New Years snow 2015Happy Sweet 16–to everyone! Disregard your chronological age. Happy New Year 2016! Make it a sweet 16!

Another way to look at sweetness! Not as the sugar so overdone in most of our diets. When I was a child sugar was almost taboo. My mother was ahead of her time. No soda. No junk food. Cookies, ice cream–just for special occasions. Sweet things were apportioned, based on deservedness. As a reward. I’d resort to sneaking some sweet treat.

I remember the day I was introduced to Turkish Taffy. I was probably nine and took a walk to the local candy store with neighborhood candy connoisseur, Tommy Agdon. “Just keep pulling,” Tommy said as I tried to take a bite-size bite and the pink candy stretched and stretched. The zing of pure sugar bonded with my taste buds and shot right to the pleasure center of my preadolescent brain. I got greedier and greedier, trying to bite and get more in my mouth at the same time. “Oh, take the whole thing,” he said. “It only costs five cents.” The dye was cast. I was addicted to sweet stuff, aka sugar.

Sheer willpower and occasional “cheating” kept my sugar addiction under control. But not without the stress of avoiding sugar, which meant avoiding sweetness. Gradually sweetness and guilt blended together in an uncomfortable attraction/repulsion situation. Not fun.

I looked around for people who seemed to have a handle on how to deal with sugar without stress.

In 2007 I met Bonnie Berke, a certified lifestyle educator and holistic health counselor in New Jersey. Her philosophy appealed. “I focus on the overall health of my clients and patients — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual,” My primary health issue was craving sugar. Simply knowing what was good for me and what wasn’t was not a cure. I was in my now usual stress cycle. Life was good, I was in the middle of a huge project. In this case, it was writing my first book. I loved the work, the writing, the revisions, the networking with other writers. BUT gradually I abdicated taking care of myself to taking care of the book. By 3:30 each afternoon I was tired, restless, and more than just a tad irritable. So I reached for sweets–chocolate, raisins, coconut. ShopRite was a five-minute walk to bring home Ben and Jerry if the “need” was intense. Okay, not so so bad, but two hours later I would feel physically too full, remorseful, and still irritable.

A breakthrough session came when Bonnie suggested, “Pick a word that is just for you.”

“You mean like therapists have clients mentally go to that happy place or that safe place in times of stress?” Bonnie nodded.

Adopt a word for me. A pleasing word, a word that made me feel good. Out of my mouth popped, “Sweet.”

Dictionary trip: Sweet: sugary, saccharine. Ugh. But also: kind, lovable, pleasant, satisfying. I began to apply my word to my lifestyle–not the meal, not the snack.

If you want something, dream it, own the dream, and hang around with people who are living the dream. I put myself in situations where the atmosphere was pleasant, and kind. Great. That worked. Sugar cravings dropped when I was laughing with friends, dancing, working with a team who cooperated.

But we know it’s not always possible to be in that happy place. I began to create a sweeter atmosphere at home, in my kitchen, and office. I feel relaxed when I slow down, keep my office neat, light candles, play music that I enjoy, walk or stroll to the top of our hill–or do the opposite–take a nap. By golly, I feel kindly. I can avoid looking for sweetness/sugar to put in my mouth.

Tara Kligman, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, was my Arizona sweetness coach. At her suggestion, I expanded my sweet feeling into my kitchen, formerly the neatest and least-used room in my house. I had to make friends with my kitchen. Weird, huh? For me, it was like making friends with the enemy. But the enemy lurking in my kitchen cabinets now also contains lots of fruit, crunchy snacks, along with sugar.

Tarasims: Your kitchen is a sacred place. Put candles in the kitchen. How sweet!

I shield myself from what Melissa Hartwig, co-creator of Whole30, calls the Sugar Dragon. The Sugar Dragon, wearing the disguise of cookies, pretzels, chips and chocolate, “lies; offering false promises of comfort when you know there’s only regret and remorse at the end of that particular tunnel.” My shield is to plan ahead with foods and social and professional outings.

Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions says, “Sugary food is one of the most popular forms of substitute love… (Wow, that hits home.) We become mechanically bound to sugar because it fulfills an immediate need and exerts a powerful narcotic effect…The need for the sweet experience is inborn… In whole form, sugars and starches support life; refined carbohydrates are inimical to life because they are devoid of bodybuilding elements.”

Lean over to my bookshelf and pull out the dictionary again. Inimical: adverse, disadvantageous, hostile. Hostile. Who wants be in a hostile environment? It’s stressful, and I know what I feel like reaching for in a hostile situation. Sugar. Sounds like a vicious cycle to me. And one I neither want nor deserve. Sugar overload has been attributed to diabetes, hypoglycemia, anorexia, eating disorders. And yet I hear folks say, “Well, I’m on vacation. I deserve to cheat a little. A little bit won’t hurt me.” Yeah, right, it will just put you in an inimical position. Inimical= hostile.

I can’t subscribe to cheating anymore. I believe we are meant to be happy and free from all addictions be it drugs, alcohol, sugar, work, people-pleasing, whatever “ism” lives rent-free in your head.

Sweetness comes from feeling good about myself, having energy to put into an intimate relationship with another person, having confidence and freedom to reach out to other sweet-seeking people.

So, dear new years revelers…You don’t have to have a reason to be happy. Be happy just by being happy. (Thank you, Tara)

What is your daily happiness?

Mine is to think sweet. Happy Sweet 16!