Captain-Hooked on Sweeteners…

“They’re little pellets of angelic sweetness in comparison to a spoon of scary number-swimming sugar granules”; that’s the eating disorder thought from 10 years ago, shimmying out of the cobwebs in my mind, when rational thought gets hijacked. Sweeteners, for me as an Anorexic, were like winning the lottery… taste the pleasure of a sweetened cup of coffee for minimal debt?  I’d won the bloody jackpot. So I thought. Spending less calorie pennies out of my already minimal purse for the day… versus the mental debt and backlash from a couple spoonfuls of sugar?? (I don’t know about helping the medicine go down Mary Poppins, but if you sang that to an Anorexic, they’d see two horns appear from your head and be on a plane to the other side of the world before you can say ‘calories’)…

Now, on a stable(ish) rowing boat-ride down the river of recovery, my vision of ‘health’ and how I would like my relationship with food to be has shifted dramatically. All the years of hospital and therapy has grown gardens of knowledge and awareness inside me – because making food choices now is about piecing together the best version of me I can be – both inside the tiny cells of my body, and the wiring of my complex little brain. Don’t get me wrong, I am still working on detangling my emotions with food and my precise ways… I often feel like I’ve bought and tried every detangle brush in every Superdrug – but the truth is there is no one fits all. Every day is a learning curve… and sometimes when I rationally picture the ideal Yazzie’s relationship with food, it’s like emotion jumps on the windscreen covering the whole view, almost crashing multiple times. The thing is you have to choose never to stop… as long as you’re willing to learn from and act on mini blips in the road… you WILL recover.

Speaking of detangling brushes… one very tangled hair ball, is my long-standing addiction to sweeteners. What began as a dietary choice many years ago, when I was stuck on that yo-yo with my body image as a teenager, now is an emotional addiction. And I know it’s a problem, because every time I’ve tried to cut them out, there is a void in me that feels fragile and needs comforting, but without the fear of calories. And I feel like an alcoholic walking past them in the shops. So a tea with 9 sweeteners often does the trick. Coffee with 5. Times those by a few cups, and I probably not long ago averaged on 41 a day in total… 1,230 a month… and wait for it… 14,760 a year. On top of that throw in Mr Pepsi Max multiplied by a few… and more recently so, an excessive amount of sugarfree sweets for my evening snack.

Yes, partly it’s still driven by that old eating-disordered thought of satisfying a sweet taste for little calories. But it’s become more than true hunger. And you know what I said about all the stuff I’ve learnt through the years? Well as the cement is finally hardening of that huge recovery home I’m trying to build inside… now that I know I’m addicted to putting something chemically made inside my body – one that offers no nutritional benefit… it’s started to bother me hugely. It’s hard to step out of yourself and analyse a habit that has brought familiarity… but when I see the big picture of what long-term impact this could have on my health… and more importantly that I feel prisoner to this addiction, and so weak without it… it needs to go for good.

I always remember trying to work through this sweetener addiction on and off in the past through therapy. And I always remember my therapist saying how sweeteners just send off a false signal to your brain for that sweet craving… and you can end up craving more. The brain is never satisfied. And I do now realise how this addiction in some people (without eating disorders) when they try to lose weight, can end up eating more because of the backlash of the sweetener which can jeopardise their goals. And I am interested to recognise that throwing myself into this sweetener addiction, believing that it could surely be better than sugar, possibly contributed to my binging and purging in the past. Personally, I don’t think there could be any harm in having the odd one or two sweetener in your cuppa, if you don’t feel like it’s a problem. But over the past year or so in particular, I genuinely feel panicked if I realise I don’t have my sweeteners in my handbag, or during college lessons just recently I’ve felt so vulnerable and anxious if I didn’t have a Pepsi Max at hand. As weird as it sounds, having those things available – a short fix of something sweet, when I’m feeling socially anxious or having a moment of low self-esteem, tricks me into a miniscule moment of emotional comfort. What I thought was helping my anxiety has actually ended up CREATING it.

So – s*d this! As well as the fact I genuinely want to care for the insides of my body and feed it stuff that will make some cell in my body happy, I’ve decided to cut them out for good and put my head to the test. I need to expose myself to periods of the day where I don’t have the compulsion to make myself a sweetened cuppa, or pop to the college shop to stock up on Pepsi Max… or feel terror if I don’t have a stash of my ‘fruit foam’ sugarfree sweets in my cupboard… (of which I’d set aside a decent amount of calories for the end of the day so I could have more than one bag in bed) I’ve had this thing where I only feel I can cope in the evenings by eating things that I can eat in large quantities so with fewer calories, so that they last longer. All of this shite is completely emotionally driven. Which makes me think I’m not facing my emotions to prove to myself that I am capable of seeing it through.

Game on.

How am I going to manage this? Well firstly… if I recognise it definitely to be a physical craving for sweet stuff, I will replace it with something that is ‘honestly’ sweet and offers some nutrition… so instead of a 9-sweetened cuppa after my lunch or my tea… I’ve started (as of today) having an individually wrapped mini piece of dark chocolate. And honestly, already that does the trick. If anything, it reinforces to me that chocolate is okay, it normalises it when it’s something I’ve struggled with including in ‘normal life’ outside of hospital for years. Also, if it’s a mid-afternoon slump and I’ve already had my snack, I’ll have a piece of fruit – offering hydration that the cuppa would have and also tapping the sweet craving on the head. (as I’ve just done beginning this blog post)

As a bonus, if I can see this through (yes, YES I will)…. I know l’ll feel empowered for taking charge of my emotions and not acting compulsively (complete eating disorder recovery win), but I’ll also feel much better about my insides, that what’s being fed into my stomach, through to my lungs, my heart, my skin, my brain, my everything… is stuff that is doing me good and in the long-term I hope will manifest into a better quality of life.

So rather than Captain-Hooked I’m aiming for Smee-free…. (😉)

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