December 9, 2016

Why Bother?

‘Reverse my Type 2? Why bother?’

It’s a fair question.

Few people like change and perhaps even fewer like the idea of giving up the things they see as life’s comforts, the little pleasures, the treats.

Our lives are often measured out in routines. The rhythm of those routines are punctuated by small pleasures – a cup of sugared tea, with maybe a biscuit or two on the side; a slice of cake, or a cigarette after a meal; a glass of wine at the end of the day.

In moderation, some of these pleasures are fairly benign, necessary even because what’s a life without pleasure? Without pleasure it’s not much of a life at all, only an existence. The idea of removing all of life’s pleasures is intolerable.

Everything though has a cost, or as far as things we consume are concerned, an effect.

This is worthy of everyone’s consideration but becomes an even more crucial thought once our health falls out of balance.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is in some respects a hormonal imbalance, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The main environmental factor, and the most important one as far as the majority of T2Ds are concerned, is diet and in particular our consumption of sugars and carbohydrates.

It now seems we are simply not equipped to process the volume of sugars and carbohydrates we consume and that this is the key cause of our illness.

Until quite recently, sugar was highly prized, as a very rare commodity.

The Israelites fled Egypt and went in search of a promised land of milk and honey – rich presumably in the sugars lactose and fructose. We celebrate with sugar, we give it as gifts to those we care for, or want to impress or even seduce. Sugar is frequently a metaphor for romance. Sweet sugar is, in short, right at the heart of all goodness.

Unfortunately sugar is no such thing.

Sugar’s chemical cousin, alcohol, is tightly controlled in its uses and production, and correctly so. It seems far-fetched to imagine a time when sugar in all its many forms might be similarly controlled but maybe it ought, as the effects on the body and mind, while less spectacular than alcohol (as Ogden Nash said, ‘Candy is dandy / But liquor is quicker’) are no less corrupting.

So, while I wouldn’t condemn anyone for enjoying life’s consumable pleasures in moderation, I would encourage everyone to consider that the over-consumption of sugars – both sugars obvious and those hidden within processed foods, and sugar’s relatives in the wider family of carbohydrates (which interestingly are in their most refined forms often white – potatoes, white bread, white flour, pasta, white rice) – might have a deeper significance than we’ve previously been given to think.

All these foods are more than pleasant to eat, which is exactly the problem with them.

Tasty sugars and carbohydrates cause spikes in dopamine (one of the brain’s pleasure chemicals) and in blood sugar, which in turn causes sugar crashes, hunger and dopamine depletion. Inevitably, it leads to stronger and stronger cravings for more of the same.

If you apply this pattern to the consumption of drugs or alcohol there’s a simple single word that describes this situation very neatly: addiction.

Hobnobs, like heroin and hooch, are very moreish.

But just because some of us are thick around the middle, it doesn’t mean we’re thick between the ears. I think most people with T2D or pre-diabetes are well aware that certain food they eat or drinks they drink are bad for their health but somehow they experience a disconnect between what they know and what they do.

So maybe the question isn’t and shouldn’t be, ‘Why bother?’

Maybe it’s, ‘Why aren’t you bothered?’

‘Why bother?’ is insulation against having to confront the fact that ‘treats’ are often ‘threats’ to our health and that sleep-walking back and forth to the cake tin is a poor substitute for physical wellbeing and living without discomfort and the fear of ever-worsening illness.

‘Why bother?’ avoids confronting the fact that many so-called ‘treats’ are consumed without much real joy, that they’re just long-established habits, the maintenance of which gives little true pleasure, lasting barely as long as the ‘treat’ passes across the tongue, if that.

I think T2D people deserve better lives and better health.

I think part of the reason they’re T2D is partly because of a lack of decent public education about food and its effects on health, partly because of a food environment heavily weighted towards cheap, unhealthy products and largely because the manufacturers of those products are very effective at continually marketing and distributing them so they’re constantly available and in our sight.

So, if your body has been affected and shaped by the modern diet and if your health has been damaged simply by doing what you’re constantly encouraged to do – to consume – then the question needs to be asked:

‘Are you bothered?’

And if not, why not?


(The tone of this entry is deliberately provocative but maybe health is a serious-enough subject to be worth the risk ruffling the reader a little? You decide and leave a comment, if you like. Fortunately also, as I shall reveal, giving up old treats allows room for new ones … and quite right too, because a life without pleasure is no life at all! Credit also due to Harry Hill my adaptation of his gag about heroin being moreish).

E.M. 9.12.16

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