The Proof is in the Pasta (Sauce)

I love sugar. But it’s not a mutual thing.

As long as I can remember, I have been a sugar junkie. Raspberry Zingers. Chocolate milk. Angel food cake with sugared strawberries and Cool Whip. Peeps. Oh, what I could say about my love of Peeps and marshmallows could fill several blog posts. The first sweet treat I can remember greedily hoarding was a lemon custard-filled pie pastry. I remember, probably more than I would like to admit, ecstasy when the flavor of the faux lemon gel hit my tongue. I wanted more. And I got it, propelling myself into lifelong obesity.

When I was 31, I decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery. It was an easy decision to make. I had a severe problem with emotional eating and I needed to supplement behavioral therapy with a physical tool. I’m not really sure how much the public knows about gastric bypass and I won’t gross you out with the details. It works by severely restricting the amount you can put into your stomach (now called a pouch for fun) and also changes how your body absorbs what you consume, giving you less of the fat, calories, and nutrients. One of the deadly serious selling points of the surgery is dumping syndrome. If you consume sugar, your body will do just that. Full-body sweats, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and dumping are all severely unpleasant. Believe me when I say that it only takes one episode to learn sugar is the enemy. 

I didn’t eat sugar for a couple years. But life happened. And it happened in a way that made me less concerned about my weight and more concerned about survival, both physical and emotional. I stopped having dumping syndrome and I gained some weight.

A few years after that, something began. I started getting nauseous and dry heaving — it’s very difficult to vomit post surgery, there’s nothing in your tum to expell — too often to chalk up to the flu. Here’s where it gets really graphic. I started having explosive diarrhea every day. Practically every hour of every day. Everywhere I went, I knew with pinpoint accuracy where to find the bathroom. I was embarrassed to visit the homes of family members. My mother-in-law, bless her sainted soul, always keeps some sort of deliciously scented spray in her guest bathroom. It has saved my ego.

It got so severe that I started to worry about whether I was dying or a hypochondriac (because, apparently, those are the only two options). I finally saw a gastroenterologist who ordered some delightful tests. The first involved drinking something that might have been chalk and lead paint every fifteen minutes. Over the years and various tests, I have taught myself to forcefully resist vomiting. Inevitably, if you vomit up the disgusting gunk you’ve choked down, you get to start the test again. And who the hell wants that?

The second test was a colonoscopy. When I told friends and family, there were a lot of faces nonverbally telling me bad things. Very bad things, The consensus was the two gallons of diarhhrea-inducing liquid you drink to prepare for having a scope up your bum would bring me to my knees. It wasn’t a great time. I’ll admit that much. I wasn’t painting my nails and reading InStyle. Before the test, the doctor asked me how the prep was and gave me a sympathetic look. I told him it wasn’t nearly as bad as what I’d been going through. It gave me some measure of pleasure that I shocked the hell out of him.

The tests didn’t find anything and I was pronounced to have a nasty case of irritable bowel syndrome. I was given medication to take three times a day. Good times. But something was still amiss. The medication helped with the blinding abdominal pain but my other symptoms persisted.

Fast forward roughly two years and the bearded gentleman and myself found that we were gaining weight at an unacceptable rate. Round was simply not a shape we wanted to live in. We made a plan of action, to be put into effect on January 2. January first, incidentally, was the day reserved for eating everything in the house that might be considered banned the next day. For myself, I set two basic rules. I would go back to shunning sugar and I would give up all carbonation. I ate a whole lot of marshmallows on January 1, 2014. A whole lot.

Something pretty amazing happened. Almost instantaneously, I stopped getting sick constantly. But here and there, I would still have a little bout. We got wise. We started reading the labels of the foods we were using. We found that seemingly innocuous foods, like tomato-based pasta sauce contained sugar in some form. And those foods were the culprits wreaking havoc on my digestive system.

It’s been a learning curve. Sometimes we forget to read labels and discover a food that I am about to happily shove in my mouth has a hidden sugar.Those moments make me a bit cranky. Sugar comes in so many forms that sometimes we just miss it. We’re all familiar with high fructose corn syrup. But there’s also brown rice syrup, dextrose, fructose, and so many amalgamations that sometimes it seems like there is a covert government agency trying to slowly kill my lower intestines. Sugar is in everything from bread to energy bars to crackers.

Eating at restaurants is a challenge. I’m pretty mouthy by nature so I don’t mind grilling waitresses about what goes into a pancake. Most of them are sweet, sincere, and try to help. It’s worse trying to eat at the summer parties of friends and family. I haven’t sent out a brochure on the do’s and don’ts of feeding your own personal Kimmi. Maybe I should. But commonplace foods like BBQ sauce, salad dressings, and mayonnaise are sugar smugglers. So, there have been a lot of times where I’ve tried to sit politely and not be in a whiny jerk while my stomach growls. It’s become pretty commonplace that the bearded gentleman and I stop at a store afterward and pick up some safe food for me to eat on the way home.

And now for my real gripe. Today, we were at our local cheap grocery store and I got curious about pasta sauce. I haven’t had pasta sauce since January. Please close your eyes and imagine the pasta isle at your grocery store. Vast? Loads of variety? We scoured the section and found one sauce that didn’t contain any sugar. Just one. It was an average-sized jar. And it cost 6 dollars. Even by California standards, that’s high. It was too high for our delicate sensibilities. Again tonight, I will be eating my pasta plain. And that makes me sort of sad. Or angry. Or sangry.

How do you know when to end a blog post? It’s when you start making up words. Unless, of course, you’re Dr. Seuss.

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