My head is fuzzy. And not in the good way.
I drank two glasses of wine last night. 37 days after I’d gone off of sugar.. A crisp, delicious Vermentino, at my favorite tiny Italian wine and oyster bar in the West Village,
They were a crisp Vermentino at Virgola, my favorite tiny Italian wine bar in the West Village. I slurped down oysters with a dear old friend, laughing about love and commiserating about work, thoroughly enjoying my divine white. I wasn’t tempted to order a third, and no irrational desire to gorge overtook me. I went home with a slightly spinning head, my tolerance obviously changed. But I thought, “Fun! No harm done!”
It was like I had drunk two bottles of wine.
Throughout the evening I’d been downing far more water than wine, but in the middle of the night awoke clearly felt the trifecta of dehydration: headache, thirst, and a massively overheated body. I barely slept, watching the clock as it clicked, in pain and frustration…
My head was — still is — pounding, with a deep muscle ache and craving for a release of pressure. I’ve gained a pound since yesterday, despite that my caloric intake was rather unchanged despite the addition of wine.
Is this all from two glasses of white?
This is a problem I’ve had in the past when doing cleanses or trying to figure out food intolerance: other factors affect my symptoms. Over the last 37 sugar-and-booze-free days I’ve still had headaches and still woke feeling hungover. But this morning was different.
Yes, there are other factors at play: my period started yesterday afternoon, and is stronger today. I didn’t eat much yesterday, so there was nothing there to absorb the sugar or alcohol. And it’s hella cold in NYC, which exacerbates my symptoms. But this particular kind of headache and gaining a pound when no other shift has made a weight gain happen in the last month-plus is significant.
I’m now writing a piece for a client on the questions that arose from this no-sugar period, which I’m bringing to a neuroscientist and a naturopathic medical doctor. I’m extremely excited about both interviews, and it’s probably good that I had the chance to experience the two glasses of wine beforehand. So here’s what I’m chewing on, based on my history with my body, my eating habits, my understanding of nutrition based on a mess of books I’ve read over time and work with various self-proclaimed “experts” in the fields, and what’s happened in these 37 days:
- I dropped nine pounds this month, which has been impossible despite removing inflammatory foods from my diet — even the most subtle ones common to people with autoimmune illness, and those that came up on my ALCAT test results. I didn’t have a dramatic shift in diet: we’re talking cutting out alcohol, some processed sugar in my chocolate fix, and the trace amounts in things like mayonnaise (which I don’t even eat weekly) and whatever sneaks in in restaurants. So my guess is the beginning loss was inflammation, since I dropped a few pounds quickly. But then continued not from calories lost from sugar itself, but from a drop in appetite overall. I’m eating smaller portions, I’m full faster, and my body is not asking for food as frequently. So, the question: Since sugar affects dopamine and serotonin levels, causing addictive sensations in the brain, have my pathways been clearer to tell me what my body really needs? Is it that sensitive a system?
- I have always struggled with keeping my dopamine levels healthy: I don’t know if this is from a history of taking opioids for pain, or from something else. I take herbs and supplements to smooth this out, and all is well. Around my second week off of sugar, I tapped into a lot of anger. Again, this could be circumstantial: at the time, the election results, a romantic rejection, my period, and a nasty cold coincided. I feel a huge shift in emotion a few days before my period. So it could be that. But I also faced that time without having sugar or booze for numbing. So, does not feeding my brain sugar — and, therefore, giving it that dopamine hit — have anything to do with that capacity for anger? That did go away a week or so later… is there a timeline for withdrawal, even when (again) you’re not a big sugar person to begin with?
- About last night: A friend with a nutrition degree explained that wine has a low amount of residual sugar, and that the body turns it into fat, not sugar itself. I want to know if this is wholly accurate. Aside from that: Is the sugar or alcohol the more likely culprit for the array of symptoms I’m experiencing today?
- I have always struggled with hypoglycemia. Even with my very whole, natural diet. Does this time off and the results I’ve experienced — the weight loss, the enjoyment of a clear head, the violent reaction to two glasses of wine — a signifier that this is really my body’s true capacity? Is this taking out sugar really something I need to accept if I want to feel healthier?
- Finally: I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or my Tate’s gluten-free brownie now and then without a) lapsing into a horrible night’s sleep and hangover headache and b) without my body starting to crave sugar or calories it doesn’t need. So, from both the neurological and nutritional perspectives: Is moderation with sugar truly possible? How much of our control over the sugar we mindlessly seek out or ingest is physiological versus psychological?
This challenge is the first I’ve done in My Year… that has a directly physical component that I can’t just explain or justify because of control or thought or logic. The way my brain and body react are fundamental. But I’ll tell you (me, too) this: I’ve lived so long with pain, and with restriction. I will give anything up to feel better. I will never touch a glass of wine or a brownie or whatever if that means I can become stronger and healthier and more energized. I can’t say that those miraculous things happened these last thirty-seven days: I still had trouble sleeping, I still felt huge amounts of pain, and my illness didn’t miraculously go away.
But I didn’t once wake in the middle of the night being able to call out my demon, knowing I had ingested it and that it was the direct cause of what was hurting me. Right now, my neck is tight, the base of my skull is aching, my whole head feels pinched, and my thoughts are fuzzy. Everything is taking longer today, when I need every drop of energy and thought I have. I’m already so restricted in what I get to do.
What does sugar mean for me? Does it have to go for good? How will the positive discoveries of this period feel if I have to look at them as indefinite experiences?
Feeling all the feels… again.