Monday, April 02, 2012

Lend Me Some Sugar

A few years ago my mother's health took a dive.  Doctors told her she had a couple years at the most and they had no idea what was wrong with her.  She did a lot of hard work, both emotional through rehab and therapy/counselling and physical with diet and lifestyle changes, and has brought herself back to a place of health.  She's also outlived the doctor's best guess and shows no signs of stopping now.

Part of her journey was food related.  When your heart won't allow you to exercise your only option for improved health is to change how, and what, you eat.  As part of her journey she discovered that she has several food sensitivities and that one of those foods is sugar.  She discovered that her body responds to sugar the way it responds to alcohol (she's a recovering alcoholic), thanks in no small part to the work Kathleen DesMaisons has done.  I'm not entirely certain what part of her physical recovery is due to cutting sugar from her diet, but she found that without sugar she enjoys more emotional stability.  A diet that stabilizes blood sugars and beta-endorphin release makes for a happier life.

Who woulda thunk it.

For the last few months I've been on my own food journey.  My mom gave me one of her food journals, a neatly laid out book where I can track what I eat, when I eat it, and how it makes me feel physically and emotionally.  I can also track physical exercise and include that in the equation - naturally occurring beta-endorphins are highly encouraged.  I haven't noticed a close relationship between food and my emotional state.  I'm sure my mom would be happy to hear that - I know she has worried about how her own relationship with food and weight may have influenced me growing up.

I have however noticed a direct relationship between what I eat and my physical health.  What are the odds?  What you eat directly impacts how your body feels.  I know, it's not rocket science, but it has been extremely eye opening.

It hasn't been what I expected, either.  I thought perhaps I'd find that bread and cheese had a negative impact - gluten and dairy sensitivities are common, after all - but I can eat gluten and dairy all I want and nothing happens, nothing I'm aware of anyway.  I thought I might find I was sensitive to tomatoes or oranges, like my mom.  But I can eat pasta sauces and eat citrus and again, I have no noticeable reaction.

Sugar, on the other hand…

I eat one Rocket candy and my throat gets sore.  I drink a can of cola and I can feel the fluids being retained in my ear (weird, huh?  But soda pop gives me an almost instant earache).  Down a double chocolate muffin, and my sinuses clog up.  Swollen glands and sniffles, you'd think I had a cold.  All of my chronic health complaints - except joint pain - are directly tied to the sugar in my diet.

I've done a bit of research apart from Dr. DesMaison's work, and I've found that (according to some sources anyway) sugar causes inflammation, which reduces the effectiveness of your immune system.  That certainly matches what I've experienced.

I have to be honest.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand I'm glad that sugar doesn't seem to affect my emotions, at least not like it could.  As long as I eat protein with every meal I seem to be pretty stable, emotionally.  On the other hand, I fricken love chocolate and if, as my body seems to be requesting, I give up sugar, all sugar, forever and ever, I will really miss that silky sensation of chocolate melting on my tongue.  (I have also noticed that I do get PMS, contrary to what I thought, and I crave chocolate with I'm PMSing...badly.  Like, stereotype badly.  Giving that up could be dangerous to the survival of those around me, never mind their health, at least for a few days a month.)

All that being said, I'm also glad to find a possible solution to my health.  My immune system has never bounced back to what it was before I got mononucleosis four years ago, and I'm tired of having constant low-level congestion, low energy, post-nasal drip, and a lingering cough as a result of that.  I'm tired of always being on the edge of getting sick.  If giving up sugar means that I'm healthy again, I'll do it.

It won't be easy but I'll do it.

Something else that has been interesting to me as I've been learning this has been what I've been being shown in my meditations.  I use tarot cards as a meditation, which may sound weird but it helps me to locate and hear that little voice, telling me things that I already knew.  And in some cases I have had cards turn up that indicated things that I didn't see coming, that wound up actually happening.  So who knows, maybe there's an element of truth to the whole 'tarot cards tell the future' thing.  All I know is that I find them a helpful element to meditation, and they usually show me things that I already knew but didn't want to admit.  I don't meditate every day, but when I do the tarot is a part of my process.  My deck is bizarre too, but that's another blog post.

So while I've been sorting out this whole sugar thing - and it's been crystallizing mostly in the last few weeks - I've had these cards show up, and in this order:

A card I can't remember
Three of Swords

Keep in mind that I pick one card a day, so this isn't a spread where the cards influence each other.

This is what I got out of them.  Death indicates change is coming, change you can accept or change that is forced.  If I don't make the change in my health, it'll be made for me.  I'm not willing to have it taken to that extreme edge before I do what's best for my body.  Now I have to find out if I'm willing to make the hard decisions to make that change while I'm still in control of the options.

Temperance brings balance, moderation and an element of being tempered.  So this change, which I know will not be easy, will bring balance to my relationship between food and health.  I also have no problem seeing that I'll be 'tempered' into a (hopefully) better person by the experience.

There was another one in there that I didn't write down the name of, just what I saw in it; but it brought a reminder of the strength and focus required to overcome obstacles.  It was an absolutely necessary reminder to renew my focus.  That would be the day I realized I don't like strawberry wafers - although it took me 7 wafers to really figure that out.  :P

The three of swords reminded me that I have a support group to help me, a tightly knit group of people who will root for me, provide accountability and extend mercy when I can't do that for myself, encouraging me as I go along this path.  I need to be reminded that I need that as I bring harmony to my relationship with food.

Not every meditation I do has to do with my health but since that's what 've been thinking about it's an easy direction to meditate in.  And it's been kind of encouraging to be reminded of what it'll take to actually see this through.

There have been other reminders - an article on fear.less about cake, a word from Anne Lamott about the difference between food eaten in happiness and food eaten in misery - reminders that what I'm seeking is worth the struggle I'm going through to find it.

I'm not dumping sugar cold-turkey but I'm working down to nothing.  That in itself has been surprisingly challenging.  Sugar is everywhere.

So be a good neighbour.  Don't lend me some sugar, even if I beg and scream for it.  I'll thank you... the long run, anyway.

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