Over the last several days, several readers of the blog have written to ask me what I am abstaining from when I say I've given up sugar. This is a complex question.
Last November I began my giving up. I committed to no ice cream in my home. Ice cream is something I love and can eat unconsciously until there is no more, no matter how much there was to begin with. Although I've had ice cream twice since then, once at a birthday party and once at a baby shower, I've been able to let it go. And I'm glad I did that initial withdrawing.
But I found that I did not stop bingeing on sweets; it just changed form: cupcakes, chocolate bars, pastries from New Seasons with whipped cream, pudding, cookies and whipped cream, Dots, caramels, if it's here, I'd eat until I was sick. And what I really wanted was ice cream, of course.
Our culture is addicted to sweetness. In 2008, we were consuming an estimated 165 pounds of sugar per person. Per person! That means if you don't eat much, somebody's eating theirs and yours. Yikes. Most of this is due to the ubiquitous nature of sweeteners in our food: most processed foods of any kind contain sugar in one form or another. Salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce. Best Foods mayonnaise has high-fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient. It's everywhere and in nearly everything, unless you cook from scratch. And the more sweets we eat, the more we seem to want.
Many people who go off sugar refrain from eating all refined sugars and flours, no matter the quantity--these refined carbohydrates can create similar responses in the body. There's even a special Overeaters Anonymous sub-program for this group. However, it's very hard to stay abstinent on that plan.
When I stopped drinking in 1989, I became vigilant about alcohol: I didn't eat desserts or sauces that contained it or use mouthwash and tinctures. Since then I've eased up a little. I still don't do alcohol in food or use Listerine and I make sure I get a kid's alcohol-free cough syrup, but I do take some herbal tinctures, a few drops in a full glass of water. It hasn't set off any cravings.
So, in this next phase of giving up, I'm choosing to let go of the obvious sugar treats, what I call "intentional sugar": anything that can be construed as a dessert, a sweet treat, a sugar fix. That includes cake and cupcakes, ice cream and sorbets, pie and pastries, doughnuts and candy, muffins and maple bars. These are all foods I have used to sedate myself. And I'm clearing my cupboard of items with corn syrup or other fructose ingredients. I think the stuff is evil.
Down the road, I may need to let go of less obvious food stuffs with small amounts of sugar if my cravings don't subside. But for now, one step at a time.