It was bound to happen. Anybody who’s ever seen me neck a £3 slab of ‘Perfect For Sharing’ Galaxy would tell you that. Anybody who’s ever seen my eyes glisten as somebody rustles a bag of Fruit Pastilles within a five-mile radius. Anybody who’s ever waited behind me in a cake shop queue. Anybody who’s ever followed me around the tables at a wedding buffet or borne witness to me slathering at the unsliced marital cake, interrupting the groom’s speech by asking, ‘Is anybody going to eat that?’
Some people have a sweet tooth. I have several. I’ve knocked back a lifetime’s share of chocolate in thirty-six hedonistic years. I’m the Keith Richards of sugar.
And it’s white sugar, not brown.
This year, for the first time, I’d felt my excesses taking their toll. Although I should have addressed the issue sooner, it was only last weekend that I dared face the music. I’d woken on the Saturday with a yeast infection of such vigour that it’s since left me distrustful of Marmite. That particular complaint, added to my unslakable summer thirst, hot feet, and profuse sweating (form a line, girls), convinced me to take action. Something was up. My life of late-night sugar orgies – where I’d dizzily down shots of strawberry milkshake and snort sherbert Dib Dabs off a mirror – had possibly caught up with me.
The out-of-hours doctor confirmed the malady. My blood sample contained more glucose than a bucket of Lucozade. He offered a one-word summation:
‘God,’ I said. ‘Type One or Type Two?’
‘Two,’ he said. ‘Probably.’
He didn’t say much else. Seeing as he was working weekends, I wondered if the NHS had been forced to put a strict limit on syllables to cut costs.
Considering I’d been sentenced to a life of lettuce and tap water, I took the news surprisingly well. Too well. In an unheralded burst of optimism, I thought of how much weight I would lose, how much healthier I would be. It was most unlike me to be so philosophical. It wasn’t until later that evening that I realised why: I hadn’t been hungry at the time of the diagnosis.
As we all know from experience, the best time to declare a fresh new life of healthy living is when you’ve just eaten a meal nutritionally equivalent to Brian Blessed’s total weekly calorie intake. With a stomach full of pate and continental cheeses, how easy it is to proclaim, ‘That’s it. The diet starts tomorrow!’. But how much harder to proclaim such a thing when, with a furious, growling, empty stomach, somebody slaps, say, a plate of fish & chips in front of you. As that Saturday went on, my hunger grew and the old cravings presented themselves. The dilemma appeared starker. Normally, when I get bad news, my response is to nip to the shop to buy a king-size Twix. But those days were over. This diet wasn’t optional. It was starting tonight, not tomorrow. And lasting indefinitely. With that realisation, the pessimist in me took hold. I didn’t want to be thin and healthy; I’d only just bought some devilishly nice XXL shirts from Next.
On the Monday, I went to my usual doctor and provided yet more blood (and, yes, I did feel a prick) and a sample of my waterworks. He asked for a ‘pure water sample’, as though I had something of a reputation in medical circles for adding extra chemicals into the pot to keep things interesting. The resulting ‘pure’ sample actually turned out to be anything but, and, instead, provided further evidence that I was effectively a human Soda Stream machine: pour a pint of water into me and watch me transform it into a sugary treat for all.
Later in the week, a black & white photocopied A4 sheet – decorated in WordArt from the late 90s – arrived in the post, laying out the gist of my turmoil. Also on the sheet was an inventory of things I ought to avoid consuming from here on in: chocolate, cheese, butter, cereal, crisps, pasta, biscuits, Coke, yoghurt, cake. It looked like one of my shopping lists. ‘Have as many vegetables as you like,’ the fact-sheet added (a consolation on par with telling a deaf man that at least he’ll no longer be woken up by the birdsong in his garden). I’ve since had further tests. I was hoping that, like my A-Levels, I’d do better than expected. I’ve actually done considerably worse (like my GCSEs). The stats were eyebrow-raising, ridiculous. And now I have to take my own blood-sugar count, morning, noon, and night (and, yes, I do feel a prick), whilst swallowing two lots of every tablet the poor Boots staff can rustle up from their mysterious backrooms. The only silver lining was that the ailment was genetic, and not entirely my own doing. Although all those Cadbury’s Giant Buttons didn’t help.
Shopping is the most heartbreaking aspect. Ambling past the chocolate Hobnobs and stopping at the Go Ahead rice-cakes. It’s no way to live. I’ve become a student of those little green, amber, and red nutritional stickers on food packaging. They meant so little to me before. Now, red means red. And, annoyingly, so does amber. Even the green can’t be trusted fully. In my kitchen, I’ve got a packet of Highland Shorties, bought before the storm, which I now can’t eat; they have a full run of red warnings in every department. Fats. Saturates. Sugars. Salt. All a deep, stop-sign rouge. I’m not throwing them out, though. I’m keeping them in my cupboard the same way my nanny keeps her rusting Mini Metro insured. We both know neither will ever see active use again, but they’re a nod to our carefree past and a glance to an impossible future dream.
Maybe not impossible. The cushion to the diabetes blow is that Type Two can be put to sleep with some dramatic lifestyle changes. Which is great. Except, like a recovering alcoholic, you can never go back to the old habits, making the remission something of a hollow victory. Go back to the Mars Bars and raspberry trifles, and the beast reawakens. In short, you can subdue the illness, provided you continue to live as though you’ve still got it…
What really stings is that I’ve become one of those people they slag off on television news features about ‘health time-bombs’. Just last week, Michael Buerk made the headlines for claiming that overweight people should die early to stop them from guzzling NHS funds. Having spent the early 90s trying to flog me life-saving smoke detectors on 999, now the bastard wants me dead.
I didn’t realise just how beholden I was/am to sugar. This afternoon, I found myself subconsciously singing this out loud:
Ah, sugar, sugar
You are my candy girl…
A rhapsody to three of my lost loves. Honey. Sugar. Candy.
How bad is it all, really, though, in the grand scheme? Yes, I’m lightheaded and, yes, I’ve now had so many blood tests that my arm looks like a social club dartboard, but there are worse things in life than being restricted to the diet of an evacuee. Actually being an evacuee, for instance. I’m currently reading Max Hasting’s stonkingly barbaric history of World War Two, All Hell Let Loose. Two stories have haunted me. The first is how, in the snows of Stalingrad, a German was spotted trudging around with a bag containing the hacked-off legs of frozen soldiers (which he intended to later thaw out by the fire-drum and prise the boots from). The second is of a group of British sailors who, marooned for weeks in a lifeboat after their ship had been torpedoed, slowly lost their marbles. One of the poor souls stood up one day and broke the long silence by declaring, ‘I’ll go down the street for a drink’. He then walked off the boat and into the sea. Compared to those sailors’ struggles, my ordeal doesn’t seem quite so bad. Dying for their country whilst I’m dying for a KitKat. And dying if I have one.
Anything to keep Michael Buerk happy.