I celebrate my shared birthday with a friend every year. Since I was celebrating a big birthday, my friend wanted to make sure that our day was extra special. “Promise me you will eat a birthday cupcake with me this year,” she pleaded in her email, clearly remembering that I had passed on it last year. I know her intentions were innocent but as a person who helps people adopt healthy eating strategies for a living, I couldn’t help but wonder “why does she care what I eat?” Why is she thinking about it six weeks in advance of our date? Why do we need to eat something sweet to make the day special? And, how do I explain to her that it is not about calories or willpower but, rather, something far more distressing?
As a former self-proclaimed birthday cake freak, I took delight in all the important questions: Party Favors Bakery or Homemade Cake? Butter cream or fondant? Raspberry filling or mocha? As if it were a painting in a museum, I admired the craftsmanship and artistry in the cake’s intricate design. When the big day arrived, I pretended to care about the rest of the meal but all I could think about was that melt-in-your mouth pink flower. I would cut my piece carefully ensuring that the frosting-to-cake ratio is the right percentage and salivated as I anticipated the sweetness. When I took that first bite, it was as if crack cocaine had been injected into my bloodstream and taken me to a state of nirvana. After a few more bites my cake had mysteriously evaporated and unfortunately, right on schedule, my downward spiral would begin.
Yes, I am a sugar addict. Will it kill me? No. Has it made me overweight? No. Has it taken away from me having an amazing life? Absolutely not. Then what is the big deal you might ask? It is a HUGE deal for me and many of you, I suspect. Having paid attention to the consequences of this opiate seducing my body over the last 20 years, I can tell you that it affects me more than I had ever imagined. The more sugar I eat, the more I sugar want. The more of it I eat, the more anxious I get, the more angry I get, the more I let self-doubt and self-criticism creep in, the more I get PMS, and the more I think about ALL food all day long. In other words, I feel horrible and yet all I want to do is eat more, more, more! Then why on earth do I (or should I say “we”) eat it? Frankly, I think it is because it just tastes so damn good.
I have given up sugar completely numerous times. It takes about two weeks to get it out of my system and then a beautiful euphoria comes over me. I smile more. I glow. I easily pass on dessert not because it is something “that I can’t have” but because it is something “that I don’t want.” Getting through those two weeks is hell, and I have many failed attempts to get there, but when I succeed…ooh la la…I am one happy girl. BUT, then comes the proverbial “oops.” The gourmet chocolate on the hotel bed, the homemade ice cream on a hot summer day, or it is time for my birthday cake. Are you seeing where I am going with this?
I have experimented with the “one square of dark chocolate every day” approach and the “eat a special dessert once a week so you don’t feel deprived” approach, and the “artificial sweetener approach” and the “only eat unrefined sugar” approach but sadly most of those strategies don’t work for us sugar addicts. Sometimes “everything in moderation” just doesn’t apply. I know, it really sucks.
So, yes, sometimes you will see me indulging in dessert and sometimes you will see me taking a pass because the sugar is out of my system. If you do see me passing on dessert, please be happy for me. It will be not because I have superhero willpower or want to make you feel bad, but rather because I am choosing to indulge in life rather than in cake. And that, my friend, is what celebrating is all about.