Dope

I am fond of wit and wordplay, and I find it the greatest irony in the fact that “doping” and “dopamine” are similar only as a matter of coincidence.

I am also a fan of synecdoche, both for its sound and for its meaning and usage: the reversal of a part and its whole. (As a tangential whim, I’ve always wanted to write an adventure novel in which our young protagonists must recover the lost “Synecdo Key” to progress in their journey, but upon finding it, the key is broken, and only a single part remains…but fret not, because it can still unlock the door as though it were whole.)

So, colloquially with a hint of synecdoche, I’d like to talk about a form of dope we all do.

SUGAR

Sweet, unrelenting glucose, added religiously.

(The acronym is a bit of boredom mixed with amusement. I apologize.)

I recently wrote about struggling with a particularly long bout of depression the likes of which I’ve not dealt with since I first started taking anti-depressants, but I didn’t get into one of the worst parts of the episode: My once merely mediocre health and fitness routines have all but wasted away into sugary addiction. I imbibe soda and other soft drinks, snack on chocolates almost nightly, and my carb count is through the roof.

I’ve also taken to eating less fruits and vegetables, which only makes it worse.

So despite an insane first two years of teaching that made me gain nearly twenty pounds (not to mention a comorbid loss in muscle mass), when the year began I started working slowly to better my habits and I actually cut back on half of that weight. Then this doctor-and-insurance fiasco started and I’ve gained twenty pounds on top of that.

Weight, I know, is not everything, and in fact the science of weight suggests that our anti-obesity warfare should be aimed less at making fat people feel bad because they’re not thin, but more at helping unhealthy people (regardless of weight) to become healthier. Because even people who are “obese” can be physically healthy, just like people who are not obese can still be unhealthy. Not to mention there’s a plethora of genetic and hormonal factors that contributes to a person’s weight that have little to do with their personal habits and rest solely outside their own control.

But…in my case…I know this weight gain isn’t healthy. I’ve had enough highs and lows of physical fitness to know that my ideal weight is around 180 pounds, and right now I’m around 215. I also have a lower back injury that excessive weight can aggravate, a trend I have noticed in general daily soreness. So even though part of me is motivated by the feeling that “I just don’t look good,” perhaps a bigger part of me recognizes my wanting to lose weight is motivated by more than just appearances.

Weight loss, however, is a lot harder than it sounds, and even if I could miraculously find the energy I need to spend two hours at the gym each day, maximizing my exercise alone won’t be enough to reverse this trend. I have to tackle more persistent habits.

I have to tackle a sudden sugar addiction.

Which brings us finally back to the ironic similarity of “dope” and “dopamine,” the latter of which is the neurotransmitter widely regarded as the source of pleasure in  the brain–a neurotransmitter released excessively by drugs, alcohol, and sugar. And during depressive episodes, I have generally strong cravings for things that release large amounts of dopamine. A quick fix of sugar staves off the depression. But the happiness is artificial and fleeting, barely lasting a few minutes, so then I eat another candy.

If I think back to my healthier days, I walked three miles to and from classes, didn’t drink soda, and rarely ate candy. Today, I might be on my feet all day, but I rarely walk even half a mile a day, and I already mentioned how my eating habits have plummeted.

After serious introspection I don’t think it’s realistic for me right now to expect myself to make drastic changes to my time commitments by going to the gym. My puppy needs me at home, and the motivation to go workout has been at a historic low.

However, limiting the amount of sugar I eat certainly seems within reason, and as I establish healthier eating habits (and my medications reach therapeutic levels), I’ll be able to incorporate more exercise one step at a time. It’s also wiser to focus on a single habit at a time rather than trying to change everything at once.

So here’s my plan, and I guess mainly I’m writing about it because there are probably others in a similar position and also posting it makes me feel more accountable to the goals I set for myself: Starting now, I am no longer going to drink any sugary drinks–no soda, no Starbucks concoctions, no energy drinks, no strawberry and chocolate milk.

That last one is probably where I drink most of my sugar.  At least until now.

When I drink coffee or tea, I will limit myself to half the sugar I typically use. Maybe the taste will be off-putting at first, but as my taste buds adjust, it’ll become enough.

I’m also outlawing any and all candy–a hard feat around Halloween, but nonetheless necessary. I will not eat entire bags of M&Ms as a before-bed snack. I will not eat two Tootsie Rolls between class. I will not allow myself to grab a candy bar at the checkout counter just because the label is colorful and the thought of sugar tantalizes me.

And, of course, no ice cream. This is a little bit easier because my adult-onset lactose-intolerance usually prevents me from eating ice cream anyways (I can buy lactose-free milk relatively easily; lactose-free ice cream is less common and tastes less good).

At least for now, I’ll still allow an occasional Pop Tart (only one at a time) or granola bar, and it’s unlikely I’ll be able to cut out bread and pasta either. But I can opt for whole-wheat options, at least, to minimize the added sugar in my diet.

I didn’t gain this weight overnight, and I’m not going to lose it overnight either. However, I’m hopeful that as I start with these smaller changes, I can at least prevent any additional weight gain and start to work away what I’ve already got.

Post script. This post feels unfinished, lacking a definitive conclusion, but I can’t think of anything I’ve got left to say. Maybe I’ll clumsily open it up for conversation. Are you in a similar spot, or have you been before? What helped you through it? Any other tips for eliminating unnecessary added sugar and establishing healthier eating habits?

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