Poisons & Plan B

I’ve long noticed that everybody has their poison, their thing that will kill them if they don’t keep it in check – be it alcohol, nicotine, drugs or food.  I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t – except, curiously, my father.  He gave up smoking 40 a day the first time of trying, cold turkey.  I’ve rarely seen him drink, the idea of him on drugs is like Donald Trump doing Modern Dance and he was an astonishingly healthy eater way before there was such a thing.

I was born in 1964 and throughout my childhood we were not allowed fizzy drinks, chips, white bread or sugar.  WTF?  I grew up in the UK into the 1970s.  Those things were the national diet!  Believe me, I felt it keenly.  Occasionally when he was absent, my mother would bring a sliced white loaf home and we five children would each squirrel away a few slices.  I used to hide mine under my pillow and steal mouthfuls of bliss over the next couple of days.  The only exception to the no-junk rule were birthdays, Easter and Christmas;   and I looked forward far more to the opening of the solitary tin of Quality Street than to my present.  To this day, Christmas to me is a tin of Quality Street.

It might or might not be that being forbidden these foods is the reason why all his children have become overeaters;  except for me, who didn’t struggle with my weight – until now that is.

It is almost certainly the reason that I have never had a filling;  but I don’t think the consolation of never having had a filling is sufficient prize to make up for a childhood devoid of  pleasure.

My Dad would always keep a packet of digestive biscuits in the cupboard and we knew never, ever to touch them.  For his birthday, we were allowed to buy him a bar of dark chocolate, which it would take him a fortnight or so to consume in disinterested squares.

A few years ago I commented in passing that he didn’t have a sweet tooth.  He erupted, not with anger but with feeling.  He had a terrible sweet tooth.  That’s why he never touched sugar, except to allow himself 2 digestive biscuits every day;   and what’s more, he savoured every square of that delicious dark chocolate to make it last as long as possible.  He didn’t start with the sugar because he knew if he did, he’d never stop.

So it turns out that even my father has his poison.

My mother was a huge overeater, and consequently obese, though not morbidly.  She was on a permanent diet but never lost a pound.  She would deprive herself and then binge.  Sound familiar?  She was addicted particularly to sugar, and consistent with her genetic inheritance (her family is riddled with Type 2 Diabetes) she developed the T2D that killed her at the age of 64.  She didn’t really drink and she never smoked a cigarette in her life.  Her poison was food.

My eldest brother was killed by his alcoholism.  He was quite ludicrously beloved by the Gods, 6.2″ tall with blue-grey eyes and sunkissed blonde hair.  He fufilled his ambition of being a navy pilot (he flew jets off aircraft carriers) by coming top of his intake at training college in 3 out of 4 areas, and so at his passing out was invited to sit at the top table with Princess Anne.  He was married to a beautiful solicitor.  And then he began drinking.  Fifteen years later he died alone, single, unemployed in a council flat and it was a few weeks before anyone realised.  Alcohol was his poison.

It broke my heart in a way that it will never unbreak, and I have been teetotal ever since.  If I’m being honest though, I was never a big drinker and it was no particular hardship to walk away from alcohol.  That was not my poison.

Despite being a student in Manchester from 1984 – 1987 (UK readers will remember that as Madchester, which makes what I’m about to say all the more astonishing) I never touched drugs.  I had absolutely no interest in them, not then, not now, not never.  I moved in the same circles as people whose names you’d know and drugs were all around me.  I was offered them continually and continually refused them.  I just didn’t want to know.   Drugs were simply not my poison either.

And yet from a very young age, I fell in love with nicotine and – except for when I was pregnant – smoked heavily and continuously.  I’ll be honest.  I loved smoking.  I loved every mouthful of every cigarette.  Never was a cigarette smoked unloved.  I loved the ritual, the taste, the sensation, the action.  But, recognising that I’d had a good run with my beloved tobacco but it couldn’t last for ever, I gave up cigarettes for an ecigarette 3 years ago with minimal discomfort and actually came to prefer it.  It was, it turned out, not the delivery vehicle that was important to me;  I didn’t care how I got my nicotine, so long as I got it.  Nicotine was my poison.

However, when I injured my jaw joint and trigeminal nerve last year, taking in nicotine caused the nerve to jolt and send my scalp and facial muscles into spasm;  which was both painful and frightening.  It was as if someone had applied a very powerful hoover to my head and was trying to suck my face off.  Under the circumstances, giving up nicotine was not so hard.

I am now realising though that while nicotine was my poison of choice, I always had a back up plan, a Plan B.  Another available poison.  Another way to kill myself.

Food.

 

To sweeten or not to sweeten

This is such a huge issue.

Sometimes I think, ‘It’d be easier to give up sugar altogether’, so I resolve to do that.  And I mean it.  And I last a week and I’m proud and I’m going strong and then I’m out shopping and I’ve bought and am eating a block of Dairy Milk.

Recently there’s been a brigade claiming you can cut sugar out of your life without actually giving up sweet things.  What they actually mean is you quit processed white sugar and fructose.

Fructose cannot be processed by the body except by the liver, and what happens to it there is not good.

According to Giuila Enders’s great book ‘Gut’, a third of Germans are fructose intolerant. Did you even know that fructose intolerance was a thing?

Of course, fructose is found naturally in fruit but not many would suggest you quit fruit altogether. Just be aware that the fruits on offer today have been bred to be bigger, juicier and sweeter than our ancestors would have known. Crab apple anybody? Also, fruit is available to us all year round now – and that is a very recent and unnatural development.

So. You’ve quit sugar and replaced it with any number of ‘natural’ sweeteners – Agave, Stevia, Date Syrup, Maple Syrup.  And you’re offered an array of tempting recipes in which to use them and told these treats are healthy.

Agave syrup was the darling of the natural sweetener world for a few years there – until it was realised it was high in fructose.  How embarrassing for all those healthy cookbooks claiming you could use it freely without repercussions.

Hmmmmmmm.

It may be that some sugars are less damaging than others.  Some do contain less fructose  than others.  Some are less processed than others. However, they are all sweeteners and no matter which way you look at it they will not do your body any good.  And if you’re me, once you’ve started on something sweet and sticky it’\s very hard to stop, no matter how natural the sweetener.

There does seem to be an innate human desire for sugar.  If you don’t believe me, just look at this photo, taken 250ft above ground:

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The honey hunters of Nepal may be the most famous (and the most fearless) but you’ll find similar trials being endured to secure sweetness around the world.

Humans love sweet and with good reason.  It’s incredibly calore dense, long lasting, easy to store and will provide an intense burst of energy – and in our hunter-gatherer past that would have made it fantastically useful for, say, catching that deer.

However, our difficulty is that desire for sugar is still there – only in a world where sugar is everywhere, freely available, cheap and you don’t need to scale a 250ft cliff to get it.  Our appetite for it is then no longer kept in check by limited availability, and the more we eat of it, the more we want it.  Sugar in all its forms is as addictive as hell.

I watched my mother being destroyed by Type 2 Diabetes, but no matter how sick it made her, she would still put honey on her toast.  She knew … and yet she couldn’t help herself.  She had never smoked a cigarette in her life – it was sugar that killed her at 64.  Never doubt the addictiveness of sugar.

I read Susie Orbach’s ‘On Eating’ a while back,  and I’m thinking yes, this Intuitive Eating lark sounds great. I just eat whatever I want and in the end I will stop seeing some foods as bad and will stop craving them;  but then I get to the bit where it says, ‘However, if you know a food is a trigger food, avoid it’.  Ah.  I see.  So I can’t actually eat whatever I want whenever I want.

So what’s the answer?

I find I can give up sugar for about a week – and then the craving for it seems to silently and seamlessly take over the controls, and guide my body into obtaining and devouring precisely what it wanted all along.

So I’m thinking there should be a sugar hit built into each 3-day-cycle of my Defatting programme – that way, every few days the craving for sugar is pleasurably satisfied and hopefully kept under control, thus averting the craving sending me out in the driving rain at 10.55pm before the local Spar shuts.

Perhaps a measurable and controllable sugar hit is the answer.

I love the Co-op’s own 85% Dark Chocolate, eaten with almonds.  The mixture of the two just does it for me.  Now obviously, that’s not too dangerous a combination, and gives me my sugar hit regularly in a way that isn’t damaging.

Also, low glycemic fruits like berries and cherries (both of which I’m going to keep in the freezer) can make appearances in smoothies – like my Berry Smoothie (still to be posted) or my Instant Cherry Pie. The only sweetener I will use is Whole Earth, Sweet Granules with Stevia, which will make an appearance in my Protein Chocolate Bark.  It sweetens convincingly without leaving a nasty aftertaste or spiking my blood sugar.  I make no scientific claims for it – you may prefer, and your body may prefer, another or none.

Sweetness really is an inexhaustible topic and it has now exhausted me so I’m going to close this post, but I will make further posts about it when I come across interesting developments that might be useful.