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Trauma is a tour-de-force. And that’s a toxic state for the body.

Disclaimer: The lede in this story is boring. It’s about food and carbs. Barely a topic worth titling. But if you read past the boring lede, it gets interesting. I also stop talking about food. But there’s this sliver of analogy so I have to go there, and sadly you do, too. Rally on, team.

You cannot beat food cravings until you address the reason why they are actually happening. I’m not talking about, “I’m eating ice cream. Why am I eating ice cream? Because I’m sad. Why am I sad? Well, the WiFi is out again.”

Whenever you eat, the end-user of that food isn’t your stomach; it’s your cells. If you’ve ever eaten starches and sugars and felt even more hungry afterward, you probably have a more serious underlying issue that needs prompt attention. 

When you eat refined carbohydrates (cookies, candy, the things that make up my delicious breakfast on most days), your blood sugar experiences a rapid spike due to all the glucose you just consumed. This is a toxic state for the body, so the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is the messenger-hormone that lowers your blood sugar by shuttling the glucose into your cells. When insulin is not able to shuttle glucose into your cells, however, this is called insulin resistance. This means that although you just ate, you are actually starving on a cellular level. When you are in a state of insulin resistance, your brain receives the signal that you are still hungry – after all, you received zero useable energy. 

So those times that you feel like you are out-of-your-mind hungry and just can’t stop, it is because this dangerous cycle has been initiated in your body due to overconsumption of processed sugars. Hold on to that hat: you are not getting fat because you are eating more; you are eating more because you are getting fat. The more you continue to eat processed, refined sugars in excess, the more inefficient your cells become. To change this situation, you need to change the chemistry of the foods you consume by adding more protein, more fiber, more veggies, more quality healthy fats, and shifting to complex carbs instead of simple, refined sugars. 

THE POINT: Most people assume sheer willpower will get them to kick their sugar habit. But willpower does not address the biochemical imbalances that result from eating certain foods. In other words, you cannot ‘will’ yourself off sugar. To truly eliminate cravings, you must fix the root of the problem—the food’s chemistry. I said the chemistry of the food, not the purpose of the food. (And now you’ve reached the end of the boring lede. Congrats.)

The real story … 

Just as you can’t kick a sugar addiction with willpower, you can’t leave a traumatic event behind by merely putting it out of your mind.

I am not speaking for everyone when I say this, just myself, but 2020 was an avalanche of stress and trauma – one horrific ordeal after another. Lockdowns. Stay-at-home orders. Shuttered businesses. The virus. Not knowing anything about the virus. Being afraid to go to the store. Being afraid to stand beside a stranger. To breathe air. To touch things. I’m not exaggerating. At the start of the pandemic, I literally bought whatever I touched at the grocery store—and I only touched what I was willing to buy.

The paranoia was exhausting. The press briefings were confusing. The isolation was dreadful. Aye.

While 2020 was very traumatic, it’s also very over. The year is behind me, an opportunity is before me, and all that cringe-worthy stress-related COVID-talk is out of me. So I’m fine.

But I’m thinking…

I’ve said things like this before.

“I’m fine; (fill in the blank) is over.” 

But am I really fine? Let’s play a game.

Scenario 1: I am a teenager, and I talk back to my father (at the wrong time, of course), so he, being the non-communicative person that he is, does what he does best. He stops talking to me. His silence lasts for almost a full year. But then I grow up and I have lots of people in my life to talk to. I barely remember the year my dad wouldn’t talk to me.

Scenario 2: I find out my sister is having an affair with my husband. Well, you can’t pick your family, but you can select your divorce attorney. Becoming a single parent, although not ideal, does teach me a strength and independence that totally saves my life further down the road. But that period of my life is nothing more than a distant memory.

Scenario 3: I am in a romantic relationship with a man that I’m head over heels for – until I learn from my cyberstalker that he is married. After trashing his prized possessions (because), and moving to another state, he, too, becomes nothing more than a distant memory.

Or … maybe I refuse to speak in school, gain 100 pounds, tell people I am an only child, and make a deal with Cupid – keep your arrow away and I will not expose Valentine’s Day for what it is.

So am I really fine? 

It’s true that while our minds desperately try to leave trauma behind, our bodies keep us trapped in the past with emotions and feelings. And the inner turmoil cascades and ruptures most social relationships, leaving disastrous effects on marriages, families, and friendships. This is a toxic state for the body.

One does not need to be a combat soldier to encounter trauma. Trauma happens in all shapes and sizes, and it does not discriminate. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child, and one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body. One in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one in eight witnessed our mother being beaten or hit. Whether you fall into one of these statistics or your trauma resembles something more to the tune of the above scenario’s, trauma is trauma. And while humans are resilient creatures, traumatic experiences leave traces – whether on a large scale (our history and our culture) or close to home (on our families with dark secrets being kept for generations). They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even our biology and immune system.

The scope of the trauma that billions of Americans endured during 2020 is immeasurable. While some effects of the trauma might be seen right away for some of us, others might not be so lucky and the trauma will manifest long into the future – affecting us in a myriad of ways. Khaled Hosseini in The Kite Runner writes:

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975 … That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past … Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”

Imagine the scars of 2020 for some of us: a loved one dies and we were not able to be there to hold their hand, say goodbye – or bury them; the neighborhood store that’s been a part of the community, or maybe it’s your family’s, and it’s been in business for 75 years is forced to close its doors forever; you lose your child to suicide because he or she couldn’t navigate what adults couldn’t deal with either; what if you couldn’t buy food for your family – or bake your child a birthday cake; what if you were forced out of your home – maybe you have three kids, or pets, or you live alone; what if you weren’t able to visit your aging parents; or maybe you are the aging parent and you’re not allowed to see your children or grandchildren. These are emotional traumas. What about physical traumas? You’re shut in with your abusive mate; you’re not able to fill your medical prescriptions on time; you’re not able to have that surgery or see that dentist, or take your dog to the Vet after he is hit by a car and his leg breaks.

These traumatic experiences didn’t disappear because the ball dropped in Times Square and we flipped our calendars.

Imagine how these life experiences will play out in our bodies’ function and malfunction years from now. It will take going beyond symptom relief to connecting with our vital energy so that one day we might once again be able to steer our own ship.

Years ago, I decided I wanted to be immovable. I wanted to be hard to knockdown. I didn’t know enough of myself to be those things in life, but I figured if my body was solid, maybe I would follow her. So I lifted heavy weights and I built muscle – and I became hard to knock over. Immovable.

Lately, though, I’ve wanted to be more fluid. I’ve wanted to bend and twist and sway. Flow. I no longer want to be rock-like. Maybe it’s because I’m not so scared anymore. Or perhaps it’s because I’m not sure I truly want to be immovable. I think I want to be more alive than that. I’ve spent long stretches of my life determined that one way of moving is the right way. Really, all that meant was I was terrified to move in the wrong way. And if I clung to one thing that was sort of working, at least then I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t know what the billions of people will do – today or tomorrow – or how they’ll discover their pathway to recovery (or if they’ll realize they need one). I only hope they do. My heart aches for what they’ve experienced. But if I know anything at all it’s that you can’t will away a craving, and you can’t turn the calendar on hurt or heal. Trauma is a tour-de-force. And that’s a toxic state for the body.

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