I didn’t, in fact, realize that people talked about giving up sugar in this way until I got sober (from drugs and alcohol, I guess I need to clarify here). Yes, I’ve been all too aware of the fact that sugar is addictive. I’ve read the stories; I’ve seen the facts. I knew about the food programs. I still didn’t know that this was a thing people counted days on and talked about like it’s as dangerous as juggling with knives.
I, like many of my generation, watched Saturday morning cartoons with bowls of Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and Corn Pops in my lap, shoveling the delicious, sugary bits of heaven doused in milk into my mouth, thinking that I was having a perfectly healthy breakfast. (I didn’t, of course, think that way then; this was during the era when I graded my days in my journal and any day where I got to go to McDonald’s got an automatic A+.) Still, I certainly didn’t know I was nurturing an addiction.
But then tragedy struck the David abode. I innocently went away to camp when I was eight and came home to learn that my parents had read a horrible, dangerous book during my absence—something written by a sadist named Pritikin. These parents of mine lapped up everything this evil man put out there and my brother and I were hapless victims. Gone were the Milano cookies and M&M’s that had once filled our cupboard. Our snack cupboard, in fact, was mostly bare, save some carob chips that even in my most desperate state I couldn’t bring myself to snack on. Meat had pretty much been excised as well but that’s a separate topic altogether. I remember whole wheat pasta being the tastiest dinner option—mostly, I recall, we survived on meals that tasted like cooked twigs; I’m still not sure what those foods originally were.
I tried to talk sense into my parents—to no avail. They were used to my nagging (my first sentence, if family lore can be trusted—and though it often cannot, I believe this one—was “It’s not fair”). By this point, they were immune to my complaints. I remember going on walks around the neighborhood with my mom in the evenings, smelling BBQs and doing my best to convince my mom that she and my dad had clearly lost it. She was always bemused, never remotely willing to succumb to my guilt trips.
While the David Pritikin phase turned out to be blessedly ephemeral, it feels like it lasted several decades. And since, like many people, I was once on a never-ending quest to blame my parents for everything, I justified the terrible food I ingested as an adult as a rebellion against that Pritikin period during my formative years. In college, I returned, in fact, to Lucky Charms and Corn Pops as a reasonable breakfast; I remember my roommates and I justifying this because they were fat free (are they? Or did we make that up?)
And so my predilection for sugar continued.
When you quit drinking, people (gentle, wise people) will often tell you that because alcohol has so much sugar in it, it’s okay for you to continue to consume it without feeling guilty. It’s even in the literature! Though I was far more of a cocaine user and pill taker than I was a drinker, I latched onto this justification with relish (or actually candy). When I quit smoking roughly nine months after getting sober, I had even more justification; where else would I get my oral fixation satisfied? Yes, I know the joke here but come on, people, we’re better than that, aren’t we?
And so my predilection for sugar continued.
But this other thing happens when you’ve been sober a while, particularly if you live in LA. The people around you start a) believing they’re addicted to everything (My Strange Addiction didn’t help this) and b) improving their lives in as many external ways as possible. I can’t claim to not be on this train myself; in addition to quitting smoking, I upped the exercise to a potentially addictive degree and broke the nasty caffeine addiction. Recently healthy habits I hadn’t even considered have been popping up, including a lot of healthier eating, Pritikin trauma be damned.
Yet I steadfastly cling to the sugar, despite the fact that I once threatened a friend I’d have to leave her dinner party if she didn’t bring out the dessert soon, despite my knowledge that I’m addicted to it. At least part of my reticence has to do with fear around the detox. I’ve seen people quit it and go into deep depressions. Who needs that? Isn’t life already hard? Haven’t we given up enough?
Apparently not. And those who are sober from sugar never tire of telling you as much. Oh and rest assured they’re not talking just about cookies and cake; they will gossip about people who claim to be sober from sugar but actually eat fruit. Which leads to my main question here: why are people who are off sugar so self-righteous?
I’ve had people lecture me at length about how I’m killing myself with my continual use of this white powder. These people often go on tirades about flour as well but it’s the sugar thing that really gets them going. I’ve listened to a shrink I had on the podcast call those who dole sugar out to themselves regularly but are able to do it in moderation tell me that these people (i.e., me) are “non practicing bulimics.” I’ve felt trapped in shame-inducing sugar quitting conversations where I’ve been able to do nothing but nod and brainstorm ways to get away. I’ve watched people’s faces get red and heard their voices raise as they railed against addicts of my kind.
The most interesting aspect of this, to me, is that these have pretty much all been sober people (sober from drugs and alcohol, I guess I need to again clarify here). This is to say that these have all been people who I know are non judgmental about the drinking and drugging habits of their fellows. One of the most common misconceptions non sober people have is that we’re all sitting around with our mental dossiers compiling judgments about people who drink and thinking they need to put down all chemicals too. Yet most all sober people I know feel that those who can drink or do drugs responsibly by all means should. Even in the face of a clear alcoholic, most do their best to not ever let the person feel judged because they know that this would be the last thing that would motivate them to change.
So why, then, is the attitude the opposite for those self-righteous sugar sober people? My friend once (half) joked that these sober people are like this because they don’t have that soothing white powder to temper their rage. This was before she casually (and semi infuriatingly) gave up sugar herself. Despite the fact that she was an enthusiastic sugar addict and seemed to have no trouble making this transition, I’m happy to report that she doesn’t lecture me at all about this, though this could be because she and I have regularly complained to each other about these folks.
So this is what I have to say to you people who are off sugar: I’m eating, as I type, a dark chocolate covered acai berry—that’s right, a super food! It is delicious. And look, if it turns out that this is leading me down the devil’s path, I’ll discover that in my time.