been a viable option for me, but “never” worked immediately, and changed my life for the better.
See, I’m pretty sure that is what the medical community and the media mean when they say “diet and exercise don’t work.” They mean they have told people to eat junk in moderation, and people fail at that. Because it is hard to eat junk in moderation. *That* is what does not work. And part of the reason it does not work for society as a whole now is that food companies are working at making their junk more addictive. They want people to eat past the point of hunger. They want us to eat as a reward, and a cure for boredom. They want us to crave and salivate. They have scientists in their labs working to eliminate that “full button” normal eaters used to have. And they are seemingly succeeding.
I was never one of those people anyway. Nobody turned off my “full button.” Mine never worked in the first place.
Does surgery help some people? I’m sure it does. But it is not a solution. It is a harm reduction technique. And if that is good enough, then that should be an individual’s choice. Not everyone has the proverbial stomach for giving up junk foods. But I think it is a problem that the people we should be able to trust, specifically the medical community, are not even offering complete abstinence from sugar, junk, and processed foods as an option. They are saying right off the bat that it doesn’t work.
I want you to know that it does work for some of us. And I think before you have dangerous and invasive surgery, you might want to give it a shot.
I am not “on” a diet. I have a diet. I find that this is a distinction that a lot of people don’t have. Most of the people I interact with see no reason to maintain food boundaries when I am in a “normal” sized body. One should only “take such drastic measures” if you are fat. Other than that, it seems crazy to them to not eat a cookie. It’s just one cookie. Because to the average person, food revolves around weight.
I don’t keep my food boundaries to manage my weight, though, to a certain extent it does manage my weight. That is just a side effect of keeping my eating under control, just like being fat was a side effect of eating compulsively. My point is that fat is not the disease. Eating is the disease. And while I have never been fat since I gave up sugar, grains, and starch, I have also had times when I was not thin. I made food changes in those times, and sometimes they helped me lose weight and sometimes they didn’t. For example, when I quit smoking over 5 years ago, I gained weight. I tried to eat lighter at that time –less bacon, smaller fruits, more salad, not cooking my vegetables in fat – though still within my boundaries, and it did not help. I did not lose weight, and sometimes gained. Even cutting my food didn’t help me lose then. The only thing that helped was time. I put my body through a lot with all of those chemicals and all that tar for so many years. I suppose it needed time to heal. But in that time, though I was desperately miserable about my body, I did not seek out some other thing to help me lose weight faster – pills, exercise, fasting, extreme calorie cuts – because I had already learned that being thin wasn’t the answer to my problems.
In my mid twenties, I had lost a lot of weight by counting calories and working out. From the outside, I looked normal. In fact, I had never looked so “normal” in my life before. But I would say that I have never been crazier than in that time. I felt insane. I made plenty of poor life decisions. And I was really miserable, partly because I felt so crazy. Look, I am not talking about feeling out of sorts. I mean I thought that I must really belong in a mental institution, and I spent a lot of time trying to hide my crazy so that I wouldn’t be found out and institutionalized. I was living in fear of somebody realizing I was so unstable. And I was so thin. At the time, the thinnest I had ever been, and certainly thinner than I have sometimes been in the past 11+ years with my eating under control.
Being thin didn’t make me happy. Food was my enemy. We were at war, and food was winning. Everything I ate was either “good” and tasted disgusting to me, or “bad” and was delicious, but made me ashamed for having eaten it. I could not win, and I still hated my body, even though it was thin.
Nothing has ever made me as happy as having a handle on my food. And I do it gently. I eat foods I love, because I am not being punished. I don’t feel the need to “detox” or fast. Food is not my enemy anymore. Food is a delight, my 3 moments of respite in the day. Food is my “me time,” where I stop worrying about the things I have to do, and get to drift away into bliss. I don’t count calories. I don’t work out for more than 45 minutes a day. I don’t treat my delicious, nutritious, abundant food like a poison I need to get out of my body before it ends up on my thighs. My thighs are going to be my thighs.
I eat my meals and only my meals. My food is my food. My body is my body. And neither one is my enemy. So I am not on a diet. And I don’t plan to ever be on one again. And that makes me happy as well.
My husband and I are home for a visit this weekend. We opted for a 5:30 am flight out of San Antonio, two hours away from our apartment in Corpus Christi. So we drove the two hours the night before and got a hotel room for the night. Before we left, I made a bunch of compact, complete meals, because they are easy to pack for travel. I don’t usually expect to eat them. At least not all of them. I pack them in case of emergency.Well, our flight got cancelled, and we couldn’t get another flight out that day. So we kept our room in San Antonio for another night, flew out the next morning, and I ate the emergency meals.
And ugh! It was kind of awful. Those meals are each a third of my nutrients for the day, packed into a little cake. And by the end of dinner, I was feeling pretty sick.
But it never occurred to me not to eat them. It never occurred to me that it would be better not to finish dinner. I have never once in the past 11+ years been sorry to keep my food commitments. Not once. I have never “missed” a food I didn’t get to eat, or been disappointed that I kept my word to myself. Even when I was choking down a too-heavy brick of proteins, vegetables, vegetable substitutes, and fat. I love to eat, but at moments like that, eating becomes like working out. I don’t like doing it while I’m doing it, but I’m always grateful that I did it when I’m done.
My food boundaries are usually awesome. I eat such delicious food, prepared in my favorite ways. But the boundaries are the important part, not the awesome. In a pinch, I will eat the plainest, grossest, least appetizing things on the planet if it means my eating boundaries are taken care of. And I will eat it when I am not hungry at all to keep those commitments to myself.
When I was eating compulsively, I regularly woke up without a shred of dignity because of the things that I didn’t want to eat, and couldn’t stop myself from eating.
Now I wake up with my dignity intact. Because I am willing to eat exactly what I am committed to eating, whether I want to or not.