Sugar, Self-Esteem and Sudden Death

I missed the memo about sugar, self-esteem and sudden death.

I’m staring down the barrel of 40 and so I’ve recently re-doubled my efforts to lose weight and get healthy.  As my friends and I have talked about the various things we’ve tried in an effort  to clean up our diets, a recurring theme has been how sugar affects our weight, mood, and just about everything else.

Sugar is getting some attention among doctors and nutritionists these days, because there’s some re-thinking of the notion that sugar is just “empty calories”.  Research is yielding some pretty scary stuff about how sugar is fundamentally different in the way it affects the body.  Theories about nutrition seem to come and go like fashion, but this is some compelling stuff…

I’ve been having a pretty ardent love affair with sugar most of my life, but I’d say things got pretty serious once I got to college.  I went to college in Atlanta, which is a town that runs on Coca-Cola. In the South, Coke is so beloved and ubiquitous that when you are offered a sweetened carbonated beverage, there might be an exchange like this:

“What kind of Coke you want?”

Sodas had been a treat at home, but when I got out on my own,  it wasn’t  long before I was drinking the brown and bubbly with all three meals.  Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty bad soda habit. I’ve given it up for Lent here and there, but I’ve always fallen off the wagon.  But I’ve begun weaning myself, and I’m really trying ditch the sodas for good.  Graphics like this have started to scare me straight…

Damn...that's a lot of sugar.

But when it comes to giving up the extra sugar, the deck is kind of stacked.  Not only are we hard-wired to enjoy and crave sweet things, our efforts to resist the treats are constantly undermined by the indignities and insults we suffer all the time.  Check out this post in one of my favorite blogs which summarizes some interesting research about the nature of will power.  It seems that will power can be, at least in some situations, a function of how we’re feeling about ourselves in a given moment.  The research suggests that when we experience some rejection or criticism, we’re less able to resist treats.  I am a freakin’ poster child for this phenomenon and this why I no longer keep candy on my desk at the office.   A tense phone call or a snarky e-mail would send me diving into the Hershey’s kisses.

And if I weren’t already totally freaked out about sugar in general and soda in particular, just today there was this story about a lady in New Zealand who just dropped dead after habitually consuming fairly ridiculous amounts of Coke.  Holy crap.  I had long ago surrendered any delusion that Coke was in any way good for me, but it can kill you? (To be fair, broccoli could probably kill you, too, if you ate too much of it.)  The dearly departed Kiwi mentioned above is survived by a bunch of kids, who have a weird story to tell later in life…it might go something like this:

Oh, my mom died when I was *insert tender age here*.

Sorry to hear that…what did she die of?

She drank herself to death.

Oh, that’s terrible.  Was it vodka?  Scotch?

No, it was Coke. 


Seriously.  Memo received.