Sweet Disguise

This blog is in honour of my mother who passed away in May 2008, the most extraordinary woman I have ever known!

I remember the time when my mother announced she was going to have a sugar-free year!  As we embark on 2014, many people have set good intentions, most often related to food and exercise. I don’t recall how or if she made it through a whole year, she was certainly committed to good health, but she also admitted to a chronic sugar addiction.  What I do recall were her insights while trying not to indulge. My mother also struggled with her energy levels. Every afternoon she would escape to her bedroom for a rest, often with a piece of rye toast with almond butter and a “smear” of honey, along with an herbal tea and a good book.

I still remember vividly standing with her in the kitchen after her rest (this was so many years ago, I figure this revelation was something to remember), she shared how she was often “fooling” herself, her subconscious working in subversive ways to satisfy that “sweet high” or just a little “pleasure”, the little bit of honey or jam that probably just kept her wrapped around the vicious cycle of sweet addiction. 

Sometimes we see our own self-deception clearly, and sometimes we don’t  – I am thinking of hearing someone at work saying she was craving a chicken salad at a local restaurant… and I wonder, is the craving really about the chicken or the sweet sauce, or both? Consider also that “healthy salad” with the sweet raspberry vinaigrette, or even a piece of “healthy” chewing gum, or the smoothie with lots of banana or other high sugar fruit.

So even if your goal is not to cut out sugar, it is interesting to watch our own “cravings” and desires come up, usually related to sugar, salt, fat and caffeine.   It is interesting also to consider that often our bodies are actually experiencing withdrawal if we go too long without those things we are addicted to – some of you may have experienced a headache after missing your morning coffee and not have made the connection, or you made the connection and didn’t understand why.

Have a look this week at what you crave or feel you couldn’t live without… most of us can name it instantly. For some it isn’t a craving but just something we can’t easily stop eating once we start. Recently I found myself eating far too many cashews… I came across information that cashews are high in magnesium and one of the nuts highest in carbohydrates (…like chocolate? ☺).  Most research suggests that 3-5 days is all it takes to get over the physical effects of addictions, but most people also recognize that it is far more than the physical addiction we need to get over… all you need to do is imagine it in your mind and your desire seems to kick back in!

My own experience tells me if I just don’t have it around long enough, I don’t need it anymore.  I personally no longer struggle to resist the chocolate cake at a birthday party or the pie at Thanksgiving. It’s a simple and clear decision once the ball is rolling to stay in the place where I am and not get pulled down by the foods that I used to find hard to resist.  I know there is a whole other matter of social pressures… but most of us can grow up and out of those too!  

This is not supposed to be a guilt trip for anyone, and I am not suggesting any of you try a “sugar free” year, but at the very least, for those of you who relate to this story, start to pay attention to where the desire really comes from, and when.  Sometimes, our cravings are that withdrawal effect we don’t want to feel. Often, I believe, it is related to a need for energy at times in the day when we are a little low. It may be a real need to create balance in the body, it may be related to emotions of sadness or depression – we get a real rise in serotonin (the “happy hormone”) when we get a little extra “carbs”. Keeping our blood sugar balanced is really the key when it comes to food (more on that in the future). Keep in mind for now that we can balance those carbs and sugars with protein, fiber and fat from real food and by simply not over-consuming.

 Being willing to pay attention to our own behavior is really the first step, and then deciding to recognize our very human desires as natural, especially in a world surrounded by easy temptations!  If you want to make a real fundamental change and turn around your “sweet tooth” into something manageable, you have to first be willing to get started, be honest with yourself, and decide how important it is for you to personally make that change. I will write more about this in the future with strategies to help you along the way.

 With all good intentions, my mother taught me not only about healthy food and a healthy lifestyle but also a lot about the very real struggles of “sugar addiction”.  In remembrance of our “sweet times” together (the best chocolate cake in the world and real maple syrup on homemade pancakes….) I love you mom.

 I would enjoy and highly value your comments and stories, please share!  What you share may help another.  Send me your questions too.

For those of you who have freed yourself from some kind of food addiction, what’s your secret?