I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
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 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.
After 3 or so weeks of frustration and difficulty, I am back to my usual self. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I still have to write a post for my eating disorder blog, and I don’t have anything in particular to say.
I don’t eat sugar, and it’s great? Yay?
Look, I don’t eat sugar. And it is great. If you do eat sugar, not eating sugar is better than you know, and way way way better than you think.
I say all the time that I am not the food police, and I do not care if you eat sugar. And I really don’t. Even if you’re fat. Even if it is killing you and making you miserable. What I really believe in is personal freedom. I happen to be an American, (though I know many of you are not, hi international friends!) and I strongly believe in those American ideals that center around the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I mean the liberty to do things that are killing you and making you miserable, as long as they do not encroach on the rights of your fellows. But I have a feeling that even if sugar is killing you and making you miserable, you don’t know it. I would even venture to guess that you don’t have any idea how much sugar you are eating and how it is affecting you.
If you tell people you don’t eat sugar, many of them freak out. I am considered a crazy person. And I own that when I talk to people about it. But I am going to be blunt. I may say “yes, yes, it’s crazy, I know…” with a simper, but that is to make you feel better. Because really, I think people who eat sugar are the crazy ones. I am simply deviating from the norm. But what about the norm is sane in this situation? I especially think people who don’t have any idea what they are eating are the crazy ones. If you are eating, and feeding your family, prepackaged, highly processed foods daily, which are generally packed with added sugars, or things that immediately turn into sugar in your body, I think that’s pretty insane.
Here’s a question: What exactly do you think you are getting from sugar?
Joy? Fun? The ability to blend in with society and not make waves? That warm, fuzzy feeling? (P.S. That fuzzy feeling is called being high…) Nourishment? I am pretty sure you know that you are not getting nourishment. Even people who believe a calorie is a calorie think that sugar is, at the very least, devoid of nourishment.
I am not in a position to have a piece of cake occasionally because I am an addict. I have an unnatural reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. When I put the stuff in my body, I set up a craving for more. But if you, and I know there are a lot of you out there, mostly eat real, whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and occasionally have a piece of cake, or a candy bar, or a can of soda, I get it. I am not talking about you. I am sure it’s fun, like someone who is not an alcoholic having a drink occasionally. But it’s not generally those people who act like I’m some weirdo, or some martyr. Those people totally get it. They think that I am a champion. It’s the junkies who think I’m a lunatic.
I promise that I have more peace, joy, fun, and general contentment because I don’t eat sugar, not in spite of it. And I don’t even mean more of those things than I had before, though that too. I mean more of those things than sugar eaters. So don’t feel sorry for me. And if you do, you can feel free to keep it to yourself. And if you can’t manage that, then when I simper at you and tell you how I know that what I do is so extreme, you can feel free to realize that in my head, I’m pitying you more than you are pitying me.
I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.
When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.
Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.
When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.
We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.
But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)
Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.
When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.
I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.
There are a lot of things about having my eating under control that don’t baffle me on a regular basis, but every once in a while, will hit me like a semi. Today I had to run out to the store and buy salt. And while I was there I bought a bunch of junk food for my husband. Like really a lot. And none of it is for me. Not a bite, not a lick not a taste. And that is amazing.
The thing about the stuff I bought him is that if I had bought it for myself when I was eating compulsively, I may have told myself that I expected it to last for a certain amount of time, but it wouldn’t have. I would have eaten some, and the cravings would start, and I would have eaten all of it. I mean that day. I mean even if I didn’t want to. I mean even if I said, “Okay, one more piece of candy and then I am done,” I would not have been able to stop at one more. I was not able to stop eating, even if I was desperate to. It would haunt me until it was gone.
My husband doesn’t have this problem. At all. The last time I bought him cookies, I threw half of them away after probably a month. The last time he had a box of cereal, I threw half of that away too. And I am not talking about grownup cereal. I mean sugar and more sugar and artificial flavor. I’m talking Red 40 here.
Now I think throwing away half a box of sugar food is amazing for any human. My husband, and all “normal” eaters are pretty amazing to me. But more than that, I am totally flabbergasted that I live with sugar food all around me every day, and I don’t eat any of it.
I don’t want it. I don’t feel like I’ll die if I don’t eat it. It doesn’t haunt me. It doesn’t call to me. It doesn’t matter to me at all. It’s not mine. I can buy it. I can give it as a gift. I can serve it to someone else. And it has no hold over me.
Addiction is something owning you. Sugar owned me for so many years. If I ate it, I would be a slave all over again. Immediately. But every day I don’t eat sugar, I ensure another day of freedom. And I love my freedom.