Rob and I are in our fourth week without sugar. Thanks to some suggested reading by a friend, I think we’ve finally cracked it. So, what exactly does it mean to go ‘sugar-free’? And how does it feel?
I lacked the answers to these two questions on my many failed attempts to quit sugar over the past few months. It’s only since having a clear direction – with daily goals – and support from others who already live this way, that we’ve actually been able to go without. And, Rob’s support in doing this along side me has been essential.
The journey so far has been fascinating, and opening myself up to become truly aware of my addiction to sugar has been alarming. I was totally dependent on this substance from first thing in the morning until late at night when working. As a nation we don’t think twice about the quantity of sugar we are consuming – probably because it is legal and served up in the form of pretty cakes and ‘healthy’ fruit smoothies or yoghurt. Furthermore, it’s constantly available throughout the day in so many foods that we don’t even realise the dependancy we have on it… until we have to stop.
I’m not here to tell anyone else to give up sugar. I don’t even plan to rid it from my life forever. I’ve just needed to totally eliminate it from my system so that I can start again with a clean slate, and be more aware from here on so that I don’t develop the dependancy again.
I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs that I’m not one for diets – ‘everything from scratch and everything in moderation’ has been my mantra – and yet here I am writing about a sugar-free ‘diet’. Funny. This isn’t a diet though. This is trying to get over an addiction, probably not so dissimilar to an alcoholic giving up alcohol. Is that a diet? I’m trying to get to that place where everything CAN be in moderation again, because until recently I couldn’t go a day without cookies, cake or fruit. Can you?
You are probably surprised by my mention of fruit here, since we are brought up from a very young age to believe that fruit is great for us; get your five-a-day and all that. Fruit does have many great qualities, but it is also loaded with sugar – fructose to be precise – and when we evolved there simply wasn’t much fruit available. Perhaps a few berries here and there. As such, our bodies aren’t able to correctly deal with the sugar, and we don’t generate a ‘full-feeling’ response to it. We can gorge on sugar without feeling full, and this is probably why I enjoy it so much.
So, following Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ advice, all fruit, sugary treats, honey, agave and anything with over 5g of sugar per 100g has gone. Her general advice is to replace these things with fatty foods and protein, which do produce a rapid ‘full-feeling’ response, and lots of vegetables, nuts, seeds and coconut.
I’m not going to publish all the details here, however, if you are interested to have a go her book is available for about £7 from amazon. It contains limited scientific information, but there is enough summary to give you an understanding of why it could be a good idea to eat less sugar. This isn’t ground-breaking news. Plenty of people have known for generations that sugar is addictive, causes hormone responses (mood swings, temper tantrums – children are particularly sensitive) and weight gain. It’s just that more recently it’s been acknowledged that all the conditions that were previously advertised as being linked to eating saturated and full fats are actually caused by sugar, and not fat. Fat is essential for our health, and whole foods (including dairy) should be celebrated. The more we tamper with our food, the more problems we run into. Fat wont make you fat because it makes you feel full too quickly.
Changing our general eating plate hasn’t been difficult since our diet was already in line with the recommendations such as a cooked breakfast, incorporating seeds and nuts within cooking and using meat on the bone for extra nutrients in casseroles and curries. The difficulty for me is eliminating the snacking on fruit, cookies and cake, and finding a suitable alternative.
It’s been a tough ride of stomach aches:
1. from a recommended increase in dairy (which I did already know I was sensitive to) – so that’s out again
2. and from a sudden increase in snacking on raw nuts – very annoying. Seeds seem to be better for me.
I’ve also experienced dizzy spells and nausea. These are documented responses for detoxing from a substance, but part of me knows it’s probably also down to insufficient calories. I’ve noticed a reluctance by myself to eat since I don’t like feeling full very much, and I simply get lazy about preparing yet another snack or meal. I love baking, so it was never a chore to bake a quick cake, and the reward was a delicious sugar fix. Now, I just prefer to go hungry, which isn’t good. I need to be more organised with having easy-to-grab food available because this isn’t about weight-loss for me – far from it – it’s about wanting to improve my chances for a healthy life with my family.
It’s been difficult to know what advice to follow when it comes to Meg. She’ll be two next month and we hope that she hasn’t had so much sugar in her life already to have created an addiction to it. She’s never had fruit juice or squash, or anything other than water to drink. We’ve stopped giving her dried fruit, and she has just a couple of small pieces of fresh fruit a day. We’ve discovered that most fruit yoghurts have MORE sugar in them than a decent quality dairy ice cream, which has quite frankly been shocking. So, these are out, and a decent ice-cream is in which she only has a very small quantity of. I will make ice cream myself which can include anything from fresh cream to coconut milk or even avocado as a base. I feel pretty angry when I check through the sugar content of the latest fashionably packaged ‘healthy’ snacks for children.
I miss baking, but learning to cook more nutritious food is rewarding. We plan to take 6-8 weeks off all sugar before we decide to reintroduce it in moderation. By the end of this I hope to no longer have my mouth water when I see the cake stand in a cafe. Three weeks down and I finally have the discipline to be able to be around these things and not mentally want them because, quite frankly, I want health. I want freedom. I want to offer Meg the best start possible and be that example. And… I want to be a better cyclist and sugar is not the answer to going faster; efficient muscles free of toxins probably are.