Chronicles of a writer abroad


Sweet escape

I didn’t make any resolutions for the New Year (except for a kind of vague optimistic pledge to do everything better!) but I find even without specific goals, January puts me in a navel-gazing, self-improving kind of mood.

There are many potential targets for melioration: my housekeeping habits, my sleep hygiene, my work ethic. But my thoughts keep returning to my diet.

I have Facebook friends who regularly post material intended to shame and scare people into eating the same way they do (which lately seems to consist of pretending you can only access caveman fare). They post things like “How Cola Begins To Kill You The Instant You Swallow,” with figures showing how each organ is being overworked and corroded and generally just completely annihilated by sugar. Presented with such posts, I either immediately ignore and dismiss them, or I give them a cursory look to ascertain that something is misspelled or poorly written and that I’m safe in dismissing the source as uneducated and unknowledgeable (snotty, yes, but desperate times…).

More and more, though, it’s in the news, it’s being spouted by reliable sources: Sugar (especially in its refined and added forms) really is bad for you.

It’s hard for me to hear, given that my life is fuelled by things ending in -ose. Fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose: they’re dear, lifelong friends. My childhood home was always full of sugary things: monochrome peanut-butter sandwich cookies, factory-perfect ridges decorating their surfaces; cartons of Neapolitan ice cream, the strawberry segment a lurid artificial pink; delicious homemade cakes and pies to mark our many birthdays. One of my favourite pastimes as a pre-teen was going to the house of my friend J, whose family had a gas oven which was great for baking. We would have “bake-offs” wherein we evaluated the merits of different cookie recipes and techniques. In those days, a lot of cookies were eaten in the pursuit of Truth and in the name of Science.

I remember when another (European and svelte) friend had me over to her apartment, and her mom had baked something which was sitting on the counter. “Do you feel like eating something sweet?” she asked. I stared at her, thinking it was the craziest question anyone had ever asked me. In my mind the question was never do I feel like something sweet. It was how often am I allowed ?

During my undergrad degree, I took a nutrition class. We learned about balancing carbs and fats and proteins, and I’m sure there was a specific caution to avoid too much added sugar. But after the final exam, I forgot all of my learning except for this: the brain runs on glucose. It needs sugar to operate. I would remember this fact, cling to it, while tossing cookies into my cart or whipping up a batch of brownies during midterms, thinking I want my brain to operate extra well, so

My next misstep as regards sugar involves becoming a distance runner. Not only does running 20 miles tend to make you feel that you’ve “earned” dessert, but marathon runners also revere sugar as prevention against “hitting the wall” (which I thankfully have yet to do). So in addition to ingesting too much sugar on a daily basis, I  was also squirting concentrated forms of it into my mouth during long runs.

Then I moved to Switzerland, a sugar-bomb of a mistake that I think needs no further explanation.

A couple weeks ago, we were having dinner with a friend, and I mentioned having eaten a peanut-butter-banana wrap for lunch (it’s one of my go-to lunches lately: smear peanut butter on a tortilla, add a banana, roll it up, and voila: lunch is ready in 30 seconds). Our friend said “Hm, I would never eat something sweet like that for lunch.” And I thought: that’s not something sweet…something sweet is the chocolate or whatever I eat afterwards. And I heard how bad it sounded.

Looked at one way, my day is a sine wave of sugar highs and lows; a series of carb cravings and fixes. But maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. I always thought I had a friend in -ose, but when I consider some other words that end this way…

  • Bellicose
  • Comatose
  • Grandiose
  • Lachrymose
  • Morose
  • Necrose
  • Overdose

…I can’t help feeling discomfited.

I’m not about to become a Sugar-Nazi anytime soon. There’s no way I’m giving up fruit or milk or other naturally sweet things. But it might be worth seeing what life could be without the chocolate, the desserts, the lumps added to coffee and oatmeal. If you’ve had similar struggles or successes with cutting down sugar, I’d love to hear about it…

(Today’s brain activity brought to you by Post-Prandial Apple, filling in for Lindt Infiniti Fondant.)