I’m beginning to wonder if my predilection for Giving Stuff Up is less about self-improvement, and more about the fact that I relish a good fight. Of course by ‘fight’, I don’t mean fisticuffs or even a shouting match. I mean the sort of fight that involves strategy, and tactics, and quiet victory against the odds. Having said that, I really don’t like conflict with other people, so a bit of internal struggle now and then fits the bill nicely. It’s all very well being at peace with oneself – but, hey, where’s the fun in that?
And since I like to wax metaphorical, I often find myself personifying my various qualities, and imagining a good-but-generally-weak part of me engaged in an ongoing fight with the less pleasant aspects of my self. It is an honourable tradition. Buddha versus Mara on the bank of the Neranjara River (Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil). Jesus versus Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). Ed Chigliak versus The Demon of Low Self Esteem on Northern Exposure. And now me versus The Demon of Sweetness.
Well, it turns out he is a sneaky old Demon indeed, with all sorts of underhand tactics up his sugary sleeves. You really have to keep your wits about you when you decide to tangle with this guy. Giving up cigarettes and alcohol? Easy! Just don’t buy any, and don’t go to the pub. Oh, and don’t have a social life (which will also be easy, because you’ll be in such a foul mood for so much of the time that none of your friends will want to see you anyway). Do that for a few months and you can knock those addictions pretty soundly on the head.
But sugar – that’s another thing entirely. Your body sort of needs a little bit to function properly – a glucose-deprived brain is a sorry thing indeed. But the body is a clever thing and can make its own glucose out of all sorts of stuff. So it really, really has no need whatsoever of flan or lemon tart, of biscuits or chocolate cake, of gorgeously sticky golden syrup oozing on your banana pancakes, or of those beautiful glinty, tiny white crystals of deliciousness sprinkled on your strawberries. But the Devil of Sweetness, along with his trusty side-kick the Demon of Advertising, would have us believe otherwise. And what a tremendously good job they do of it.
Like drug dealers at the school gates, they get us hooked oh-so-early, and find ever new and tempting ways to feed our habit until we are well and truly addicted. Sugar is Everywhere. Even apparently innocent-sounding low-glycemic ‘slow’ carbohydrates will morph into glucose while your not looking – and any excess that you don’t burn up in the course of your daily (inactive) life will be neatly packed away in those ever-expanding fat-storage lockers decorating your midriff, whist simultaneously messing with your metabolism so that you still feel like you need to eat some more of them.
Now this is where the fighting has to get tactical. I know that a simple stay-away-from-the-sugary-foods approach isn’t going to work. Because they are everywhere, even if I chuck every last one of them out of the house in an attempt to banish temptation from my sight, there will come a time when I have to go out into the real, sugar-loaded world. Plus, Simon might be just a tad pissed off to find he can’t even have a piece of toast for breakfast. And if I can’t learn to deal with the temptation when it arises, this sneaky demon will blind-side me when I least expect it. No – I need another, a better strategy.
Casting about for a way to make progress towards the defeat of this omnipresent enemy, a favourite saying springs to mind… ‘Knowledge is Power’. I am weak-oh-so-weak when I am writhing helpless in the bottomless pit of blah that inevitably follows the sugar rush from some delightful saccharine snack. But knowledge shall be my sword. So what knowledge do I need to know? At times like this it seems the sayings fall thick and fast… ‘Know thy Enemy’. Yeh – that sounds like a plan. Time to turn to my trusty side-kick, The Google Genie, for a bit of intelligence gathering. And just look at some of the dirt he came up with… this – The Definitive Guide to Sugar, and this – Sugar is Toxic, just for starters.
Of course, the saying ‘Know thy Enemy’ actually comes from a longer quotation from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”:
So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.
So, in order to be pretty certain of victory over this sweet-but-deadly enemy of good health and flat tummies, I not only need to know him – I also need to know myself.
Well, as regular readers may be aware, ‘Knowing Myself’ is a sort of Work-in-Progress, and probably always will be. But there are some Things About Myself that I do know. I know I have a tendency to be easily bored, and lose interest in things quickly. I know that I am fickle and that I lack perseverance. I also know I have a tendency to develop obsessive compulsions about certain random things that push my hygiene/health/fear-of-death buttons, and that I am fearful of many things. Hmmm… what else? Oh yeh – I have a fairly vivid imagination (which is one of the reasons I am fearful of so many things). Surely I must have some good points? Surely…? Um…?
Time for a bit of conversation with my better half (in the conventional sense of the phrase).
“Simon… If I was trying to ‘know myself’, what should I know?”
“You know… like in the phrase ‘know thyself’. What do you know about me? About my qualities?”
Simon helpfully lists all of the above, with no prompting – a remarkable level of agreement, which is suggestive of a degree of (somewhat depressing) truth.
“Isn’t there anything good about me?”
Blank stare. I am seriously beginning to wish I hadn’t embarked upon this line of enquiry.
“Well… you are…”
“Yes? What? I am what?” I prepare to clutch at the tiniest straw of positivity.
“You are…, I’d say you are…. nurturing.”
Something about the way he says the word makes me think it may be a veiled insult. But no – it’s ok. He assures me he isn’t being sarcastic (and I mentally note that another thing I know about me is that I tend towards paranoia). It turns out that ‘being nurturing’ is apparently one of my better qualities.
I decide it is best to stop while the going is good, and not push my what-do-you-love-about-me?-luck too far. I need to think about how to put all this self knowledge to good use in my war against sugar. A better ratio of strengths to weaknesses might have made the task a little easier, but, hey ho – to quote one of my favourite philosophers (Popeye) – “I yam what I yam”.
So here’s the strategy… I will use my imagination to visualize a healthy, non-sugar-dependent me that needs nurturing into existence through an obsessive refusal to eat anything remotely harmful to its survival. Protected by the caring shield of self-nurture, and armed with the almighty cannons of compulsion, I shall prevail against the slings and arrows of outrageous craving.
Yeh! This is gonna be a piece of cake.