Hell On Earth: Quitting Cigarettes, Caffeine and Sugar All At Once
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Yes, I Decided to Quit Cigarettes, Caffeine and Sugar All At Once



This post was originally published on August 30, 2016.

Recently I did the stupidest thing in the world—I tried to quit cigarettes (again), sugar and caffeine all at the same time. I should add that I went off this stuff cold turkey while also tapering off an SSRI antidepressant that I’ve been on for 12 straight years. Calling this decision dumb is a drastic understatement. Asinine might be more apropos, but that still probably doesn’t do it justice.

Quitting cigarettes, of course, is a definite must-do for anyone with half a brain, so I don’t need to explain why they had to go. But the reason I chose to quit sugar is because my cravings for sweets got a bit out of control two weeks ago during yet another rocky PMS spell. I woke up at 2 am with an insane craving for sugar one night, and since I rarely keep sweets in the house, I checked to see what my roommate had in the freezer. She often stashes a pint of this salted caramel Talenti gelato that I can’t help but dig into from time to time. (Don’t worry—I replace everything I steal. It’s more like borrowing.)

But one bite of that stuff set the craving in motion. I scarfed down the whole thing, including the mound of dark chocolate covered soft caramels they bury at the bottom of the pint. The next day when I was jonesing for another hit, I didn’t want to dive into the replacement pint of gelato that I had just put in the freezer (that would just be too rude). Unfortunately, after checking the fridge to see what random foods might be suitable to turn into a dessert (sometimes I have some Hershey’s chocolate syrup poured over a few berries to satiate the sweet tooth), I discovered a box of chocolate-coated doughnuts on the lower shelf. These were my roommate’s doughnuts, of course, but they called to me and I couldn’t resist. Thankfully, Julia laughed the next day and said “Just replace them when you can.”

Later that night, I drove all the way down to Good Time Doughnuts—one of my all-time favorite shops in LA—to replace them. Even though it’s located in a sketchy neighborhood, that’s never ever stopped me from visiting the place—even at 2 am. Unfortunately, they were out of any doughnuts worth purchasing, including the chocolate covered cake doughnuts that I had to buy for Julia. All they had was cinnamon rolls and an un-glazed old-fashioned or two. I drove around for an entire hour trying to find a doughnut shop that was open, since I had decided that I absolutely had to eat at least three fresh doughnuts within a span of ten minutes. I drove and drove throughout LA wasting gas, trying all the doughnut shops I knew of. But since it was well past 10 pm, they were all closed.

Just stop off at Vons or something and get some packaged shit! I thought. But like an addict determined to get their next hit, I just had to get the fresh stuff.

Finally I found a spot that was not only open but also had an impressive display of offerings: both maple and glazed buttermilk bars, glazed twists, rainbow sprinkles and chocolate covered cake doughnuts.

After stuffing my face with a buttermilk bar, glazed twist and a maple bar—all of them large—I became a bit unnerved by my obsession with getting my sugar fix. At that point, I had stolen my roommate’s food and was willing to drive around for an hour to find replacement doughnuts and a fix for myself. I decided it was time to quit the stuff cold turkey, hoping that the cravings would disappear—just as the cravings for booze disappeared when I stopped drinking.

I had very little trouble letting it go. I stocked up on berries and stone fruit and berries, both sweet and in season. Having researched the effects of refined sugar on blood sugar levels, I learned that the sugar found in fruit can’t even compare to the white refined stuff which sends your blood sugar on a disastrous roller coaster, leading to foul moods, fatigue—and of course—more cravings for sugar.

But in my research, I also learned about another substance that jacks up our blood sugar: caffeine.


With all the addictions I’ve had—cigarettes, booze, sugar, romance (at times) and even spending—nothing has me by the balls as much as caffeine. But I really did want to quit sugar, and since Google strongly suggested cutting out the caffeine to curb sugar cravings, I decided that very day to just get off the stuff cold turkey.

Three years ago, I managed to quit caffeine for a whole three months until my boss complained that I “seemed distracted” when, as a pastry chef, I fucked up an entire high-volume batch of brownies, ultimately throwing a $100 box of gourmet chocolates into the trash. (This doesn’t exactly win you brownie points, pun intended, in professional kitchens.) The withdrawals weren’t too bad back then, so I figured cutting caffeine this time would be somewhat bearable as long as I had a full bottle of ibuprofen near me for the headaches.

Unfortunately, the symptoms from going off of sugar, caffeine and weaning off my antidepressants threw me on my ass for a solid three days. I not only couldn’t stay awake for longer than an hour a day, I also suffered nausea, flu-like symptoms and a complete inability to formulate coherent thoughts. I wanted to tough it out, but by the fourth morning I was filled with so much rage at absolutely nothing that I slammed my door with the force I would have if a boyfriend had cheated on me, and then burst into tears. When I sheepishly tried to explain the sonic boom to Julia, she said “You are insane to quit all of that at once! Go drink some coffee!”

Since my mood was so out of control, I decided to heed her advice.

It took about five minutes for both the rage and incapacitating exhaustion to lift and for me to decide to just cut back a bit, with the intention of quitting altogether in a few months or so. I also decided to eat a bit of refined sugar, but only on a stomach full of protein from an actual meal. In my research about how to balance blood sugar levels, I learned that when you eat sugar on an empty stomach, like alcohol, it will have a much harsher effect on your system. This also helps to keep the cravings at bay.

At least I learned something from the whole mess, even though I essentially wasted three days of my life in a state of total zombie-ness. I’m an addict who does almost everything to extremes. So if my goal is to be the healthiest version of myself, maybe a more gentle approach will give me better results. Needless to say, I won’t go to these extremes again.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.