A Spoon Full of Sugar

by Maria Theresa Maggi on May 16, 2018



“Silver Spoon, pastel life sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

This drawing is a public service announcement to myself. For many months now, as I wrote about in My Favorite Weird Oatmeal, I have drizzled molasses on top of my morning oatmeal. At first it was just a half teaspoon, but as time went on it became what would fit in a teaspoon like the one in the pastel. For a long time, I seemed to need this molasses–it gave me extra calcium and iron and it helped “move” things through. It is pretty much the only sugar I eat on a daily basis, unless there’s a treat at a holiday or a special occasion.

This spoon, full of reflected light and shadow instead of molasses, will remind me that it’s time for me to take a vacation from the regular “little bit” of molasses that months ago seemed fine, even good for me.

How do I know this? By remembering that my body doesn’t lie. Since I moved to Portland and the coast, it’s been a challenge at times to adapt to a the damp cold that permeates these places a lot of the time. It definitely can be a challenge to be warm and dry enough to keep the fibro soreness down to a dull roar. Here at the coast, our walks are far more what I call “elemental” and challenging that way. It’s nearly always damp. The wind on the beach can be fierce, even on a sunny day. The temperatures feel suddenly hot at the high sixties, making that range  more like the low 80’s. With my body’s slowness to adjust to external temperature changes due to the MS, dressing the dogs and I for whatever might occur on our walk has become a complex art. We try to be prepared for any sudden contingency. Sometimes it even pours rain when the sun is bright as a diamond.

In addition to this, just one romp on the beach requires going first down and then up a total of four flights of stairs. In Idaho and Portland I rarely if ever climbed stairs. There were just five down from the front porch of my condo in Portland. Then once we are on the beach, we’re walking on sand of all textures on any given day: some might be dry and hilly and soft, some might be flat and wet, some might be damp and puffed up by the little creatures breathing under it, and some might be treacherously full of water, and behave like quick sand, especially near rocks that have been exposed and then covered by high tide. Sometimes the ocean takes all the sand away and it’s about hopping over bedrock, or just waiting until it’s safer, easier to walk at low tide. Sometimes it throws a bunch of rocks at the foot of the stairs, covering up the sand right where I usually get my footing.

I learned the very hard experiential way how wet sand might be quick sand, and ended up in it ankle high with both feet and heavy rain boots on. I yanked myself out, but my knees told me about it for months, and sometimes still speak up. My doctor and I shared a smile to see they were getting stronger when I visited last February.

All of this is worth it for the fresh air, the rhapsody of color and light on the water and in the sky, the wildlife (I saw a pelican take flight from water’s edge just yesterday), but I have to be very respectful of when my body might have had enough, even though human nature wants me to push myself to the max. I’ve taken to the compromise of resting on the sand or a comfortable rock with the dogs on a nice day before we climb our last two flights of stairs, or after we do, up above, where the view is spectacular.

In addition to these exertions I’ve renewed my interest in gardening, trying to find ways to grow things in pots and permaculture style, so I don’t have to dig a lot. I’m making my own compost with my ktichen waste in small batches. I bought a potting table so I’m not always bending over.

Far less sexy, whether I want to or not, I still have to take a stab at sweeping and vacccuuming the voluminous amounts of sand, sticks, leaves and dog hair we accumulate in the house from our outdoor adventurs. Suffice it to say, my body gets sore.

But several days ago, it got REALLY sore. And I had some pain events I hadn’t had in months and months. What was going on?

I spent a lot of the day resting and in that time I returned to my time honored practice over the last 10 years of reviewing what I’d been eating, and what I’d been doing in general.

Before I go any further in this narrative, I’m going to say right here and now that this kind of review does not come from a place of “what did I do wrong?,” or a belief that I can fix every difficulty I have myself through deprivation. Instead it comes from my natural tendency to ask myself if there’s anything I can do to help my situation before I give up and say “this is the way it is now” or before I consult medical experts, which in turn means recommendations for either tests or medicines or procedures that most likely, in my case, will cause more complications. I look first to see if there’s something gentle and simple I might do. If there is, I try that first and see what happens.

This line of thinking has served me well over the course of my life. Ten years ago my question to myself, “is there anything more I can do before I say yes to the wheelchair?” (which I’ve written about in Seeds Of A Sea Change and elsewhere hear on the blog) turned out to be a live-changing one, leading me to the Swank Diet and then a plant-based oil free version of it that made the impossible possible again.

So though it’s a type of question few people ask of themselves (as I’ve learned over these last 10 years and more), it’s the path I take first.  There are some areas of my health where I’ve had to concede that I need interventions beyond my capabilities, like the dental work for all the teeth cracking due to the expansion of old metal fillings, and one of those teeth finally biting the dust. In the last year that has turned out to be more challenging than simply stirring up the courage to go to the dentist. It involved finding one who would work with me, it involved having to admit the nerves in my face cannot get numb just on local anesthetic alone any longer, and so on. Thanks to my great dentist in Moscow and how he advised me to proceed, I now have a great dentist in Newport, a “surfer dentist” as my kids like to tease me, who is kind and expert when it comes to getting me numb. Gradually we’re making my mouth more stable. But to do that I had to take a drug I’d never taken, and when I had to see a specialist in the valley, I had to decide whether or not take a preventative course of antibiotics, after 15 years of not taking any. The evening I walked into the pharmacy to learn how to fill a prescription after all these years provoked awe and admiration from the pharmacy staff. They’d obviously never met anyone like me. I kept those antibiotics in the drawer until I just had a feeling that I’d better use them, and then I did research about how to take probiotics to prevent side effects I’d suffered 15 years ago, and all went well.

But usually asking myself if there’s something gentle and simple I can change that might improve things provides an answer for me. This time my review led me back to that morning I’d nearly eaten the oatmeal without the spoonful of molasses on top, in fact had completely forgotten the molasses and begun quite happily to eat it that way before I remembered it. Perhaps that had been a sign it was time to change. The answer to the question “should I take that molasses out and see what happens?” seemed like a yes, instead of convincing myself I didn’t want to change my “usual” breakfast. As much as I like molasses, and as much as it’s true that even hardliners like Jeff Novick advise people that 2 tbs of any kind of sugar is allowable, it’s not optimal. And Dr. Fuhrman is adamant about any sugar aggravating fibromyalgia. So I thought of all the other incarnations of my morning oatmeal over the years and how few of them had any processed sugar product at all. And I went back to that morning where I had almost entirely forgotten the molasses, not even noticed I hadn’t put it on, and I vowed to myself to make this change and see what came of it.

When I first started adding the molasses regularly, I was also going back and forth between trailer and condo, not knowing when or how that would work out. Things were up in the air a lot and when they’re like that I don’t always have an easy time in the bathroom. But the “regular” spoon of molasses helped with that. But now I realized I am grounded in my new home and it may not be necessary in the way it was then, and might even possibly be contributing to more debilitating soreness.

This reminds me to say that things change where my food choices and needs are concerned, even within the so called “constraints” of my plant-based diet. Being gluten free was a way to avoid the wheat starch I am actually intolerant of, but when I found spelt, I was and still am able to eat that to great advantage. When I was younger and still going through menopause, sometimes soy was too much for me. But now that I’m post menopause, it’s actually a big help with things like stubborn hot flashes. Though I love beets, I developed a slight allergy in my throat to raw ones, and I don’t eat them very often anymore, even cooked. Oranges can make me sore, too. The potato starch in white potatoes can make me want my morning spoon of molasses.

But none of these food conditions is set in stone. I’m grateful that many years ago I read Dr. Barnard’s Foods That Fight Pain. I remember him distinctly saying that food intolerances change and shift, seemingly on a dime. In my case, that has turned out to be true.

All along, though, I’ve often fallen back on the directive that 2 tbs of sugary stuff a day is okay, whether it’s sweet red chili sauce on a stir fry, a bit of date syrup or that spoon of molasses. And even when I’m not having that or when I am, I’ve come to see that the homeopathic arnica I have taken for when I’m sore comes (ironically), as those of you who have taken homeopathic remedies know, in the form of a tiny sugar pill that dissolves under the tongue. I decided months ago I had better not take that on a daily basis anymore, since even that little bit of potentized sugar melting next to my teeth may be contributing to the bloom of cavities I’ve experienced in the last year. The dentist says it’s partially the acidity of the mouth changing as I age. Without the arnica, I’m trying to help balance these changes out with the food choices I make.

Molasses never hurts my teeth. But it may have been hurting everything else. The difference was noticable in one day. The second morning of no molasses on the oatmeal, we walked  more comfortably for substantially longer than I’ve been able to in a few weeks. I also came home and pulled the heck out of wild blackberries at the edge of my property for a few minutes. At night my hands were sore, but not so sore I couldn’t type or cook my dinner. All good.

So for now, my weird oatmeal has morphed yet again. I’m grateful there was something so simple and gentle I could try,  and that it worked so beautifully. Rereading my blog from start to finish (at a geological pace) is allowing me to revisit how these simple gentle things often work like a charm for me, so it’s worth it to me to try them first. I love my drawing of the empty spoon filled with light, and that I felt better enough to be able to capture it with pastels and paper. To me, that’s more sweet than an actual spoonful of sugar.

Maria (moonwatcher)




Leave a Comment

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Terri with EatPlant-Based May 17, 2018 at 9:23 am

Hoping you continue to find your way through the health challenges. It sounds like you have a good grip on identifying the triggers.

Wishing you the very best of health!

Blessings & Kale,


2 Maria Theresa Maggi May 17, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Thank you Terri! 🙂


3 Silvia May 18, 2018 at 12:14 am

Wonderful how you identified the food that disagrees with you!
I learned a lot from this post, especially about the gentle search.
These days I tend to be depressed because I have so many intolerances and unluckily mine seem to be there to stay: definitely gluten and soy.
I can eat eggs and fish but I prefer eating vegan for ethical reason. But I cannot deny that I find it quite hard.
Wishing you the best! Greetings from Silvia in Germany


4 Maria Theresa Maggi May 18, 2018 at 8:44 am

Hi Silvia–I’ve been in that no gluten and soy place as well, eating vegan, and it can be a challenge. I still have to watch that stuff doesn’t overtake too much of what I eat. Most of my recipes here are compliant in that way, but I know it can be hard and frustrating. Do what’s best for you. I always love hearing from you, and wish you well from across the globe! xoxo


5 Lee May 18, 2018 at 3:26 am

Hi Maria, this comes to me at a time when I’m having some mobility issues of my own, in the form of issues with my big toe. I sprained it last year and never let it fully heal. I had started the healing process—I could even hike! Then i recently had a week filled with simple carbs and 2+ hours of standing on a hard floor and inadequate dress shoes. Boy did I pay! But with gentle attention to both body and diet, I’m healing.

So I’m delighted to Know that you were able to pinpoint a seemingly insignificant change in your eating pattern, and understand the importance it could have on your health overall. It really is incredible what a difference small changes can make. Thanks for the insightful, inspiring story! And glad you’re feeling better too!


6 Maria Theresa Maggi May 18, 2018 at 8:48 am

Thanks, Lee! I really appreciate your support for how small changes can makek a big difference. It is a concept that is often foreign to people around me ensconced in conventional medical care. Either they don’t have the patience or the bandwidth to even consider it–or they admire me but don’t see it as relevant to their own situations. Still, I persist on describing that process here and I’m always glad that it resonates when I do. It isn’t easy to get older, no matter what, and I do hope my gentle approach will continue to serve me well as I also continue to age. Fingers crossed! And I really hope your toe continues to heal. I had some foot injuries, including my little toe, in Portland, and I was astounded how connected to everything its function is, and how long I had to be careful with it so it could heal. Sending your big toe lots of love!! And you too!! 🙂


7 Gena May 20, 2018 at 4:30 am

Dear Maria,

First, I’m so sorry about the bouts of soreness. I’m happy that you were able to find a gentle and non-invasive way if working through them. I think I may take medications more regularly than you do, but like you, I’ve been served well by always asking whether I might first make a gentle lifestyle adjustment that would be palliative or curative first, and if I can’t, then I weigh my options.

I love the theme of the body’s needs changing with time and seasons of life. I’ve experienced this too, and it’s so powerful to be attuned to the shifts and really moving with them, rather than trying to maintain a static vision of one’s best diet. When I first was experimenting with raw food, the ample fats I was eating seemed to work wonders for my then very weak digestion (post-anorexia); five years ago, after a year of several serious viral and bacterial infections while I was living in DC, my digestion asked me loud and clear to reduce my intake of fat to a more moderate place. I’ve learned that, within a general framework of vegan eating, it really behooves me to listen closely and pay attention to what’s going on, and that I actually become a more sensitive listener with time.

Finally, I so appreciate how you frame this listening process more as an opportunity than a posing of the question “what did I do wrong?” I see a lot of self-blame with diet and health, and I do think that there is a way to be curious and receptive without being controlling.

May you continue to take care of yourself and your body gently and wisely, so that you can inhabit and experience your wild and beautiful surroundings!!


PS I love that you mentioned Barnard’s Foods That Fight Pain! I got it for my mom many years ago when her arthritis was starting to get bad; she has never used it, but I’ve definitely consulted it for some of my clients 🙂


8 Maria Theresa Maggi May 20, 2018 at 8:26 pm

Thank you, Gena. It was meaningful to read how this post resonated for you based on your own journey with shifting body needs and health issues over the years. I like how you used to the word “static” as a kind of body image we often cling to without realizing how that might be working against us. And yes I very much experience the listening process as an opportunity. Thank you for all your well wishes, too, they are warmly received. And love knowing you gave Foods That Fight Pain to your Mom years ago and that you sometimes consult it for some of your clients. Yay! xoxo


9 Veronica May 21, 2018 at 9:49 am

It’s incredible that such a small change can make such a large impact! Thank you for sharing your journey of evolving health. Your spoon picture is the perfect visualization – it’s either something that you’ve removed, or it’s showing the space for something new to be added. Your ability to listen to your body and figure out what’s going on is something we all need to be better at.
I’m glad you were able to find the small change needed to feel better! xo


10 Maria Theresa Maggi May 21, 2018 at 9:27 pm

Thank you Veronica! I love your insight about the spoon drawing being “both/and,” and I certainly appreciate your well wishes and heartily agree listening to our bodies is a much needed skill worth developing. I always love to read your comments! xo


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