My relationship with sugar

“That’s not a vice!” a manager after I told him my only vice: sugar.

I always recount that moment, because I felt embarrassed that I had no deep dark secrets like smoking, drinking, or porn. Nothing that the public would be happy to shame without regard to individuality. Sugar? Everybody does it.

But earlier this year, I agreed to help out a startup where I knew some people from previous gigs. It fulfilled one of my requirements for freelance jobs: working with people I know. And it also fulfilled another important one: impacting people beyond the 1% (at least in the near term).

Their pitch: We help people with chronic conditions. Starting with diabetes.

Going into this, I barely knew anything about diabetes. Beyond what I know that Stacy from The Babysitters Club endured. Yes, my grandmother did pass away due to complications from diabetes and my grandfather did have type 2 diabetes for the longest time. But I didn’t know much beyond besides the fact that during special dinner, my mom would say “just have a small piece of cake” to my grandmother. Just a little bit.

And so I dived into the project. Because of my role, I spend hours upon hours talking to people with diabetes. I ask them who they are, what they do everyday, and why do they do that. I take time to understand their choices, their behavior and their motivations. And in it, I hear cries of help, sadness, but hope always for the future.

One said to me, “I want to live happily for the next decade. I don’t want to be an old person.”

Silently with a sympathetic smile, I nod. I can’t truly empathize beyond understanding now what my grandparents had to suffer.

But then all the words, all the statements, all the facts that I learned start touching what I do everyday. In food, I always believe in moderation. I don’t believe in diets. I believe in enjoying what we eat—it should be treated as a pleasure of life, a privilege of being human. Yes, have that piece of candy. Yet, have that piece of cake and ice cream. I believe in savoring delicious food, to extend its lifespan as much as possible on the tongue. I believe in eating slow and being choosy about ingredients.

I have always rejected the guilt that comes with food. Just eat what you like and don’t eat what you don’t like. But perhaps that’s the rub. I have rarely loved bread or even most carbs. Nowadays too, I don’t like the sweetest things, the syrupy headache-inducing things. I love things that are sweet and fresh. Juicy and fruit.

But learning about diabetes and becoming aware of how my body reacts, because that’s what these people do. They feel the sweats, they feel the exhaustion, they feel the headaches when their glucose levels are too high and low. I am moving beyond sympathy and can feel it in my body. And the worry increases. Maybe I will pass out too? Maybe I will have a seizure? Maybe I won’t be able to see?

There’s a phenomenon for this, of course. The kind that doctors regularly get when they listen to their patients. Be cold and distant is probably a defense mechanism. But I can’t do that. In talking to people with diabetes, I want to be warm and welcoming (unless of course, they’re tricking me and pretending to have diabetes just to be part of the studies). So I am there, listening, constantly listening. Then I eat and think: did I eat too much? Will my pancreas fail on me?

But my head feels fine. I see vividly. And the tiredness is due to the heat or probably working all day. I am okay, right? I am okay.

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