“The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the ‘bliss point.’ Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon and send products flying off the shelves.” – – Michael Moss
In 1987 the movie “Clean And Sober” was released, and as I was freshly out of my first treatment I of course had to see it. After all of these years, there’s one scene that comes back to me time and again: sitting across from Michael Keaton’s character is his recently picked AA sponsor, who has just ordered a milk shake. The scene cuts away to another and then back to Keaton. His friend still sits across from him. Now with five empty milk shake glasses. If it was me in his place, I might be wondering where number six was. As I told a friend once, “I never do a little of anything.”
Even page 134 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests to “constantly have chocolate available,” and how it can be beneficial at times to stave off an alcoholic craving for the newly sober. Somehow I don’t think they meant that thirty years later its a good idea to inhale two pints of Ben And Jerry’s in one sitting. I’m still looking for that page in the Big Book. But a few weeks ago I decided to stop kidding myself. It’s not only ice cream, it’s sugar in all forms. I keep a huge bucket of fun sized candy bars on top of my locker at work for passersby. It’s funny how I can come in to work some days with the bucket filled to the top and see it half full by the end of the day. And nobody else has been in the office. The exaggeration is only slight. It was time to take a long embarrassing look at my sugar consumption.
In 2001 I started taking depression medication, meant to be a “bridge” until the symptoms were alleviated. My bridge turned into twenty years. Without going into great detail, I’ll just say that scrutinizing my diet has become a viable option for beginning to wean off meds. Way back when I asked a few people how long they took anti-depressants and got answers ranging from “I took them for six months” all the way to “I plan on taking them the rest of my life.” To each their own. That was not my plan. I resisted taking them for years with so much stigma attached, but then found out that I was hardly in the minority. They were everywhere. Today I’ll be the last person to throw a stone at anyone getting relief from medication. It just feels like a possible end of the road for me. They seem to be doing the opposite of the desired effect.
I have quit caffeine (much like alcohol) a hundred times. Maybe more. I have never gotten beyond that “foggy brain” stage of two months or so. I know it can also make me jittery, but I intuitively figured there were other culprits. And before I give caffeine abstinence another go, I will develop a solid plan to do so. But something had to give. A loose example of a conversation I may have had with someone a few weeks ago could have gone like this: Other Person – “Hi, Michael.” Me – “What’s THAT supposed to mean???” Again, the exaggeration is only slight. I needed to address my mood issues asap.
Sugar seemed to be as good of a place to start as any. I got myself armed with two books, “The Sugar Demons” by Jonathan Cranford and “Sugar Detox.” (no author cited) They are both short and are packed with great ideas on how to become sugar free. They both also tell of what to expect the first few weeks. I followed the script for nearly a week and had almost no cravings. Then came the unexpected: I fell into one of the deepest depressions I can remember in recent history. I couldn’t focus, was thinking some pretty dark thoughts, and missed some work time. During the few days it lasted I gritted my teeth and told myself it was sugar withdrawal. Sure enough, by day ten I felt better. By day twelve I was feeling pretty “light.” It has been twenty-one days now. I feel much more clear-headed than I did a few weeks ago and if somebody says hello to me I likely won’t growl at them. I’m convinced that taking acetyl-l-carnitine (to improve brain and nerve cell function) has been a big help also. I feel so much more relaxed. The only real temptation or difficulty I’m having lately is forgetting to avoid the ice cream aisle while shopping. I felt downright jittery the first time. But getting sugars from fruit, especially low sugar ones like blueberries, strawberries, apples and avocado usually take care of a craving. Or sometimes just saying a prayer. I know angels have had their hand in this. I could never do it alone
I’ll say this with a hundred exclamation points in my heart: while twenty-one days is not a lifetime, if I can stay off sugar, anyone can. Many years ago I ran into a guy at an AA meeting who said he had recently quit sugar almost entirely. “It’s like a second sobriety” he said. Thirty-one years later I know what he was talking about. I feel so much cleaner. I can definitely feel myself wanting to pursue this as a life-style change. Then on to the next addiction (Coffee? Red meat? I don’t plan on giving up air any time soon.) I’ve been amazed how much, other than the depressive period (which I think is an anomaly) I’ve enjoyed the process. Sugar is in just about everything. Often disguised as an ingredient ending in “ose. “I can say “no” to it. So can anyone else. Just stay away from that darned ice cream aisle.