Food, Pain, and Guilt

“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.

2 Replies to “Food, Pain, and Guilt”

  1. OMG I know EXACTLY how this feels! I too, had been on a strict diet void of gluten, dairy, most grains most of the time, low sugar, and high in raw veggies, proteins, healthy fats, and some starches (I find that without any starches, I feel just as exhausted and out of it, and muscle tension and irritability as I do when a flare up hits)
    for about 6 weeks. I did not give in to any of the scrumptious temptations my family would enjoy such as pizza (my FAV), ice cream, sourdough bread, etc. even though I wanted some SO BAD. I told myself that this is what I have to do in order to not feel completely exhausted all the time and not feel horrible pain everywhere all the time and not to have horrible digestive issues. And it did work – pain went from 100% almost 100% of the time, to about 0-15%, only 20% of the time. BUT! I started to feel depressed. Because I LOVE FOOD. I HAVE to have foods I enjoy once in a while, because it’s part of the joy of my life. So, I had a 3×3 burger and fries, and a small milkshake from In n Out Burger the other day and I can’t even begin to tell you just how MUCH I ENJOYED IT. MMM-MM-MMM!!!! It was SO WORTH IT! I felt the joy of this experience for several days after as well, even though I went straight back to my strict eating. Ahhhhh!! However, I do feel a little pain re-apearing, and today I’ve got the feeling that my lungs are too tired to breathe. Sucks :'( But what can I do?! I’ve GOT to enjoy delicious foods that I love ONCE IN A WHILE in order to really enjoy life.

    1. Veronica, I just asked you about your diet but now I’m reading about it. Sorry about that! I truly think processed/added sugar is the worst thing for me. Dairy and wheat aren’t great, but sugar is really bad. Everything aches in my body when I eat it, which sucks because I love sweets. Best of luck to you!

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