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The Problem with Writing a Health Blog. And Sugar.
Writing about Health, is like writing about anything else. Surprise surprise.
Every weekend, I write a fitness blog.
I write this blog from a Starbucks near my house.
Come Saturday morning, right after breakfast with the wife, I dutifully leave home to go sit at my pre-determined corner seat, plug in my ear phones (but don’t play any music), and start staring at the road outside, wondering what to write today.
Sometimes the topic and the post, both come easy. Something I’ve been reading about, something I’ve struggled with during my own fitness journey, or something a reader asked me that sparked a thought.
At such times, all I need to do is refresh my research, cull-out the fitness-industry bull-shit, form a narrative, fight the urge to make it a listicle, and write a health article that reads like a story.
A detailed, personal story. One my readers can absorb and implement. Not out of context click-bait.
But there are (many) times I struggle.
Sometimes I don’t know what to write about. But more often, I don’t know why I should be writing about this at all. Everything that has to be said, about most topics around health and fitness, has already been said!
It’s been said in videos, and lists and infographs and cartoons and animations. And it’s been said by famous people and doctors and dieticians and buzzfeed and everyone else including your unfit friend who advices you to “just skip dinner”.
There is nothing new to add.
So why should I be dirtying pixels and wasting cloud space and cluttering Medium. Although god knows Medium could do with a lot more #Health content (and a lot less #Life Lessons).
Today, is one such day.
I’ve been staring at the screen for 3 hours with nothing to show for it.
To be clear, I know what I want to write about. Sugar.
Perhaps the biggest evil that plagues our modern diet. And I’ve cursed it so much on my blog, that a lot of my readers constantly ask me — why?
What’s so bad about sugar? Why do you hate it so much?
But as I started researching today, I realised that the science of sugar is so well documented on the web, I can’t possibly add to it in any meaningful way. Just read this brilliant article, and you’ll have all you need to know, technically, about the dangers of sugar.
But where does that leave me — the health blogger!
When I started this blog, I’d promised myself and my readers, that I’ll post every weekend. Every Sunday, to be specific. And since I have a fairly hectic day job, what that leaves me with, is just Saturday to write.
It’s 2pm on Saturday as I type this. And I don’t know what I’ll say about Sugar.
That’s not good.
Given that everything — from editing to tagging to cross-linking to configuring Mailchimp to publishing to promoting — has to happen by EoD. Not good at all.
So I decide, it’s time to bring out the big guns.
I was a writer before I became a Health & Fitness writer. And this, I know, is just another avatar of ‘writer’s block’.
I’m not new to it.
And like any writer worth his ability to stare at blank screens would, I too have my own, indigenous system of fighting this feeling of helplessness.
If an hour passes with no keys pressed, I get up and take a 10-minute walk.
I just look down, earphones plugged in (still no music) and start walking. All powers of concentration are summoned to focus on the topic at hand. By the time I’m done, I have the opening lines of my piece. The very first inklings of my take on the matter. That’s enough.
If things get really serious, and 2 hours pass, then I again take a walk. This time with music. Not any music, but a particular song (or two) that’s been ‘looping’ all that week (ok month). It’s Pray for Me by Lamar this time, in case you’re wondering.
And during this walk, I de-focus. I don’t think about anything. Just the beat of this oft-heard song and the familiarity of the euphoria it leaves me with. I feel invincible. And it’s with this conviction that I get back to the keyboard. Type away!
But 1 out of 5 times, it comes to this. 3 Hours. Code Red.
That’s when I get up and order dessert. Or a Frappucino. Which is liquid dessert.
The hypocrisy, of a health blogger eating dessert as he exhorts others to be healthy, isn’t lost on me. But there’s no other way. The only thing I know, which definitely (and definitively) works to break the block, is Sugar.
Funny thing is, I know exactly how, and why it works too.
I know that my primitive, carb-deprived brain, craves sugar. Just looking at that cake I’m about to order, releases a dopamine hit to my brain’s pleasure centre, in exactly the same way as any other drug would. Infact sugar, some studies suggest, is more addictive than cocaine. But hey, it’s legal!
I know that millions of taste receptors on my tongue itch to have this sweet disaccharide that readily converts to glucose and fructose. And I know that the impending sugar rush in my blood stream will make me feel (temporarily) unbeatable.
I also know that giving into this temptation is like making a bargain with the devil. I’ll get what I want today, but what do you think happens next week!
And yet I do it.
My need to find out what I want to say about sugar, is stronger than my disgust for its apparent evils.
But now I have a bite of this decadent, layered chocolate cake in my mouth, and evil suddenly seems a very strong word. Maybe deviant is what I’m looking for.
Another bite and I’ll know.
Hmmm. Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself. I should just take a break from typing and relax. Just enjoy my coffee and cake. And be thankful for all I have. Life’s been kind.
Another bite and I’m just happily observing other people at the cafe now. A lot of them look like writers, sitting alone, staring at their screens, coffee and cake by their side.
Something suddenly strikes me. I get up and go stand in front of the menu.
It’s a dessert bar really, Starbucks is. Everything on the food counter has sugar. Tons of it.
Every cold coffee (Grande) has >50gm of sugar. Half the hot coffees are topped with whipped cream or loaded with some sugary syrup. And the desserts, which by definition are sugar, have so much that I can’t count. So I take another bite.
And it strikes me: This is why I hate sugar.
Not because it’s known to be the leading cause of diabetes and obesity and all sorts of cardiovascular diseases. But because it doesn’t leave me with a choice.
Sugar is ubiquitous. It surrounds me.
Low-Fat yogurt has sugar. No-Fat salad dressing has sugar (more than its ‘fat’ counterpart). ‘No Sugar Added’ juice has sugar. Dried fruit, diet smoothies, granola bars, breakfast cereal, whole-grain bagels — sugar, sugar, sugar.
Another bite and I recall a documentary I once saw. About how it all started during the Great Depression. When the US incentivized farmers to grow commodity crops like corn to earn money. Stuck with tons of corn and nothing to do with it, the US, in it’s signature style, found a way out.
High Fructose Corn Syrup — or Sugar.
So they converted all that corn to cheap sugar. And every food recipe, to a sugar recipe. And exported half their food to the rest of the world. Problem solved. Depression lifted. Pun intended.
Imagine if they did that with cocaine!
I’m onto the penultimate bite now. I make it an exceptionally large one. I know I need a larger dose everytime, to produce the same dopamine effect.
I’m happy now. Both because of all the sugar, and because it delivered.
Little does the sugar know, that this time I used it against itself. I used it to warn the world of its own plot. Of its plans for world domination. Aided and abetted by the USofA.
But something tells me that the devil will extract his pound of flesh. Or put back two.
For my part though, I have left the last bite. Whether that’s my willpower or my guilt, I’m not sure.
This is an aberration. Generally, I write more useful, fitness content. Sometimes I do go off script. Join my email list…and I’ll try not to.