Several weeks before the beginning of Lent I began to consider and pray about how best to use this time to bring glory to God and clear my own way toward a repentant and tender heart. For years I’ve told people who inquired about their own personal disciplines, “When your first response to an idea for something to relinquish for Lent is ‘No, not that!’ you have probably found an important clue to what you need to do.”
For me the “No, not that!” response came in the word, “sugar.” Now, I actually don’t consume much in the way of added sweeteners. I gave up soft drinks almost entirely several years ago, and when I went gluten-free three years ago, that effectively eliminated most desserts. As one of the many lactose-intolerant adults, ice-cream products has long since given way and artificial sweeteners play havoc with my system, so never bother with them at all.
Even so, I found my indulgences. A guilty pleasure was hot tea sweetened with powdered lemonade mix, cinnamon and cloves. I keep lovely caramel-chocolate-sea-salt bars in my freezer and periodically break off a couple of squares. Once or twice a month, I’d treat myself to a soft drink, particularly when I had a long writing session in front of me. And creme brulee, the one dessert I can safely eat (when milk is cooked the lactose changes to something I can digest), had been working its way into my meals with greater frequency. Furthermore, increasingly common gluten-free items beckoned, and most of them have some form of sugar in them.
Last December, I read this in an article about current sugar consumption: “The average American consumes anywhere from a quarter to a half pound of sugar a day. If you consider that the added sugar in a single can of soda might be more than most people would have consumed in an entire year just a few hundred years ago, you get a sense of how dramatically our environment has changed. The sweet craving that once offered a survival advantage now works against us.”
That got me: we can easily eat as much sugar in one day as our ancestors may have consumed over an entire year. And we wonder why we have weight and health problems!
So, after wrestling with myself over this, I decided to go completely sugar free during Lent. Essentially, that means no processed foods at all. Take a good look at the label of just about anything you purchase that has some sort of processing: almost everything has some added sugar, although it may be disguised by other names. At the bottom of this post, I have copied lists of all the names of sweeteners, both natural and artificial. It’s an eye opener.
The extent of that list means makes it a complex job to make sure no sweeteners are added to food. Easiest thing: do what is called “eat around the edges” of the grocery store: fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, meat, fish, and cheese, along with carefully chosen condiments. And I do mean “carefully chosen” since many of them have either wheat components (like soy sauce) or added sweeteners (like ketchup).
It took me less than 24 hours before the first symptoms of withdrawal began: headache and a general feeling of malaise. A bit of research suggests this is quite normal–sugar is highly addictive, and sudden withdrawal of 100% of the sources, even as little as I was eating, shocks the body. Even almost a week later, I still feel sluggish. Until last night, sleep was disrupted, but last night, I slept better than I have for a long time–a refreshing, uninterrupted sleep.
I’m a bit shocked at how much I want something sweet. I do have some fruit in the house, grape and oranges, and eat them as I wish–but they don’t solve the problem. The tentacles of addiction are tightly entwined in my body, and loosen with great reluctance and much staying power.
So, what am I learning about myself? How is this helping me with the important time of preparation for Easter, for the resurrected life?
Right now, the number one lesson is a deeper compassion for any who face issues of addiction. Which is pretty well all of us. We’re a pain-relief-seeking people. All forms of addiction are ways to relieve pain, be it physical, psychic, political, financial, social or emotional.
Life is just tough, although certainly moments of intense joy and happiness appear to most all of us. But from the beginning of time, we’ve had to work by the sweat of our collective brows to find shelter, adequate provision, and safety from predators, be they animal or human. Furthermore, death happens to all–and it’s always been tough to lose our loved ones. So we do look to relieve pain–nothing wrong with that. The wrongness comes when we become so addicted to the relief that our addictions drive our lives instead of our love for God and for our neighbors.
The Scriptures say over and over again that God has compassion upon us. Compassion, the ability to suffer with us, pours forth upon us. We don’t walk alone in our pains, fears and addictions. The Holy Presence accompanies us, agonizes with us and understands our multiple failures.
So, just under a week into this Lenten journey, I pray that my slight (well, not so slight to me, but in the big scheme of things . . . ) discomfort becomes my treasured companion to soften and ultimately eliminate any wish to stand in judgment of others as they face their own ways to find relief from pain.
Names for Various Sugars, Natural and Aartificial
Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solid, Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado, Sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar.
Artificial Sweeteners (common names in bold type)
ASPARTAME: APM, AminoSweet (but not in US), Aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester, Canderel (not in US, Equal Classic, NatraTaste Blue, NutraSweet, Equal
ASPARTAME-ACESULFAME SALT: TwinSweet (Europe only)
CYCLAMATE: Not in US as per FDA, Calcium cyclamate, Cologran = cyclamate and saccharin; not in US, Sucaryl
ERYTHRITOL: Sugar alcohol, Zerose, ZSweet
GLYCEROL: Glycerin, Glycerine
HYDROGENATED STARCH HYDROLYSATE (HSH): Sugar alcohol
ISOMALT: Sugar alcohol, ClearCut Isomalt, Decomalt, DiabetiSweet (also contains Acesulfame-K), Hydrogenated Isomaltulose, Isomaltitol
LACTITOL: Sugar alcohol
MALTITOL: Sugar alcohol, Maltitol Syrup, Maltitol Powder, Hydrogenated High Maltose Content Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Maltose, Lesys , MaltiSweet, SweetPearl
MANNITOL: Sugar alcohol
POLYDEXTROSE: Sugar alcohol
SACCHARIN: Acid saccharin, Equal Saccharin, Necta Sweet, Sodium Saccharin, Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin
SORBITOL: Sugar alcohol, D-glucitol, D-glucitol syrup
SUCRALOSE: 1′,4,6′-Trichlorogalactosucrose, Trichlorosucrose, Equal Sucralose, NatraTaste Gold, Splenda
XYLITOL: Sugar alcohol. Smart Sweet. Xylipure. Xylosweet