A Year Of No Sugar: Postscript 6

March 22, 2012 § 8 Comments

There’s been a good two and a half months distance now between the No Sugar project and us, and I think every day about what it all means… What were we trying to do with our year, exactly? Did we do it? Does that mean it’s “over”? What place does sugar have in our lives, if any?

Normally, I’m overly analytical anyway, but since January I’ve been pulling together what will be my book (insert trumpet call here!) about our Year of No Sugar, so consequently I’ve been doing an awful lot of backward looking and thinking, even as everyday we are moving farther and farther away from 2011. It’s kind of giving me vertigo.

Most fascinating to me is the wide variety of reactions to the end of our project from friends, acquaintances, and readers. Many people have said “Congratulations!” which is lovely, and many more seemed simply relieved that we aren’t doing “that sugar thing” anymore, just in case it might rub off on them or something. Half the people seem to expect us to now be on a permanent sugar binge in order to make up for lost time, while the other half seem to think we’re terrible hypocrites if we so much as pause to consider reading the dessert menu.

The fact is, for us it’s ever so much more complicated than “All Sugar All the Time!”or “No Sugar Never Ever!” My kids still want to get a dish of ice cream after dinner the way they always did. And me- selfish, guilty parent that I am- I often really want to give them that dish of ice cream as if it were a nice, compact serving of normality I could hand them, with a pretty cherry on top. “See!? We’re not so weird, after all!”

But, the thing is, we are weird. We were weird before- not eating at McDonalds and avoiding soda, and we’re weird now- avoiding juice and crap sugar food (donuts, cookies, free lollipops), as well as anything that’s sweetened when we know it needn’t be: dried fruit, chips, crackers, tomato sauces.We’ve become much, much more selective about the sugar we do consume- and in a culture like ours which is utterly saturated with sugar, that’s weird.

Then again, we’re much more mainstream than we were last year: we’ve stopped flipping out about things like orange juice in the salad dressing or sugar in the bread. We no longer give our waitress the Spanish Inquisition, which is nice for everybody. And anyway, after a year of questions, we also already know which items will have the sugar in them. Sometimes we have them, and sometimes we don’t.

I was also fascinated to find that for about the first six weeks of 2012, sugar actually didn’t taste good to me. It tasted saccharine, syrupy sweet, and usually resulted in a bad aftertaste as well as a rapid headache. This was a phenomenon I had particularly noticed toward the end of our No Sugar Year, when I had begun to enjoy our sacred monthly “treat” less and less. I wondered how long this would last- would I ever enjoy sugar again? Or had I inadvertently removed all the joy of sweet from my life? Given myself a tastebud-ectomy?

But after having small amounts of sugar on a regular basis- a teaspoon’s worth here and there- I have found that my taste for sugar has gradually returned: I can now order the Mango Sticky Rice at the Thai place and simply enjoy it.

Which I view as a good thing. After all, alcohol is a potentially addictive poison, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a glass of it with dinner on a regular basis. Likewise, I want to be able to enjoy a bit of fructose- potentially addictive poison anyone?- in the occasional dessert. For me, that’s part of the joy of life.

So I’ll have my glass of wine and maybe a small dish of the amazing gelato at that Italian restaurant. But I’m walking right by ninety percent of what’s for sale at my local supermarket- row after row of sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, candy and convenience entrees. We drink water, snack on whole fruit, rudely ignore candy and cook from scratch. It’s not as simple as “Yes Always!” or “No Never!” but that’s fair, I guess. Food is what keeps us alive, brings us together every day, and gives us the means to celebrate and enjoy. If it isn’t worth our serious consideration, I don’t know what is.

A Year of No Sugar: Postscript 2

January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve had a little time to reflect now on the Year of No Sugar and the effect it has had on me, so here it is: It’s made me a sugar junkie.

Well, sort of. This is why: like never before, I now really notice what sugar does after I eat it. When I eat a cookie, or have a piece of chocolate, here is what happens: I enjoy it. Then I realize my mouth feels… funny: cloying and overly sweet like I just drank maple syrup- yuck. A few minutes pass and I feel a small headachey feeling creeping around the base of my brain, followed by a weird energized feeling… a sugar “buzz” if you will. After a while, of course, it passes.

Sometimes I don’t care a bit about whatever dessert option might be around, while other times I find myself wondering if, perhaps, there’s one more piece of that hazelnut bar we bought back at Christmas time… (no, there isn’t.) And then I think, well, maybe just one of those three remaining mini-pastries from the Lebanese shop… Yesterday was a moment when I gave in and had one mini-pastry after lunch (a particularly weak time of day for me) and, yup. there it was again: enjoy, yuck, headache, buzz. All from basically two bites worth of honey, pastry and nuts.

But I’m glad January is over and with it the aftermath of not just all that leftover holiday sugar which came cascading home with us, but also the remains of the many celebrations in our house that also follow Christmas- not just New Years, but my mother’s birthday followed by my younger daughter’s as well. You might recall that last year we skated by the sugar issue by concocting a banana split that had everything- whipped cream, cherries, banana, homemade ice cream- everything except added sugar. Would they hate it? Would Ilsa feel deprived on her birthday of all things? Oh, the parental horror! It wasn’t until the kids exclaimed happily over the first few bites, that I relaxed a bit- we just might make it through this year after all.

2012, however, has already been markedly different. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what I do and do not actually want to eat, sugar-wise. But if you aren’t not eating sugar, how DO you know when to stop? Do you refuse to have dessert to celebrate your own mother’s birthday at the restaurant that has the best bread pudding you’ve ever had? Do you not have a piece of the special peanut butter and chocolate pie your daughter requested for her seventh birthday, even though that’s your Achilles-heel of desserts? Do you not join in and have a slice of the mint ice cream cake you labored over for all the kids at your daughter’s clown party? Oh, and of course there are all those leftovers… After all my work to make them, do I simply throw the rest away?

I’m not being rhetorical here, I really don’t know. No, not even now.

Although Sweet Poison author David Gillespie had told me that after a while you “just don’t want” the taste of sugar anymore, during our entire Year of No Sugar I found I kept wanting things: the croissants at our favorite bakery, an ice cream cone on a hot day, ketchup on our french fries. Sure, we got used to skipping, substituting, going without, but did we ever stop wanting?

Then the other night my husband and I had a babysitter night, so we went out to try a new restaurant. At the end of a nice meal Steve became convinced I wanted dessert. A year ago I wouldn’t have even considered it a proper meal out without that final sweet component- like fireworks being intrinsic to the fourth of July- but this time I demurred. I was full. I didn’t want any. Still, he kept encouraging me to pick something from the menu. There was no convincing him that I didn’t, in my heart of hearts, want the chocolate chip cookie sundae but- much to my astonishment- I didn’t. I mean, I really didn’t!

All this month I’ve been playing guilty catch-up from a year of denial, with my kids, with my husband, with myself: it’s pretty hard to say “no” now, after my family gave sugar up for a year, on my say-so. Because I thought it was a good idea. Because I thought it would make us healthier. Because I wanted to write about it.

So I don’t say no as much as I want to right now. Selfishly, I don’t want my kids to think I’ve become the Scrooge of the food universe, or my husband to think he’s lost his fun wife who used to get all giddy at the thought of combining chocolate and peanut butter. I still do, after all. I’m still fun. Right?

Right?

So did we order the ridiculously sinful chocolate chip cookie in a cast iron pan with ice-cream and whipped cream on top? Sure we did, because I’m still fun, damn it. I was almost embarrassed by the conspicous decadence of the thing when it arrived- I felt as if we had a circus elephant sitting on our table. I had a few bites and of course it was very good- in the way that only a warm cookie with cold ice cream on it can be. Very good. But then I put my fork down. I was happy to see that really, really, I could take it or leave it.

And if that’s the ultimate legacy of our year, I’ll take it.

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