I sometimes see experienced Paleo’s say to newcomers, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll get over the desire for sugar. You simply won’t want it anymore.’ I don’t believe this. I don’t believe that the pleasure of sweetness will ever go away. Not even for the most hardcore Paleo’s amongst us. You might as well try and eliminate the joy of deep relaxaton, or the delight of being held. Like sleep and protection, the pleasure and reassurance derived from sweetness is built into our DNA.
It’s with us from birth. The physiological pathways between the taste buds, the brain, and the hormones are activated the moment the newborn baby is placed on the mother’s breast. That warm, sweet, nutrient-dense colostrum provides immediate relief after the crisis of birth, and this pattern of stress-and-sweet-relief becomes firmly established with repetition. Any feeling of physical or emotional discomfort – hunger or pain, uncertainty or fear – causes baby to cry. Mother responds through feeding, and baby is reassured and satisfied. So, from the very beginning of life, ’sweet’ is synonomous not only with pleasure, but also with nutrition and safety. Which translates as: Survival.
Friends were over for dinner the other night, and we saw this in play. Our mini schnauzer, Roxy, is exuberant, and little Miriam is not yet two. Wanting to play, and wanting to touch, Miriam would approach Roxy, but as soon as Roxy extended her nose, Miriam would shriek with a mixture of delight and fear, and race back to her mother. Instinctively, she’d slip her hand down into the neckline of her mother’s shirt, reaching for the safety and reassurance of the breast.
These physical and emotional responses to sweetness are natural. They are hard-wired into our biology, and they are with us for life. Our nature is not the problem.
It is culture which has blown the situation out of control. Sweetness was once harvested from fruit or from vine in accordance with the seasons. But now, once weaned from Mother’s milk, sweetness becomes the basis of reward. A little treat here, a little promise there. It is so good. And emotionally it translates as, ‘I am good.’ I am loved. I am worthy. It must be so hard to have children, and to raise them so that nature’s gentle river of sweetness doesn’t become a flood.
As explained in the last post about Sugar, the combination of physical satisfaction and emotional reward is a synergistic powerhouse which sets off the interplay between dopomine and the opiods. Dopomine activates our desire through the promise of ecstasy, and the opiods flood us with that good feeling. Because sweetness is just everywhere, we get used to having it all the time. The body switches from burning fat to burning sugar for energy. And because artificial sweetness is so over the top, the natural flavours cease to excite. We get addicted.
We were raised on sugar and wheat, in all their beautiful, seductive forms. I didn’t realise I was addicted. I was one of those classic ‘I eat so healthy’ types – vegetarian, whole-grain, low-fat, and the only white sugar in the house was kept for making meringue. I would start the day with my homemade almond-and-seed breakfast biscuits. I’d eat dried fruit after my yoga practice. Maybe a little sweet something to finish lunch. Fruit in the afternoon. I’d get home from work in the evenings, starving, and eat two bowls of cornflakes with soy milk. And then maybe a couple more biscuits. That was just normal. Then there’d be the treats. A home-baked cake once a week (that’d last four meals). Coffee and brioche at a bar. Gelato. A hot chocolate and pastry with a girlfriend. Dessert after dinner at our favorite Osteria. I’ve never been a big drinker, but a caffè corretto would go down well, as would a glass of wine. At one point I sort-of realised that I was looking for something sweet for the umpteenth time that day, but I didn’t think it was an issue.
Then my body started packing in, and I started looking for the cause and the solution. Enter the Whole 30.
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig refer to the sugar addiction as the Sugar Dragon. It’s a brilliant analogy. The only way to kill the Sugar Dragon, they say, is through starving it. As stated above, I don’t believe you can kill it, because it’s a part of us. But I know from experience that you can get it under control. To do this, yes, you’ve got to starve it. And you’ve got to starve it for a long time. 30 days, as we discovered, is not long enough.
We did our first Whole 30 in September 2014, and then kept on with the Primal way of eating and being. More or less. You know how it goes. We were glad to have a home-baked treat again, and a glass of wine. We were happily experimenting for a good couple of months there – a little bit of flexibility, but not too much. And then came Christmas Day.
The General receives a Hamper every year from his work, filled with full-flavoured stuff which we now avoid. Italian sausages, specialty pasta and sauces, sparkling white wine and preserves. Chocoalte, nougat, biscuits, and selected coffee. And always, always a big Panettone, the crown of the Italian Christmas table, regal in it’s Top-Hat box. On the Day, we ate upstairs with the in-laws, and then returned to our apartment after lunch. We opened the box – it was Christmas, after all – liberated the Panettone from it’s cellophane bag, and cut ourselves a big slice. Then another, and another. We didn’t stop. Like Pandora, we’d let out a demon that was beyond our control. Something had gone off in our brains. The floodgates were open, the Dragon was let loose. We fed it and fed it until we felt utterly, revoltingly, disgusting.
We weren’t ready. The Dragon was nowhere near starved. He’d just been having a little lie down.
We realised then the power of the Sugar Dragon, and we’ve never let him rise like that again. Now, we make sure he knows who’s boss.
What we’ve learnt over the last year is that overcoming the sugar addiction doesn’t mean repressing our natural desire and delight for ever. But it does mean growing up.
In the next post, 10 Ways to Keep the Sugar Dragon Under Control, I’ll share with you our techniques for building and maintaining a healthy relationship with sweetness. Stay tuned!
I would love to know your opinion on this. Do you think it’s really possible to kill the Sugar Dragon once and for all? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks so much for reading and for partecipating here on Paleomantic. And thanks so much for spreading the love all over your Social. ‘Til the next post,
Best Wishes, Good Health