UNPOPULAR OPINION: Sugar Is Not Evil

I turn to sugar when I’m sad, I turn to sugar when I’m psyched, I turn to sugar when I’m bored. I know using sweets to comfort myself might not be healthy -- I just don't really see a cause for alarm.

Jun 25, 2014 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the studies. I’ve talked to the experts. I’ve listened to said experts when they suggested that I stop. I’ve stopped. And started. And stopped. And started again.

The fact remains: I just can’t quit you, sugar. Another fact, one I’ve been trying to ignore and negate for years and years -- at least throughout my thirties -- is that I just don’t WANT to quit you, sugar.

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"All the boob cupcakes, please" -- me, on my 30th birthday.

How could I? I’ve been addicted to the stuff since I was an infant. According to family legend, I was a cranky, finicky sort from the moment I came squealing out of my birth mom’s womb. After being adopted by a pair of loving but confused new parents who must have wondered from whence this tiny nugget of Satan’s spawn had materialized, I'd protest loudly when my dad tried to feed me milk, or juice, or water. I protested until he figured out the magic formula I couldn’t resist: Kool-Aid, of course.

And so began my ardent, lifelong affair with sugar, one I’m still embroiled in today. Sugar (especially candy -- sour gummy stuff is my No. 1 bitch) is my first love and my most consistent, all-encompassing one. It’s my vice, my comfort, my security blanket, the thing I turn to when I can’t think of anything else to try, when absolutely nothing else will do. I turn to sugar when I’m sad, I turn to sugar when I’m psyched, I turn to sugar when I’m bored.

I know using sweets to comfort myself might not be healthy -- I just don't really see a cause for alarm. 

And I’m getting pretty sick of all the anti-sweets hype that’s been consuming our culture for the past few years. I’m growing weary of hearing yet another well-meaning friend’s gushy ravings about their AMAAAAZING new “no sugar, no flour” diet plan, and I can't help but stifle a chuckle when, three weeks later, that same friend jumps ship and scurries back into the arms of her sweet, fickle master.

I understand the anti-sugar concern, I really do. I believe -- no, I know -- that sugar is addictive, and I know I'm a junkie. I’m fully aware of sugar’s possible connections to depression, diabetes, alcoholism, even cancer.

But you know what? When I’m honest with myself, when I dive deeper, past that naggy little kernel of guilt that’s eternally lodged in my head -- that gross, scolding “should” voice that constantly whispers that no matter what I’m doing, eating, saying, writing, I "should" be better -- I just don’t care about sugar’s ill effects.

The temporary benefits I get from it -- a gentle insta-rush, a hazy little cloud of comfort, and a mind-quieting hit of easy, untempered pleasure -- are, honestly, more important to me than the risks.

Sorry if that sounds pathetic, but it’s true for me, at least for now. And it's not like I haven't dabbled in giving it up. In the past, when health practitioners (usually the more fringe-y types, like acupuncturists and holistic nutrition therapists) have quietly urged me to try tossing refined sugar, I’ve nobly agreed, conceding that sweets must be making my skin issues worse and my mental health woes more intense. I've conceded because I knew that’s what they wanted to hear, and I WANTED TO WANT to give sugar up. But I didn't want to, not really, so my attempts never lasted.

Also, when I'm honest, I don't believe my sometimes-months-long stints at sacrificing sugar actually did make me feel better in any real, measurable way. I don't think it helped my depression. I didn't see a change in my skin. All it really did was lend me an arrogant temporary glow of sanctimoniousness: "Look at me, I don't eat sugar! I'm so pious and disciplined and health-conscious. Are you SURE you want that sundae?!" That sort of thing. It's obnoxious.

It's pretty resentment-inducing to have people constantly try to tell you what you're "supposed to" want for your own body. Example: For months, maybe even years, my therapist has been saying things like, "I know you want to work on the sugar piece," or "I know you're trying to tackle your sugar issues," or "I know you feel awful when you turn to sugar as an escape." But does she actually know that? Or does she just assume that's how I feel because that's what society keeps clubbing us over the head with?

Sure, she’s heard me talk about regretting an occasional binge, but I certainly don’t do that every day; most of the time, my habit isn't that major. I'll have a reasonable portion of dessert every night (my system isn't satiated without the closing punctuation of a sharp dose of post-dinner sweetness), but it’s not like I scarf gallons of Breyer's and entire boxes of Dunkin' Munchkins every night.

Another reason I feel no inclination to give it up for good? Because I truly can't imagine my life without sugar. I don’t WANT to imagine my life without it. It sounds so dull and colorless.

And come on -- IT'S MY ONLY VICE LEFT! I gave up drinking years ago. I gave up smoking. I started exercising regularly. If my biggest vice is indulging in a caramel blondie from the bakery up the street or chowing on a bright, happy bag of Haribo Fruit Salad at the movies now and again, I honestly think I’m doing OK. And I don't need anyone subtly (or not so subtly) pressuring me into feeling guilty about that, thanks.

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