And I think I can safely say, for me at least, I don’t want to open up that particular can of worms again for awhile. However, our experience of blogging about sugar convinced me that it’s controversial and complicated. This issue isn’t easy.
That’s why I was super surprised to see the Canadian Cancer Society advocating Sugar Free September.
About Sugar-Free September
Fancy a month off the sweet stuff to help raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society?
Sugar-Free September challenges you to go sugar-free for 30 days to raise vital funds for the Canadian Cancer Society to create a world where no Canadian fears cancer.
Commit to quitting the cookies and brownies, lock up the doughnuts, ditch the candies and kick the sugar habit by signing up to Sugar-Free September and raise money for life-saving research and vital services for people living with cancer.
Most Canadians consume diets high in added sugar, which can lead to excess weight gain. Research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of cancer.
Get your health and body back on track by reducing your intake of food and drinks with added sugars from your diet for an entire month! It’s a great way to learn how easy it is to moderate consumption while also feeling the benefits of healthier eating.
I worry that this feeds into food fear and that very little good can come of it. I worry that people who want an excuse to adopt a very restrictive diet will find this appealing. And I worry it will hurt people with a history of eating disorders.
But that’s me. I’m the over-thinking worrying sort. Pretty much an occupational hazard!
What do you think? And if you’re doing sugar free September, how’s it going so far?
Is it disordered eating? Is it unfeminist? Is it rationalization? Does it run contrary to the ideals of the blog? Is it dieting in disguise? Does it demonize sugar? Is it unscientific? Is it pleasure denying? Obsession-promoting? Am I a traitor? Troubled? A hypocrite?
But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was the level of snark and self-righteousness. So okay. I get it. The idea of trying to dump sugar strikes you as ill-advised. That’s fine and to those who expressed concern, thank you. Whatever else, it’s a flash point.
In the past, this sort of response (which at times felt harsh, like an attack, but I can handle that, being over 50 and a feminist this is not new to me–in fact, the last time I took this kind of heat was on this very blog, when my post about why putting “ladies” on the locker room door does a disservice to women fell into the hands of 4chan and some woman-hating subreddits) might make me dig in my heels.
But the sugar thing was meant to be a journey (possibly a short one). And part of the purpose of this week is to reflect on my motives and reasons and whether I even want to do this. And though it hurts when other feminists attack me, even more so when they call my feminism into question, I am positively disposed to taking other feminists seriously. So instead of writing a “back the fuck off, bitches, I’ve had a rough year, month, week, day…” post (which is what I might have done when younger), I’m trying as hard as I can to keep an open mind. My plan here is to consider each challenge on its own merits, doing my best to set aside the snark and self-righteousness because in the end I don’t think that’s any way to get someone on your side if you have a legitimate point to make. Apologies in advance if some sarcasm and snark of my own seeps in.
Is it disordered eating? This is a tough one. I’m no stranger to disordered eating and I know first hand how it can shrink and ravage lives. Is dumping sugar (or any food) necessarily a sign of disordered eating? Not sure but I can see why it might be a red flag for some since it’s clearly something that lots of people with eating disorders do. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t about to get all fanatical about it. I’ve engaged in disordered eating in the past. But cutting out desserts doesn’t strike me as necessarily disordered. If it involved obsession and hyper-vigilance I’d be worried. But I was not planning to be hyper-vigilant.
Nevertheless, I can see how the idea of restricting a food group (not that sugar is in fact a food group) might trigger those with a history of eating disorders. I can also see how it could have some appeal to those with a history of eating disorders, which is why I needed to take this week of “planning” to try to get clear on my motives, which could easily be out of whack (a point I’m willing to consider and take seriously, though I must admit it’s easier to do that without shaming fingers wagging in my face).
I’ll get to the point about obsession in a minute.
Is it unscientific? Probably. I wasn’t proposing a research paper or study on it. I was engaging in some self-reflection about the role of sugar in my life and whether that itself was unhealthy. But in came the questions about what counts as sugar. Do I only mean refined sugar? What about maple syrup? Don’t we need glucose to get through the day? Don’t I realize that it’s impossible to get rid of sugar because it’s naturally occurring all over the place? All good questions that challenge the very basis of the idea that anyone can actually give up sugar. I find the charge that the a personal narrative post is unscientific to be kind of odd. But hey, if that’s your worry, mea culpa.
Is it pleasure-denying? I said:
There is just no really solid reason why these need to be in my life. If life would be sad without them, then that in itself says something kind of sad about the rest of my life.
This, among other things, offended people because of the implicit suggestion that if enjoying dessert is an important source of pleasure, I must be experiencing deficits in other areas of my life. Instead of seeing it that way, people suggested a different way of looking at it: dessert is an enjoyable thing that no one, especially feminists, should choose to live without. I can see wigging out over that if you’ve fought for the right not to have your food choices policed by friends, families and strangers. I have fought for that right myself, and other than what happened yesterday, have not experienced much policing of my food choices in recent years. And I don’t police the food choices of others despite that I’m an ethical vegan and have all sorts of views about carbon footprints, agribusiness, and unnecessary animal suffering and exploitation.
Is it unfeminist and contrary to the goals of this blog? I’ve blogged before about whether trying to lose weight is an unfeminist goal. I’ve blogged about why I will never, ever talk to anyone about weight loss again. I’ve thought a lot about the way it’s possible for individual women to betray women more generally by their choices. We can do this in all sorts of ways and feminists disagree about where to draw the line.
Some would reject make-up. Others might say we shouldn’t go in for marriage. Some will take issue with choosing to be a stay-at-home mother. Others will deny that sex workers can have any agency at all. Still others will stand on their heads to defend women’s right to choose to be sex workers. I do hope that for anyone who thinks choosing sex work is bad for women, your way of expressing that is not to lash out with verbal attacks on sex workers. Then there are those who will say that any explicit attempt to restrict women’s choices (as perhaps the suggestion that someone might choose not to eat sugar) is anti-feminist because … here I think the argument is complicated and has not been articulated well by any of the commenters on the original post.
I’m going to be charitable and say that these readers have a strong view, as do I, that dieting is part of an oppressive set of social practices that keeps women preoccupied with shallow goals and chasing after normative standards of femininity that ought to be rejected.
They ought to be rejected not only because they are impossible for many to attain (as if, if it were possible, that’s where we should be putting our attention), but also because guess what? There is a huge range of bodies and diversity matters and restricting that range has a negative impact on the value of equality. Compromising equality is definitely not consistent with feminist ideals. Therefore, the thought that anyone should restrict sugar must be contrary to feminism because there is no other reason to do it except dieting.
I’m not sure that’s true. I am not and do not intend to be on a diet any time soon. But I can see how people might link any kind of food restriction to dieting. And what if I were? Does that justify aggressive (yes, I do feel that some of the comments were unduly aggressive) policing of my choices? I’m going to go out on a limb here: no.
It’s even had the negative affect of “confirming” (to some of my friends who are perhaps more quiet, less public and less activist about their feminism) that feminists are scary people poised to lash out. As one friend said, only partially tongue in cheek, “Hugs. Don’t sweat it. Those damn feminists get offended about just about anything.” Great. That’s all we need.
I also don’t feel as if I should need to pull out my feminist resumé to prove myself here, on this blog, the blog that I co-founded, that has provided a feminist space for discussion and disagreement that we hope on our most optimistic days will be kind and constructive, not rife with personal attack.
Don’t even get me started on the stealth judgment contained in “you do you.” Seriously? It’s just passive aggressive bullshit that is code for “you do you, but before you do, let me make it really clear why I hate what you do when you do you. Carry on.” Does “you do you” really make up for the strong staring down of feminist disapproval? For the people who are “disappointed” and “surprised” and see their “red flags waving”? I’m 51 fucking years old. I don’t need anyone’s permission to “do me.” [again, thank you to those who reached out with concern instead, it felt much more helpful and genuine]
[stage direction: regain composure then continue]
Here’s my partial diagnosis of what happened (not complete, because I’m sure it was more complicated than this, but this is a start): After reading and re-reading the comments on the blog and the FB page, the overwhelming feeling I get is that at least some readers feel as if the post (and the project) was a betrayal of sorts (perhaps even evidence of my hypocrisy).
What I have to say about that is…maybe you’re right (though I won’t say I’m a hypocrite, I will say I’m not always perfectly consistent. Crucify me now. Oh, I almost forgot, you already did that on Tuesday.). It’s not at all consistent with my general approach to eating to even consider restricting foods for anything other than ethical reasons (as noted, I’m an ethical vegan). I do not demonize foods, do not believe that some foods are evil, and certainly do not go in for fads. I spend a lot of time publicly rejecting diets, cleanses, weight loss talk (and programs), and have strongly feminist reasons for doing so. I promote body positivity and an inclusive approach to fitness.
And though some of the comments did sting (like the one that said what a waste of time to be spending energy journalling about sugar. For one thing, I feel that posting those journal entries was kind of exposing even if you think it’s a waste of time, and for another thing, it only took me 20 minutes and, as I said defensively in the comments after the onslaught had been under way for most of the day, I’d already spent several hours before and after writing about climate change and collective responsibility, so I think I’m actually making more valuable contributions in other spheres thank you very much), in the end I take the point while also still feeling fairly confident that food is a feminist issue.
To the person who said to Sam’s post that this whole thing is a “first world problem.” Yes. That’s true. In fact, the whole topic of dieting as a form of oppression is a first world problem. If you think about it in the context of global food systems and issues of real food insecurity, food sovereignty, and food justice, the choice to diet or eat whatever the heck you want, the choice to eat or not eat sugar or anything, oozes privilege. I have a paper on that coming out in the yet to be released Oxford Handbook on Food Ethics. Abstract here. But first world problems are still problems. Just because there may be worse problems in the world doesn’t mean we can’t talk about things that aren’t as horrible.
Before I concede entirely, I do want to address the one point several people made about restriction breeding obsession. I’ve had mixed experiences with this and I’m not the only one. As someone who has completely stopped consuming alcohol, I can attest that when I was moderating alcohol I was obsessed. After I quit, I no longer have to think about it anymore. It doesn’t even enter my mind because it’s basically off the table. I don’t read wine lists with a sense of longing and deprivation, or feel I’m missing out on anything when I toast with club soda instead of champagne. And more importantly for me, I don’t seek comfort in mind-altering substances anymore. Sure, continuing to use them would be exercising a freedom of choice that no one has the right to police, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good life strategy for me.
I have also engaged in seriously disordered and restricted eating in the past, and that did generate food obsession. But it seems to me that it is also possible that removing something completely can get it out of your head altogether (another case in point: I do not think about eating meat or dairy anymore — these are not on the menu for me and I do not obsess about them in their absence). So I guess I thought that perhaps sugar might go that way. The thought that it could go that way is not a totally ridiculous thought.
But I can see how it was a mistake to voice that here. People expect more, or perhaps, expect different, from this blog, from me. Even though sharing my plan and my journal made me vulnerable to criticism (and in other ways, but it’s a blog and I often make myself vulnerable here), it also opened me up to input (let’s be charitable) from a feminist community that I generally respect and that I realize doesn’t have a whole lot of spaces that welcome their comments as much as we usually do here.
And it made me aware that I can still get caught up in what I call “old ideas” even if I try to dress them up in new ways. Don’t tell me you’ve never grasped after something in the hopes of making you “feel better” and found all sorts of good “reasons” for why doing that might “work.” Again, if you ever have, I hope that those who were concerned you might be making a mistake could find gentler ways of nudging you in a different direction.
So I’m just going to put this out there and be totally frank. I really can’t stand it when people talk about their weight loss. I don’t care what the reasons. I don’t care if you’re trying or not trying. I don’t care if it’s for performance or for looks or just because that’s what friends, family, and strangers like to talk about.
You know, you can dress it up any way you like. But to me it’s such a personal thing that our social world has made into a public thing. And I’m always stumped about what we’re supposed to say. “Good for you!” even when someone is trying just goes against everything that feels right to me. It’s like encouraging something that I see ruin the lives of perfectly excellent people who think that weight loss will afford them something they need in order to feel good about themselves (or better about themselves). I just can’t have the conversation anymore, with anyone.
You know what? This week’s sugar dump response made me realize lots of people feel the same way about food and food restriction. It just reeks of “diet” to them. They just don’t want to hear it. And I agree. From here on out, I don’t either.
How about we eat what we eat and get on with our day? No need to write about it or talk about it or make big pronouncements about it.
Thanks for the feedback. Even though I don’t think it’s simply a choice between patriarchy or cupcakes, I’m dumping the sugar dump.
Tracy and Anita are giving up sugar. You can read all about it here. I like a good challenge too but I won’t be joining them and here’s why.
First, they didn’t ask me! To be truthful, they knew I’d decline. And that’s okay. We don’t all have to agree. I’m offering up my reasons not to quit sugar to explain how I think about it. But I don’t mean to say that those who decide otherwise are wrong. YMMV.
We enjoy exploring areas of disagreement around here whether it’s biking (I’m keen, Tracy’s not), nutritional tracking (again, I’m keen and Tracy’s not) or now taking a break from sugar (Tracy’s keen and I’m passing.)
Second, I am usually not a moderate person but I aspire to be a moderate when it comes to food. Generally though if I like something, I like it a lot. COFFEE!! Also chocolate, raspberries, bagels and croissants. Bike riding, dancing, Aikido, and boxing. And if I don’t like it, I want none of it at all. I don’t drink. I don’t watch network TV, hate shopping malls etc etc.
Third, I like my carbs fast and simple when I’m running or riding. That means sugar. Yes, of course you can eat dried fruit but gels and shot blocks and sports drinks are easy and efficient. My favourite are the maple syrup shots designed for sports. Other stuff takes time to digest and I like fast acting carbs when I want to go fast.
Fourth, it’s also beach body season! This whole thing smacks of the ritual spring diet to me. I strongly associate the “it’s spring, let’s give up sugar for our health for 30 days” with the quest for the better beach body. It’s a ritual in which I choose not to participate. I gave that up a long time ago. Like people who give up carbs for “health reasons” (what health reasons exactly?) this whole thing sounds like seriously restrictive eating to me. No thanks. Repeat after me: A beach body just is the body you take to the beach.
Fifth, I’ve read a bunch of stuff about sugar and I am very skeptical it’s the demon it’s made out to be. We as a society eat far too much of it. Yes, yes, yes. But I don’t see a need to give it up entirely. That’s the kind of all or nothing thinking about food that I try to avoid. I’ve got a partner with diabetes and so I’ve read lots about carbs, sugar, and insulin. Unless you’re going to give up fruit and other carbs, I don’t quite get the point. Jam sweetened with concentrated fruit juice isn’t that different from jam sweetened with sugar. See In Defense of the Sweet Stuff. Also in my own case I’ve had enough people look at my blood sugar levels to know that I’m at no risk for type two diabetes. Why fix what isn’t broken?
Sixth, and finally, joy and cupcakes! Human celebrations that involve delicious food aren’t trivial things. They’re deep and meaningful. And they bring joy to our lives. I already miss out on social times that involve alcohol and meat. I’m not about to miss out on birthday cake and pie for Pi Day. Come join me for a cupcake!
Sugar is not evil and you don’t need to avoid it entirely (unless told otherwise by your physician) nor should you eat it in copious amounts throwing caution to the wind. As in many cases, moderation is the key.
You don’t have to quit something altogether to improve your health. Are you going to be that much healthier if you never eat sugar versus if you cut your sugar intake way down but still can enjoy sweets sometimes? I think you know the answer to this question. Not depriving yourself altogether of a single nutrient can help your diet be more balanced and enjoyable. You won’t have to feel a sense of dread anytime you want an ice cream cone or when you’re out with friends; you can eat like a normal person and not try to find the lowest-sugar item on the menu which you probably don’t feel like eating anyways. Trying to avoid sugar in all situations can be more stressful than you imagine. Not worth it.
Sugar is one of our main sources of energy when broken down in to glycogen. We hold about 350g of muscle glycogen, 90g in the liver and about 5g circulating in our blood. We replenish it when we eat. Predominantly we break sugar down from carbohydrates (not just sugars) so grains, potatoes, vegetables, pasta and rice among other sources provide our dietary intake to keep us well stocked up on energy. Sugar is just classified as a carbohydrate- we were made to use sugars as an energy source, completely ignoring it as a way of producing energy you could argue is like driving a car with three wheels- it’s possible but it’s not exactly going to be a comfy ride and is going to cause some major damage to the road as well. – See more at: http://bossfitness.net/i-didnt-quit-sugar-and-you-shouldnt-either/#sthash.XGgzLPLT.dpuf
Here’s the short version: Sugar is evil, it will kill you, blah, blah, blah.
Now if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know we’re not fans of thinking of some foods as off-limits and we especially hate the language of “good” and “evil” when it comes to food choices. See Tracy’s past post Why Food Is Beyond “Good” and “Evil” for a clear articulation of why that’s so.
While there is no doubt we, as a society, are eating too much sugar (the American Heart Association recommends 9.5 teaspoons a day but the average American adult eats 22 and the average American child 32–no Canadian stats close at hand) I’m very leery of approaches to food and nutrition that involve demonizing some foods and banishing them from our diets altogether. There is a handy info-graphic about sugar and its over-consumption here.
I’m not going to defend sugar or take on the claims from Babble, but I do want to share with you a post from someone who has. Here’s Healthy Urban Kitchen’s response: 25 Things You Should Know About Sugar
I won’t rehash all 25 myths and the myth busting responses but I will include 22 as it’s a personal favourite and it’s a myth that lots of friends believe even though there’s no evidence to support it.
22 Sugar is Affecting Our Kids
Citing a single study about preschoolers and sugary drinks doesn’t support the idea that sugar as part of a balanced diet has any adverse effects on the behavior or cognitive abilities of kids.
a) ‘Although sugar is widely believed by the public to cause hyperactive behavior, this has not been scientifically substantiated. Twelve double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of sugar challenges failed to provide any evidence that sugar ingestion leads to untoward behavior in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or in normal children. Likewise, none of the studies testing candy or chocolate found any negative effect of these foods on behavior. ‘
If you want to understand why parents believe this, look no further than the power of fear-based articles like these being widely shared and the Pygmalion effect: the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. When kids are primed to bounce off the walls because they ate sugar, most will take the opportunity to let loose.
Here is an older post on the alleged evils of sugar from one of our favourite websites Go Kaleo.
Go Kaleo: “Sugar is not THE problem. Sugar may be (and probably is, under some circumstances) A problem, one of many. But if we’re going to treat sugar as THE problem, and then ‘solve’ that problem by simply eliminating sugar, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Well, for one tree. A bush really. Inactivity is a bigger problem than sugar, and fixating on sugar gives the inactivity a free pass. To improve metabolic health we really need to address all the problems. Don’t get hung up on Sugar As The Bad Guy. You cheat yourself out of vibrant good health, and miss out on some yummy and perfectly appropriate desserts.”
And while Healthy Urban Kitchen and Go Kaleo sound all polite and reasonable, Melkor (another favourite Facebook fitness and nutrition skeptic) isn’t that restrained.
Better headline: You’ll Stop Reading Babble.com After Seeing Them Give Airtime to This Codswallop.
This new anti-sugar article that’s going around is 100% incorrect. It is false, every bit of it, it’s the perfect example of fear-mongering. It is supporting an upcoming documentary called “I Should Be Embarrassed for Believing Shit I Didn’t Research”. I’m writing a rebuttal now…