Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sugar hangover


One of my local grocery stores recently had an incredible sale on one of my favorite candy bars, the kind that are basically a tube of sugary white nougat rolled in peanuts.  They even had a "limited edition" chocolate-covered variety!  At ten for a dollar, it was, as we say in Minnesota, a heckuva deal, so I promptly snapped up two dozen of them with the idea of having a nice little stash of semi-healthy snacks for home and for work that should last me a few weeks or so.

Right.

A few days later, the "stash" was looking mighty sparse.  I'd eaten two or three bars at a time a couple of evenings in a row, as a post-work snackaroo.   Then I came home from work one evening, working on writing or hanging out online or something like that, attention occupied, and found myself grazing my way through I don't know how many of the bars.  I didn't devour them in a greedy, gluttonous desperation; I just sorta kinda mindlessly nibbled my way through them, one by one, and finding myself thinking, hey, those are good, maybe I'll have one more, until, at the end of the evening, I realized I had eaten at least a half-dozen candy bars.  Probably more.  My stomach was not happy.

Ah, well.  Nobody's perfect.  Tomorrow would be another day.

When I gradually came to consciousness the next morning, my first awareness was:  Man, I feel LOUSY.  I was enervated, lethargic, and ridiculously fatigued for someone who had just had a full night's sleep.  My entire body felt out of whack; my mind, like it was pushing through a cotton candy haze.

And it struck me:  Hmm, this feels familiar.

And it struck me:  Hangover.  This is just like waking up with a hangover.  I have a bleeping sugar hangover.

I recalled reading, many times over the years, that sugar acts upon the body in ways similar to alcohol.  Or, putting it another way, alcohol is essentially a rapid-delivery form of sugar.  Until now, I'd considered it simply a catchy simile to dramatize how bad refined sugar is for the body.  Certainly I had experienced the addictive aspect of sugar, as well as the general sense, after eating sugar, of not feeling as well as I could, but for the first time I was now experiencing a dramatic and direct parallel with the experience of too much drink.

And the parallel went further:  How much is "too much"?

I rarely drink alcoholic beverages.  For many years, I have been able to count on one hand the number of drinks I've had in a year.  Some years, that hand would have had not one finger raised.  I abstain, not out of a self-righteous belief that Alcohol Is Evil, but because I feel healthier when I don't drink alcohol.  I'd rather drink green tea, thank you very much.

So now here I was, faced with undeniable experiential evidence that sugar, like alcohol, was not doing my body--or my mind--any favors.

And I made a decision:  to commit myself to eating no refined sugar for the next month.  Zip, zero, zilch.  No exceptions.  No candy, no ice cream, no cookies or other sweet treats.  Swearing off sugar forever-and-ever would be too vague and likely to end in capitulation.  Thirty-one days?  That was concrete and do-able, a specific goal with specific parameters.

I'd already cut out wheat and most grains except for occasional rice and even more infrequent corn, and had experienced dramatic improvements in reducing food cravings as well as in improving health.  Now it was time to address the other half of the craving-and-crappy-health equation:  refined sugar.

As of this writing, I'm on day eleven of no sugar.  I set out to eliminate the junk-food sources of sugar, while still allowing myself to eat fruit whenever I craved something sweet, but after only a couple of days I found that when I don't eat sugar, I don't crave sugar.  I still enjoy fresh fruit, but I am satisfied with small portions.  One peach or one handful of blueberries doesn't lead to bingeing on five peaches and two pints of blueberries.

It does seem that naturally-occurring sugars, unextracted, unrefined, and unconcentrated, left intact in the whole food in which they naturally occur, do not have the same effect on the body as massive concentrations of extracted and refined sugar.  Eat sugar only as it occurs in real whole fruits and vegetables, and you will likely find, as I did, that real whole food has a way of being self-regulating, triggering satiety at a reasonable point.

The only hard part of eliminating sugar has been breaking the habit of reaching for sugar.  It's everywhere, especially in the most "convenient" foods.  As a reminder, I have adopted a simple affirmation that keeps me on track:  NO SUGAR.   Every time I see something sweet and think, hmm, that looks good, I silently repeat, NO SUGAR.

If it's got refined sugar, I don't eat it.  That simple.  And thus reminded, I break one more chain in the psychological habit of reaching mindlessly for the sugar my body really doesn't want, anyway.