I am the yeast

I’m back to my old books again. This time I went underneath my bed and pulled out a very dusty copy (wth, dust ruffle?) of Under The Influence. If someone doesn’t get me to the library stat, pretty soon I’ll be forced to read my 7th grade diary, which is neither informative nor particularly entertaining.

I bought Under the Influence about a month into sobriety and skimmed it, but nothing really resonated at the time. This time around, I found myself fighting to keep from reading certain bits aloud to anyone who would listen or even the cat (who always listens) because it all felt profound.

This bit on page 17 really got me:

When yeast encounters honey, fruits, berries, cereal, or potatoes, for example, it releases an enzyme which converts the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol…The yeast then continues to feed on the sugar until it literally dies of acute alcohol intoxication – the very first victim of “drunkenness.”

Oh my god, I am the yeast.

The quotes in “drunkenness” feels apropoos because lately I have been drowning myself in sugar in an attempt to get high or numb down or, hell, I don’t really know. I just do it and it’s gotten out of hand and I have to do something about it or I’m going to gain back the weight I worked hard to lose and feel like crap.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

I try cutting back but pretty soon find myself right back where I was before, and much worse than I was years ago. I can’t seem to help myself and once I get started, it’s hard to stop. I spend too much time thinking about it and feel deep shame and regret at my lack of willpower when I overdo it, which is often. I don’t even know that it makes me feel that good, so I don’t know why I do it.  

I am talking about sugar, but I could have been describing my drinking at the end. For the past (almost) year-and-a-half of sobriety, I told myself I wouldn’t worry about all the sugar in my diet because it was better than drinking. I already feel like I’ve shrunken my world by taking alcohol away. Some would argue it’s only gotten bigger and better, but the reality is I’ve imposed limits that sometimes put me at odds with the rest of society. Why would I want to be the weirdo who can’t drink OR eat cupcakes?

Plus there is this: Vices are fun! I’m convinced I have an overactive pleasure center in my brain. I get equally excited over fluffy puppies and bad movies, but fortunately these things don’t seem to be as addictive, probably because they can’t kill me. If I take away my vices, what fun will life be? This was my worst fear before I quit drinking and it turned out to be completely, miraculously unfounded. But are cupcakes and booze even on the same plane?

Part of my fear about giving up sugar is that it feels totally impossible. Do you hate failure? Sure, we all do. Sometimes it feels like alcohol is everywhere, but refined sugar and simple carbohydrates are even harder to avoid. Do I have it in me to read every label and follow a complete overhaul of my diet?

Can I still have an occasional ice cream or cookie or even artificial sweeteners? Some believe that even a little bit of sugar creates all new, all powerful  cravings for more. This is why I gave up on moderating alcohol and why I don’t even drink fake beer. Well, also because fake beer tastes terrible, but the same can be said for aspartme.

I don’t know where I’m going with this post because I’m not there yet. Under the Influence theorizes that alcoholics may suffer from hypoglycemia, which is an abnormally low level of sugar in the blood that can cause concentration problems, anxiety and a number of physical symptoms. Even if I don’t have this condition, I recognize that a hypoglycemic diet would be good for me.

A hypoglycemic diet avoids sugar, white flour, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. From what (little) I understand, these things cause our blood sugar to spike and then crash, which makes us want more sugar in order to feel normal. Caffeine would be the hardest thing for me to give up because I so look forward to my morning coffee. Maybe there is life after decaf, but I’m skeptical/scared.

I cut out most refined sugar and white flour from my diet last spring, so even though I didn’t stick with it over time, I could view this as a relapse. I have the chance to pull myself back up and try again because obviously eating whatever I want isn’t working for me either.

If anyone has any experience with cutting sugar intake either altogether or drastically and sticking with it over time, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re also suffering from out-of-control sugar cravings and you’re an ex-drinker, just know you’re far from alone.

I’d also like to make a disclaimer that I personally don’t think people in early sobriety should worry over sugar cravings because early sobriety is hard enough! Baby steps, and all that. But some believe a diet free from sugar helps eliminate cravings for alcohol. An individualized approach is probably best.

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33 thoughts on “I am the yeast

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  1. I love sugar and used to eat way too much of it. I used to say, “I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. Sugar is my one vice.” Last summer I got a horrible systemic fungal infection and I was forced to cut sugar out of my diet. For about 4 days I felt like crap as if I was going through some sort of detox. Now I’m able to have what I call naturally occuring sugars in my diet (fruit, bread, other startches, etc). But I do try to avoid any food with added sugar. This is the first Christmas I’m not making cookies, fudge, or other sweets because they all taste too sweet and make me feel sick if I even do eat them. Best of luck to you!

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  2. I quit drinking & then pretty much substituted carbohydrates for the alcohol. My thought was I can’t have a drink when we go out so I will have dessert & when I was anxious or stressed instead of a drink I would eat a box of cheez its. Well after gaining almost 15lbs I knew this wasn’t the answer. I hit my bottom with my weight & knew I had to do something so almost 7 weeks ago I cut out all sugar & anything white or processed 6 days a week & one day a week I pretty much eat what ever. It has totally worked for me. I have lost 12lbs & I feel great. My energy levels are stable, I’m sleeping pretty well, & I’m getting through the holdiay season without feeling so depressed I can’t get out of bed (this is how I feel most years with & without alcohol). Anyways sorry to ramble I just could so relate to what you are going through & thought I would let you know what has worked for me. Thank you for your blog.

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  3. I love this post today. I too have suffered the sugar blues. My tool for dealing with it: Don’t buy it. If I don’t have it in the house I won’t eat it. love the comments in relation to the post’s close. Don’t worry about it in early sobriety. “First things first.” This is a great reminder for me to be vigilant with my eating and if I screw up, it’s ok. One day won’t kill me.

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    1. I’ve always argued that I have kids and so I have to buy a certain amount of junk. But I know I’m not doing them any favors either. I love your voice of reason and compassion here – one day won’t kill us. Thanks, Lisa.

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  4. My first pregnancy when I cut out booze for the first time my sugar cravings were through the roof! I hardly ever, ever ate sugar until the liquid sugar of booze was cut out. I’m sure there has got to be a strong correlation. I was shocked by my bodies cravings. I’ve been doing a bit more reading (thanks to your blog:) Just finished Dry-um that was depressing) I digress. Have you read 7 weeks to Sobriety? Even though your sober her philosophy is sugar and lack of vitiamins causes depression, alcoholism, etc. A few other books I’ve read have the same theme. Have you ever just done a sugar detox then slowly just have a little? I know I tend to beat myself up pretty good over minor things because I see them representing a larger pitcure. Sometimes it’s reasonable other times it sucks the life out me. (Running has helped enormously for me) Finding the balance is the bit€h. Good luck and thanks for your post!

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    1. Dry was maybe one of the first I read and it was depressing and I loved it. I haven’t read the book you mention but I will check it up. I cut all sugar/white carbs for 2 weeks and lost 8 lbs but also my soul. Plus I got a really bad chest cold. I may try the opposite this time and do a slow taper. After the holidays, of course. (Secretly I blame Christmas.) This beating myself up is life-sucking, but a sign that I need to change. Thank god for running because it has enabled me to eat thousands of cookies, plus it should get easier to run when I stop eating thousands of cookies. Running is the best. Thanks for your comment, I’m enjoying your blog!!

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  5. Hi,

    Under the Influence was one of the first books I read too and it scared some sense into me. I reread bits from time to time and would recommend it to anyone wanting to seriously understand the dangers of alcoholism.

    As for beating yourself up re your lack of ‘willpower’ re the sugar, I was just reading a book last night (“Alcohol Lied to Me”) which talks about the insanity of beating ourselves up over what are bio-chemical processes. I can’t remember the exact line right now but it was something like equating it to thinking that you had a lack of willpower because you couldn’t control your diabetes or cancer.

    I don’t have intense sugar cravings – though can relate to the once you start it’s hard to stop part – but I do worry about sugar intake given family history of Type 2 and I also know this is a HUGE problem for ex drinkers so can feed back into cravings. Have you read Potatoes Not Prozac per chance? This is all about sugar sensitivity and alcoholism and how the two relate so you might find it worthwhile.

    Then there’s Sweet Poisen (sweetpoison.com.au/), which I haven’t read but is also all about this.

    I don’t want to replace alcohol with sugar either and I can totally see that danger. On the other hand, a life cutting out all sweet treats seems so austere and severe and (hopefully) unnecessary. Personally I think if you can manage your blood sugar stability generally through Low GI eating and etc then surely the odd ice cream binge ain’t so bad? But I guess it depends on if you can control it and how bad it makes you feel afterwards.

    The other part of your post I relate to, as I’m still struggling with this, is this:

    “If I take away my vices, what fun will life be? This was my worst fear before I quit drinking and it turned out to be completely, miraculously unfounded.”

    I’d love to hear more about this sometime!

    Go well,

    Lilly x

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    1. I should write more on that. It was one of many pleasant paradoxes in sobriety and it just sort of happened on its own over time. I did read (most of) Potatoes not Prozac and felt it had a lot of useful info. I did not follow the plan, though. Rigid dietary rules feel exhausting, but maybe it’s like getting sober and I just need to take the plunge and it will get easier. Thanks for your insight.

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  6. I’m putting that book on my to-read list. At the risk of sounding like a mimic, I am the yeast too. The holiday season is seriously a mess for me. At the holiday party for my work last week, I had no problem steering clear of the wine table but I hoovered the chocolate cake, cookie, candies. I would love to get on the hypoglycemic diet but I’m with you – it sounds insurmountable.

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  7. Yep, me too. I’ve ALWAYS been drawn to sugar. Just straight sugar. Well that and breads. My bare bones comfort foods have always been jelly beans and soft thick bagels. I’m sure there is a chemical link in there somehow, no doubt. I just read a snippet in a magazine about how it is false that sugar causes hyperactivity in children; that sugar can actually calm many children down. I’d be curious if those studies will continue to follow those children (who were calmed by sugar) to see what lifestyle choices they make for themselves down the road; my bet would be they’ll have higher rates of depression and addiction.

    Now I’m on a tangent, but I wonder if there is a lower percentage of alcoholics amongst those that are on anti-depressant medication. In other words, do SSRI’s help “reduce” the cravings or desire or even the “need” to drink? Many of us have mentioned going on SSRI’s after we quit drinking; did any of us take them while we were actively drinking I wonder? (I took Paxil just outside of college; I think I was too busy sleeping 20 hours of each day to do any major drinking.)

    I always appreciate your posts, insight and candor. Thank you so much bbb.

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    1. Jelly beans are my kryptonite. As for anti-depressants, the first SSRI I tried made my sugar cravings unbearable, or at least I think they were to blame. I started it about a month and a half before i stopped drinking. Of course you’re not supposed to drink while taking them and I believe the negative effects from doing so precipitated my need to stop. Just realized I am actually taking an SNRI now, which is a different class, though I am not sure how.

      Your comment is full of brilliance, as usual. Thank you for weighing in.

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  8. I get cravings for sweet things after my evening meal. I discovered that the medicine I take for gastric reflux played a major part in this.
    If I take magnesium (preferably with vitamin B in it) I do not get any sweet cravings at all.

    Ronnie.

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  9. That sounds like a great read! I am very interested in the whole sugar thing. I love the way you laid it all out.

    I have come to believe I am completely and utterly powerless over sweets, chocolate anything and vanilla icing. I definitely can’t stop once I start. I definitely get a buzz and then I feel like total ass. (hypoglycemia).

    I was successful in stopping for six months, only when I went cold turkey: no baked goods, candy, sugar in coffee, etc. I believe that once I have detoxed from sugar, my tastebuds recallibrate and I’m able to enjoy less-sweet foods like fruit and I don’t get into the whole craving, out-of-control spin cycle. It’s not quite as cut-and-dry as alcohol because I’m getting some sugar but I think it’s the refined sugar the starts the madness.

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    1. Love your line about refined sugar starting the madness because that’s exactly how it feels. I also like that you say it’s not quite as cut and dry as drinking because that makes me look at succeeding with this goal differently…I don’t want to set myself up for failure. Equally helpful was the part about recallibrated taste buds. Thanks so much!

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  10. Well, I can certainly relate. My nutrition has been sliding in the past weeks. It’s been extra difficult through the holidays because of the prevalence of booze and sweets. If I’m going to give into one, I’d rather it be the sugar/carbs. I found myself eating pizza (we’re gluten free) at a party last week just because I’m so freaking sick of being different in terms of what I ingest.

    I feel so much better when I don’t eat these things. I actually had no idea how bad I felt until I did a nutritional reset with the Whole30. If you’re really interested, get this book! It’s clearly written and an enjoyable/informative read without dumbing it down. http://www.amazon.com/It-Starts-Food-Discover-Unexpected/dp/1936608898/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355678380&sr=8-1&keywords=whole+30

    Doing the Whole30 totally changed the way I eat. I believe permanently. I just can’t seem to bring myself to eat some of the stuff that I used to eat freely anymore. And even when I say I’m sliding, well it’s just a little slide and the physical consequences are so apparent that I rush right back to clean eating. I’m going to do another Whole30 starting January 1st. http://whole9life.com/2012/12/january-2013-whole30/ You should give it a try with me! Giving up the sugar/carbs is doable and I felt so physically good when I was being 100% compliant. The biggest obstacle, as with anything, is the fear. What will I be without chocolate? What will everyone say? What on earth will I DO every night?!?

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    1. I read one of your earlier posts on the 30 day challenge and I was very intrigued. I don’t want to give up all carbs, so I wouldn’t reap the same benefits, but I may take the plunge with refined sugar. When I hear people like yourself talk about all the positive changes, it makes it seem not only possible but appealing. This is hugely inspiring.

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  11. It’s taken me three years to do it, nearly, but I am now completely gluten, dairy, alcohol, and cigarette-free. Almost a year ago, I also gave up meat because of health problems it was causing me, so but for eggs I am basically a vegan now. I have had to do the Anti-Candida diet almost three years ago for a minimum of six months to clear it, as well as take rounds of anti-fungals before all of the health issues I had went into “remission.” The health issues I had were painful, debilitating, and it was hell to go off sugar and experience “die off.” But I did it, and I am so glad I did. I made huge strides that year (2009) when it came to getting myself healthier.

    While I may not have ever labeled myself “alcoholic” part of my issues with it are the very ones you mention here and yes, sugar plays a huge role in the entire picture, I am also convinced. It and caffeine are the two things that are hardest for me to give up “forever”, however. Sugar is sneaky, and I know I have huge issues with it.

    I so understand every word you have written here, and yes, it is hard at first to be the “weirdo” who does not eat anything anyone else does. But after a time, it is fine. It’s only hard at first.

    I have to say that I am doing well at this point. I can, with having eliminated all the things I have and taking a huge break from sugar in the past, tolerate some sugar at this point. Not a lot, and I have to be very, very careful. I still never, ever, ever, ever touch anything with gluten or dairy protein (casein). I get very, very sick if I even have trace amounts at this point. I’m super-strict with it, and pay dearly if I am not vigilant about it. I use alternative flours to make things, and same for milk. Mostly, I just have tried to change my entire approach to food and not look for expensive substitutes, but shift the kinds of things I eat instead.

    But look: it’s possible, it’s beneficial, it WORKS, oh my god does it work if you can push through the withdrawals to get to the other side of finally “unhinging” from sugar and all the rest. It really does work.

    I know one of these days soon I am going to have to re-evaluate my sugar and caffeine intake. I am having side effects from using both. I have to say that when I was on the Anti-Candida diet, past those first six weeks, I have never felt better. I’m not sure if I could do it exactly the same being near-vegan, but I do know I could lower the carb intake and stick with more greens than I do.

    We’ll see. Baby steps.

    But hey — there are a lot of us food weirdos out here. Do what is best for your health and damn the naysayers with it. Just do it.

    (A great site for recipes and so on is Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen. That site has saved me so many times! Just Google it, and it should come up for you.)

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  12. OMG! Are we going to have to start a sub-group of newly sober sugar addict bloggers? What’s next? Sober Tanorexia Victims speak out? “I’ve replaced the time in bars with time spent in a tanning bed, help me before I turn into a piece of bacon!!”

    This is a timely post for me since I just ate 7 almond roca candies, and it’s only 10:00 am, but I started my day with my morning of allotment of 3, only 3, Danish butter cookies. They’ve become my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.

    The madness has to stop and I’ve got to feel like I’m punishing myself by cutting out sugar. “But I already gave up booooooooze! Do I have to give up everythiiiiiiiiiinnnnnng?” I did the Atkins diet for two years, but since I quit that, I just can’t go back to a low carb diet. I think I’ll just start with the sweets.

    Let’s raise the oh so familiar battle cry, “We Can Do This!”

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    1. Seriously. It’s a tired battlecry but I feel like crap when I sugar binge, which is often. I don’t want to give up fruit or whole grains, so maybe just refined sugar and white flour for a spell and then a gradual reintroduction with a set limit. A lobotomy sounds easier, though.

      p.s. fortunately I hate tanning beds. And happy holidays!

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  13. Sweets, especially ice cream, especially Blue Bell Strawberry and Vanilla, I am definitely going to kick your ever loving butt. Last Sunday finally grew the nads to throw out the emergency 30 pack hidden in the garage. That’s another step. I like being sober, I like feeling better. Twelve weeks tomorrow. Thank you God. Thanks for writing!

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  14. I also thank god for running because it allows me to eat thousands of cookies!

    At the same time, I’m where you are. I’ve cut sugar out so many times over the past few years because it makes me feel like crap, only to add it back in when I get stressed out. As with alcohol, it provides a momentary boost, to be followed by stomach distress and exhaustion. I’m with you – January marks my re-start on sugar-free.

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