The Sugar Fast Day 14: Breaking the Rules

Guess what? I broke the rules yesterday. (I know, I know, you never saw it coming.)

It turns out, my last post set this one up really well when I wrote that the point of this fast isn’t to follow an arbitrary rule, but to kick bad habits and—if possible—learn to develop a healthy relationship with sugar. Or at least to see it in its proper light.

I’m hearing shouts of, “Luucy, ’splain” in my head right now. (I am not ashamed to admit that, in some ways, Lucy Ricardo and I are very similar.) Well, calm down. I’ll ’splain.

A few months ago, I signed up for a six-week women’s program hosted by several ladies from our church. I got a call later that I was on the waitlist, and a few weeks later another call saying I would have to try again next year. Then, the Monday before last, I got yet another call that a spot had unexpectedly opened up, and was I interested?

I debated about it. We had already decided to do the sugar fast, and this program—which was intended to give young wives cooking demonstrations, delicious food from said demonstrations, and encouragement from a short devotional and prayer-time—would surely include sugar. The call came two days after we started the fast, so it felt like a personal attack.

But my husband suggested it would be a good opportunity to get more connected in our church and receive mentorship and wisdom from older women. Acting on his advice, I decided to say yes—and learned right away that the first night, not actually part of the six weeks but just an introduction, would be “Dessert Night.” I’d already written so much about temptations that I didn’t include a mention of it in the post I wrote around that time, but believe you me, I was thinking about it.

This post isn’t about that night, though. I went and had a cup of decaf coffee, and—perhaps because of the absence of some of my favorite sweets—I didn’t find the sight of a table full of desserts so bad. In fact, it was fine. The most anxious moment I had was eyeing a plump blueberry.

The first official week, however, presented fresh challenges that I hadn’t thought of. In the days leading up to Thursday, our meeting day, I wondered, What will I do if there’s sugar in the dinner itself? Will I even know?

Brandon had already told me that, in order to enjoy the experience of the program, I should be able to have dessert at my own discretion. Initially, I responded with a resounding “No!” It was our rule, and I wanted to keep it. But after those questions kept coming up again—and even as I watched our hostess pour a honey glaze over salmon during one of the demonstrations—I found myself re-evaluating. What, after all, is the purpose of this fast? Not deprivation for deprivation’s sake, surely.

It became increasingly clear that I wouldn’t be able to avoid having sugar without at the very least inconveniencing all the women who had taken time to prepare our food. What was more, they brought us our plates—already filled with the salmon, a kale salad topped with mandarin oranges and dried cranberries, and a sweet potato. If I was to stick, puppet-like, to the rules, I could only eat the sweet potato.

As I stared at the food on my plate, I made a decision. I wasn’t going to spoil my evening or distress those at my table or the women who had prepared the food by leaving everything but the sweet potato. I would eat in good conscience, because, once again, the rule wasn’t the point.

(I feel that, psychologically, this is a big deal for me. If I had a psychoanalyst, I would probably tell him so at our next meeting.)

I decided, too, that if I wanted dessert after our devotional and prayer-time, it would be okay to have some as well. We watched the desserts being prepared—an apple crisp and two kinds of cobbler—and they looked very yummy. Later in the evening, their aroma wafted out to us from the kitchen. It was heavenly.

After our prayer-time ended, I went through the kitchen to where several women were congregating around the dessert. There they were, laid out prettily in all their glory, that tantalizing aroma even more pungent in close proximity. Would I? Or wouldn’t I? I looked at the dessert. I looked away. I wanted it, but I didn’t need it. The urge to devour it as soon as possible wasn’t there. It was a pleasure I could indulge. It was a pleasure I could forgo.

I said no.

But here’s the thing: it would have been okay if I had said yes. Sugar is fast-fading as a dominant force and motivator in my life. It’s gaining its proper place. It’s not the culmination of my dreams for happiness. And a little now and then won’t hurt. It was okay that I wanted it. It was okay that I said no. And, I repeat, it would have been okay if I had said yes.

Because the taste of the mandarin oranges and the dried cranberries and the honey glaze and whatever sugar was in the dressing for the kale salad to make it palatable didn’t make me go crazy at dinner. Because my taste buds didn’t faint with delight at such a concentration of fructose again. Because I tasted it, thought, Mmm, this is good, and shrugged. Because I delighted in the meal, but it didn’t overwhelm me with longing.

I don’t know what I’ll do next Thursday, but I’m not wracked with guilt about it, as I usually am when I feel I’ve transgressed a rule. I’m learning that freedom with sugar doesn’t mean insanely eating everything whenever I feel like it. It’s freedom to desire it, and freedom to curb that desire—the freedom to say yes and the freedom to say no. I’m beginning to understand both.

Not a bad conclusion to come to on the last day of Week 2, methinks.

 

The Sugar Fast Day 3: Temptation, Thy Name is Dessert or Frailty, Thy Name Is…

Hmmph. Fill in the blank with the name of your friendly neighborhood blogger here. This morning I was cheerful and optimistic. This evening I’m grumpy and pessimistic, especially after reading one of those potentially pseudoscientific articles about eating and wondering if everything is meaningless.

But I press on.

It’s only the third day of this fast, but I feel as if I’ve already learned so much about how problematic my relationship to sugar—and food—is. I catch myself thinking that a cup of tea, a chapter of a book, an evening spent playing games with friends, would all be made more pleasurable by something sweet.

When I’m feeling a little down, what have I done? Written a sonata? No. I’ve reached for some Ghirardelli. (Raspberry Dark Chocolate, to be specific, but please don’t send me any. I might cry.)

These last few days have been filled with nothing short of temptation. All at once, sugar is everywhere.

Do you know how many things in the grocery store contain sugar? Let me enlighten you. Almost everything. It’s both discouraging and frightening. It is, in fact, a conspiracy. (I don’t know if it actually is, but someone ought at least to look into it the possibility.)

It wasn’t just the grocery store. Besides the temptation of all of the sugar that is (mostly) hidden around our apartment, Pinterest is assailing me with emails like “Copycat recipes for your favorite candy bars.” Et tu, Brute, when I have pinned so many healthy recipes?

And so many unhealthy recipes, as anybody who peeks at my Pinterest page could tell you. It isn’t Pinterest’s fault. It’s mine. My own former sugar-loving, sugar-crazy self. I’m Brutus. Pinterest is only trying to be helpful. Its algorithm says something like, “Hmm. I see you’ve lately pinned ten different recipes for variations on Chocolate Cake and one recipe for How-To-Make-Salad-Taste-Like-Something-Else, and since you appear to prefer pins with the tag ‘dessert,’ I’ll send you emails accordingly.”

It’s a sad day when you realize that it’s you who’s getting in the way of you.

But, on a more positive note, and to go back to the grocery store—it really wasn’t too bad. I only wept for a few moments as we put broccoli and cauliflower and green beans and carrots and other delightfully healthy things into our cart.

After all, this challenge is as much about building good habits as it is about breaking bad ones; otherwise there wouldn’t be much point. And I have a lot of bad habits related to sugar. As I mentioned above, I crave it when alone, when with other people, when feeling sad or bored or distracted… Basically All. The. Time. I did, however, have a revelation at about four o’ clock this afternoon (hence the cheerful-turned-grumpy mood.) I realized I’m usually pretty good about eating healthy in the morning and at lunchtime—it’s night-time that’s the trouble. I save all the sugar-snacking for when I’m not working and can relax. (I say “usually” because the holidays were an exception.) This revelation meant that all of the pats on the back I’d been mentally giving myself for doing so well and going so long without thinking about sweets weren’t worth very much because it wasn’t my sweet-eating time yet.

I’ve even eaten sugar when I didn’t really want it. There were definitely times right before Christmas and the week after—when my diet was 80% sugar, 10% salty snacks, and 10% food that would actually keep me alive for longer than seven years—that I wondered why I was still eating more sugar when the thought of it made me squeamish. I ate it anyway. Because I could. Because it was there. Because somebody had paid for it, and wasn’t it a tragedy to let a pow wittle piece of marzipan go to waste? I didn’t even stop after I got a pretty bad cold, the remnants of which are not yet unstuck. Probably because of my insistence on eating chocolate for breakfast.

Enough about bad habits. It’s all very well to recite my failings—it is necessary in order to move forward, but wallowing in regret never did anybody any good. (Except for all of those wallowers who provided the world with beautiful music and poetry and prose out of that regret, but that’s another matter—and productivity isn’t wallowing, anyway, in some sense.) So today to continue beginning good habits, instead of chocolate for breakfast, I had whole wheat puff cereal. No, not the kind that has added sugar, the kind that doesn’t. Yes. It exists. It only tasted a little bit like sawdust. Homemade soup for lunch and a hearty(ish) salad for dinner rounded out the day nicely, and left me feeling… Accomplished. Not full, but happy that the eating part was over, and that a tiny sliver of a good habit was tacked onto the previous two tiny slivers of Days 1 and 2.

I do want to take this opportunity to build more good habits outside of the realm of eating (and realms are never islands unto themselves) that involve using more of my time productively. I won’t promise you any sonatas (ha!), but I do hope to re-focus on writing and reading. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me soon as to how that’s going. 😉

Addendum #1: You know what the difference is between a fast and a feast? Just a little “e.” But he makes every bit of difference, that little “e.” Curse him.

Addendum #2: I’m only going slightly crazy, I assure you, and mainly because I’ve been repeating to myself over and over again idiotic aphorisms like “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “Baby steps.” Ahem. 3 days down, 29 to go.

A Somewhat Silly Interlude

This is not my “official” weekly blog post, but I thought I would just write something fluffy, as my next is going to be rather serious. You may also, if you like, consider this a “P.S.” to the last one.

On the subject of writing poems/soliloquies to or about food… I’ve come up with two beginnings that may ruffle some literary feathers. I ruffled my own considerably in writing them, so I absolutely understand. Know that I have the deepest respect for these writers. And to William Wordsworth and William Shakespeare–I owe you my most humble apologies for corruption.

“My Heart Flies Up”

My heart flies up when I behold

A cheese-slice on my plate

So was it when my love first bloom’d

So is it when across the room

There shines a piece of cheddar old–

How kind is Fate!

“To Eat or Not to Eat”

To eat, or not to eat–that is the question:

Whether ’tis better, for patience, to suffer

The stings and roarings of outrageous hunger

Or to take arms against a host of rumbles

And by digesting end them…”

(If you want to read the actual, infinitely superior originals, look up, “‘My Heart Leaps Up’ by William Wordsworth” and “Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be’ Soliloquy by William Shakespeare.” It may make the above funnier. Or you may want to kill me. Either way, you should!)

On the subject of bad analogies. (If you want an extended one, see my last post) Bad analogies are like…

Stubbing your toe.

A duck that doesn’t take to water but is otherwise adorable.

Finding out that your favorite contemporary author is an ardent admirer of Hemingway.

***

All my love, dear readers, and may your days be brightened with a little silliness.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~Virginia Woolf

I have one of those burning questions for you over which you may (or may not) lose sleep: Why didn’t Wordsworth ever write an “Ode to [Insert Favorite Food Here]”?

If I was more, or better, in the habit of waxing poetical, I might write a poem about food. Maybe.

Poets in centuries past have brooded over the weather; have paid homage to nightingales; have proven positively pathetic in their ramblings about love—and yet, no poet in the line of Keats or Shelley or Pope, as far as I know, has ever dared to venture even a stanza in honor of a delectable dish.

I might be going a little too far. I’m not altogether certain that poetry and food belong in the same sentence. And that’s not for any lack of love on my part—if anything, it would be a lack of precedent. (I also don’t know that the endeavor would reflect well on either the food or the poem—but that’s another discussion. I think food fits better with prose. Iambic pentameter just doesn’t seem like it would do the job.)

The point is, I love food. Who doesn’t? Most of the conversations in my family revolve around food. If it’s not, “What’s for lunch?” it’s “What’s for dinner?” and if it’s not that, then it’s “What’s for dessert?” or “That was an R-rated meal!” (My brothers came up with that. The “R” stands for “repeat.”)

Meals at my granny’s house are an Event. We get to the table early and often stay for an hour or two—dinner, more dinner, coffee, dessert, ice cream. Being Palestinian, Grannie usually asks, after we’ve had two or three helpings, “Would you like more?”—“No thanks, I’m full”—“Are you sure?”—“Yes, I’ve had enough”—“You’re looking thin—here, eat some more!” The same goes at Grandma’s house—we’ve never quite had enough, and there’s always room for more ice cream.

I’ve inherited my love of Middle Eastern and “traditional” Southern Ohio food from the many happy times around those tables—but it’s my mom who has taught me the most about cooking and baking, and we’ve spent hours in the kitchen together.

Whenever I’m at home, I like to try out new recipes. Some of them have been smashing successes (and yes, “R-rated,” according to my brothers)—others have not turned out so well. The picture at the bottom of this post is one of my most recent triumphs. Fried Apple Pies. I have this irritating habit of tweaking a recipe before I’ve tried it out. With this one, I added a brown-sugar-and-butter glaze and drizzled melted chocolate over the top right after they came out of the oil. It was a pretty simple recipe, but absolutely delicious!

I approach food-making (ah, you say, here’s the connection!) similarly to the way I write. There are writers that I love, just like there are recipes that I love, who provide inspiration and insight. But the writing needs to be my own, of course. (The analogy sort of falls apart here, although I’m not sure it was ever that great anyway, because recipes are meant to be copied—just not passed off as your own.) And, most relevantly, both in writing and food-making, there needs to be a certain level of comfort with making mistakes. Major ones. And then trying again.

As I mentioned, I’ve had some really disastrous cooking adventures. One of my first times making pavlova, I added the sugar to the egg whites before I beat them. I’ve used about eight eggs to make pavlova because four of them (I think; frankly, I lost count) were rotten. I’ve burned butter, the combination of inexperience with a gas stove and being of the daydreaming sort proving particularly dangerous. I’ve had battles with ovens and lost. I’ve cried a little. The list could continue.

To continue with the analogy—many’s the time where I have thrown aside my proverbial pen, vowing that I never have written anything good and never will write anything good and for heaven’s sake I might as well get a decent job or something and not even dream about making a living out of it. If you want a good, long laugh, email me and I’ll send you excerpts of a novel I wrote several years ago.

I still write, and I still cook and bake. I can’t help it, really. I need to eat. I need to write. And no matter how much I try to silence them, characters inevitably come marching back into my mind, demanding that they be heard. It can be horrible, wonderful, hateful, peaceful, and peace-less—but there it is!

So, if you ever happen to drop by, I’ll give you a chair, a cup of tea, and more food than you could possibly ever want. We can settle into our seats comfortably and have a nice chat about the joys and headaches of writing, or of anything. Just know that, whatever we talk about, it won’t be my fault if you leave still hungry.

Fried Apple Pies

Fried Apple Pies–Yum!