Sugar Does the Trick, But I Won’t Let It Trick Me

Brad Dell avatar

by Brad Dell |

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(Photo by Brad Dell)

Mom never had to force me to eat my veggies. Matter of fact, she tried to force me to eat less of them. There was nothing quite as refreshing as coming home from a stressful day of middle school and popping open a can of black-eyed peas or a fresh container of grape tomatoes, paired with a tall glass of iced pineapple juice.

Dietician clinics were unorthodox: “Ditch the veggies, keep the juice. It has calories. Don’t you want cake? Those vegetables are wasting space in your tummy — fill it with fattening foods.”

See, with CF, my pancreas doesn’t work too well, so I don’t properly absorb nutrients. Plus, I burned so many calories fighting infections that I needed double the calories of a “normal” person. The reality was docs weren’t trained back in the day to expect long-term treatment for CF. That being the nice way of saying CF is a childhood disease, which is a nice way of saying “ya die young.” So, “adult problems” like heart disease were beyond the horizon. Get kids plump now so they can fight infections later. If sugar does the trick, it does the trick.

I was young and “reverse psychology” had its way. Desserts were chores. I was the only kid at birthday parties turning his nose up at cake and darting for untouched veggie platters. But I eventually hit an age when doctors brought up feeding tubes. So, I tried to only eat veggies with butter melted on top and added in the occasional can of Ensure (fatty chemicals sprayed with cheap vanilla perfume). But it wasn’t enough. In high school, I packed pockets with Little Debbies and Snickers. I almost always had a bottle of Mountain Dew in my bag, pillowed between a couple of Uncrustables. I eventually ended up getting a feeding tube. But sugar had enslaved me by then.

I thought I was consuming copious sugar to save my life. Turns out, I might have been killing myself. CF isn’t a childhood disease anymore. We now know that certain foods — looking at you, sugar — cause inflammation. And inflammation is just about the worst enemy CF-ravaged lungs could have.

I ended up hospitalized for 46 days in 2016. I got a big diet wakeup call: inflammation squeezed my airways like a python. My hospital stay became a sugar detox. And boy, was it hard. Mountain Dew pulsed through my veins. Before then, I had avoided drinking water like a cat with rabies. But I slowly transitioned from stevia-sweetened drinks to pure H2O. I rejected the Little Debbies and nibbled on cashews while researching healthier ways to gain weight.

Appetite was always a struggle for me. Between nausea, medication side-effects, and infection invasions, eating was tough. Like I said, I was nibbling on cashews, not pouring them down my throat.

I’ll let you in on a shameful secret: I didn’t completely get rid of the sugar. Remember the feeding tube? While sleeping, I got 2,500 calories and over 100 grams of fat in the form of these milkshake-type things, kinda like Ensure. And like actual milkshakes, they were packed with high-fructose corn syrup (fancy talk for factory-processed sugar syrup). How else do you pack that many calories into a liter-and-a-half shake? “If sugar does the trick, it does the trick.”

Then I had a lung transplant, and with it came a boosted appetite. Steroids help keep my immune system at bay so that it doesn’t attack my new lungs, and they give me one heck of an appetite. I enjoy food so much now that my parents ask me to stop making growling noises while eating. I’ve weaned off the feeding tube and take everything by mouth. Despite steroid-induced carb cravings, I try to stick to healthier fats that are conveniently refreshing on recent sweltering spring days, like chilled avocados and coconut milk.

But my dear old friend, sugar, is still smiling its sinister smile. I have a 3,500-calorie diet. If I don’t hit my goal, I can lose a couple of pounds in one night. Before you say the oft-repeated joke — that you wish you had that problem — know that I wouldn’t wish malnourishment on my worst enemy.

Recently, I had some chocolate, pie, cake, a sip of soda. It’s just a little something here and there to keep my weight on. Now I’ve got anemia, which causes even more weight loss. So, I have to step it up. Maybe a cup of soda instead of a sip, maybe a couple of Nutty Buddy bars or Pop-Tarts. And I find I’m not just doing it for the weight now. Shivers of pleasure tickle my spine as I chug that sweet, syrupy Baja Blast or munch into that delectable cheesecake.

“It’s just sugar,” sure. But when I’m carrying lungs given as a gift, it’s selfish of me not to work harder to protect my health. I’m determined not to fall into my old habits again. Sugar does the trick, but I won’t let sugar trick me again.

Follow my adventures on my Facebook Page Adamantium Joy.


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Mary Powell avatar

Mary Powell

Brad, congratulations on your lung transplant! Given the steroids, as well as CF-pancreas issues, I'd advise you to keep track of your blood sugars ... high blood sugars plus immunosuppression are a bad combination, as I know from experience.
Years ago, I cut back on carbs, to help me control my CF-related diabetes ... found out I need ~75-100 grams of carbohydrate each day to avoid losing weight. So that is part of my daily routine, but eating lots of sugar is not a good recipe for healthy living.
Sugars above 140 mg/dl cause changes in how your white cells work ... the higher the sugar the more abnormally the white cells work, so high sugars hamper your immune system. I have had bouts of aspergillous infection, every time tied to very high blood sugars.

Monica avatar


Your article alarmed me too. You also don't mention eating healthy fat and protein from animal products: meat, diary, eggs. I'd recommend this which would also help you stabilise your blood sugar and be very nutrient dense. My daughter has CF and now 20.


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