Sugar Free: Day One

So, hey guys.

I wasn't going to say anything about this because I didn't really think it was worth talking about. But then I was cleaning up my kitchen from making dinner for myself for the first time in I don't even know how long and the leftover Halloween candy was staring at me, mocking me, and then I started to have some more thoughts about that, and some more thoughts about what it is I'm actually doing, and then a half hour later my kitchen was very clean and I really, really wanted to have just one little bit of the candy, and then I rationalized dark chocolate would be fine, and then I realized, shit. I should probably talk about this.

Today is the first day of a 28-day no sugar challenge. Holly and I decided to do it a couple months ago, based on the book The 28-Day Kick The Sugar Challenge by our friend, Sarah Roberts.  Sarah is someone we've come to know in the sobriety world and as a way to talk about her book and promote her work we thought we'd do this. Holly's done this kind of shit before. I have not. 

Except that I have.

I once gave up sugar, fat, protein, fruit, vegetables with any calories, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, too much water, diet soda, regular soda, anything that wasn't cabbage soup designed to make you shit your body weight out, and even sugar-free gum. I also gave up too much toothpaste and, well, eating. What little I ate I compensated for by running multiple times a day and wearing clothes that made me sweat more and drinking Bacardi Limon and Diet Coke until I threw it all up. 

Me on the right, age 17. 1995.

Me on the right, age 17. 1995.

I did this from the ages of 17-19, until I went to college, 112 pounds, numb and terrified. Then, seemingly slowly, the rubber band that had held my appetite so tight started to wear thin. It had contained as much of me as it could until it couldn't anymore and it snapped, bit by bit, over the course of my freshman year. It was like I'd never tasted food before, like I'd been hungry for 600 years, and despite my continued efforts to keep my steely self-control in tact, it started to crumble. I devoured bowl after bowl of sugary cereal from the cafeteria at school. I joined all my friends in their late night, drunken pizza and breadstick binges. I ate half-thawed frozen burritos in my dorm room bed--one bite burned my tongue and the next was a popsicle of refried beans--and then threw them up all over my roommate's bunk below (true story). I made rules and broke them. If I was going to drink, no eating. If I was going to eat, no drinking. If I was going to eat and drink, I had to be sure to throw it up. If I ate and drank too much the night before, no food until 5pm the next day. And so on. I tried so fucking hard to get back whatever allowed me to stay away from eating and I never could. I'd make it one day, two days, maybe three, and then I'd crash. I would hate myself. I would cry into the toilet when I couldn't force myself to puke. I stared longingly at the pictures of my skinnier self and wrote letter after letter in my diary begging for help. I made charts and goals and food diaries and I pasted motivational pictures of my skinnier self onto my walls. I dreaded going out. I never hooked up with anyone. I railed against my body and I just knew none of the guys would flirt with me like they flirted with the other girls unless I could get smaller again. I cried a lot.

From my journal, 1998. "That I won't be able to change. That I'll be stuck in this body forever."

From my journal, 1998. "That I won't be able to change. That I'll be stuck in this body forever."

People made comments and I knew they knew but I pretended it wasn't happening. It wasn't the Freshman 15. It was my disgusting, embarrassing body, and I hated it.

This game went on for the next ten years or more. I'd go up and down, but never down enough. I never dropped below 150 but for a few fleeting moments and I never, not for a single moment, forgot about my body. None of my moments were free; everything was an escape into or out of remembering how much I weighed, how uncomfortable I was in my skin. The few moments when I was able to wrangle enough of my heartbreak to narrow down to a size 8 my senior year of college were the only time I remember feeling good. That was after I had an abortion. I was too struck with anger and too sad to eat. I noted that this was a good strategy: heartache. But even that didn't last long enough.

Boston, 2000.

Boston, 2000.

I made more rules and I tried everything I could and every single diary entry during that time was about food. I moved to Boston and my roommate and I designed our own weight loss program where we restricted calories 6 days a week and gave ourselves one free cheat day on the 7th day. She lost weight; I didn't. I couldn't stay with it, I wanted to drink: it was the only time I felt good. I hated her for being able to pull it off and I hated myself more for failing. Every picture I see from those years pulls at my heart because I know exactly how sad I was behind my smiling eyes.


Sometime around the end of my 20's, I got tired. I got so, so very tired of carrying that monkey on my back. I want to say something like, "I got happy and then I lost weight" but that wouldn't be entirely true. It was a messier equation. I got sick of thinking about it. Beyond sick of it. I lost a little weight somehow. Perhaps just by chance. Perhaps it was a special combo of drinking, drugs, running marathons and eating less. I met the boy who would become my husband and I got motivated and high on love. I lost more weight. I drank a lot more, too. Either way, I stopped thinking about it all the damn time.

We got married. I found yoga. I got pregnant. I had a baby and had so much post-partum anxiety and depression that I lost an astonishing amount of weight in a short time. I started noticing I couldn't eat, that I had to force myself to do it. I got scared. I still drank. I got on medication for the anxiety and it kind of worked. I still drank. I gained back a small amount of the weight, but not much. 

I'd also like to say I just dropped the obsession with food, but it was more like the drinking trumped the obsession. As my drinking increased, food became less of a priority. I really just didn't care that much about it anymore. My body and brain revved and the weight stayed off. I pushed it to its limits, as I always had, with running and yoga and spinning and anything else that burned off the hangovers and kept me out of my head. Some of these things looked healthy. Most of them were not. 

Somewhere between meeting my future husband, having a baby, and discovering yoga, I stopped making rules for myself about eating. I started to connect to my body, even as I abused it with alcohol and drugs and over-exercising. I didn't stop fighting with myself, but I stopped fighting my body, and in return, it became the size and shape it was meant to be: somewhere between 135 and 140 lbs. I felt what it was like to drop that monkey and I never, ever wanted to pick it up again.

A few times over those years (particularly if I was worried about my drinking) I would try a diet or a new way of eating: Paleo, low-carb, no sugar and my brain would immediately revolt in panic. I couldn't make rules. No more rules. Not ever again. I simply couldn't make myself do it again, and more importantly, I didn't want to.


Then, after I got separated from my husband, I went about getting sober.

I remember one night in the first stretch of actually trying to stop drinking, I found myself compelled to go back to the freezer over and over again for ice cream and frozen Haribo gummy bears. I texted a friend and told her I was possessed, and she laughed.

"Oh, it's a real thing," she said.

"What do you mean?" 

"The sugar. When you quit drinking. It's a thing."

Huh.

I didn't even try to back up the train. I was totally fine scarfing entire bags of Haribo sour gummies on the train ride home from work and then having ice cream for dinner if that kept me away from drinking. I reasoned I was focusing on my vices in the order in which they would kill me, and it was true. I did not give a fuck about what I ate because I needed to stop drinking to save my life. And it worked. The sugar really, really helped. I coveted my ice cream (and it doesn't help that I live above an ice cream shoppe). When I read about people like Gabby Bernstein and others quitting sugar I rolled my eyes hard. Who cares, I said. I'll deal with that later. If I want to. Probably not.

And that was fine. I didn't need to care about any of that then. But in the past six months or so I've started to notice just how much I rely on the sugar. I don't beat myself up about it, but I can see it. And I noticed other things too. The headaches (migraines). Puffy eyes. Irritability. Weird skin stuff. Intense, intense cravings, and then the huge wave of relief once I have it. But the biggest thing I've noticed is my energy. I fight being tired all the time. I have a lot to be awake for, and I constantly think about the next time I can crawl into bed. It's not the empty pull of depression (I know that one); it's the feeling of running on bad fuel and fumes.

So I agreed to do this thing. I want it to not be a thing. I hope it comes easier than I expect, and I hope my mind doesn't spin into old patterns and self-beating. It's not a big deal, right? Right. I let go of alcohol, I can definitely let go of sugar for a few days. 

We'll see.

I plan to try it fully. I don't want to obsess about anything anymore, particularly if it's bad for my body and my brain. So I'm looking at it as a kindness experiment. 

Day 1. Almost done.

I'll keep you posted.


Laura McKowen

Laura McKowen, PO Box 315 , Swampscott, MA, 01907