“The psychology of guilt and illness—consuming sugar increases inflammation, but constant denial doesn’t feel good, either.” I wrote that note to myself during my lunch break at work last week. I’d been craving a Milky Way bar for three weeks without giving in to temptation. As the forth week loomed, I caved and bought the last Milky Way in the vending machine (which I took as a sign from the food gods, that it was there just for me).
I never eat sugar except the kind that naturally occurs in whole foods. I love sweet foods, but because of fibromyalgia, quite some time ago I committed to avoiding processed sugar. Why would I contribute to added pain and inflammation in my body? That’s a healthy, responsible mindset, but sometimes the guilt that comes with it is daunting.
It’s hard to watch my friends and family eat ice cream, cake, and brownies like it’s no big deal. I don’t begrudge them, but I’m jealous. My hardline thinking about food keeps me as healthy as possible in the face of chronic pain, but it can also imprison me with guilt. If I choose to live by normal social standards and have occasional birthday cake, I immediately feel at fault for the pain in my body.
My reasoning broke down on Thursday. Three weeks of wanting a Milky Way—and I have no idea why I specifically wanted that candy bar—and my back was killing me whether I ate one or not. I realized that my fit, healthy friends indulge quite often and don’t notice adverse side effects, and that it’s unreasonable for me to live in American society and completely forgo all culinary treats.
With way too much on my mind, I took the walk of shame to the vending machine. As I pushed my quarters into the coin slot, I remembered riding my bike to Tom Thumb as a kid and gorging on candy and soda. It was normal life then to eat candy, and I want a normal life again.
The Milky Way was better than I’d imagined. A coworker convinced me to avoid looking at the list of ingredients and just enjoy it. Every bite was delicious, and I wished it were king size.
Every time guilt crept up—I’m eating candy and my back hurts, therefore it’s my fault that my back hurts—I reminded myself that my back was hurting way before the Milky Way fantasy even crossed my mind. Enjoying occasional unhealthy snacks should not bring such guilt, and I know that. But it’s a daily struggle to not feel responsible for the pain, like if I had just eaten a head of broccoli instead of a candy bar, I’d feel better.
But in truth, I’ve lived in complete abstinence from sugar, and while it’s helped me overall, it wasn’t a cure. Just like sugar abstinence isn’t a cure, occasional sugar indulgence isn’t a cause of chronic pain. But I still feel guilty, and I won’t touch sugar again for a very long time.