Lent is over, which means my trial of being as strict about the sugar-free diet as we are with Logan is over, too. And thank God. I have to admit I came nowhere near eating as well as Logan–I had to cheat and have a few beers (especially when I finished my MBA a few weeks ago!), I had to be able to order Jimmy John’s for lunch when I would forget to pack my own (which was often), and I had to just plain cave and indulge in dessert with my husband a few times. I always knew that life with autism is tough for Logan, and now I know how extra hard we’re making it by not letting him enjoy the snacks and treats other kids all get to eat.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to read as a part of the annual Twin Cities Literary Festival, hosted by Cracked Walnut, which organizes literary readings around Minneapolis and St. Paul. The theme of the night was “Hooked,” and I and the other readers that night were supposed to read pieces somehow related to addiction. This was in the middle of my sugar fast, and sugar addiction was all I could think about. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote and read for that night.
… Now the night outside tumbles black through the window, just like I feel inside, like Guinness spilled in a parking lot. My body feels groggy and heavy, and I should probably just go to sleep. Instead I bang the kitchen cupboard doors open and closed. I rummage through the backs of them, looking behind bottles of vitamins and boxes of tea bags. Chamomile, and lemon with honey. The color of Logan’s soft, 4-year-old hair.
“Goddamn it, why isn’t there anything in here?” I mutter.
I am hungry. Check that—I am starving. I had given up sugar a few days ago out of fairness to my son, whom we’d taken off sugar, gluten, and dairy a few months ago in hopes of killing off the excess of yeast in his digestive track and therefore treating his autism. It is promising—he has fewer meltdowns now and more conversational skills, it seems—but man, is following the diet hard. The dairy wasn’t too bad—luckily, Logan loves coconut milk and quinoa milk. The gluten actually wasn’t too bad, either—I suppose the silver lining in the rise in food allergies and intolerance is that there are plenty of products available today that are gluten-free.
But sugar is another story.
Spaghetti sauce, pizza, chicken noodle soup, rice cakes, baked beans, mayonnaise—everything has sugar. Even most products claiming to be “sugar-free” really aren’t—honey, agave nectar, and molasses are all sugar far as the yeast in the gut is concerned. Not even the sugar in fruit is allowed on this diet, because it will still feed the yeast overgrowth.Me reading for Cracked Walnut
I stare at a jar of peanut butter and want to cry.
“Now you know what it’s like to be addicted,” my husband wryly observes.
F you, I scream inside, my sugar withdrawal tearing me apart and sending white stabs of pain through my temples. It’s been just three days, and it feels as though I haven’t given up just sugar but all food entirely.
“I just want a goddamn plain bagel with cream cheese! But that has sugar!”
“Excuses,” my husband says. “Cook the broccoli that’s in the fridge.”
Even though I’m so hungry it feels as though an empty, gray universe is slowly ballooning behind my eyes, vegetables actually sound worse than nothing. I don’t want vegetables—I want something hot, smooth, and comforting.
I had combed Whole Foods shortly after I gave up sugar in search of something to grab for lunch and take back to work; curried cauliflower was about my only option. Now, I wasn’t looking at the red slabs of beef or the lemon-dusted pork loins, or any of the raw vegetables. I didn’t have time to actually cook myself a meal for lunch, nor did I have the means to do so at my office. I needed something I could get quickly. And here, I think, is how sugar hooks us–life is so busy and cluttered today, that we need those easy products laced with sugar. If we want to give up sugar, we have to give up our modern lifestyle—which sounds to me, as I grab a bowl from the cupboard and angrily pour myself a bowl of Quaker Life cereal with 6 grams of sugar—like giving up life itself.
Of course, the point of the sugar-free diet is to make life easier for Logan, not harder. My 40 days made life hell–I wish I could tell definitively which way it swung life for Logan. On one hand, he freely chooses not to eat Goldfish crackers if he sees Sadie with them. On the other hand, he always asks to smell things with casein or gluten, and the other day said so forlornly, “I wish I could have pizza again.” Sometimes he seems so stoic it just breaks my heart.
Feeling: Defeated. I tried so hard, and still couldn’t completely give up sugar!