Week 49: No Sugar
On a Friday in late October, I went to Penguin’s, my hometown’s local ice cream store. There was a sign on the door: “Monday will be our last day. Thank you for all these years of business!”
What?! This little shop had been here since before I was born. It was a staple in La Cañada — in the center of town, it was where we all went on weekends in high school, it was where we’d inevitably run into an old classmate. This little shop, featuring only eight ice cream flavors at once, was La Cañada heritage.
Over the decades — and especially since I graduated high school in 2009 — so many local shops have closed their doors to be replaced by chains. I always thought Penguin’s was immune, for the much-loved staple received much business.
I went inside and asked the cashier why this was happening. She told me that the owner of the plaza Penguin’s was part of wanted more rent money than this family-owned business could afford. So it was being replaced by a chain called Chop and Stop. Or Stop and Chop. As if anyone cares.
Well, I thought, if there’s anything to come out of this, I can attempt a sugarless week again — this time with less temptation. I had been vowing to try a week of no sugar for this project, but every time I had tried it, I always ended up at Penguin’s. So here was an opportunity.
No such luck. In late October, I went to coding boot camp in Minneapolis, and they ordered in doughnuts twice a week. What to speak of my staying next to a boba shop.
Well, I thought, I still have the rest of November. There a thing called ‘No Sugar November’ that people do. That should be motivation enough.
No such luck. Thanksgiving and the uprise in sweets took its toll on me.
I say ‘no such luck,’ but really, luck was never part of the equation: I just chose to keep eating sweets instead of saying no. You see, I love sweets. I love them. I am a desserts girl through and through.
But around four years ago, I started noticing that sometimes I don’t feel good after eating certain types of food. Like milk. Like bread. Like…cake.
I was chubby from age eight until college, when, in freshman year, I found out that I liked to exercise. At age 23, weight started sticking like glue, despite exercise, but there were so many other symptoms I noticed from consuming sugar and flour: my body felt heavy, bloated, lethargic.
Four years later, and I’m still eating sugar. There’s always room for fruits, and even sometimes honey, in my life, but I don’t want to feel the way that I feel after more than two bites of a cake. Yes, I’m like most other women in that extra weight isn’t welcome around here, but my strongest motivation for less sugar consumption is about how I feel in my body.
So here I am, in December, determined to make this a success. And in all honesty, in my attempt this month to go for a consecutive seven days without added sugar, I do total seven days without it…but those days are not consecutive. They’re interspersed.
I break when someone offers me something, and in this season, someone always does. I succeed in not buying sugary anything! I break at the handful of holiday parties I go to.
But I also notice something I might not have noticed in seven back-to-back days without sugar: when I do eat a cookie one day, I’m way more likely to want sugar the next day. After I pass one day without it, I don’t crave it anymore. The longer I go without eating it, the sicker my body feels when I do have it again.
It makes total sense — how could a human body, which has been around for a long, long time, benefit from something as concentrated as sugar?
In the wild, we find coca leaves. Processing these leaves enough gives us cocaine. Does this sound familiar?
In the wild, we find fruits and sugarcane. Where on earth do indigenous people eat sugar granules and flour like we find in the store? Nowhere. Because factories have to mill and process the hell out of wheat, sugarcane, or sugar beet to get that powder.
With my body feeling sicker the longer I go without sugar and then indulge, the more disgusted my mind becomes. I notice the sheer magnitude of emotional manipulation that goes into marketing this nonsense.
By all means, make dollars. It’s nice, though, when a sale is a win-win, and the product benefits the consumer. If something is marketed to appear innocent, sweet, lovely, and warm when it just hurts, then…?
At least cigarettes come with a warning label.
I notice that it is quite hard to make it out of anywhere without sugar being shoved in my face. As weak as I am in the face of sugar, though, I have one redeeming quality here: veggies — brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, anything — I love them. My body doesn’t think they’re so bad, either. #WinWin
I also notice that my sudden interest this year to move away from processed foods could have something to do with becoming quite drawn to the land, the wilderness, and the way life unfolds without men’s prying hands trying to change everything about living. It seems like sugar and flour and everything processed is, in the food world, a parallel to us becoming disconnected from the simplicity of the earth.
I do think food should be eaten for pleasure, and I don’t think we should punish our bodies by denying ourselves food that fills our soul. And with the amount of marketing that goes into it, it would seem that cake, ice cream, pie, and brownies are all soulful foods.
But — without going into the science of sugar and how it causes headaches, irritability, and diseases down the line — eating, not consuming it, actually feels like I’m punishing my body.
In conclusion, I don’t know when I will finally make it a priority to resolutely say no to sugar and flour and anything that makes me feel less than stellar.
Some studies say it takes five to seven tries for a smoker to quit; other studies show it takes many more. But if someone really does want to stop a behavior — whether it’s an addiction or just a propensity — there comes a time when resolve becomes stronger than habit.
Maybe it’s because they’re tired of trying and wanting but not giving it their all. Maybe it’s motivated by disgust. Maybe a health scare pushed them to the edge. Maybe they realised they couldn’t do it on their own, and got professional support.
Whatever it is, if physical well-being is truly a priority, the resistance will find a way to strike back.
Penguin’s, my much beloved ice cream shop, is gone. There are a million more places in the world, though, that still play to emotional manipulation and addiction. I will keep trying to fend off all the temptations with a lightsaber of asparagus.
But I’m still never going into Chop and Stop. Or Stop and Chop. Whatever it is.