In fact, they suck. The research and statistics don’t lie - 90% of people who go on a diet put the weight back on.
After going through anorexia and bulimia from the age of 14 – 25, I then went through a few years of being wooed by “quick fix” diets.
Atkins, South beach, Lemon detox, Dukan, low fat, low carb, juice diets.
My will power is actually pretty good. On average, I’d stick to these restrictive diets for anywhere from one month to six, ignoring how tired I felt, delighted as the weight fell off.
But then I’d just have a little sneaky chocolate. Because I’d had a bad day. Or a great day, and deserved it.
And then another one. And maybe some pizza. And a few cocktails.
And from there it would snowball and I’d fall off the wagon (usually with a mouthful of wagon wheels) and my weight continued to flux by 5kgs, and my mood along with it.
Thankfully, a new headspace has also included two new eating and drinking rules which have had me feeling unbelievably well for the past year or so;
1. If I can’t sustain it, I don’t do it.
2. I mostly eat nutrient-dense, whole foods.
So after discovering from at least five different medically credible sources that sugar was seriously not good for you, I decided to cut back on the treats. I was trying to steer clear of chocolate, cake, muffins, lollies, biscuits and icecream.
But it wasn’t about losing weight. I wanted to;
+ Boost my flagging energy levels
+ Clean up my skin (still getting pimples and starting to get wrinkles – not my preferred combination)
+ Try and get rid of my extreme food cravings (basically, I felt hungry ALL the time. Actually, hungry’s not the right word for it; even when I was full and my stomach was filled to capacity, I wasn’t satisfied. And it was usually sugary treats that I’d be craving. And these cravings were getting worse…)
I started this “cut back on sugar” health choice in January this year, then I made a commitment over the Easter month to say no to eggs and rabbits and completely give chocolate a break.
And then I read David Gillispie’s book Sweet Poison and life as I knew it changed.
I struggled with David’s credibility as he’s not a doctor, scientist, nutritionist or dietitian. He’s a lawyer and IT consultant. But his disclosure on this right from the start, the vast amount of unbiased medical research that he’d carried out, all documented in a comprehensive bibliography and easy for me to investigate myself, combined with his own personal health success story (and his family’s) made me think again.
Sweet Poison is an in-depth read on WHY sugar makes us fat and some of its other nasty health implications. It can get pretty scientific which occasionally made my eyes glaze over and I’d have to go back and slowly read whole sections again because I didn’t get it. His follow up book The Sweet Poison Quit Plan is much easier to understand, with a brief overview on the WHY, then onto a guide HOW to actually give up sugar. If you really want to understand the subject so that you can decide if this style of eating is for you, I’d advise reading both.
So why, as I so dramatically wrote above, did “life as I knew it” change?
I learnt what “sugar” really is and how the human body isn’t designed to digest very much of it.
And what’s “sugar”?
Basically anything that has fructose in it;
- Table sugar (as found in any sweet, man made food)
- Palm sugar
- Fruit juice
- Sauces or dressings made with sugar – tomato sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, sweet and sour sauce, plum sauce, hoi sin sauce, satay sauce, teriyaki sauce, laksa paste, balsamic dressing, Italian dressing
- And surprising things that I didn’t know had sugar in them like flavoured potato chips, some breads, processed meat, peanut butter and soy milk
The fruit thing was a big wake up call. Fruit’s full of natural sugar right? But I discovered that natural or unnatural, it was still just sugar.
I could happily eat three or four pieces of fruit a day. And my organic, healthy low fat yoghurt was sweetened with fruit juice, so that was better than sugar right? Um, nope.
So to cut a very long story short, I went cold turkey and quit eating any of the above foods. I didn’t replace them with artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Nutrisweet, though I did use a teeny bit of stevia powder in my morning coffee (a sweetener made from a plant, rather than a chemical concoction) but after a few weeks, I gave that away too. I still ate one piece of fruit a day but that’s ok, because a crunchy pear, a few juicy strawberries or half a banana are each relatively low in fructose and come wrapped in a purpose built cloak of fibre that your body can deal with. Much more on this in David’s books.
I was still treading carefully though, wearing my special ‘I-don’t-do-diets’ shoes, as I knew all too well that when denied anything for too long, a binge would surely follow.
But I trusted David’s words that, once you get through the withdrawal period (yes, he likens sugar to an addictive substance as tough to break from as nicotine or caffeine), you come out the other side and…
A block of chocolate is about as appetising as a plate of raw broccoli.
You just don’t want it anymore.
And he was right!
After a week or two of missing the odd piece of chocolate, a biscuit and my regular Thai takeaway favourites, I can honestly say that I did not want any of the sweet stuff. I did counteract a little and overdose on some of the other types of foods that I wouldn’t usually eat – plain potato chips, nuts, buttery toast – but I didn’t give myself too much of a hard time as I figured that over a few months they’d stop being such a novelty. Besides, it’s actually quite hard to eat too much of those things because you get really full (unlike chocolate which I could eat all day).
After four weeks, I was feeling brilliant. My food cravings had stopped, my skin was clear, my energy levels were constant and my clothes were feeling looser.
And then I got the flu. Proper flu where I was sick for three weeks straight.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick I return to being an eight year old.
I want my softest tracksuit and my favourite blanket. I want someone to pat my head and make me hot drinks. And I want comfort food. And on top of that, it was my birthday. So over a week or so, I devoured some birthday cake, had a night in with a tub of cookies and cream and scoffed a block of Lindt. I may have even eaten a particularly good looking lamington (the bakery was next door to the chemist).
After a while, I realised that I was no longer sure if I was still sick or if I just had sugar symptoms – the lethargy, headaches, queasy stomach and spotty skin could have been from either.
So I finally stopped acting like a fussy child and started eating healthily again.* I had to go through withdrawal – the cravings lasted about 10 days which was annoying. That was a month ago now and, generally speaking, I’m back to that feeling brilliant stage.
So the sugar free summary?
+ My skin is a lot clearer. I still get the odd pimple but no where near as often, large or painful as usual.
+ My energy levels are waaaaaaay more constant. I still have off days and afternoons still give me a bit of a slump but over the course of a week, I’d say I feel less lethargic. This means I’m more productive, calmer and happier. This is a VERY good thing.
+ My clothes feel a lot looser. In fact, I had to take two pairs of jeans and my favourite black dress pants to the alterator to be taken in
+ My overall skin / muscle tone is firmer
+ It was never about losing weight so I didn’t weigh myself when I started, but according to what my weight was at the start of this year, I’ve lost 2.1kgs
+ Discovering how delicious REAL food is. Milk is so sweet. Mushrooms are so aromatic. Breads are either earthy or delicate and spices are so, well, spicy. And natural yoghurt can actually not taste like creamed stomach acid. After much trial and error, my pick is Jalna Natural Whole Milk Yoghurt.
+ I do miss the sweet stuff sometimes. But strangely, never enough to actually feel like I’m on a diet.
You can make fructose free desserts which are made from glucose but they seem to turn my taste buds back to wanting sweet food, making the office cookie jar suddenly tempting. That said, I’ve made chocolate brownies from glucose (they are AMAZING) and I struggle to get through two or three (when I could usually eat a whole tray of normal ones if I put my mind to it).
I’m very aware that it’s early days – I’m not even three months in and the great flu eating episode of 2011 hasn’t made my experiment very valid, but I’ll update you again in a six months or so.
I’m off to eat some almonds. And certainly not the sugared kind.
*Another “danger time” when cravings hit is when you’re hungover. You can drink white or red wine, beer or plain spirits in moderation and still be “sugar free” but any more than a few at a time isn’t recommended. At least I don’t have that problem this month as I’m off the booze completely as I embark on my first Dry July to raise money to help adults living with cancer. Feel free to sponsor me here – I’m halfway there and would love your support. x