On sugar

Last week, I watched an Australian documentary called ‘That sugar film’. The main storyline follows the director experimenting the effects of sugar on his own body. After years of a no-sugar diet, he converts to the Australian average of 40 grams a day, which he sources entirely from food usually perceived as healthy: low-fat yogurt, cereal bars, fruit juice. Result: in two months, he gains 10cm of waist circumference, shows early signs of fat liver disease, and suffers from lower attention spans and mood swings.

It was impactful: after watching the film,  I cut my sugar consumption. It was already rather low – I don’t eat much processed or so-called ‘health’ food, I never drink juice or soda. But I do like ice-cream, cake and chocolate. I went from three to one a day – usually one of the delicious pastries from Gills Diner.

Speaking with friends about low-sugar diets, I used to quip that cutting it is good for physical health, but keeping it is good for mental health. As it turns out, it might not be the case. Sugar highs and sugar lows might affect our moods and attention. But implications go deeper. My memories of eating sweet things are associated, mostly, with comfort and happiness. It’s my grand-mother’s apple tart, generously sprinkled with pure white sugar. It’s her mashed strawberries and cream. It’s the lollies I bought from the shop across my school as a kid. It’s the tub of ice-cream I dug in while watching TV with my parents.

More deeply still, sugar is involved in many social celebrations. Yesterday, I was invited by a friend to join the celebratory eating of a gingerbread  house. There were also brownies. I joined, and ate – then soon after, felt the effect of too much cake: heavy stomach, slightly dizzy head. How much of it was nocebo from watching That Sugar Film, I don’t know, but it took a 1h walk back to the city to shake it off. And yet – while we were at it, I had a very good time.

My evening walks often headed to the cake shop or the ice-cream shop. The prospect of an evening treat took me out of the house. Now I’ll have to find a replacement. But it will take effort, beyond committing to sugar cuts, to develop more than an alternative diet – build alternative daily rituals, social, and personal.

On tiredness

Last night, I hosted a large party. Last week, my partner started school, and I woke up early with him every day. The temperature has been changing wildly. I’ve had a number of deadlines and projects to juggle. Today, I feel tired.

It is an odd feeling, which I struggle to locate. My cheeks are slightly sagging. My stomach is heavy. My heels hurt. The back of my brain is coated in cotton. Movements, ideas, willpower, are not as sharp as usual. But more than that, tiredness brings a vague sense of fear. If something happened, I would not be there to face it with my full potential.

I look for quick solutions, tea, water, chocolate, as if ingesting the right product could fix it. I press on various points of my limbs, trying to massage the tiredness away. None of those work.

I will not explode with energy today. I may not need to. Tiredness feeds on itself. I did not anticipate it, neither should I project. Now, it colours my whole past and future. It is no more than a present state.

What would happen if I accepted and embraced tiredness, looking at it from a distance, acknowledging its presence, mindfully? Can I learn from tiredness, can it alert me to points of weakness? Stomach, calves, upper back, cheeks – where is my tiredness located, and what is it that I do with these parts of my body? Is any repeated strain coming to the surface that I could avoid? Could tiredness, if I let it be, help me develop better posture?

On core muscles

I went out last night, and woke up with a mild stomachache. Not the food poisoning type, more a dull pain, a bloated feeling, and unusual awareness of my internal organs.

As a gay man, I’m very aware of bodies and muscles. I’m exposed often to body types I’m invited to desire and reproduce. Lean and ripped, these bodies resemble anatomical planks of 16th century Europe, with details of the musculature clearly visible to the eye. But this type of body never appealed to me, neither as model nor fantasy.

When I practiced singing, I was encouraged to focus on other, hidden muscles. I had to strengthen nameless back muscles above the waist, expanding the rib cage, and develop control of my diaphragm. I also needed to synchronise a system of core muscles in my legs and torso, controlling posture.

Today, to counter my stomachache, I intentionally focused on my inner body. On the tram to the market, I pushed my solar plexus forward and backward, unlocking tensions around my ribs, and gently massaging my abdomen. At lunch, I chewed longer than I usually do, to lighten the burden of digestion on my stomach.

All along, I’ve been thinking: what would it feel like to live in a world that perceives and celebrates not superficial body shapes, ripped abs, bulging pectorals and curled biceps, but core strength? What would it feel like to live in a world that doesn’t care about the look of a body, but its rhythm and stance.

On sitting and standing

Why have we chosen the sitting position as a modern default?

Last night, I went on a long walk to the beach, and today, I decided I would stand to work. And so I did, at home first, while I focused on tw0 simple tasks: learning how to use Endnote, and sorting old folders of research documents. I put my laptop on a fat book, the book on a stool, the stool on a table, and I stood in front of this improvised platform all morning, happily typing. Result: no sore shoulders, and a nice feeling in my stomach that I got a wee bit more toned.

The slogan of 2014 was ‘sitting is the new smoking’. It might echo still in other ears than mine. But as public places used to favour smokers over non-smokers, our social environment is entirely designed for sitters.

We may hold a fake belief that special artifacts are required for sitting, chairs, couches, or stools, while we can stand on our own two feet. Not so. I sit on the floor whenever I can. And if you stand and read, eat, or type, you want a space to lean the book, plate, or laptop. But not often will we find such standing set-ups, and so, defaulting into the shape that our environment proposes, we sit.

After I finished my morning work-from-home, I headed to my second office, in the QV food court. The place has been recently redone, and has very comfortable tables and chairs where you can sit for a whole afternoon without any cover charge. But there are only three tall tables where you could stand and rest a laptop, hidden under the main escalators, opposite the BreadTop bakery.

One of the tables was free. I pushed aside the white metal-mesh stool, set my computer on it, and stood for a couple of hours, drafting the outline of my thesis. Then I headed back one, and went on a long walk to North Fitzroy. And as I did, I spoke with my partner about replacing a large, red armchair in our living room with a standing station. It would certainly change my daily routines, inviting me to stand for breakfast, maybe dinner, or when friends come over.

But even as I can perfectly visualise the piece of furniture that I would need, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it at a friend’s place, I have no clue where I could buy it, or what its name would be. So much we made sitting our default posture.