The first time I realized sugar could make me happy, I was working at my first job after college. I hated this job. I worked in the proofreading department of a major publishing company, carefully scanning the copy of a myriad of magazines I had zero interest in.
The magazines focused on subjects such as hunting or the world of knitting. The job was boring and yet also required an intense amount of concentration.
I had to scrutinize the copy to comb it for all the tiny errors that maybe wouldn’t have eluded me so easily if I weren’t reading so many pages every day about subjects I cared so little about. I was young, single, and depressed as it was. This job was just making my problems worse.
One day, a co-worker suggested we head down to the vending machine on our break. I didn’t plan on buying anything. I was just along for the ride. This was simply something else I could do rather than sit at my desk and mope about my awful life.
I often spent hours obsessing about my flaws. A perfectionist, I remembered every mistake I ever made and felt humiliated. This or that guy who dumped me or the fact I hadn’t gotten into the college of my choice. Or that I’d ended up at this crap job.
But it was more than that. Heading down to the vending machine for a break wasn’t unlike stepping out with someone while they smoked. I was going to a lot of bars in those days as a single, twenty-something-year-old woman. I was well-versed in this ritual. Instead of “social smoking” I was “social vending-machining.”
But as I said, I didn’t plan on purchasing anything from the vending machine. I wasn’t a junk-food eater. I grew up eating fruit for snacks and using whole-wheat bread for my sandwiches. Chips and candy were off-limits in our house. My mom never bought soda pop. I look back on this now and see that was a good thing.
But clearly, it wasn’t good enough to keep me from becoming a sugar addict.
My co-worker bought their Coke and candy and suggested I get a snack as well. A Coke and candy for a snack? Why would I eat or drink that?
She was persistent though. Introducing Coke and candy as snack food was like one of those friends in high school peer-pressuring you to take drugs. In high school, I gave in and smoked pot for the first time. I wanted to fit in here as well.
I was lonely. Here was an opportunity to be accepted by another human being. Like lighting up a cigarette at the bar because everyone else was doing it, I bought a Coke and a chocolate bar to “social-eat.”
I drank the Coke and ate the candy bar. Oh, my God. I experienced one of the most incredible highs I’d ever had in my life.
I walked back to my desk and for the rest of the afternoon, I worked steadily at my boring job — and I was happy.
I no longer dwelled on how much I hated my life. In fact, I felt completely free of any self-loathing. I just felt high.
And I never wanted to come down from it.
I became a sugar addict.
But of course my high eventually dissipated. I came down. Then I just wanted to get high again. I chased that first high for years. Like a heroin addict who keeps chasing the dragon, I never caught that first rush again.
That didn’t stop me from trying. I kept eating sugar. It wasn’t like I wouldn’t get high at all, just not as ecstatically high as I got that first time I ate that first chocolate bar and Coke.
I’d get a little high but then not long after I’d crash. Hard.
I wouldn’t just come down. I would slam into the floor. When I crashed, I became exhausted. And cranky.
There was only one way to fix that: more sugar.
Cut to a year later, I wasn’t drinking just one Coke a day, but six. I’d wake up in the morning and crack open a cold one. My breakfast would consist of a Coke and some hunk of baked refined wheat, laden with sugar.
By midday, I’d move on to eating actual candy. Chocolate was my favorite. Chocolate bars and candy kisses and truffles with secret fillings. But I also liked other candy such as fruit gels and jelly beans. I was never much into lollipops or hard candy. Sucking something wouldn’t give me the instant rush the biting into a sugary treat would.
I’d get my fix, enjoy my momentary high, then crash. I started taking naps in the afternoon because I was always so exhausted.
The first high of the day was always the best. As the day progressed, my high would decrease in intensity. I’d down a Coke and eat some candy, get a small boost, but then crash hard and have to take a nap.
That made working difficult. I was freelancing by then as a writer. Locked in my apartment all day was tiring as it was. My sugar addiction just made it worse.
Though the sugar was no longer doing much to help my depression, not consuming it would make me depressed. I couldn’t stop. I kept eating sugar and drinking Coke. As you can imagine, that gave me a lot of zits.
I was worn out, zitty, and depressed. Not a good mix. My sugar crashes put me in an irritable mood. I had constant headaches. That just made me even more crabby. And yes, I gained weight.
As my body became heavier, I felt the downward pull of depression even more intensely. My depression was dragging me down as much as my fat. I felt like my body was a giant ship I could hardly steer. I feared hitting land and getting stuck. But that would inevitably happen anyway when I crashed from the sugar and thus crashed into a figurative sand bar.
There I’d lay like a beached whale, unable to move. Who wants to move when they’re so tired and annoyed?
Would I ever break my bonds from sugar?
I went off sugar cold-turkey.
I didn’t conquer my sugar addiction until a few years ago when I went on the keto diet. That’s when I cut sugar out of my diet entirely. Not only did I lose weight, but I evened out my moods.
I won’t say it was easy to get off sugar. At first, it was extremely difficult. I did the stupid thing of going on a thirteen-mile hike the second day of starting the keto diet. “Hey, I’m going to get healthy, let’s go on a death march!”
As I trudged along on a seemingly endless trail through the mountains, I felt incredibly depressed. Painful memories swarmed my mind. I didn’t have sugar to make my depressed feelings go away. I just had to deal with them.
To make matters worse, I craved sugar. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was one step after another through this alpine landscape, dreaming about sinking my teeth into a chocolate bar or some frosted cookie. If only I could find a vending machine — but I was in the middle of nowhere.
I survived the hike, and yes, it took a few weeks for my sugar cravings to dissipate but they finally did. I found eating macadamia nuts quenched my urge for sugar. They’re full of fat, so they were good for the keto diet. They also taste slightly sweet.
Besides that, I ate 100% cacao bars. The consistency of the bars felt like chocolate in my mouth even if the taste wasn’t sugary. I also got a small boost from the caffeine in the cacao. Yes, I also have a serious caffeine addiction. But in this case, at least I was off sugar.
I also started on antidepressants. I now take Zoloft for depression and BuSpar for anxiety. As I’m less depressed, I feel fewer cravings for that sugar rush.
I’ve regained my energy. I feel lighter, especially because I lost weight. My sense of taste has improved. The sugar had numbed my tastebuds. I now feel like I actually taste the food I eat.
But this has just alerted me to just how much sugar is hidden in so much of our food. Suddenly, I could taste the sugar in products like marinara sauce.
I started spending more time looking at labels to see the amount of sugar in an item before I purchased it. But even if I sometimes ate things with hidden sugar, at least I wasn’t eating nearly as much sugar as I used to.
My zits went away and the pores on my face shrunk. I looked healthier in general. My dark circles under my eyes became lighter.
When I think back to the amount of sugar I used to eat and drink I’m astounded. I was killing myself.
Why it’s so hard to stay off sugar.
Though some experts claim that sugar is as addictive as hard drugs, I don’t think it was as hard to get off sugar as it would be to kick heroin. But it wasn’t nothing to get off sugar either. Because of the high it gives, I do believe that sugar is a drug.
And what’s worse is that food companies pedal sugar to us, often as they attempt to convince us that their products are good for us. A study carried out at the University of Houston, Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health, cites:
"Because many consumers are beginning to change to a more nutritious diet, food corporations have begun marketing unhealthy foods as healthy by labeling them as “organic,” “whole grain,” or any combination of other health-related buzzwords."
Many of these products still contain sugar. Take Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks that are basically candies and have 11 grams of sugar per serving (twelve “chews”). Chef Boyardee Beefaroni features images of fresh tomatoes on the can and touts itself as having no artificial colors or preservatives, but still has 6 grams of sugar per serving. Cheerios markets its Chocolate Cheerios as “whole grain goodness” that will lower your cholesterol while still filling you with 8 grams of sugar per serving.
Let’s face it — none of these products are good for us. And what’s worse, many of them are marketed to kids. They’re full of sugar that sap our energy, make us gain weight, and put us closer to developing Type 2 Diabetes. And kids are growing up on this.
According to the University of Houston study, all this is contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States.
Add to this the social pressure to eat sweets. Sugar consumption is a big part of our culture. I’m tempted every time I go out for dinner and the waiter asks if I want dessert, or I go to a party where sugar treats are seen as a way to celebrate, and the host is let down when I decline to eat them.
That’s okay. Luckily, I don’t feel the need to fit in like I used to. I can deal with disappointing a host because I won’t eat the drug they’re unknowingly pushing. I’m no longer as lonely as I used to be. I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m okay being the odd woman out and saying no to sugar.
Anything I can do so that I won’t develop a sugar addiction again.
I’m just glad I broke free from my sugar prison.