The Sugar Diaries: from the desk of the sweet toothed-fairy

I have a confession to make: I am a sugar addict.

Sounds dramatic?

Bear with me on this. Following the well-documented fast that I undertook a few weeks ago, I staged an all out assault on my body, stuffing an virtual AK47 (namely: my hands) with sweet treats and truckloads of snacks and fired them in rapid succession directly into my gullet. It was tantamount to maddening starvation-induced panic. After this terrible behaviour, I got all, like, philosophical and shit, so did a bit of research into sugar and found that it’s not just me that is seduced by sugar. It is actually a highly-addictive drug. As a “food” our body only need a little to give it the energy that it needs. Refined sugar is completely unnecessary. Some of you may find this useful, maybe even mildly shocking. Otherwise, you may think the effort and time I’ve devoted to something so trivial, feverishly amusing.

So, basically for the past week I’ve been stuffing my face. I was eating to such extremes that it seemed I was preparing for the type of nuclear war where all food sources on the planet are obliterated (think: The Road). Double dinners. Elevensies. It was probably overkill. As a result, in a matter of days I put on the entire 6 kilos that I had lost over a week of fasting. I guess this is no surprise considering that I was regurgitated from the yoga health sanctuary – where I lived for the duration of the fast – back into food world, in Thailand. The land of plentiful, sugary, cheap tantalising treats. Sweet, sweet goodness. White gold. Trouble with a capital Tasty.

Here’s a little sample of what you can get for one dollar on the streets of Bangkok…coconut milk, egg and sugar with a slice of pumpkin the middle fried up and served hot. Yum.

I was supposed to be disciplined enough to abstain from eating sugar, wheat and drinking alcohol for 20 additional days post-fast in order to ensure that the detox was effective. Life without sugar looks miserable. Different to wheat, SUGAR (and I need to include fruit in that too) has no substitute. It’s basically it’s own food group. The crystal beacon on bland mountain. Without sugar I started to lose my shit. I panicked. I couldn’t not savour the mere SAVOURY. Without fruit I could only eat vegetables, rice, soup and sala…zzzzzzzzz. Urgh. Throw me a fricken bone. Or at least an apple! Even the core will do! I craved sugar so badly that I couldn’t function ‘normally’. Apparently this makes me a bit of an addict, a victim of my own foible. And herein lies the punch: upon further investigation, there appears to be an endemic sugar addiction evident all over the world.

What else I found was that it’s not just sugar that we over consume. It’s everything. In fact, most death in the west is caused by overeating. Gluttony. Gula. Seven Cardinal Sin Number Two. An over-indulgence in food, drinks and intoxicants to the point of waste. We grab, gulp and swallow. We don’t chew our food quite enough because we inhale it through our mouths. We bask in the glory of greed and gracelessness. We celebrate it, too. We stretch our stomachs further each year, getting fuller and fatter. Sometimes we panic and consult the Angel Atkin to try to save us from our savoury sins but the slate won’t wipe very cleanly with a slathering of bacon grease and powered-banana protein shakes. And even though I don’t want to underestimate the awful tragedy of under-eating, there are certainly more big fatties than intentionally emaciated skinnies in developed nations. According to the WHO, at least 20 million children under five years old were overweight globally in 2005. Sugar is a big contributing factor to this because it is highly addictive and has no real nutritional value at all.

Oh, and because of the need for labour-intensive processing to turn sugarcane into end-products much of the history of the sugar industry has had associations with large-scale slavery. Typical.

One chap I met on my travels that I spoke to about the fatty phenomenon said that he’s seen from his many years living in India, city dwellers have a higher morality than their poorer rural cousins simply because they eat more. The rural folk don’t really have a choice in the matter: they’re poor and don’t have access to the same abundance of food so are forced to eat less. One of the twisted outcomes of this is that they live longer because they’re eating small potions. I can’t understand how such a large chunk (pun commencement…now) of the human race got so terminally fucked up, that we can’t figure out something as simple as how much food to put in our bodies? Really? It seems like Maslows Hierarchy of needs is much more bottom-heavy than we thought. Needs is carrying some serious junk in the trunk.

I came across these two alcohol addiction counsellors/psychiatrist, Jack Mumey and Ann Hatcher. They have found that sugar addicts displayed similar behaviours to alcoholics. They even wrote the aptly titled book: ‘Good Food for A Sober Life:A Diet and Nutrition Book for Recovering Alcoholics’ which equates these two addictions in a tidy prose. They say that sugar addicts behave like alcoholics because both types think about it all the time, spending an obsessive amount of time planning on how to get their next hit. They also need to have substantially more than other ‘normal’ people in order to fulfil their craving.

So, the next logical piece of evidence pie (*ahem*) is to look at what constitutes an “addiction” but I’ll also add my own flavour (thank you). Any addiction includes four criteria: bingeing, withdrawal, craving, sensitization (addicts are more sensitive to the effects of the substance).

Hm. So, who, reading this really, really likes sugary treats? Who else has said that they ‘need’ sugar at certain times in their week/day/hour? I have my hand up (what is the sound of one hand typing? Well, I’ll tell you, it sounds much slower than two). The other hand is holding an oatmeal biscuit slathered in peanut butter. Really. It’s a substitute snack so I’m not tempted by the sticky rice and honey cake that the lady on the corner of my street is selling for about 10 cents a slice. And it’s home made. And delicious. Ah, these are the tormented tales of my sugar addiction.

I found that when I mention to people I have met on my travels about the addictive and unhealthy nature of sugar, they are either acutely aware of it and in agreement that should be recognised as a drug and treated accordingly or they get completely defensive about their own intake, scoffing that they could ‘NEVER give up sugar!’ which is followed by huffiness over my attacks on their sweet little tinsey, weensy sugar problem that doesn’t hurt anyone because it’s not like they’re out stealing cars to get a fix. Or the other excuse I’ve heard is, “I don’t drink, so it’s OK”. Maybe it’s just as bad. Maybe the processing of refined sugar and harmful addiction to a substance that is likely to contribute to death is actually worse than what we think?

If I am to continue with the researchy stuff: there were MRI studies done that show that some people are more susceptible to sugar addictions than others. Those that are really weak to the sweet stuff can be treated with drugs that they use on crack addicts, like naltrexone which is an opioid blocker. And it worked: they craved it less. Bottom line: in some people, having sugar sets off dopamine receptors and makes them really fucking happy. Hm. Maybe I’m like that. There’s definitely a history of diabetes in my family. I reckon it could be hereditary.

AND If I’m to continue with these overly-dramatic statements I MIGHT say that pretty much most heath problems in the West are caused by consumption of white sugar. Lets look at this list of ‘141 reasons sugar ruins your health’ composed by Nancy Appleton who wrote ‘Lick the Sugar Habit’ and ”Lick the Sugar Habit Sugar Counter’ (get it? get it?). Sure, it’s overkill. Take it with a grain of salt (sorry). But even if half of these are true, would you want to risk your health in such a serious way?

Evil Sugar!

Here’s another woman who seems like somewhat of an expert on the matter (she’s started an sugar addiction centre in Northern California in 1998, has a PhD on the topic seems to have written a few well-regarded books on the matters of the sweet-devil, one of which has the stupid title ‘Potatoes not Prozac’). She also did some work that showed that sugar acts as an analgesic drug, with the effects able to be stopped with morphine. And she found behaviours of sugar addiction similar to those of other drug abuse. She reckons that if they tried to introduce sugar today, it would probably not get passed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I highly doubt this would be the case, considering that the FDA have sneakily passed plenty of dubious drugs with proven side effects that include a mild case of death (see: Viagra).

There are certain foods that are accepted by in most societies as a harmless, tasty additive that could be incredibly dangerous to our health. And i think sugar is one of these. Just ponder on this thought for a moment. How much sugar do YOU eat every day? What foods do you eat that contain sugar? Lots, right?

There are some resources out there that can help with providing a diets to get off sugar and ways to curb cravings. I reckon go cold turkey, and don’t look back. It could actually save your life. Go on, do it, ya wuss.

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