So Long, Sugar
I am like the kind of bamboo that looks like it isn’t doing anything for years and then grows three feet in a week. It’s the kind of life that can look rootless or aimless but that really, deep down, is purposeful and directed.
It took me thirty years to finally write a book in 93 days. It took me twenty-four years to give up coffee which I did in a day. It took me fifty-two years to realize what sugar was doing to my body, mind, and life and to stop eating it, much to my own surprise, one summer afternoon.
I believe these things are all tied together, and today, a year after I finished the book, three months after giving up coffee, a month after giving up sugar, was one of the best days of my life, and the incredible thing is that nothing special happened: I just got to go from one thing to the next being myself, and then I learned something that made the world home at last after nineteen thousand two hundred and twenty-eight days.
What I have found this year is that being a healthy adopted person takes, at least for me, a team. I have a life coach, Katie Peuvrelle, who has made me mindful of how the words I say and think affect my body and mind. She has given me so many tools that allow me to challenge the status quo and find ways to grow in ways I hadn’t even dreamed possible. (I NEVER said: I want to live in the home of a famous writer for three months and write a book people will tell me changed their lives, but Katie taught me to have the courage of Indiana Jones and to leap even when I didn’t see a bridge connecting one ledge to another, and that ability got me to New York. She has a self-help book coming out next month called Leap, and my story is a chapter.)
I have my friends, some of whom are also adopted. These are my bedrock. Sometimes I take them for granted. I have one friend I have known since I was ten months old, and because we are a country apart, we can easily go for months without talking, but I count on her being there. Weeks go when I don’t talk to my daughter and yet she is the single most important person in my life. I almost never talk to my brother Sam or his wife Ashley and his two boys, William and Phinny, and yet they are some of the most important people in my life. It’s like I’m a wall and these people, my friends, my daughter, my father, my deceased mother, my newly found biological relatives, are my bricks and I’m so busy being a wall I don’t always stop to pat the bricks and thank them for helping me stay upright.
I also have a chiropractor, Dr. Mark Lucas, but I prefer the term health coach, because Dr. Mark knows so much about the body and the mind that his practice far exceeds skeletal alignment. It’s more about alignment and life. I went to see him today to talk about sugar, and this is where the top of my head blew off.
I’ll get to that pretty soon.
First I have to tell you what happened while I was still all one piece.
A month ago I was talking with Meg Ruel on the phone, a fellow adoptee, and she was telling me about her diabetes and diet. I told her about how I almost always felt lightheaded and how focusing was difficult because I was generally just trying to not fall off the ship of my life. I told her about feeling tired and wrong almost every time I ate. She said, “Carbs. You gotta cut the carbs,” and then she talked about sugar and insulin and the brain.
I haven’t had refined sugar since the moment we got off the phone. I don’t know why, after years of thinking sugar was killing me, this switch went on in my brain, but it did. I was in. I went to the grocery store and bought grass-fed hamburger, bacon, eggs, cabbage, kale, cashews, olives, Brussel sprouts, almond milk, coconut milk, and almond butter.
In the last year, I’ve eaten all my meals out. ALL. EVERY SINGLE MEAL not given to me by a friend, I bought in a restaurant or at Whole Foods. Why? Well, read my book You Don’t Look Adopted if you want the long answer, otherwise, just settle for because. Do you know how expensive this lifestyle choice is both financially and physically? I paid an average of fifty dollars a day and ate all sorts of stuff (fruit and nut scones, chicken quesadillas, Rueben sandwiches, burgers and fries) I never would have made for myself at home because I would have had to acknowledge exactly what I’d been putting in my body.
Since talking with Meg, I’ve eaten out four times. That means I just keep cooking, beating eggs, slicing cabbage, browning burger, and the money I save is in the bank instead of in my gut or in some sewer system.
I had an eating disorder when I was in my twenties, and so ever since then I’ve been careful about diets. I want to be healthy more than I want to be thin, and so I’m not doing this to lose weight. I’m just not eating sugar (and by sugar I mean the things that come to mind like cookies and cake, but I also don’t eat things like bread and fruit. I rarely drink alcohol.)
I cook my meal and then I sit down to eat it. I eat big portions and I eat as if someone is trying to grab my plate away. I mean, the food falls out of my mouth half the time as I try to shove in more than what wants to stay on the fork. My mother used to love to talk about how greedily I would drink from the bottle as a baby, and now that I understand what it means to be adopted a lot more than I did before, I understand my hunger better, and I let myself shovel in the food. Who cares. Baby me is starving, afraid the world will disappear just as the mother did, and so she is eating from fear, and I am kinder to her these days. I let her pig out, but now I make sure that what she eats will make her feel grounded, full in a way that tells her brain, You are safe: food that is full of fat.
Breastmilk is full of fat. Formula, in the 1960’s, when I was a baby, was full of corn syrup, something I avoid now because of the well-documented ill-effects (diabetes, anyone?) it has on the body.
I went to talk to Dr. Mark today about adoption and trauma and health. I want to learn as much as I can about the body and the brain so that I can get mine working at maximum potential so I can live a life of wild joy.
He talked to me about sugar and insulin and brain fog and body fat. I felt myself panicking. Was he telling me what to do? Was he trying to take control of my body so that I could do what I was supposed to do? Was I going to get thin? Was I going to try to be perfect? I started thinking about all the cookies I would never, ever eat. I started thinking that maybe all of this was not such a good idea. I didn’t want Dr. Mark tracking my body, my eating habits. I didn’t want to hand over the power of what I put on my fork to someone else.
And then he started talking about the sympathetic nervous system, and about how people who endured trauma as babies often exist in this state even as adults, and for this reason it’s not uncommon for an adopted person to be diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, depression, chronic skin, intestinal, anxiety problems, and etc., etc. Just that afternoon a man had tapped me on the shoulder at Peet’s coffee and I’d jumped so violently he also startled. He didn’t know that I almost always jump when someone touches me unexpectedly. And I didn’t know until I learned about the sympathetic nervous system and adoption that the reason I jumped had to do with the slow drip of anxiety that was feeding into my brain and body day and night.
And then this happened:
Dr. Mark said, “A meal should make you relax, put you into the parasympathetic state. It’s time to rest and digest.” I froze. I stared at him, at his cheery, tanned, healthy, I am in my fifties but I can kick anyone’s ass on my bike self. You eat to rest? What new, amazing and wonderful world was this?
Until a month ago, I ate to get high, but I hadn’t realized it until that moment. A meal wasn’t worth it to me unless I felt hyper after, amped, juiced. I got this way by drinking iced tea, having sugar, eating lots of carbs. I would plan how I’d get high. Breakfast would be a scone and coffee. High. Lunch would be something on bread and iced tea. High. Dinner would be something that hit the food groups and then dessert. High.
The problems with high is that it always dances with its partner low. And low is a drag, a hungry ghost that wants more of everything and does not care about the physical or mental expense.
This past month has not been like that at all. For one thing, I’m not hungry all the time, so I often have two meals instead of three. I have almost no cravings for sugar. I have a chocolate bar in the frig that is 100% cacao and when I eat it, it tastes sweet. I pass out in the afternoons. As my body shifts from burning carbs to burning fat, my brain has gone from being like a rollercoaster to a long, steady road.
In the past, I would have been afraid to basically pass out in the afternoon. I would have amped myself with iced coffee, sugar, anything to keep me up, up, up. Anything to make myself Type A regardless of what type I truly am. Anything to keep myself moving, keep myself feeling valuable, worthy. God forbid I rest. God forbid I enjoy the sounds of the A/C running and the feeling of the energy moving slowly through my body.
God doesn’t forbid. I mean, come on, why else is there grass if not for me to lie on? Why is there a summer breeze if not for me to sit and enjoy it?
I thought of all the meals of my childhood, the wild tension in our house. The need to eat and get out of the room as quickly as possible.
I thought about what I first loved most about restaurants: how safe I felt there. I loved that space for eating was created and sometimes make to feel almost holy. I mean, come on, I am addicted to the show The Chef’s Table. Just look at the world of food, of what it does for people.
And yet I thought the point was to get high. Previously, to eat a meal without the promise of the lift would have been to face myself, face the fact that my life bored me, disappointed me, to fall into sadness. But something happened when I cut out sugar: I started acting more wild, more like my true self, for if I wasn’t going to get an edge at the table, I was going to have to create it in my life. I was going to have to be myself. It’s not a dramatic change. People on the outside might not even notice. They might see that I didn’t shower or that I’m shooting off at the mouth even more than usual or that I’m obviously saying what I think and clearly not trying to be friends with everyone in the room, but they might think, She’s probably high, which, of course, is ironic. I’m just full of fat, relaxing into my meals, crazy in love with the people in my world, crazy in love with my work, the place where I live, the books I am reading, the words that I write.
Dr. Mark Lucas is available for Skype/phone sessions after 5:00 in his San Jose, California office.
$125 for 30 minutes that could well change your life.