On January 4th of this year, I made what felt like the impulsive decision to move all my spotlights, under the umbrella of living a long, healthy, active life, onto physical and mental health, focusing on fat loss, muscle building, nutrition, sleep quality and mindfulness. Many of my planned posts for this year will detail my (ugh) fitness journey. I know that sounds dreadful if you’re only reading what I write for amusement and eloquently positioned swear words. But I promise to try to make you laugh and think instead of just reading how much weight I’ve lost or gained. I do know that no one is interested in my subcutaneous vs. visceral fat percentages. And if it seems like either you or I start finding all this esoteric and dry, I’ll get back to the funnies. I’m not doing this just to feed my content creation or to find appropriate brand sponsors.
I started this process by downloading a popular food tracking and psychology app and committing to recording each meal and weighing in each day. In the past, I tried The Four Hour Body plan, eating lots of protein, cruciferous veggies and beans with each meal. I shattered my body with 2 hour, early morning workouts. I cut all sorts of foods and ingredients from my diet while adding other ones in. It was all somewhat extreme, which is how I tend to do things. From that first stretch of long workouts and painfully planned meals, I managed to get from all 222 lbs of baby weight I was carrying down to my almost-high-school weight of 180, a number still classified as obese for my height. The power and impact that that word imputes is all negative and often heard with a lilt of judgement and slur. Chubby and obese may mean the same thing but clinical as it is, the latter hurts to hear in just about every way. Luckily, after trying and no longer trying, I’ve never managed to get back up to that personal high again. But I’ve come close. It’s pretty easy, if you’re not paying attention. But seeing as a third of all adults in Canada are considered clinically obese, up from 1 in 4 adults less than a decade prior, it’s obvious that attention isn’t the lone deficit leading to this deadly statistic.
I don’t know the entire story. I’m still just learning my own.
My Not-So-Secret Addiction
While I made the choice to stop consuming alcohol several years ago, I realized that I had been overlooking a very powerful addiction.
My name is Dad Rock, and I’m a sugar addict.
Despite that lame name joke, I’m quite serious. I do not have a balanced relationship with sugar. I either consume no sugar or all the sugar. Had my alcohol use mirrored my sugar consumption, there’s no doubt that I would’ve been the honoured guest at a few interventions.
I heard Elton John describe a behaviour of his former cocaine addiction and it mirrored my own with sugar. He said that if, in the ragged rage of a cocaine comedown, he thought that there was a single baggie with a bit of coke residue somewhere in his house, he’d have to find it and do it because he couldn’t end the party if he thought that some of it, no matter how small, remained somewhere. I have had this same mindfuck slowly build with sugar. My sugar cravings seem to know no limits, even defying sickness.
Here’s my worst habit, the last time I took the leash off. My office, when I worked in one, always had a seemingly endless assortment of sweet treats, and I mean the primo shit – Costco sized containers of Peanut M&Ms, chocolate covered almonds and raisins, ice cream bars, potato and tortilla chips, crackers, cheese, a serious selection. Following a usually healthy lunch, I would scoop a small ramekin of M&Ms or almonds (often both) and would slowly munch through this half cup. When I was done, I would say I was satiated. However, that gnawing voice in my head kept telling me to get another half-cup, over and over. I’d usually break down and get another. This one would send me into a near-diabetic episode where my heart raced and I felt at least somewhat nauseous. I would try to feel better by chugging water for the rest of the day but I’d never feel great by the time I left for the day. I’d probably arrive home, out of sorts, barking and nervy. Dinner time would approach and I’d either feel like crap and skip dinner (usually to be ravenous by 10pm, when I’d eat a handful of crackers or something equally devoid of nutrition) or I would pile down some dinner that not only was I not the least bit interested in, it would generally make me feel worse. I would feel awful physically, but possibly more, I felt awful emotionally. I felt out of control, ignorant and willfully committing self-harm. I would look in the mirror after a shower and not like the habits of the person reflected back. I saw a body that I didn’t want to show in public. A body that made me angry and was beyond acceptance. But I realized that something needed to change and the primary wall obstructing my overall health was the white devil and his cabal of artificial sweeteners, once again.
In many ways, the amount of added sugar the average Canadian consumes isn’t necessarily the average Canadian’s fault. A glance at an official sugar council’s facts, like any other organization’s facts will use a bit of fog and yes-butting. A 2015 study concluded that of the roughly 105 grams of sugar that Canadians consume each day accounts for 21% of their total daily calories. While 31% of this sugar comes from vegetables and fruit, a higher percentage―35%―comes from “other” foods. Beverages are among the top sources of sugar. The 2016 documentary, Sugar Coated was my first introduction to the truth about sugar, not just how harmful ‘abuse’ can be but that a powerful lobby was behind the suppression of these scientific truths.
Where your personal beliefs land on the topic, I’ll relay my experiences to explain the biggest reason why I believe that the addiction to sugar is very real. And serious.
I have ‘given up’ sugar a number of times. Each time (except this last time post cookie season, for some strange reason), I experienced powerful reactions to going cold turkey. The first time, feeling perfectly fine the day before, by the afternoon of my first day (when I would typically have my first dose of the day) I felt a very strong headache come on. I ate a couple ibuprofen but nothing helped to diminish the pounding in my head. The headache was strong enough that I started feeling nauseous. Even the next day, after a long sleep, there was still a trace of a headache. The next time I went cold turkey, again, after the time of day I would typically get a sugar hit, I started feeling sluggish and foggy. Shortly after this awareness, my back muscles started cramping. I felt feverish and my neck and back started aching. I began feeling nauseous. Again, I ate a couple of ibuprofen and started chugging water but the painkillers didn’t work. I went home that night, ate a light dinner and went to bed. I woke up with a slight headache. The third time, I was aware that I would feel some discomfort from a quick cut off from sugar so I made sure to eat well that day and not weigh my digestion down with anything too heavy. I also drank copious amounts of water throughout the day. Again, during that afternoon indulgence time, I started to feel achy. I rode it out. Upon getting home, I got a sudden headache that pulsed extremely hard in my temples. I went to get some painkillers but a wave of dizziness actually made me fall to my knees and lean against a wall as the headache pounded and nausea built to the point that I thought I was going to vomit.
Call it three coincidences, if you want. I call it a personal experience with withdrawal and my body’s reaction to the sudden halt of a substance on which it became dependent.
Sugar is an extremely difficult substance to avoid. Unlike Elton John’s 1970s home, mine has no cocaine in it. However, it has plenty of sugar (less these days) and I wouldn’t even say that we are huge sugar consumers. If I wake up in the middle of the night and want to get a fix, it’s pretty damn easy to find it, without even getting dressed. I’m sure that Elton John had several names and numbers in his drug Rolodex to get a fat bag dropped off within the hour but even then he would’ve had to wait. We all can scrape up a few quick doses of sugar, whether it’s opening a bag of crap or taking the long road and opening a cookbook. And if neither of those are of interest, there are plenty of 24 hour stores that will sell you as much sugar as you want. Literally, you can go into an all-night pharmacy and they will sell you all the bags of sugar or bags of candy they have in stock, enough to kill a human being, without a question. For your edification, the LD50 (the amount of an ingested substance that kills 50 percent of test subjects) of sugar in rats is 13.5 grams per pound, which translates to around one pound of sugar for a 200 pound human (or maybe less or more, lethality of sugar is possibly greater in rats). Processed foods we would never classify as being sweet, like cripsy corn and potato shapes covered in colourful flavour dust, contain not just bad fats, additives and dyes but sugar. Just not as much as a chocolate or granola bar (generally somewhere in the 30g range) or especially a non-diet soft drink (some have a whopping 50g of sugar in a can). Even artificial sweeteners that are calorie-free aren’t that much different. Studies have shown results that suggest that artificial sweeteners may potentially have some of the same negative effects on insulin and weight as sugar does. There are doctors who even claim that sugars found in fruits and vegetables should be avoided. I would sooner eat my shoe than stop eating a daily apple or some berries to ‘spoil’ myself, but a lot of science shows that our bodies just don’t handle anything sweet well. Of course, along with eating a piece of raw fruit we’re getting important fibres and nutrients that aren’t found in any artificial sweet treat, but the differences between a glass of orange juice and a glass of orange soda are closer than you think.
So, before you decide to drive to the store to pick up a lethal amount of sugar because, why the hell should we bother doing anything healthy when the cards are stacked so high against us?, remember that everything should be taken in moderation, including moderation. Have I avoided all refined sugar for the last 2 months? Hell, no. I’ve had doughnuts, cookies, chocolate and ice cream while on this (barf) ‘fitness journey’. The difference is that I have indulged in a quarter or maybe even half of a doughnut, a single cookie, one or maybe two squares of (dark) chocolate and ONE big spoonful of ice cream. I know that my desires for sweet treats are carnal. I know that a bag of cookies is gonna make me sick before I actually feel my sweet teeth satiated. I know that four Krispy Kreme donuts are going to go down as easily as one. I know that I can pretty much eat a lethal dose of milk chocolate, especially if it contains nuts.
The frequently used word above is know. Know thyself is how thoughtful sayings start. For the last pair of months, that’s been the greatest reveal; learning more about myself, tearing down old limits of what I can tolerate, changing my perceptions of what is important to me and working through a glut of information, much of it with some kind of bias (whether it’s a food council or a doctor with books for sale), to make a plan that fits me and my lifestyle and that doesn’t totally disrupt my family. As you can imagine, my kids aren’t interested in what I’ve learned about caloric density, the psychology behind why we eat what we eat or how great a 24 hour fast, a hard, quick workout, a half hour of yoga and a cold shower makes you feel.
Maybe you, good reader, isn’t interested either. But, give me a chance to show you how many funnies and swears I can add to my fitness journey (ARGH!!!).