Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"How did I turn off the part of me that knew better?"

Interview with Special Guest: Michelle
Self-proclaimed Soda Addict

The other day at a local coffee shop, I had the privilege to interview this bright, witty, fun woman. Like many of you reading this blog, she has an interesting history with sugar.

Michelle was 19 years old when she first began getting the headaches. They got so bad she threw up. Repeated doctor visits, scans and tests showed nothing other than a possible sinus infection. She was given prescription drugs and steroids and took them...because she was desperate. The pain was unbearable. She dealt with this for 4 years, feeling like the diagnosis and treatment wasn't right, but not sure what to do.

A friend mentioned that diet could have something to do with the headaches. So Michelle visited her doctor and asked if diet could be the culprit. The doctor said no. A different doctor finally correctly diagnosed her headaches as migraines, but also told her that sugar had nothing to do with them. Despite this, she decided to change her diet according to her friend's advice and testament. For the first time in four and a half years, she no longer had migraines. So Michelle gave up sugar completely for one year.

During that year her migraines were nonexistent. She felt healthy and happy. When I asked Michelle when and why she began eating sugar again, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "It sort of just happened."

A student brought in her favorite kind of mints (those buttery yellow, green and pink ones shaped like large Hershey kisses), and she figured one wouldn't hurt. She kept them in a jar on her desk and within a week they were gone.

She was back on sugar. She told herself, "Maybe I can handle a little bit here and a little bit there..." Her logic was that most of her food choices were so healthy that a little bit of candy once in a while would be okay. At first she didn't feel bad at all. Then she became pregnant so she quit sugar for good, again. She felt wonderful. Within a year her family moved to Japan and that's when sugar found itself back in her life.

"I started eating sugar again, not knowing it, because I couldn't read any of the food labels in Japan. Then we started eating out a lot and it brought old habits back, like drinking a lot of soda."

With her husband away traveling often and raising two kids at home, it was a treat to drink soda. Her justification was, "Everyone else is drinking soda and it's not bothering them." Her migraines had not returned so she tested the limits by overindulging in soda.

She says the behavior started when she was a child--drinking soda when she was sick, and drinking Slurpee's at 7 eleven. Back then little was known about the adverse affects of sugar. But Michelle says that even recently, her doctor recommended that she give her daughter "jello, gatorade, and popcicles to ward off dehydration." What is a parent supposed to do when these sugary items are recommended by pediatricians, and have been for decades?

Michelle told friends that she kept accidentally shrinking her clothes in the dryer. About a year later she realized she was bigger, her clothes were not smaller. It took a while to admit that her favorite form of sweet might be the cause of the extra weight, but eventually Michelle couldn't ignore that her weight gain was due to her out-of-control soda indulgence.

After two or three times quitting soda and then falling off the wagon, "I realized I had an addiction. It was like I was an alcoholic, except with soda. It was a vice. How did I turn off the part of me that knew better?"

When she began drinking soda and eating a lot of other sweets, the migraines came back. When she was diagnosed with a chemical sensitivity (chronic sensitivity to low levels of chemicals, including scents, food addtitives, etc.), it led to an excuse to eat sugar because she could blame the migraines on chemicals like perfumes, instead of sugar.

Michelle says, "What I firmly and strongly believe, no one would know based on what I feed my family."

So, what is Michelle doing now?

"My goal is to get myself and my kids off of processed foods totally. I'm not going to get my husband to eat this way, and even on the weekends if we go out to eat, that's okay. But during the week I'm going to buy and prepare whole foods, grind my own flour, and keep junk out of the house." In an effort to keep the migraines at bay and encourage her kids to enjoy healthier food, she is preparing her family for some big changes.

On New Year's Day 2010, she took out all of the junk food in the house and spread it on a table. She let her kids (ages 10 and 4) eat as much as they wanted. Then she threw away everything that was left. Now the family eats mostly healthy (her husband isn't buying into this health-streak just yet, however!).

Michelle now brings home delicious naturally-sweetened snacks that she and both her kids enjoy. Soda is a special treat instead of a daily ritual. She has the ability to consume sugar (soda) in moderation, something many of us only dream of having the willpower to do.

She admits that one of the greatest difficulties in eating healthy is viewing foods differently than her spouse. In her desire to avoid conflict, it's been easiest to go with the flow instead of putting her foot down about certain foods. That's all about to change this next year, but she is making small changes and baby steps forward instead of forcing everyone to quit cold turkey.

I applaud her for being a caring, loving wife and mom of two as she seeks balance in her family relationships and at the same time strives to provide healthy food for her household.


Brian H said...

I can relate to that story, how easy it is to just slip back into the sugar habit when you think you can "just try one". I hate the fact that I need to jump and forth between complete abstinence and daily consumption. If she is able to moderate after having been more dependent, then that is great. Now unfortunately it's back to daily junk.

I've read your blog on and off for a while but never posted. I've enjoyed reading about your adventures with giving up sugar.

Izabella said...

I am so glad that I came across your blog. I've cut out most sugar for a week now ( no cookies, no honey in tea, no yummy lattes) and my joint pain is gone.
It all made sense when I ate half a jar of nutella and 30 min later had terrible pain in my left hand joints. I thought it was due to work, but after a week of no sugar, this appears to be the culprit.
Unfortunately I'm one of those people with all or nothing cravings, so I hope to be inspired by you and be able to do years of no sugar, one week at a time.