If you want to want to make the gods laugh, make plans.
The first two days of my Quit Sugar Plan were full of misery, self loathing, cravings, blind fury, and totally spurious online purchases. But there were also some less spurious, optimistic shopping. Ingredients for a restorative chicken broth, vegetables for roasting, pickles for snacking. I’d also acquired some neoprene socks and gloves that should allow me to swim outside (in a heated pool, I’m not a maniac) all year round. I was getting into the groove and was looking forward to feeling better.
Then, there was a death in the family.
I was determined not to be derailed - there’s never a good time to make changes to your lifestyle, and a new lifestyle has to be able to withstand, y’know, life. But life also has to be lived in the real world, and in real time. There are long motorway journeys, complete with petrol station convenience stores, service stations where the healthiest options are something of a compromise amongst the Starbucks, McDonalds and drive-thru Greggs. Meals are grabbed on the go, or or far later and further from home than one would wish. There’s the endless admin and bureaucracy, the different griefs and sadnesses of a complicated cast of loved ones. There are teas and biscuits, and the beige buffet and card-behind-the-bar of the funeral.
A lot of emotional calories are burnt and need to be replenished. We take comfort where we can find it.
And, at times of stress and sadness, food is a comfort. I try to show my partner that he is loved and safe by putting more butter into the mashed potato, making dessert on a weeknight, filling the cupboards with treats. I bake* cinnamon buns at the weekend so the house of mourning will be filled with warmth and sweetness. There is a German word - there’s always a German word - Kummerspeck - which can be translated either as grief bacon, the bacon you comfort eat in your sadness, or grief fat, the weight you gain from eating said grief bacon.
So, no, the diet’s not been going well.
You will be very pleased to know that my reading has come along excellently. I am brilliant at reading. When it comes to reading, I have willpower, determination, focus. I also have new glasses so I can really - y’know - see what I’m reading.
I’ve also been engaging both ears in the struggle, taking on some of these books on Audible on long car journeys. I also listened to food writer Bee Wilson’s recent Radio 4 series Sweetness and Desire: A Short History of Sugar on iPlayer.
She addresses the debate - which divides scientists, doctors, dieticians and wellness bollock-peddlers alike - as to whether or not sugar is addictive. The way it caresses the rewards centres of the brain, the exhilarating roller coaster ride of soaring and plummeting blood sugar, are well recorded and understood. The newer science into the way it requisitions your fat cells, creating room within the sugar-sensitive for you to expand into, like you were one of those expandable suitcases - is widely known and understood. And the influence on sugar on appetite is so bloody complicated and difficult to measure - working on both the hormones and the emotions - that some still assert that sugar isn’t addictive like a drug: it’s simply more-ish.
Whether or not sugar is a chemically addictive substance, there are plenty of us in the population who have a problematic relationship with it. And those of us who engage in addictive behaviour to the detriment of our health, happiness, wellbeing, the biochemistry of it is by-the-by.
It's really only ever socially acceptable to be an addict if nobody needs to know or speak about it ever.
Russell Brand has, quite endearingly, been addicted to most things and seems to be able to turn the most benign of activities - yoga, using long words, wearing skinny jeans - into potentially life-destroying, relationship-devastating, career-defining problems. Sugar, sex, work, scag, he's done ‘em all in ways, quantities that make his very survival a miracle significant enough to justify his erstwhile Messiah complex.
He knows of what he speaks. His book is a marvellous companion to anyone engaged in or curious about 12 Step Programmes. I for one am grateful for his very sensible unpicking of the "higher power" malarkey. And if your drinking, eating, bonking, whatever, feel totally out of control, you can find your nearest meeting with a quick Google in Incognito mode, and you can download this book on your Kindle or Audible without anyone ever knowing, and you will receive a dose of compassion, understanding, and a total absence of judgement. It was a hug and vote of confidence I had no idea I even needed and I found myself, headphones on, Brand's Artful Dodger tones in my ears, tears pouring down my fat face.
So, time to try again. Fail again. Fail better. The diet, as the saying goes, starts tomorrow. Tomorrow, as it so happens is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - or Pancake Day. This is the day when Christians have one last blow-out before the fasting and repentance of Lent. Lots of people give up chocolate or booze, and this year, following the popularity of Veganuary, I imagine a great deal of people will be doing Vebruary or Vent or some such. And so, fine, I’ll do it, I’ll give up sugar for Lent, just like Jesus did. I am basically Jesus.
I might have been listening to a little too much Russell Brand.
*OK, they were IKEA Bake From Frozen Cinnamon Rolls, but it’s the thought that counts.