How I Retrained My Sweet Tooth
You cannot show me a Krispy Kreme donut I don’t wanna eat.
Okay, look, if it got run over by the garbage truck, maybe not.
My hips expand in anticipation every time I get within about a mile of a KK shop. Which is one reason I am damned glad there isn’t one where I moved.
I am in good company, loving sweet things. I prefer that piece of wedding cake with the four-inch piece of solid icing.
I can down a big one pound bag of chocolate almonds in one sitting. GAH.
DID down a whole bag, back when quarantine began.
Back in the mid-1980s I retrained my tongue to love fruits instead of sugary sweets. That ability to choose better foods has -had- allowed me to keep 85 lbs off for more than thirty years.
Then, I let my ex move in, May of 2018.
At the time I didn’t know what was about to happen. My ex didn’t share my eating habits, and the habits he brought into the house (sweets, donuts, chocolate) along with the extreme stresses torpedoed me emotionally and physically. I began stress snacking on shit I hadn’t eaten in years.
For the first time in three decades there were sweets in the house, a lot of them. I was back in the habit of a handful of chocolate almonds rather than a handful of berries or grapes.
Even after our last very difficult breakup, I wasn’t able to return to my original, carefully-crafted habits. Having fallen off the rails, I continued to find reasons to sneak chocolate into my daily routine, and more than occasional donuts. The pounds crept back on, slowly but surely. Not a lot, but with quarantine, more than enough, as it became impossible to do my regular routines, and far easier to snack all day at my computer. For the most part my diet was terrific, but the sugar habit was back, not only because of stress but also because my cravings for intense sweets had been reignited. I had, after all those years of retraining my sweet tooth to love fruit, gotten addicted to sugar again.
I’m hardly alone. Turning to sugar for comfort is a national past-time. There is even sugar in your Taco Bell meat (no kidding):
Trehalose: “It’s a naturally occurring sugar that we use to improve the taste of our seasoned beef.”
Maltodextrin: “It sounds weird, but it’s actually a form of mildly sweet sugar we use to balance the flavor. You may have had it the last time you had a natural soda.”
As Covid pushed us inside and we stocked up on stuff that might stay the course, we also added all kinds of sugars to our diets, even more than before. This from Time:
You Won't Believe How Much Processed Food You Eat
A study nails down how much of the food we eat includes ingredients that you don't find in your own kitchen
From the article:
Nearly 90% of the average source of added sugars, in fact, came from processed foods. Overall, processed foods contained eight times more sugar than less processed foods such as breads, cheese and canned foods, and five times more sugar than unprocessed or minimally processed choices such as meats, fresh fruits or vegetables, grains and milk.
Before you argue that almond milk is good for you, please see:
Is Almond Milk Actually Healthy?
Almond milk is flying off the shelves. It's now America's favorite alternative to dairy milk by a massive margin…
I used to love it too, but it’s often full of sugar, mostly water, very few almonds and a whole lotta other issues. Do your research and read past the pretty packaging.
We have long been trained to like our sugar, often without realizing that our taste buds have been carefully manipulated in that direction by Big Food. Sugar is a cheap way to make shit food taste better. Since sugar is the one taste we are largely all geared to love from birth, food scientists simply build on what we are wired to crave.
…Americans do overconsume, averaging about 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day, according to the American Heart Association, which recommends limiting added sugars to about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men.
There is sugar in damned near everything, if it’s processed, along with additional salts and other crap you and I can’t pronounce. So it was easy to pack it on as some of us had to turn to packaged foods when getting to the grocer, or at least doing it safely, got harder.
Under Covid, many if not most of us packed on pounds, feeding ourselves “comfort foods,” many if not most of which included added sugars, if not were pure sugar, as in candies and chocolate bars. I know I did.
For me, however, it was more about pure stress. It’s hard to make a huge cross-country move. That’s one of life’s biggest stressors. Add to that a trip to the hospital with a kidney infection and stones, then a nasty car accident, well. It’s been quite the year and it ain’t done yet. Hardly.
The extreme stressors of those events were just part of the overall circumstance set.
I had to completely overhaul my diet at 67, given that I have Interstitial Cystitis and kidney stones. IC is, to my mind, a catch-all phrase that means we have no clue but we’ll give it a name to sound official.
I know what IC is like in practice. Bad enough so that when handed a long list of Do Not Eats, I was happy to comply.
Now handed a much, much longer additional list to prevent a recurrence of oxalate kidney stones, I was also told in no uncertain terms that salt, and my beloved sugar, were off the table. Worse, NO MORE CHOCOLATE.
Even worse, NO MORE CHOCOLATE ALMONDS. As in ever.
While in some ways this is a blessing, I will confess that the forced divorce from one of Life’s Great Joys- milk chocolate almonds-was hard.
Unlike a friend, who, when faced with the same list I got, he intoned with great gravity, that he would “eat what I want and deal with the stones,” I like being alive. Those stones nearly killed me. Imagine eating what you want, but living with a potentially deadly Sword of Damocles over your head.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but kidney stones equal suffering. At least for me they do, and for anyone else I’ve ever spoken with who has experienced them. To that, and again I can only speak for myself, stuffing my favorite foods down my gullet out of the need to put my gustatory delights ahead of both my personal safety and that of others seems stupid at best, and foolish at worst.
The reason, at least in my case, that such decisions have the potential to hurt others, there’s this: I flipped my car because of a kidney stone in July. It was only stupid damned luck I didn’t land on top of a car full of kids, or cause oncoming traffic to swerve and kill off those occupants. You see my point.
Our self-serving selfishness can indeed affect others in ways that we most certainly don’t intend. If, however, you and I learn that our desires can hurt others, and I am just teasing out food here, then it seems incumbent upon us to back the fuck off.
If what you and I ingest makes us unhealthy, causes us disease and other issues, then it’s most certainly not just about us. It’s very much about those who count on us, love us and want us to stick around a bit longer.
But that’s just me.
In a country full of folks who can’t be bothered to wear masks because it protects OTHER people, why on earth should I expect those same folks to make better choices about their health for the same reasons?
But I digress.
In my favorite book by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, he points out that you and I, when and if we are able to identify the source of our suffering, in this case for me both IC and kidney stones, we can choose not to ingest those things which cause us suffering. While in the largest sense this would be just as applicable to ingesting doom material, hate speech and the like, let’s just keep this to sugar, my beloved nemesis.
I was given long and difficult lists to redirect my eating habits to prevent stones. But also those nasty IC flareups which mean long nights on the toilet with no relief in sight and the unhappy prospect of having to wear Certain Undergarments. Look. For me it was easy. I have no interest in making myself suffer physically any more than necessary.
What that meant was that those foods were off the menu. Yeah, and forever this time. No more next time, or just a little. Just one. Because for me and my compulsive nature, Just One is an invitation to the Whole Damned Bag.
I am as bad as a reformed alcoholic invited into a bar. Just a sip, that’s all.
Not on your life, especially if it really does mean your life.
Since July, I’ve not had any of the foods on the May Not Have List.
Several things have happened. Not only has my weight, which had risen some 23 pounds, dropped back down (at first to sheer stress, and now it’s maintenance). The other gift, which has been echoed by fellow Medium writers, is that the tongue gets retrained naturally to enjoy what Nature has always offered us as natural candy: berries, bananas, apples, the sweet treats without the damaging fructose. Honey in my hot milk, for I had to give up tea and coffee because of the oxalates and tannins, is sweet enough.
A big handful of green grapes is about as sweet as I can handle. Those are my big, big treats. A Honey Crisp apple is nearly a meal unto itself. I have found immense joy in scarfing down a six ounce package of huge blackberries, and I never leave the house without two big apples in the console when I need consolation.
Why apples? There are all kinds of reasons that the old saw of an apple a day really is based on solid science:
13 Surprising Health Benefits of Apples That'll Have You Eating One (or More) a Day
Sometimes the simplest foods are the best foods for us. You don't have to be a nutritionist to realize that apples are…
If you can eat apples, have at it. As with all issues dietary, know what you can and can’t have.
You may do that research and STILL eat shit. At that point, when the body rebels and we get sick, or get stones, or expire early, there really is just one person to blame.
One Medium buddy had to do much the same thing with her body. She told me I could retrain my sweet tooth, and she’s right. While I will still use sweetener (certain kinds, not all), I have noticed that in the largest sense, giving up sugar has given me back two things: the body I had, which is much happier where I am now; better health from taking out those substances that make me feel heavy and logey; and better long-term health by removing substances that my particular body doesn’t like.
That last is likely true for all of us. I’ve written elsewhere that as we age, our dietary needs change. For some it’s just fewer calories. For others, for whatever reason, as we shift into life’s later gears, nutritional needs shift with us. Not paying attention can cost us dearly. Learning what we need, and still not paying attention, is just plain stupid, if not spiteful behavior towards the only instrument we have through which to experience life on Earth.
Retraining my sweet tooth this year wasn’t strictly about getting my pre-breakup, pre-Covid body back. It wasn’t just about stating my gustatory freedom from the bad juju the breakup left behind. It was as much a statement of a genuine commitment to vibrant health as anything. While yes, you’re damned right I miss my chocolate almonds (which at one point my Illumination buddy Charles Roast offered to send me express mail, bless his six-pack-protected good heart), I am done with them.
That’s a statement of freedom. From bad food, bad diseases, bad side effects. And the freedom to eat what Nature intended as our sweets, some of which (citrus, pineapple) I’ve also had to give up. But what’s left is plenty.