I haven’t eaten ice cream for one year. One whole year! This is a miracle, given my lifelong love affair with the stuff.
For decades, I had a close relationship with ice cream. There was so much variety, comfort, and availability. It was always there, waiting for me patiently, night after night.
But it was also a demanding relationship – I never got enough, and it caused me to neglect healthier choices. I also had a sneaking suspicion that our connection wasn’t helping me be my best self. It made my jeans too tight sometimes. And I’d often feel guilty after eating too much of it. Nonetheless, all in all, I loved it. I couldn’t do without it.
However, a year ago I learned that my devotion was not good for my brain and decided that enough was enough.
And just like that, I quit.
We Go Way Back
When I was a kid, my family celebrated special events with ice cream. We went out for a cone after a ballet or piano recital. We’d have banana splits to make a Sunday evening special at home. While we didn’t have candy or soda around the house, ice cream was a regular treat.
My friends and I enjoyed ice cream together too. In grade school, my best friend and I would go to her house after school and indulge in large bowls of vanilla with chocolate sauce. Her parents weren’t home, and we pretended that what we were doing was okay. As a teenager hanging out at the mall with friends, we always made a stop at Baskin Robbins. My favorite was mint chip and my friend would order rainbow sherbet.
Once I was an adult, I loved buying ice cream at the grocery store, taking it home and not sharing it with anyone. Sometimes I’d get a large plastic bucket of the stuff (Cookies and Cream was a favorite then) and bask in the decadence of it all. Unlimited ice cream! And why not? It wasn’t illegal or anything. I had worked hard that day. I exercised and ate somewhat healthfully. I deserved it. In private, I snarfed it down in every night. Nobody needed to know how much I was having because that was kind of embarrassing.
I ate my ice cream from a smallish drinking glass because then it felt like I wasn’t overdoing it. Sure, maybe I’d have seconds, but it wasn’t a bowl, after all, it was a glass. I’d pack the cup full and then top it with something crunchy like nuts or cereal. As it melted, I mixed it together and enjoyed the sweet concoction. I may have had a tough day, but this made up for it.
However, in September 2017, it all ended. As readers of my blog have read in other posts, I have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. While reading a book about Alzheimer’s prevention, I stumbled on a sentence that said something like “sugar is toxic to the brain” and that was it. I dropped ice cream like a bad habit, which it actually was.
I threw away what we had in the freezer and tried to forget about it. And for the most part, this change was pretty easy. My husband doesn’t care about sweets, which helped.
Surprisingly, my taste buds changed. Fruit began to taste very sweet. When I wanted dessert, I would have some ruby red strawberries or crunchy grapes. (During my ice cream eating days, I would have thought this was stupid. Fruit for dessert? Come on. Lame.)
For 9 months, it was smooth sailing. And then a new neighbor moved in.
An Ice Cream Parlor Opens Next Door
This summer, an Ice Cream Parlor opened in the same building as our downtown condominium. It’s a gourmet shop with custom flavors and gorgeous decor. It’s exactly the kind of place one would want in one’s condo building. Unless, perhaps, you have a teeny, tiny addiction to what they sell.
The entrances to the condos and the ice cream parlor are a few feet apart from each other. The shop has outdoor seating which is often busy. At noon, there are dressed up professionals enjoying ice cream on their lunch break. In the afternoon, I see moms and kids having a treat. And in the evenings, the place is filled with young couples and friends. I see families celebrating after special events, like mine used to do. Day after day, week after week, I watch others enjoying what I used to love.
Some friends have invited me to have ice cream with them at the new neighbor’s, but I have declined. I know if I had one serving, I’d want more. I’d start by having it once/month. This would eventually turn into once/week (life is short, after all!), and then several times a week. Then, I’d want it every day. I’d start buying Ben and Jerry’s frozen yogurt with chunks of candy mixed in at the grocery store, telling myself it was healthier than the gourmet version sold in our building. It would be a slippery slope.
Before I knew it, our relationship would be hot and heavy again. Abstinence made me sad sometimes, but all things considered, it was better than the alternative.
After the shop had been open for several weeks, I had a dream that I had given my beloved dog to the authors of the book that inspired me to quit ice cream. In my dream, I missed my dog terribly and cried and cried. I tracked down the authors and asked if I could get my dog back. Much to my surprise, they said I could. But in the meantime, they asked me why I had given them my dog in the first place. I told him that I had thought it was a good idea, but I had been wrong. I desperately wanted my dog back.
As soon as I woke up, I knew that my dog had symbolized ice cream. I missed it dearly and my subconscious was trying to figure out why it was gone, especially now that I saw it all the time. At some deep emotional level, it just didn’t make sense.
Substitutes Just Don’t Cut It
Of course, there are plenty of ice cream alternatives that don’t contain sugar or dairy. But I’m not interested. They don’t taste that good and usually don’t agree with my stomach. They also usually have lots of ingredients that sound like fake food. Also, I could become addicted to these substitute frozen desserts. I don’t want to trade one addiction for another.
Empathy for Addicts of Any Kind
In my quest to give up ice cream, I’ve caught a tiny glimpse of how it must feel to be addicted to alcohol or drugs and then try to give them up. Drugs and alcohol can ruin your life, so my analogy may not be fair and may offend some recovering addicts. But my experience gives me an empathy for them that wasn’t there before.
I now understand why recovering alcoholics avoid bars. I comprehend why a former smoker may not want to be around somebody who is smoking. I can also see why an ice cream fanatic may not want to live next door to an ice cream shop. It can be painful and make one long for the good old days.
I have no plans to start eating ice cream again. I feel good knowing that I’m taking care of my brain. I like not being ruled by dessert. I enjoy how sweet and satisfying fruit is these days. I like not being addicted to anything. And it’s fun to no longer be a bit puffy.
I Feel Your Pain
If there is anything you like to eat, drink or do just a little too much, I understand. If I can kick the ice cream habit, you can make a big change too. Seriously. I know you can.
And after you do, I hope that you don’t get a new neighbor that sells what you crave.
But if you do, it will be okay. As they say in AA, take it one day at a time. You are not alone. I’m in the same boat too, sailing into Year 2.