Sugar Showdown

Anne Lamott, one of my favourite writers once said, “Trying to reason with an addict is like trying to blow out a light bulb.”   I am that light bulb. Food is my drug, and no matter how many times people tried to reason with me throughout the years, they were wasting their breath. If I needed a fix, there was no stopping me. However, by doing this yearlong experiment (and especially now that I’m testing the 12-Step Food Addict plan), my light bulb is beginning to flicker.

I’ve been off refined sugar for 28 days now, and aside from the first week when I suffered withdrawal symptoms, I haven’t missed it much. Yes, it has been difficult to turn down special treats, like melt in your mouth (and live on your thighs) fudge, or decadent designer Torrone imported from Europe, or scrumptious beignets bathed in salted caramel sauce, but the more I say no, the easier it gets.

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Truth be told, the benefits have been worth giving it up.  I’m sleeping better, I have more energy, I haven’t had a single hot flash in 2 weeks, and best of all, my taste buds have awakened from their Rip Van Winklesque slumber. I can taste the subtleties in food again! I never thought I’d say this, but my sweet tooth is being satisfied with nature’s candy… fruit!

Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are healthier, and offer a whole lot of benefits like vitamins, antioxidants, and fibre, whereas refined sugars have no nutritional value, and high consumption can be toxic to our systems.

The World Health Organization recommends we eat no more than 25g of sugar per day. The reality is the average American consumes 126g per day! That’s not a typo my friends.  Even though you’re mindful of your diet, these sugars are added to your food during manufacturing. They inject it in the unlikeliest places, like McDonald’s Hot ‘N Spicy McChicken sandwich with 22g! That’s your daily allotment in one meal.  Or 32g in a bottle of Vitamin Water. WATER!!!

It’s no wonder we’re addicted, sugar is laced in just about every processed food we eat. The sad thing is we parents are our children’s first dealer. How many times have we offered them a ‘treat’ for being good?  What we’ve actually done is produced the next generation of junkies.

Attending 12-Step meetings has opened my eyes to the poison refined sugar really is. Everyone who has given it up has not only lost weight (some over 150 lbs!), but improved their health and quality of life.

I don’t know how long I can resist refined sugar – my hope is forever because (1) there isn’t any nutritional value in it, and (2) it’s the gateway back to my food addiction hell.

The more I learn the bitter truth about the refined sweet stuff, the more I’m ready to fasten my holster, strap on my spurs, and declare a SUGAR SHOWDOWN – eeeeeeha!

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So, whad’ya say partner… want to join my posse and cut down, or eliminate our health’s most wanted bad guy?

To view my Week 43 food journal, click here.

Serenity (and Clean Underwear) Now

It’s true what they say about the best-laid plans, they usually go kaboom.  So why do I insist on running my life according to self-imposed schedules and checklists instead of letting go, and letting God? Oh yeah, I’ve got OCD and must have things just so.  “Just so” in this case was to plan every little detail for my cottage get away, from my flour, wheat, and sugar-free menu, to the topics I wanted to write about.  Sounds well-organized and efficient, right?   Wrong. The menu was smart, but controlling the creative process, wasn’t.  I realize my time away wasn’t necessarily meant solely to write, but was imperative for my spiritual, emotional, and mental health growth… and I didn’t plan on that!

In researching for this month’s plan, I went from reading the 12-Steps, to subconsciously working through some of them, like Step Four, which says, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Hmmm, a FEARLESS moral inventory of me… the REAL me. I’m not sure I want to face the things that cause me to hold on to grudges, pain, guilt, shame, anger, resentment, remorse, self-pity, or envy. Can I skip this step? I promise to do Step Two twice to make up for Step Four!

Step Five is even harder…. “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact natures of our wrongs.”

The anxiety I felt just thinking about doing these Steps had me wanting to swan dive into a vat of marshmallows and eat my way out, or die in there!  And it was for this reason alone, I realized I had to set my personal agenda aside, and work through these Steps. Clearly, whatever I want to suppress with food, was exactly what I needed to face.

I love ya readers, but I’m NOT going to admit the exact natures of my wrongs on the blog, but I will to a confidant when I return home, and have already done so with God this morning on the deck overlooking the lake. And you know what, there was no fire or brimstone… that came later.

I ended my confession with the Serenity Prayer and asked for release of the guilt, pain, and shame I still hang on to, and as I did, a hummingbird flew about 2 feet away from my face and startled the beejeebers out of me!  I think it’s a sign to ditch the stringent plans, forgive myself, allow more joy into my life, and trust the journey of “searching for my (healthy mind, body, and soul) after”.

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Now, this is where my post should end, but my day got weird immediately after my breakthrough. It has nothing to do with weight, but I think it will amuse you. Let me preface – I did not find it funny at the time.

Ahem, where was I? Oh yes, not even half an hour after the hummingbird (which I named Serenity) flew out of my life, did three teens with shotguns, sail in. They motored passed the cottage waving their guns, shouting, “We’re pirates! We’re pirates!” I lost sight of them as their boat sailed into the trees that obstructed my view, but it looked like they were headed right for our dock.  Moments later shots rang out, magnifying across the lake. I jumped out of my skin, and prayed, “Serenity now! Serenity now!” while dashing into the house for cover.

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I started packing like I was on high on sugar! They were still out there somewhere firing.  Holy moly! There was so much to do to close up the cottage before I could high tail it out of there! (I know, I know, I realize the problem with my thinking here.)

The shots kept ringing out. Really?! I make peace with myself only moments ago, and now I’m going to die at the hand of three pimply-faced pirates, before I can enjoy one guilt-free day?!

I kept packing. I got everything piled by the front door and looked out the window at my car. MY CAR… OUTSIDE… where the pirates were! Thoughts were rushing through my head – and not one of them was, “You know what would help in this situation?  An Oreo.”

I took a deep breath, grabbed the first of the four totes and zig-zagged to the car…. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you hear shots. ZIG, followed by ZAG. Repeat.

I zigged and I zagged three more times until the car was loaded, but I couldn’t leave as the dishwasher was halfway through its cycle. (Faulty thinking, but one thing is for sure, I’m dutiful, even in a crisis.)

Seeeeeerrrrrreeeeennnnniiiiittttty, NOW!

Ah-ha! The garbage and recycling still had to go out! I grabbed the bags, zig-zagged back to the car, and peeled my 12 year old Honda Accord out of the driveway in a way that would make Starsky and Hutch proud.

When I got to the bins, a groundskeeper was tinkering with a tractor. He cocked his head, and stared at this dishevelled vixen zig-zag her way towards him holding a bag of recycling in one hand, and garbage in another.

I tried to play it cool.  Then we heard another round of shots. The cool left me… I think it ran down my leg.

“It’s the first day of duck season,” he said.

Tell that to my pants, I said (in my head, of course). I nodded and walked straight to the car, but in my freaked out heart, I was zig-zagging all the way.

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To view my Week 42 food journal, click here.

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Solo Act

There’s no lovelier place to enjoy the final dog days of summer than up at a cottage. I don’t have one, but my sister does, and she graciously offered it to me so I could have a week of solitude to write.  This isn’t the first occasion I’ve been up here on my own… pretty brave for a gal who used to sleep with a baseball bat next to her bed after her divorce! Each time I come here I get cozy and set up a workstation on the table overlooking the lake.

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Evenings are breathtaking up here.  And at night, it gets pitch dark, with only speckles of light flickering like birthday candles from the cottages across the lake.  However, the real glory is when you look up at the night sky, celestial jewels twinkling as far as the eye can see!

So here I sit, in seclusion, clicking away at the keys, every now and again gazing out the window at the happy cottagers zooming about in their motorboats, or skipping past on their sea-doos. But there is always one sight that intrigues me every time I come up here….  Who lives on that island smack dab in the middle of the lake?

Look at the photo again… you can see it just left of my laptop. Can’t spot it?  How about now as I zoom in from the deck, and again with an aerial view from Google Maps? They say that no man is an island, but clearly, you can buy one.

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You might be asking what this has to do with the food plan I’m following this month. Actually, isolation has everything do with addiction. All the material on 12-Step programs state that ‘addiction is a disease of isolation’, and I can attest to this firsthand.

Whenever one of my triggers sets off a cycle of bingeing, I go into isolation mode, leaving me to self-medicate with the drug of my choice in secret. I back out of social engagements, screen calls, or don’t return them, all so that I can wallow in the shame of my disease. It’s times like these, I wish I had my own island too.

The last thing I want to do is go out and be surrounded by people who I fear are judging the outside me, without knowing what’s happening with inside me. I also fear losing control around certain foods when eating in public.  Once, someone thought they could teach me a lesson in moderation by jabbing my hand with a fork as I reached out for a second helping. I became a hermit after that experience and didn’t come out for 3 months… 15 lbs. heavier.

Then there is the isolation that comes from not attending your 12-Step meetings – a clear sign of a relapse, or at least heading towards one. Members know the signs all too well, after all, they’ve been there, done that. That’s why it’s recommended to get a Sponsor – someone who REALLY knows what you’re going through, and takes a personal interest in your recovery WITHOUT judgement, or jabbing forks.

“Isolation is a process of gradually, eliminating recovery-related actions.”  

Kay Sheppard, From the First Bite, A Complete Guide to Recovery from Food Addiction

But how does one susceptible to retreating to the solitary island of self-abuse, trust not only the process of recovery (in my case, abstinence from flour, wheat, and sugar), but expose one’s innermost wounds and weaknesses to fellow addicts, as well?

Apparently, the first step is a doozy… admitting your powerlessness over your substance of choice, but once you take it, you won’t be alone.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.

Isolation Piece - Sidebar - Journal

To view my Week 41 food journal, click here.

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EX-Rated

“Hello, my name is Mare, and I’m a food addict.” Those were the words I uttered on my first day abstaining from flour, wheat, and sugar for this month’s 12 in 12 experiment.  Immediately after making my declaration, I walked straight into the sugar-coated, deep-fried, batter-encrusted lion’s den that is the Canadian National Exhibition (aka CNE, or The Ex).

I toyed with not going for fear of ruining my 16 hours of sobriety (I started counting the moment the clock struck midnight on September 1st, 2015), but I hadn’t been there in six years, and I wasn’t going to let another summer go by Ex-less, even if it was my first day on the wagon. So, off I went to meet my daughter and the Grand Old Lady of the (Toronto) waterfront. First stop… The Food Building. Clearly, I am not only a glutton for all things high in calories, but punishment too.

The moment we walked through the doors, we were caught up with the ravenous herd all seeking to satisfy their taste buds with CNE classics, like Tiny Tom Donuts, or one of this year’s innovative, yet whack-a-doodle offerings, such as frosted flaked battered chicken on a stick, or deep fried Oreos.

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We must have done our daily 10,000 steps scouring for a booth that offered any flourless, wheatless, sugarless, fare.

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It was definitely challenging to find something that wasn’t smothered in edible sin, but not impossible! I eventually ordered a single chicken kabob from Mr. Greek, and this delicious, vibrant, healthy salad from Wild Child’s Kitchen. (Hi, Jelf! Your booth rocked!)

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We had a fantastic evening perusing the International Building and walking the midway under the stars, and I’m happy to report I remained 100% abstinent! Yay, me! One day down, forever to go!

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12 In 12 Does 12 And 12

It’s no secret I have a love/hate relationship with food. I loooooove sweet, salty, and fat laden treats, and when I partake (okay, okay, when I scarf them down by the paw-full) I hate myself for not exercising any restraint.  Some days I can control myself, but on others I’m like the Energizer Bunny – I keep going and going and going until I wind up in a food coma.

About a decade ago, I experienced extremely stressful circumstances I couldn’t get out of. For a year-and-a-half, I continually stifled my mental and emotional anguish with food, and before I knew it I gained 70 lbs. Only my inner circle knew what I was going through, while others saw the happy Mare I wanted them to see. I painted on a smile when I left the house every morning, and when I returned at the end of the day, I was a wreck. I could barely get the key in the door for the jitters. The only thing that quelled my pain was food.  I would binge anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 calories worth of food in less than an hour. Some days I stood in front of the fridge, coat still on, purse hanging from my arm as I wolfed down my edible painkillers.

I had hit my rock bottom and I knew if I didn’t get help soon, I’d die of a heart attack. I reached out for help, but encountered roadblock after roadblock. As a last resort, I called the hospital to see if they had an eating disorder program.  They did, but they only catered to bulimics and anorexics, because binge eaters, as I was told, were “too hard to treat”. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe the medical community would allow some of us to drown.

One day, after a long, cold winter, I came out of hibernation and bumped into a neighbour I hadn’t seen in months.  Her shock over what I had done to myself was obvious. I expected her to say, “What the hell happened to you?”, but she didn’t.  Instead, she invited me to join her at a 12-Step meeting for food addicts she was going to that evening.  I had heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but I never thought anybody could be addicted to food. I began to cry. She thought she had offended me, but she didn’t…. She was an answer to prayer.  That night I skipped my binge and went to my first meeting.

I was very moved by the vulnerability of the small group of people, who by the way, came in all shapes and sizes, like my petite neighbour. Looking back, I’m surprised my head didn’t fall off for all the nodding I did that night. I recognized myself in everyone’s story. I had found my tribe.

They believe individuals who suffer from the disease of food addiction get physical cravings to certain addictive substances, primarily flour, wheat, and sugar, and the only relief is through abstinence from all foods that contain these ingredients.

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Abstain from flour, wheat, and sugar?! You might as well ask me to cut my right arm off. Abstain means, goodbye, arrivederci, adieu, hasta la vista baby, NOT “until we meet again next Christmas, my beloved panettone”.  NOT, “we got a date next Halloween, candy corn”. It means parting ways FOREVER like a character in a Shakespearean play dying a painful, agonizing death from a dagger thrust in their heart.  Oh well, I figured it was better than dying with a fork jabbed in mine, so I gave it a go.

I followed the program faithfully for the first three months.  Surprisingly, it was easier than I thought. But like any brand new shiny experience that piques my interest, the novelty eventually wore off and I ended up doing what I do best when it comes to dieting – I gave up.

Years went by and I lost and gained on other plans. Then three years ago, I sought out the group only to find out they had disbanded.  I located a similar group and joined them for a while. (I was vegetarian at the time, so it made following their “guide to clean abstinence” challenging as meat is a staple in the program.) Eventually I stopped going there too, not because I found it difficult to follow as a herbivore, but because I resented being there. I didn’t want to label myself as an addict, even though I answered ‘yes’ to every question on the self-assessment tool. I just wanted to be someone who had a problem with moderation.  All I needed was to find the magic pill to fix the all-or-nothing part of me.

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It wasn’t until recently that the medical community began acknowledging the addictive qualities of these foods as well. MRIs have shown that eating high-sugar foods light up the same parts of the brain that are triggered by cocaine or heroin use. In another study, well-fed rats continually crossed an electrified floor to get Froot Loops.  However, these same rats, when hungry would not risk crossing the electrified floor for regular food pellets. Some days I identify with those rats, but I’ve got to focus on the ills associated with sugar in our diet, like decreased immune function, increased risk of diabetes, and how sugar feeds cancer cells.

Addiction is serious, and I don’t want to diminish the good work these groups do by ranking their success according to what I achieve on the scale in just one month. Weight loss is not their focus, recovery is.

“Weight loss is not a goal of this program, but it is a reasonable expectation. Weight gain is a symptom of the disease, and weight loss is a symptom of recovery.”

–Kay Sheppard, Food Addiction; The Body Knows

For the sake of my 12 in 12 experiment, I will follow the protocol, abstain from these addictive ingredients, and begin to work the Steps, which I expect will raise issues that my addiction has wanted me to suppress for over three decades.

You cannot work through the 12-Steps in 30 days; it has to be ongoing. Most importantly, I will respect the anonymity of the various meetings I attend, and will not disclose anything discussed. You can get a sense of how the program works by reading the AA Big Book, and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12 and 12), the only approved literature for all recovery from addiction programs.

The wonderful thing about 12-Step groups is that they offer support to every suffering addict who desires recovery – there’s no “they’re too hard to treat” here! They know what you’re going through, and they walk alongside you because they are on the same journey… and you’ve gotta love a group that starts and ends every meeting with a prayer!

God,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me patience with the changes that take time,

An appreciation of all that I have and am,

A tolerance for those with different struggles,

And the strength to get up and try again,

One day at a time.

To learn more about the plan I’ll be following for Month 10, click here.

The Results Are In

To find out how much I lost last month when I tested The Hormone Diet, click here.