Sugar Babes and Sugar Slaves

There has been a lot of press lately about the evils of sugar. Sugar is, apparently, as addictive as alcohol or nicotine, and Paul van der Velpen, the head of Amsterdam’s health service wants to see its consumption regulated as such. In response I have read a rash of articles where the writer has tried to quit their sugar addiction and then written about it.

This doesn’t impress me. Years ago, I did the same thing and wrote the obligatory confessional article about giving up sugar. I am, you see, a hard-core, lifetime sugar addict.

My relationship to my poison of choice can be traced to a younger age. I was a skinny child that struggled to put on weight.

My poor mother tried her best and thus a snack often consisted of a slice of white butter dipped buttered side down in sugar. We would stand in the kitchen waiting for fried puris, popping holes in their domed tops and filling them with sugar. When chewing gum lost its kick, we would dip it in the sugar bowl and carry on masticating.

As childhood ebbed away and I entered adolescence, sugar was still very much a part of my menu. I was, on the right side of 24, one of those irritating people who can eat whatever they want without putting any weight on. And I did so with gusto. I would slice large wedges of chocolate fudge cake and sit them in deep bowls which I would then fill with a generous pouring of cream.

My creation of these confectionary dessert islands floating in their creamy seas, note the deliberate spelling of dessert, were a source of much pride for me. My older sister would stare, incredulous. “Do you have to eat it like that?” she’d ask “Yes,” I would reply “because I can, and one day I won’t be able to.” Cellulite free and yet to face the realities of normal metabolic rate, the world was my caramel-dipped oyster. This time of joyful gluttony is one I look back on with much fondness.

And then my metabolism caught up and weight suddenly began to stick where it had not stuck before. This was a disaster for me. Yet, I refused to face up to the obvious and give up the demon white stuff.

My moment of clarity, the moment when I realized that maybe my addiction was getting out of control came on a trip to France, homeland of fine pastry. My husband and I stopped off briefly during our road trip in a village whose name escapes me. He went to buy coffee, and I spotted the grand temple at which sugar lovers worship – the boulangerie.

I bought one chocolate tart, one cream tart, a strawberry mousse and a chocolate éclair that was not only smothered with chocolate, it was filled with it too. Back in the car, I methodically ate through all of them. This was not mass produced junk. These were pastries made with good ingredients and real butter.

Within in an hour I felt sick to my stomach as the overload of sugar coursed through my veins. It was horrible. My head pounding, I suddenly had a vision of myself in the future, stuck on a bed, too fat to move, with only king sized bed sheets to preserve my modesty and saying “I don’t know how it got this bad”.

I did know how it was going to get that bad. The sugar had to go.

And so I discovered for myself what a strong drug sugar is when I went cold turkey for two weeks to get myself off it. For two weeks I endured terrible headaches, muscle pains and shakes, while my husband had to endure the monster that I became. The withdrawal was intense. All I could think about was sugar. This experiment was proof enough for me that sugar is ridiculously addictive.

I was chastened. But with time I learnt to control my love of sugar and eventually I came back to allowing myself a treat once in a while because, let’s face it, life is hard enough as it is and I’d like to think that a bit of sugar now and then does no harm. A spoonful of sugar does, after all, help the medicine go down.

This article ran in the Khaleej Times on 18 Jan 2014

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