Health and Wellness for the Rest of Us
I’m about to ditch sugar and diet soda. And I’m scared shitless.
Note: This article contains discussion of weight, weight loss, sugar addiction, emotional eating, depression, etc.
I’m about to ditch sugar and diet soda. And I’m scared shitless.
Why so scared? It’s really not that hard and tons of other people have done it before me, no problem. Hell, I’ve done it before, several times!
But maybe that’s part of my fear. I’ve actually been through this before and every time, I’ve failed. I’m able to do it but unable to sustain it.
I fall off every. single. time.
What if I can’t do it? What if I fail AGAIN? What could possibly make this time any different?
It’s scary because it’s so much more than sugar, or soda, or weight loss. Maybe I’m afraid because I’ve been through the withdrawals before. Maybe I’m afraid of what others will think. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll miss it. Maybe I’m afraid of having nothing to look forward to that makes me feel as good as sugar.
Maybe I know that if I don’t have my sugar security blanket I will have to face the shit in my life that has caused me pain.
Hi, I’m Karla and I’m a sugar addict.
I wasn’t always like this.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t have a lot of sweets or candy in the house. We didn’t have desserts after meals. We couldn’t even have sugary cereals like Cookie Crisp or Fruit Loops.
Fast food places weren’t on every corner like they are now; we only had McDonald’s when we went on our yearly road trip to my Grammy’s house in Minnesota. It was such a treat.
Like the orange soda I had once in a while when we went to the dog club that my parents were involved with. It was in a glass bottle and I used the bottle opener on the side of the wall to pop it open. That first sip was always the best (and still is).
We lived in a small town that was fairly rural and we couldn’t walk from our house to any shops to spend our allowances. It was novel to visit my friend Amal who lived nearer to the downtown area where we could walk to places from her house.
So maybe my desire for sugar (and other unhealthy foods) came from growing up in such a restrictive household. Perhaps I am making up for lost time or feeling as though I am entitled to it now because I didn’t have it then. But I don’t think so.
You see, I secretly found sugary treats and gorged myself on them whenever I could as a kid.
That yearly visit to my Grammy’s? I was allowed to put just a small teaspoon of sugar on my Corn Flakes in the morning. But when her back was turned? I would add spoonfuls of it to the white Corelle bowl with the gold flowers around the edge.
Much more often were visits to my friend Amal’s house around first or second grade. She was close to a small strip mall of stores and whenever I went over to her house, we walked to the store where I would spend every last penny I had on chocolate bars. I couldn’t get out of there soon enough and would sit on the curb in front of the store to devour it all.
I don’t remember what Amal bought.
I do recall the shame though, even at that young age. I knew that what I was doing was wrong and I knew enough to eat my haul before we even got back to her house where her mom would ask what we bought. I was embarrassed and felt like shit. I’d be on such a sugar high when we got back, we’d rollerskate up and down her driveway for hours.
I wasn’t a fat kid but I was never skinny either. I was what we refer to in the Midwest as “big-boned” or “corn-fed”. My weight would’ve been more of a problem though, had I not been as active as I was. There was the aforementioned affinity for rollerskating any chance I could get and I was the only girl on the soccer team for many years growing up. (And yes, I was better than the boys.)
What I did have was a mouth full of fillings. My parents took us for regular dentist appointments and we got fluoride treatments. There weren’t those sealants though, like my son got when he was little, and like a lot of kids, I probably didn’t brush well. But all of that bingeing on chocolate did not help.
I recall one appointment where I walked back out in the waiting room and my older sister was there with a big smile on her face, new toothbrush in hand, and scratch-n-sniff sticker on her shirt. She must’ve asked me how my check up went and when I told her she gasped, “You have FOUR cavities??” She had a look of terror like Carol Anne caught in the TV in Poltergeist.
I was scared too and when I returned a few days later to have them filled, I recall asking the dentist, “Will it hurt?” to which he replied, “Well they are deep and you do have FOUR of them…”
Fast-forward to middle school when I was put in charge of candy bar sales at the basketball games. BIG mistake. My first night, I ate half the box and lied about it. Of course, I got caught and I don’t recall what my penance was but again, the shame was as bad as anything. I think I lied and said I’d given them away so no one would know I’d eaten them all myself.
Hi, I’m Karla and I’m an emotional eater.
It only continued on from there, into high school and college. By that time in my life, I had other ways than sugar to fill the voids and mask the pain I was hiding. In my early 20s, my life consisted of working, dancing, smoking, drinking, fucking, and sleeping.
It wasn’t until I had my son that the weight gain started. A little here and there, year by year, pound by pound. It’s funny — in a sad way — that when you’re 25 years old and 150 pounds you’d do anything to not be “so fat” and you don’t think about when you’ll be 45 and 240 when you’ll really understand what shame and desperation feel like.
In the last 20 years, I’ve been on diets, joined gyms, had personal trainers, bought workout equipment, walked miles around my neighborhood, cleansed, detoxed, and starved myself. I’ve lost 25–35 pounds three times and gained it back plus 10 each time. It’s exhausting.
In between healthy times, I am eating junk. I love Doritos and nacho cheese, soda, McDonald’s, ginger beer, ice cream, cake, cheesecake, pie, pizza, cupcakes, donuts, and anything dipped in chocolate.
I won’t lie about what I’ve eaten if someone asks, but I will not offer up the info. I will plan my day around being able to run through a drive through for lunch. I will hide the evidence in my office garbage can and take the trash out myself. I say I don’t feel bad about this, but that’s a lie.
Every weekend I say to myself: “This is the last weekend before a new beginning; I’ll splurge the next few days on my favorite junk food, get it out of my system, and then I will be done with it.” I did that this weekend, in fact. I am, as I write this, eating squares of Dove dark chocolate and peanut butter by the handful.
But is it sugar or food in general? Does it matter? It does insofar as I am not bingeing on spinach and broccoli.
Eating sweet, sugary, processed foods soothes me. It’s my reward and my consolation prize. It’s there when I’m happy or sad. It’s there to catch me when I fall off the wagon. It’s there when I have no time to eat. It’s there when I need to get back at someone or when I feel out of control. It’s there for whatever the day’s excuse is.
Hi, I’m Karla and I’m feeding my pain body.
It’s clear that I use food, and sweet foods in particular, for a purpose. Perhaps like some of you, I use it to mask pain. And I have a pretty good understanding of where that pain came from — thank you 20+ years of therapy — but I’ll save that for another time.
Some people use drugs to mask the pain. Others abuse alcohol, I did that too at one time in my life. I absolutely used sex for many years. Now it’s food. I feed my pain body until it’s satiated into a sweet, dull coma of just getting by.
But here’s the rub: this isn’t about losing weight. If it was, I’d be a mean 150 chilling at the beach right now.
Food is just my drug of choice and weight gain is just a side effect. The other side effects (for me) are heartburn, lack of sleep, backaches and headaches, depression, anxiety, breathlessness (and not it the good way), nausea, IBS, insecurity, avoidance, lack of stamina, overspending on clothes, lack of interest, anger, shame, and disappointment.
But let me stress that this is less about the number on the scale and all about my joy, or lack thereof. It’s about confidence, independence, feeling good in my skin, doing the things I want to do, and living a healthy, fulfilling life. I’m not doing that right now and I’m convinced that I can’t without changing some things and, for me, that means facing my fears.
Hi, I’m Karla, and I’m going to be brave.
When it comes to getting healthy, I know what I need to do. I’ve been through this so many times before and have the knowledge in my head, I just need to face my fears and do what I need to do. For me it’s not even the beginning that is so hard anymore, or even the detoxing. It’s after a year has gone by, after I’ve gotten into great eating habits, lost some weight, am at the gym every day… that’s when I fall off for some reason. That’s the time I fail. That’s the piece I need to examine.
So for now, I have a plan: take a couple of weeks and get off sugar, soda, alcohol, and carbs. Drink more water and green tea. Eat more vegetables and red fruit. Move more, eat less. Continue therapy. Restart a yoga and meditation practice… more on all this in, you got it, another post.
But again, I ask myself: what will make this time any different? How can I make it stick? Will it be worth it? How the hell can I stay healthy this time? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. I don’t need to know the answers right now, but I hope they will come with time and reflection (and more therapy).
What I do know now is that I’m afraid. That it’s my fear questioning whether or not I can do it, perhaps in effort to stop me before I’ve even begun.
Throughout my life, my goal has never been to be fearless. It’s been to be brave in the face of fear.
So I guess, for starters, I’ll be brave.
Karla J. Strand is a queer, feminist, anti-oppression accomplice, librarian, and historian. She loves to travel with her partner and their puppy’s name is Grace. Karla has a regular series on the Ms. Magazine website entitled “Feminist Know-It-All” and can be found on Twitter and Insta @karlajstrand.