women. writers.

Creative Non-Fiction: "How to Lose Your Sugar" by Emma Comery

Stage One: Death of the Sugar Addiction

To start with, you want to be healthier. Or maybe you're trying to ditch those last pesky

pounds, or you're thinking about bikini season. Maybe you feel tired all the time. These are all

great reasons to cut out sweets. Or maybe you look at photos of yourself and recoil at the way

your jawline reminds you of raw dough. You can't remember a single day since you were twelve

when you haven't wondered why you've been allowed to walk the earth. Sure, your bones are

beautiful, but you've never been able to see them. Besides the feel of cool sheets on your bare

skin, you think food is the most delicious thing in the world. Lemon poppy seed muffins combat

school stress; Raisinettes keep you company on Friday nights. Red velvet cake with cream

cheese frosting is your soul mate. You hide empty bags of Twizzlers in your bottom desk drawer.

Your special talent becomes devouring eight servings of Kroger bakery cookies in two days. Ice

cream is a palate cleanser, not a treat. Your father says things like, “Have you been running?”

and “Start taking care of that double chin, cutie!” Your mother pretends not to see, not to hear,

but you forgive her. She's got so much on her plate right now. And your father—you tell yourself

he's a jerk but you start wearing sweatpants and extra large t-shirts again. Begin to eat your

feelings. Eat so many sweets that they stop tasting good. Eat them anyways. You're always tired,

but you never sleep through the night.

     At a party one weekend, a friend tells you he's gone almost 365 days without eating dessert. Note

the way his shoulder bones stick out like Appalachian mountain ridges. Make up excuses to put your

hand on his shoulder.

     Go home for Christmas. It's the first time you've seen your mother since her mastectomy

in September. This one was trickier than the first surgery fifteen years ago. This time there was

an infection, multiple surgeries, four extra days in the hospital. All semester you've called her

and she's great; she's recovering; the surgery worked; everything's peachy keen, girly girl. You

have believed her. But now you're home and she says, “I have an appointment at a wig shop next

Tuesday. Would you like to come with me?”

     Think No, what I'd like to do is flip this table over and scream at you for lying!

     Drive your cat to the vet the next day. Your father discovered a lump the size of an Easter

egg on her underside three days before you came home. “Mammary tumor,” the vet says. “She

has six months with or without surgery.” On the drive home, take your eyes off the road to text

your friend from school: "Breast cancer has waged war on my family." She won't reply.

     During the holidays, you gorge yourself. You have less than a month than to eat all the sugar

you want. Shovel in the pizzelles and the trays of homemade Christmas cookies. Draft your

game plan. You'll start on New Years Day 2016 and stop at midnight just before 2017. When you

return to campus, you will take all the empty candy wrappers and the stash of Reese's under

your bed and throw them out. You think it's best not to set too many rules for this no-sugar


     Historically, you have a tendency to break the rules you set for yourself. You outline the following


— No sweets, soda, or syrups

— If something doesn't fit into any of the above categories, ask yourself, "Will eating this

make me feel guilty?" If the answer is yes, walk away.

Stage Two: Hangry Hell

Start on the first day of the new year. Hurt your mother's feelings when you say you can't

eat the leftover tiramisu she made for the holidays. She'll hear "I won't." Stare too long at the

patches of bald skin on her head. Waver in your resolve. Slowly and deliberately peel a

clementine instead. The juice of the fruit will sting the paper cut on your finger. Your mother will

pick at her food and go to bed early. Something has begun to stretch between you and your

mother, something like a drought. Food has always been her love language, and you no longer

speak it. The next evening, she offers you a small bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt. She will tell you

that cold foods are easier for her to taste, and she jokes that at least some of her taste buds are

standing up to chemo. Capitulate. Fold the froyo with your spoon, watch the stickiness clump

and slide. When it touches your tongue, it tastes like the sour flesh that hangs off your hips. To

make up for your sin, pledge to tack on two extra days to your challenge. When you go to bed that

night, lock the door. Your father will rattle the knob and yell, “Open door policy!” Turn on your

clock radio. Loud. Drown him out. You have been his property long enough. Undress in front of the

mirror. Your breasts stare back at you. Go ahead, cry.

     Back at school, concentrate on counting the thousands of freckles on the arm of the boy

across from you when your professor brings a box of fresh doughnuts to class. Be angry at food.

Give up coffee almost entirely. It tastes like acid sludge without your normal two packets of

sweetener. Opt for tea instead. Sip slowly, bleary-eyed. Go to class but don't actually wake up

until lunchtime. On Friday nights, fall asleep on the couch. By ten. Your life is a never-ending

sugar crash. Dream about John Krasinski hand-feeding you bite-sized pieces of carrot cake. In

bed, he re-enacts scenes from The Office, kisses your palm, and tucks your hair behind your ear

over a plate of every cake imaginable. Vow never to tell anyone about this dream.

    When you tell your friends of your resolution, one says, “You're kidding, right?” Another scoffs, “I

give it a week.”

     Their betrayal feels like a belt cinching too tightly. Recall how impressed they were when

you gave up meat, how supportive (for the most part) they were about minimizing alcohol. Tell

them it's their duty to hold you accountable. Tell them to stop offering you sweets. At school, at

restaurants, treat the dessert bar like an ex-boyfriend. The conversation was flavorless and the

sex hadn't been worth it. Fill yourself with healthy alternatives: baby carrots, edamame, raw

almonds, all those expensive snacks you can't afford as a college student but decide are a priority.

Drink water with lemon juice. The tang will pique your taste buds. Drink so much that it goes in

faintly yellow and comes out clear. Horde fresh fruit – build a tower of apples and oranges on

your kitchen table. Pillage the frozen fruit aisle at the grocery store. Fall in love with vegetables.

Take pride in your grocery lists and freezer full of smoothie-ready strawberries and spinach. Talk

about Benefiber like it's your prodigal first-born.

     Tell yourself it's not that you can't eat sweets, it's that you don't.

     Tell yourself this approximately eighty-nine times a day.

Stage Three: The Weight of Waiting

After three weeks, you stop dreaming about John Krasinski but you don't lose any weight.

You continue attending classes, continue stuffing baby carrots into your cheeks, continue avoiding

your father's phone calls, continue sending overly-cheery emails to your mother: "64 degrees and

sunny here in KY! Enjoy your Zumba class and have a fantabulous night!" Your father has begun

calling more frequently, often while you are in class or at the gym. You never want to answer, but

you always imagine the worst: your mother has fainted from her anti-estrogen drugs, your cat has

died, a special forces team of cancer cells has infiltrated your mother's chest, unsatisfied with her

breasts and demanding her heart at gunpoint. You assume, always, that everything is wrong. So

you always answer the call.

     “You and Mom have been sending emails to each other like rapid-fire,” your father says. Envy

drips through the phone. No surprise that he asks what you've been eating.

     “Salad,” you reply, your voice like limp lettuce.

     Your article on feminist literature has been accepted by a journal. Now your school wants

to publish a short web article on you. They have an impressive ability to make exploitation sound

like an honor. A photographer takes a head shot. Your whole body feels heavier at the sight of

yourself. Without your friends knowing, manage to conduct a week-long cleanse (fruits and

veggies only). They would only yell at you. Lose approximately zero pounds. You are moody,

quick to snap.

     Nothing has changed, and you don't understand why. You've done this thing – this

extreme dietary alteration that is so foreign to everyone who knows you. You've dedicated

yourself to your health. You lift weights. You can squat your roommate now. You'd do anything

to know when the smell of chocolate will stop tasting like opium.

Stage Four: Happy, Healthy, Heavenly

By the end of the first month, you can bear to touch your stomach without flinching. Your

waiting has paid off. Say goodbye to regular bloating! Even when Aunt Flo visits, she doesn't

bring her usual army of lower abdomen pain. PMS no longer includes vomiting, dizziness, or

fainting. You stop hating your uterus. You can't even remember when started hating it. It's

amazing how much a lack of bloating affects your daily life. Your posture improves; you feel

more comfortable wearing flattering clothes. Your friends (all but one) applaud your new

confidence. They like to brag about you to other friends. (All but that one.) Your skin clears up.

Your hair gets shinier; you don't have to wash it as often. When you do wash it, the longer

shower is like a stop in time. The feel of water on your scalp is a new pleasure. You fall asleep faster

and stay asleep more often. After a good night's rest, you're ready to go the next morning. The

moment you stop feeling bloated, you become a new person. This new version of you doesn't

want to whittle herself away. This you is powerful. You eat up the campus sidewalks with jungle


     It is springtime now, and when your father flips you the bird over webcam, call him out

on it. Hear him stomp away and shriek like a child. Your mother's face twists like a lemon. You

regret throwing a live grenade into her life, but you refuse to replace the pin. She can humor him

all she wants, but you don't deserve anyone's disrespect.

     You discover that confidence is not a constant line. It ebbs and flows. When your bras start to

feel tighter around your upper ribs, you see fat everywhere. Your hips, your shoulders, your

wrists. You are hyper-aware of your breasts. You talk to your friends, your workout buddy, your

mother. There is unanimous conviction that a tighter bra does not mean a fatter girl.

     “Your back has gotten so much stronger,” your buddy points out. “It's all muscle.”

     At the gym, two guys compliment you on your squat. Over dinner, a friend tells you, “The first

time I met you I was sexually intimidated.”

     You don't know what to do with any of this.

     Some days, it feels like all there is between your breastbone and your hips is air. You

don't know how you feel about this, this constant sense of lessening yourself.

     When someone offers you a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, stare at the crinkly orange

wrapper like you've never seen it before. The grit of sugar between your teeth is a distant


     You smile at your classmates more. Strike up conversations with acquaintances. Stop letting

shyness and insecurity prevent you from being the person you've always wanted in your life.

Develop your own brand of aggressive compassion. When your roommate says she loves you,

shake her shoulders and yell, “No, I love you more!” When she throws markers at your head,

they hit you like butterfly kisses. Participate in a retreat about the power of language. Learn that

it's okay to think your father is a jerk when he calls your gay friend “flamboyant” and says your

feminism is “hostile.” Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat for months. Take a class in

poetry. Learn about sestinas and trochaic tetrameter. Write lots of poetry about loving your body

and the new woman you feel breaking through your skin. Try to build palaces out of paragraphs.

Worry more about words than weight.

Stage Five: The Sweet Afterlife

Apply to graduate programs and jobs. You want to live near the coast. Washington, North

Carolina, someplace you can run down long roads, open your bedroom window to the sea air,

and write poems, a romance novel, essays about giving up sweets, and letters to your mother that

say you love her, you miss her, you have always wanted to be her friend.

     Dream you are in bed with the boy with the shoulders. There is sunlight, bare shoulders,

blue panties. This is about you and the clench of muscles beneath the curve of your belly. The

boy is the least important part. Your skin doesn't roll like dough. It snaps, live like wires. For the

first time in your memory, you are completely unashamed of your body.

     It has only been four months since you last ate sugar. People ask if you miss it. They ask

if you will eat it again at the end of the year. Shrug. “I'm not sure.” At night, splay your fingers

across your belly. The soft rise makes your blood pump steady and slow, at peace.

     Imagine yourself after graduation. Maybe teaching, maybe working on a farm or at an

animal shelter. Any job that requires your heart to pump faster. Your mother will fly cross-

country to see you. She will come alone, her hair growing back in. Hug her big. The two of you

explore the hiking paths and small towns of coastal Washington. Talk about everything and

anything. She likes your apartment and asks to read your poems. One afternoon, find a bakery

named Cafe Demeter and sit at one of the metal patio tables on the front porch. Your mother

orders a hot tea for you and a small decaf coffee for herself. She reads the cafe menu. “They have

tiramisu!” She is smiling. “Are you interested in splitting a piece, Em?” You sip your tea. It

tastes clean and real, like an herb from your mother's garden. You know what you will do.

2 comments on "Creative Non-Fiction: "How to Lose Your Sugar" by Emma Comery"
  1. I needed to read this today. Very honest and motivational for those of us who struggle with sugar addiction! Thank you for sharing.