Can We Overcome Our Sugar Trap? A Revealing Story

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Can We Overcome Sugar?

Craving sugar this season? What about one of these biscuits to satiate your sugar pangs?

Marie Biscuits do not necessarily stand out as a preferred holiday food. In fact, they are relatively nondescript.

But during our time in Kupang, Timor, Indonesia, we learned a lot about ourselves as well as the culture of Indonesia through these plain, slightly sugary wafers.

Prisoners of our Diet

Americans eat a lot. (I know this is not a revelation.) Americans also eat a lot of sugar. During one season in our life in Japan, we had tried to eliminate processed sugar from our diets, so we weren’t people who were total sugar addicts; nevertheless, we discovered how much we are prisoners of our diet when we lived in Kupang.

Kupang is a very poor area of Indonesia. The suburb of the city where we stayed was poor even by Kupang standards. Even so, the friends we were staying with made sure we always had the best of their food. They also made sure we had three meals a day.

Our typical meal consisted of a copious amount of rice with a boiled green leafy vegetable and usually some chicken, fish, or tempeh. One time in place of the chicken we had octopus, complete with the ink! We could eat as much rice as we wanted, but there was no dessert of any kind, except for bananas.

Sugar Addiction

To an American raised on ice cream sundaes and chocolate bars, bananas as the only sweet gets old fast.

Many of the Timorese don’t even eat three meals a day, so we felt like we were getting preferential treatment. The only problem was that we began to crave something sweet.

In America, although our family doesn’t eat a lot of fast food, we do like our dark chocolate and ice cream. We are also known to bake and enjoy a variety of different cookies, including my special butterscotch chip-dried fruit-oatmeal creation. In Indonesia we had no delectable treats. None. Of any kind…

A Sugary Lifeline

Then we discovered Marie Biscuits. Marie Biscuits are an English invention and come in a cylindrical tube. They are wafer-like tea cookies and are passably sweet. And, more importantly, you could buy Marie Biscuits at a store in the center of Kupang (a 5-mile round trip walk from our location in the suburbs)!

Our first expedition to buy Marie Biscuits was one that causes us shame, but it illustrates the extent of how our diets influence us. We walked the  2 1/2 miles to the store and purchased a tube of biscuits. As we left the store, we opened it and each had a biscuit. Ah, the delightful taste of sugar when it hadn’t been tasted for a few weeks!

We wanted another, but we noticed that we had collected a few ragtag boys from the community as we walked. They were eyeing us eagerly as they watched us eat the first biscuit.

A Guilt-Producing Decision

We were carrying our Marie Biscuits in a backpack. We looked at each other… then we looked at the group of barefoot, hungry-looking boys…and began to walk faster. We continued without talking all the back to our house. We’d left the children behind, but, with each step taken, we had collected a weight of guilt because we hadn’t shared the cookies with the children.

Back at our room, we surreptitiously ate more biscuits. They didn’t last long, but we also tasted our despicable lack of charity with each bite.

On our next trip to get Marie Biscuits, we bought two tubes, and cheerfully shared one of them with a growing crowd of kids. We still kept the second one secret in our backpack for future consumption, however.

Once we returned to the land of sugary everything, we probably wouldn’t even deign to look at a Marie Biscuit, but our experience in Indonesia taught us the depths of our subjection to our diets. We each lost 15 pounds (6.8 kg) during our two-month stay in Indonesia, but we also learned how much we are physically addicted to sugar.


Caroline’s Note: Now we’re in the holiday season. Sweet food, especially, is all around us. How can we say “no” when our bodies crave that sugary high? Can we find ways to limit ourselves?

These are questions I struggle with all the time. Not just from a weight perspective. But also from a place of addiction. It may seem subtle, but addiction means something controls us vs. us being in control. A friend of mine writes impressively on this issue. Please check out Nicole’s article, This is Your Brain on Sugar. Any Questions?

Personally, I ponder this challenge often. How about you?


What in your diet do you feel you couldn’t live without, and why?


Image Credit: Marie Biscuits on Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Humusak and TraveLink, both on Pixabay

Dale DePalatis

Dale DePalatis

Editor & Interculturalist at CultureWeave
The husband of the principal founder of CultureWeave, Dale is a high school teacher of English with an M.A. in English Literature from Stanford University. With a passion for language learning (including Italian, German, and Japanese), he loves the way the brain expands when studying overseas and experiencing new cultures. He also loves reading, traveling, running, and enjoying meaningful conversations about life’s deep questions.
Dale DePalatis
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The husband of the principal founder of CultureWeave, Dale is a high school teacher of English with an M.A. in English Literature from Stanford University. With a passion for language learning (including Italian, German, and Japanese), he loves the way the brain expands when studying overseas and experiencing new cultures. He also loves reading, traveling, running, and enjoying meaningful conversations about life’s deep questions.

  • jcounselor

    Great post, Dale. You’re married to an awesome woman – so glad to know her through our writing group. Yes, we all need to be more aware of sugar as an addiction as it contributes to our mental, relational and physical illnesses. Had I known a fraction of what I know now, I would have fed my four children very differently. (They’re great parents now and feeding their children a healthy diet.) Thanks for giving us the cultural perspective.

    • Caroline DePalatis

      Hey Judy! Thanks and thanks! Yes, we felt this article would be a good one to post in this season. As a bit of a reminder…. We all need it, for sure!

  • Susanne DeMichiei

    I loved this. My morning read. So refreshing to read while drinking my morning coffee with a tiny bit of sugar – just for the taste.
    It took me a while to get used to how much sweeter American cakes and cookies taste compared to German treats. Can’t speak for all Europe. But we love our desserts and bakery’s shelves are full with “süße Stückle” but the dough contains about 50% less sugar than American those on US shelves. I still can’t eat frosting or icing on American cup cakes 🙂
    Your post made me realize it’s an addiction I never thought about it. Just thought it’s different preferences.
    An American doctor once told me “we label everything fat free in the dairy aisle but it’s the sugar that makes you fat not the fat.”
    Fat free yoghurt? Can’t eat it.

    • Caroline DePalatis

      Awesome contribution, Susanne! I’m so glad you found this worthwhile. I’m really trying to cut down the sugar load…again! So tough! I can usually make it through the day, but 4pm is the “witching hour” for me! And yes, sugar got a free pass when the American dietary industry decided to go after fat as “the bad guy.” I think the sugar lobby exerted their influence. Read something about that once.

  • Nicole Akers

    Hello My Friend! I wouldn’t have thought of sugar as a cross-cultural issue, but I am so glad that you did. I see how sugar touches everybody, and the harm it causes. Your piece is powerful and thought provoking. Thanks for linking to my site and the recommendation. I really enjoy your newsletter, and how I learn a new bit of vocabulary with each issue. So glad that you do what you do to make us more culturally aware. Keep up the good work.

    • Caroline DePalatis

      Amazing, right? And, with the spread of American culture worldwide over the last 50+ years, sugar has become more of an issue. It is not the embodiment of evil at all. But definitely something I (and you, and so many others) have a love-hate relationship with. Thanks for the comment! 🙂