When I write that I am a sugar addict, it is not a glib statement. I knew I have been a sugarholic almost since the day I was born, but yesterday I was officially informed that the label fits me to a “S” by an addiction specialist: my psychiatrist. Yes, he’s an addiction and chronic pain specialist in addition to being a head doc. I respect his opinion immensely especially since he saved my life last fall by recommending a new medication regimen.
Now that we’ve found the right bipolar medication cocktail (the MAOI Parnate, lithium, Seroquel), and I’m not in a crisis (thank you God) we are able to address different subjects during our thirty-minute check-in sessions. Our talks cover everything from theology to meditation. He is the best “pdoc” (psychiatrist) I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of them, unfortunately. When I hired him, I found that my pdoc’s patient care philosophy was one I agreed with wholeheartedly. In his words:
“I believe that achieving optimal health requires a collaborative relationship with the patient, with me in the role of advisor/counselor. Long ago, I coined the phrase Health Care begins with Self-care, first the spirit, then the body and mind. While I prescribe medications when indicated, I do not believe in better living through chemistry, and strive to help patients be on as little medication as possible.”
I know that his practice is full in part due to this unique point of view. For one thing, most psychiatrists do not strive for their patients to be on as little meds as possible. They are fundamentally weird and they get caught up in power plays of the medical establishment. As much as I liked my former longtime psychiatrist, he was out there in more ways than you could shake a stick at. He discussed totally inappropriate things with me during our sessions. He bad-mouthed me to my husband. (That fact pains me the most.) Sometimes the personal stories he shared with me were interesting, but they were disturbing. I felt so horrible and hopeless that I was only half-listening to him anyway.
Anyway, I’m digressing from the topic at hand. Three months ago I gave up alcohol cold turkey within twenty-four hours. I did that because I took my first Pepto Bismol pink-colored pill of Parnate, also known as tranylcypromine. Parnate is in the class of MAOI’s (here’s another mouthful: MAOI stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor) and it’s known as the last-resort drug for bipolar depression. No other pdoc I had seen in the last 10+ years had thought to bring up an MAOI as a possibility, by the way. Why, I’ll never know. That is why I am profoundly grateful to my pdoc for thinking out of the box.
MAOI’s are notorious because they require very rigid food and beverage restrictions such as no aged cheeses and no fermented products. If you ingest one of these verboten items, then you can get very ill or potentially die as they contain an amino acid called tyrine that does not mix with MAOI’s. Alcohol is on the list, so possible death was a very powerful motivator for me to kick booze right away. I am proud to share here that I haven’t touched a drop of the sauce since October 27th, 2013. I am around it every day and I don’t feel tempted to drink for the most part.
But I am tempted to eat sugar if there is sugar in the house. I have no restraint when it comes to this “5th food group”.
A month ago I had my routine blood test for my lithium level, and my pdoc asked for a fasting plasma glucose test as well. I have always been totally oblivious to my glucose level and I never had the issue brought to my attention with my past doctors. I figured if there was anything alarming going on, I would have been notified. When he got the results back, he told me that my test indicated borderline pre-diabetes; I had 103 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter).
But I didn’t freak out so much that I decided to work on reducing my sugar intake. I went into immediate denial of my problem. Normally if I get scary news about a health issue, I will research it and do all that I can to get better. Heck, I did that for bipolar disorder and I still do. However, sugar has been such a deep-seated panacea for my anxiety and it has been so entrenched in my lifestyle that it had an insidious hold upon me. Ever since I stopped drinking alcohol, I craved sugar even more. I rationalized my increased sugar by giving myself a wacko rationale: “Better to give up booze and eat sugar, than to not give up booze and eat sugar.” I know what you’re thinking: “Huh?”
Five days ago it was time for another lithium blood level and of course I wanted another glucose test done as well. I was worried about the test results. I had a very strong feeling I was going to move over into the full-on diabetic range. My fear was looming so large that the day before I anticipated test results, I decided to make a drastic change in my sugar intake. I promised myself to steer clear of my favorite treats. My new reduced-sugar lifestyle lasted less than twenty-four hours! In a way, I was secretly hoping to get a high glucose number because I felt that’s what it would take for me to cut out the white stuff. When I received an email with my glucose reading, I couldn’t believe my eyes – I was at 85 103 mg/dl, within normal range. I honestly thought the test results were wrong, but my pdoc (who trusted this lab) did not doubt the veracity of the readings.
I know it would be unrealistic for me to cut out all sugar…it seems like sugar is in almost everything. I definitely need to work on my diet, as I’m sure that my ever-present fatigue is connected with sugar. It can’t be good for my long-term health either – all the medical literature and experts say so.
To all of this I want to yell a big, fat, sugary “Waaaaaaaaa!” which is pretty much the exact thing I said to my pdoc yesterday when he told me that ultimately a sugar addict needs to cut out all sugar. He didn’t expect that of me now, to my relief, and he’s not trying to take on a parental role. He recommended that I try to stick to 2-3 grams of sugar a day (yikes!) and to start reading food labels. I am a label avoider and I’m over 3 grams at the starting gate each morning when I eat my favorite Greek yogurt. My two favorite flavors, blood orange and pomegranate, contain a whopping 15 grams of sugar. Ugh.
I have a long road ahead of me with this one. I might consult a wonderful longtime journalist/blogger whose name is Maria Grusauskas. She investigates cutting-edge, alternative health topics and I enjoy reading her articles. You can check out Maria’s new blog via my blogroll (http://mariagrusauskas.wordpress.com/) or read her biweekly health column in Santa Cruz Weekly. Maria’s most recent article is based on cutting out gut fungus (lovely!) and it’s very interesting. Maria wrote that she got amazing results from making a major dietary change. While cutting out candida-rich foods sounds totally extreme to me, the article did give me pause when Maria depicted the incredible results she experienced. I want what she has!
In the meantime, I’m going to practice seven of the eight tips listed in the poster below. I can realistically incorporate them into my life except for #7 (“Detox”) but I’m going to consider taking that one on after reading Maria’s provocative article. My birthday is approaching in less than two months and that event could possibly motivate me to practice extreme eating for five days.
If you have any pointers on how to cut down sugar, I’m all ears!