Recently there has been talk of the devil. The sugar-devil, that is. First, Dr. Lustig out of San Francisco, created this video expounding all the evils of the white stuff (and even the not-so white stuff that is still sugar, like honey and agave).
It’s quite a long video, but worth a watch. He’s a dynamic speaker and very passionate about his work. I’ve chatted with him at a meeting in SF once, and I have to say, I agree with a lot of what he advocates for.
In full rebuttle fashion, a recent article by Dr. David Katz, came out cautioning us to see sugar as public enemy #1. I too agree with him.
But here’s the approachI don’ t see taken enough in the debate about food and diet: The personal experience and personal responsibility around eating. I have worked with enough people (in addition to my own sugar journey) to know that demonizing a food, calling for taxes, policies, and political action, does not usually do a damn thing to stop individual behavior. Think about it: does knowing that sugar contains calories, can cause you to feel a drop in mood, can contribute to diabetes and heart disease and obesity really stop you from eating it when those strong, deep rooted cravings are activated?
I don’t think it does. What I think stops you (if you abstain) is a commitment to something greater and stronger than the call for the sweet stuff. The power isn’t in the knowledge about sugar facts, it’s in your own experiential knowledge of what you want for yourself – how you want to feel, what you want to look like, what all the benefits of NOT eating sugar are. And that power has the ability to help you navigate life in a far-greater way than just knowing a bunch of facts about foods and using black-and-white classifications of them.
And then there’s the self-esteem issue. When we demonize a food, and then we consume it, what does that do to our sense of self? Nothing good, I can tell you that. When I eat something that I think is ‘bad’, I feel bad. Feeling bad does not inspire me to do good. It motivates me to keep feeling shameful, eating in secrecy, living in denial or feeling a push-pull battle with the thing that I’m trying to resist.
This is NOT helpful. No matter what taxes or bans we put on food, if people are compelled to eat them, they will – especially if they are in the middle- to upper-class income bracket and can afford the extra cost. We still need to couple policy change with tools of self-awareness and self-esteem building. We need to rally around the idea that each of us has the innate knowledge to know what is truly best for us, and to make food choices from that place. This is NOT easy to teach, by any means. It’s a slow process requiring patience and the undoing of a lot of really convoluted knots that come from mix-messages about food, family, culture, and self.
But, I’m up for the challenge…are you?
Can you take on the personal responsibility of your own food choices and advocating for policy that includes some attention to looking at the inner-drive to consume sugar-filled treats? Can we promote programs that address behavior change instead of blaming sugar for being what it is?
IF you eat sugar, you are not evil. Sugar itself is not evil. It is only as powerful in our lives as we let it be.
Okay, off the soapbox for the day.