Sugar (Oh, Honey, Honey)

You are my candyyyyy girl! And you’ve got me wanting you!

Right. Sorry. Now that song is stuck in your head, I’ll continue.

Being intelligent readers, you have probably properly surmised that this post is going to be about sugar. To the point, my relationship with the stuff. I’ve done quiet a few posts on my food philosophy, but I haven’t done one in a while.

For the past year, I’ve had a pretty decent and moderate relationship with sugar (and by proxy, white flour). By that I mean that I’ve cut down my consumption to one of super-dark chocolate and occasional gluten-free treats.

In December that changed. It started with a box of gluten-free cookies that I purchased because I went to the store so damn hungry. The irony of it all is that I was talking to my mom about how! good! I! felt! not eating sugar and eating primarily a Primal-ish diet. Well, half the box later I shoved it off onto J, who took it to work. Problem solved.

Except, not. Except Christmas. A vacation. New Years. Etc. More and more, little bits of sugar began to creep into my life. Until, for the past week, I’ve been in a loop of mini-binges and mini-fasts.

Not. Good. If there is a slippery slope in my life, it is that of my eating disorder. When I’m eating well, exercising moderately and being a productive person I don’t even think of myself as having an eating disorder. But when that one bite becomes two becomes secret cruisin’ to eat…well. Then I have a problem, again.

On a positive note, I haven’t had this problem in exactly a year. Last January was when I stopped the craziness and started moderating my carb, grain and sugar intake. It was an experimental year, and a largely successful one.

Over the past week (yes, the same binge/fast week) I’ve been trying to moderate my sugar by doing things I KNOW WON’T WORK. Exercise (specifically, cardio! That’s right! Get back into that cycle!). Fasting (but now we call it intermittent fasting.) And my favorite: moderation (just one…no two…no three…Fuck! Who ate all the Girl Scout cookies?)

Moderation may work for some people. It does. not. work. for. me.

This is when the rubber meets the road when it comes to change. I have to accept that who I am is a person who cannot eat sugar and flour. I just can’t. I can hardly even have the stuff in the house before I eat it. This has always been the case, even when it featured prominently into my ‘healthy whole-grains’ quasi-vegetarian diet.

But what makes change attainable? It’s tricky, that’s the only thing I know for sure. I used to have these grand ideals of purity and perfection (um, hello, eating disorder). Extreme idealistic positions intrigued me, veganism and evangelical Christianity being the most prominent examples. Juxtaposed to this was the way I lived my life as a failed perfectionist. Since I couldn’t–who could?–live up to these arbitrary perfect standards I set for myself, I would just accept my inevitable failure. Enter binge/purge cycles, shame/judgment complexes, etc.

This changed, drastically, when I left the church. I eschewed notions of purity and perfection as completely unworkable and unproductive. I embraced sensuality and pleasure, and found my place in the pagan spectrum of belief.

I eventually (last January) changed my diet to reflect my new sensual/pleasure paradigm: lots of good meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, dairy, fat and wine. Occasionally high-quality chocolate and desserts (but not often). I largely nixed refined sugar, flour and most grains. I cut the cardio, opting instead for walking, yoga, heavy-lifting and occasional sprinting.

Life was balanced. I became productive. My moods moderated. I didn’t binge. I became strong and healthy, more creative. Life seemed to open before me. Food and body-image issues took a backseat, for the first time, to life.

(Amazing what getting your nutrition in check can do, right?)

Since I’ve put myself back into this cycle, I’ve also begun veering back into the unworkable idealistic extremes that defined my late teens and early twenties. First, intermittent fasting was the answer! (No.) Then, a complete sugar detox! (It lasted two days–and everything got worse). Then, a sugar challenge! Five pounds of sugar, one year! (Siiiiighhhh).

So, here I sit, thinking about the ‘answer’ when really, it’s not hidden from me. It’s the answer I know. Meat, vegetables, full-fat dairy, limited fruit, dark chocolate, wine. Walking, heavy-lifting, sprinting, yoga. Good sleep, good books, writing, sewing, sunshine and sex.

A life of pleasure is my answer to not eating sugar. A life of decadence, indulgence and productivity. But my mind still goes to the grass is always greener line–well, those people can eat a cookie! I want a cookie!

Goddamn, what is so special about a fucking cookie when I enjoy all of the above? Without guilt, without thought? With much pleasure and satisfaction? When said cookie introduces bad moods, excess weight and binging back into my life?

I guess it’s the human condition. Rather, my condition. My child-brain wants what my adult-brain has restricted. Right now, I have to educate my child brain like I’d educate my child.

No. You cannot have a cookie.

Instead, go out and play. Write a story. Read a book.

And don’t be late for dinner!

Food Philosophy: Seasonality

So, we come to the end. Finally. I’ve felt it necessary to recite this story and conclude with my food philosophy, because food will be a major part of this blog. Like I said, I love it.

To be noted: I’m not set out to convince anyone to eat the way I do. A lot of Pagans think deeply about the food choices they make and come to very different conclusions than I. That’s great. Fodder for debate later, I’m sure.

You can read Origins, College and Pregnancy. Also, my Moon Card Musing ties in as well.

——–

I am not an expert. I’m not a nutritional biochemist or a molecular biologist. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietician, a cardiologist, an obesity researcher or a physician. Primarily, I’m a reader. I read. It’s what I do best.

After that night at Target I began to read. Slowly. First I picked up the South Beach Diet (SBD). It was on sale at our local used book store and though I wasn’t looking for a diet I had heard that his concept helped some fellow bloggers of mine. It was interesting–I’d characterize it as moderate-carb, moderate-protein, low-fat. I tried it, again, curious.

I noticed something interesting as I reduced my carbohydrate intake–specifically refined sugar and flour–that my cravings became less constant. If I partook in dessert, say during a party or something, cravings would come back. But even then I was able to resist them. It was encouraging, no doubt.

I began to think about where I had gotten derailed. For someone always so interested in food I had certainly taken to eating a lot of crap. Crap that I in no way condoned on an ethical, environmental level: processed snacks, desserts, fast-food. A binge is certainly an altered state of mind, not unlike being drunk, but eating that left me feeling gross on more than a physical level.

After reading South Beach and kind of trying it, but ultimately not agreeing with its condoning of processed food I rooted around for some information. Most of the nutritional research I had done had been geared toward vegan/vegetarian sources, so in my mind ‘healthy’ eating couldn’t include animals (though I did). Friends batted around titles like The China Study and Skinny Bitch. They cited environmental statistics (which annoyed me, being a Natural Resource Studies major…I know, I get it, and guess what? It’s not quiet right…so…that’s another post).

But it seemed to be a given that if I wanted to be healthy then I’d at least need to be a strict vegetarian/vegan, again, or even moving towards high-raw. However, on these diets I gained weight and still struggled with cravings/binges/mood problems. I never felt satisfied, and I just didn’t like the food.

One day while reading my usual blogs someone mentioned how reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes had changed her life. Mmm, I thought. Interesting title. So I bought it and gobbled it up. Then I purchased Good Calories, Bad Calories by the same author and Protein Power by Michael and Mary Dan Eades. I started to read blogs on the Paleo/low-carb diets. Diets that promoted high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb. I had, of course, heard of Atkins but had this image of a plate of double-bacon-double-cheeseburgers. As I read I found a paradigm of eating that really fit with what I liked and the positive effects I saw on SBD.

The low-carb/Paleo diets are varied in their details but mainly involve eating a variety of fats, animal protein, fresh veggies, fruits and (here they vary) dairy products. Ideally, all animal proteins and fats (including dairy) would come from pastured, organic animals. Carbohydrate allowances range widely depending on what your individual metabolism can handle; most carbs are composed of fruits and starchy vegetables like winter squash.

Finally all the threads of what I desired in a diet began to come together. As I began to eat that way my cravings really did vanish. I’m just not that interested in carby-sugary-fatty desserts. Even if I don’t lose another ounce being off that rollercoaster is worth it. Absolutely. My mind has more space for my daughter, my family, my spirituality, etc. It’s incredible.

To this baseline I’ve added my own values of seasonality. We eat differently during the winter than the summer. We eat differently during times of grief and times of joy. That’s appropriate. Food is social cohesion and it can serve to comfort us, to energize and fuel us, to pleasure us. In Pagan traditions it serves to ground us after a ritual; we offer it to our gods. We serve it to those around us and use it as a very primal bond. We prepare it, weaving in bits of magic and prayer. It’s sacred to us. As it should be.

I also take note of tradition. Traditional foods, foods grown and processed by hand, are something of value. They contain so much intention and love that I think that including them in a diet is almost necessary. I’m talking about a slice of bread from a loaf kneaded by hand, artisanal made chocolates, cheese and beers, home-made jams and preserves. To me those foods are worth their weight in gold. Consumed with prudence? Certainly. But works of art meant to be delighted in.

And, a note: do I eat ‘perfectly’ (what does that even mean?)? Well…I mean. No. There is no ‘perfect’. There’s what works for you. Do you feel good being vegan? Have energy? Good mood regulation? Good health? That’s great. Keep doing it. Do I make choices that I know aren’t the best–say, the piece of cake for my brother’s birthday I had this weekend? Yes, of course. What’s life without it? But with my history I probably have to keep a tighter reign than most on treats like that. For a long time I railed against that fact, but now I’ve accepted it (made easier now that I don’t crave it).

So there you go. My food philosophy: good food, real food, practical food. Yes, please!

Tarot: The Moon and Pleasure/Addiction

As I washed dishes after dinner tonight I began to think of the nature of pleasure. Mostly this was brought about because my husband and I had just finished a low-carb dinner: bison meatloaf, cauliflower, sautéed mushrooms. During the meal I thought about how we usually had meatloaf with creamy, rich mashed potatoes. Yum.

While I scrubbed I thought of those potatoes. Then I thought of pasta, cheesecake, cookies, scones. I thought of how I don’t do well with a lot of sugary carbs–I have the “I can’t stop at just one Reese’s cup” problem. People often decry low-carb diets for “cutting out an entire food group!” and exhort you to “eat carbs in moderation!”. They often remind me, too, of how pleasurable carbs are. “Remember cookies? Cakes? Frosting? Tarts? Pasta?”

Remember?! How could I forget?

As this warred back and forth in my mind, suddenly the image of the Moon card popped up in my mind.

I saw how her face was alight with moonbeams. The pleasure we feel when we (rightly) indulge ourselves, perhaps in a decadent dessert, perhaps in a spontaneous (or planned, as we parents know!) romp in the sheets with our lover/spouse. When we pamper ourselves after a long day of work. Or perhaps when we finally give in to doing nothing, just being sensual in our present experience.

But pleasure is so slippery, isn’t it? Too much and you’re not just drunk; you’re hung over. You’re not just in love; you’re obsessed. You’re not just moaning, “mmm!” while you eat lava cake; you have heart disease. It seems extreme, I know, but is it? What tempers pleasure but restraint, self-discipline? Those Puritan words I shy away from.

I don’t think pleasure should be demonized, but I do feel that it comes with a very real, very palpable (even when you’re indulging in them) dark(er) side. That’s what makes them pleasurable, right? That’s what makes us long and desire those experiences. Because we’re touching some…darker, perhaps? deeper? experience.

But the Moon card reminds us that though that slippery slope, though that brief detour thrills us–as it should, as we need from time to time–going too far can be full of perils. You can lose your way; you can start to take illusions for reality.

I know, all of this about a macronutrient, right? But I think it fits and fits well. I deny myself the pleasure of the everyday cookie because at some point it began to make me sick.  I felt awful. Now, instead of the everyday cookie (or five, or a dozen–no joke) I indulge in some food-related experience a week. Hey–I love food. It’s one of my passions. Telling me to get a manicure instead is just not going to cut it, ya know? But I make sure it’s special. I make sure I share it–usually an excellent wine and some spectacular cheese or gooey dessert, homemade.

It also means that I have to limit my carbs, and not just the cookies, because without limiting all of them then I’m not able to just eat a little dessert when the time is right. I go back to eating the whole fucking cake.

I’m grateful for this sink-side epiphany. Many times this week I’ve just wanted to give in! Eat the cookie! Cook the easier side dish! But I’m reminded that I must, must temper this desire. For my health, and for my future pleasures.