Brain Hacking 101: Bad Sugar

Let’s talk diet. You’d rather not? Oh, okay. You might not want to read this post then, because right now I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else. That’s the worse thing about dieting, isn’t it? While your body is adjusting to a new regime of healthy foods, your brain is sitting in the background begging like a pitiful puppy. Or maybe a starving orphan.

Walking past the chocolate stash…Just one, tiny little chocolate rabbit. No one will know. Please? Fixing breakfast…Would one tiny little piece of toast with some nice, healthy peanut butter really be so terribly bad? Cleaning up the snack table at work… Can’t stand it…must not…scavenge…vanilla wafers…

In particular, the diet I’m following has an initial phase of seventeen days with no carbs. The principle is to hack your brain so it craves natural sugars like those in fruit and healthy carbohydrates, rather than those in whoopie pies and donuts. (If someone offered me the chance to swap a consequence-free whoopie pie with my firstborn child, I would seriously consider it at the moment…the caveat being that I don’t actually have any children, for those of you who don’t really know me. I’m only that horrible in theory. Probably.) Breaking your brain of any craving, however, requires you to go through a period of withdrawal.

Right now, I am in serious sugar withdrawal. It’s not nearly as bad as it was last night or the night before, however, so I have hope that it will continue to get easier. The question you might ask, and which I am certainly asking myself, is WHY ARE YOU PUTTING YOURSELF THROUGH THIS? I generally believe that diets are a questionable proposition at best. I love food and I have slightly hedonistic leanings, so depriving myself of one of my favorite pastimes (i.e., eating junk food) in order to squeeze my body into a socially acceptable data range that was developed during the hey-day of phrenology is not something I am normally inclined to do.

I also believe, however, that our experience of life is mediated by the bodies we have available to live that life. Hiking a mountain is exhilarating…less so when you’ve got the pound-equivalent of several housecats stowed away in your thighs and belly. In the years since graduating college, becoming a member of driving society (as opposed to biking and walking society) has begun to take a toll on my body. I used to burn enough calories through my mode of transportation to allow myself to remain recklessly addicted to sugar, but that’s no longer the case. Spending two hours in a car every day while eating whoopie pie and donuts = “There’s no way in heck I’m even trying to climb that mountain.”

So…something’s gotta give. I have to forcibly place my brain and body into an uncomfortable state of change for a while to give myself the chance to get away from the habit of popping chocolate bunnies into my mouth every time I walk past the candy pot or eating Nutella straight from the jar when I get a bit bored and peckish. I have to eat vegetables until I want to throw them at something whether it’s funny or not and pass on the spaghetti and chocolate cake for a while.

Hopefully, by the end of my first seventeen days, I will have made the decision to avoid sugar three- to five-thousand times–enough to ground a habit of mind that will help live my life in a healthier, more energetic body. If this scheme to get my body past it’s addiction to sugar doesn’t work? John may come home to find me knee-deep in whoopie pie wrappers and blissfully sunk into a sugar coma.

It had better work.

Doing the Bad Food Tango

One of these days, I’m going to publish a photo album with all the food-gone-wrong photos that I’ve accumulated over the years. It seems like three or four times every year, I end up with a good story about some disaster of rot or char in my kitchen.


Like last fall (2008, not 2009), I was trying to get creative with apples left over from picking season, so I made steamed dumplings. Our oven was, well…not broken. Just so old that I hadn’t yet figured out how to turn it on, but that’s a different story. Thinking the oven was broken, I couldn’t make pie, so I tried steaming dumplings using a big pot full of water and one of my cake pans. It was pretty brilliant, actually. The first batch turned out so well that we ate the whole pan in two sittings, so of course, I made more.


This was a mistake. The magic was gone. I messed up the dough, to start, and I don’t know what I different, but I couldn’t get the apples to cook. By the time they were tender, the dough had cooked to rubber. Worse, I got distracted while they were steaming, and I boiled the pan really, really dry, ruining my brand new pot. Literally brand new—this was right after our honeymoon, and our pots and pans were a wedding gift, so I never used that pot for anything but steaming apple dumplings.


Worse, we have so thoroughly gorged ourselves on the first pan that the second held no appeal at all, especially considering how badly they turned out. But we hate to waste food, so we didn’t toss them right away. We figured we would be more ready to eat them in a day or two, which we were. But when we picked off the tinfoil, we found that the dumplings had already grown a lovely green-white fuzz.


Seriously, it was lovely. John took some pictures and it looks like some ethereal sort of dish. A delicacy for fairies or aliens, perhaps. But we weren’t going to eat it.


This week has been a bad one for food too. John made spaghetti sauce on Thursday night (which was delicious), but his hare-brained wife, after going to the trouble to put the leftovers in a plastic container, proceeded to forget the sauce was cooling on the counter until seven the next morning. That was a disappointment—we even researched food safety to see if we could salvage it with microwaving it or something, but the consensus seems to be that more than four hours on the counter renders food like that extremely dangerous.


And just now, John went to bite into his first peach of spring. We were both excited about this, because we generally buy fruit when it’s on sale (and hypothetically in season somewhere in the world). Nectarines, peaches, plums, and other such succulent tree fruits seem to have a heartbreakingly short season in New England, so when we saw peaches and nectarines on sale when we went shopping, we jumped on them.


Apparently, sometimes fruit is on sale because it’s in season. Sometimes, however, it’s on sale because it’s not in season. The peach he cut open had this interesting sponge-like texture and these very pretty rings of black and deep red running around the pit. It left almost no juice on the paper towel.


At least we’ve got more fodder for our future alien banquet photo book.