In the 1980s and 90s it was low fat. In the 2000s it was low carb. Today it’s sugar. All the recent brain research indicates that it’s addictive in the same way that nicotine and alcohol can be, that it can trigger diabetes, may aggravate inflammatory diseases, and (as we already know) leads to obesity.
Nothing to love about sugar – except that we all do. Well, at the risk of seeing a bandwagon to jump on, here’s what happened when I tried going sugar-free. It’s the story of a lifestyle change.
Planning – Quitting Sugar. Should I go cold turkey or gradual weaning?
There are a lot of health and personal blogs about going sugar free – my personal favourite is Sarah Wilson’s iquitsugar.com – and some say wean, some say just quit. For me, weaning is just messing about. I’m likely to forget I’m supposed to be cutting down, or forget how much sugar I’ve had in a day, so going cold turkey was the way to go.
And that’s what I did.
I hoped to be able to down-regulate my taste buds for sugar, so that I didn’t actually miss the taste. And if I didn’t miss the taste, then I wouldn’t want sugar and the whole change would be much easier to maintain. That meant no sugar-free/diet sodas or sugar substitutes.
Contemplating and Planning – Where is the sugar?
No matter how much we like to think that if it’s in fruit, or is called ‘agave’ or ‘honey’ or ‘unrefined’ etc, that sugar is better than the white stuff from the packet. It isn’t. It’s all the same and all equally damaging.
I looked at my diet and where sugar crept in on a regular basis. Some of these weak-spots may ring a bell with you:
- Chocolate from the service station when I fill up the car (and I do a lot of driving).
- Fruit squashes instead of just water.
- ‘Something for the way home’ when I’m at the supermarket.
- A hot chocolate drink (with a teaspoon or 2 of extra sugar) in the evening after a meal.
- Sugar on already sweet cereals.
- Sweetened yoghurt.
- Fruit juices.
- Fruit smoothies via my Nutribullet – which I love – and sometimes add honey.
- I occasionally have baked beans and tomato sauce.
I don’t drink tea and coffee, so that was one less thing to have to deal with, but look at that list! Even if I didn’t feel any better, my dentist was going to be pleased about my lower-sugar existence!
I decided that in the interests of not missing out on some fibre and vitamins, I’d keep my Nutribullet smoothies but forgo the added honey and have more vegetables in them. Everything else was banished. I took a deep breath.
Taking Action – Daily life without sugar.
If you’ve ever tried giving up sugar you’ll know how hard it is. I found my taste buds have somehow become conditioned to having something sweet after a meal, especially in the evening.
Try looking for a snack when you’re out and about. Try preparing meals for children. If you don’t drink tea and coffee, try having to find a satisfying alternative hot beverage. Try just drinking water. Try finding non-sweet or sweetened mixers for drinks. Try having a meal with friends when she’s slaved over a delicious desert. Try eating out at a restaurant and resisting the desert menu.
Every day was a challenge and while at first it was a novelty and I felt positive about it. As time wore on the novelty wore off.
Maintaining the Change.
What made it harder to keep going, was that I didn’t actually feel any different. For about a month I just felt like I was going through the motions of my new experiment but at the same time hoping that there would be some tangible reward to keep me motivated.
- And at about 6 weeks in I started to notice a change.
- It became apparent that I was eating less over all and wasn’t so hungry, and as a result I lost a little weight. It was probably about 5-7lbs (I don’t have scales), but my clothes were looser and more comfortable.
- I had more energy for everyday life.
- I slept better and was therefore less tired.
- My daily runs were better and faster.
- Life was good – this was worth it.
Relapsing – falling back on the sugar wagon.
Have you ever had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? Does the devil sometimes seem rational and to be giving some really quite good advice?
I had some bottles of fruit quash in the cupboard and didn’t want them to go out of date and get wasted (I hate wasted food). So it seemed like a good idea to just use them up and not buy any more…
And before you know it I was back to buying chocolate from the service station, adding sugar to already sweet stuff and honey to my smoothies. Like all novelties, my sugar-free lifestyle change had worn off.
What Happens Now?
I spent a long time, having relapsed, in pre-contemplation – enjoying eating sweet stuff and not thinking about getting back on the wagon.
Today I’m back to contemplation. I know I need to make a change, but I’m not quite ready to try again. I will soon though. Every day I’m conscious of eating too much sugar
Stages of change.
In the 1980s, psychologists James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente formulated the Stages of Change model. It has had a big influence on health promotion and helping people make changes to their health.
This is how it looks. As a nurse with a special interest in health promotion I use it a lot, and I’ve outlined my own journey with it here.
Giving up sugar, like quitting sugar, alcohol, drugs or losing weight sometimes means a bit of to-and-fro. It doesn’t always work first time.
The bottom line is ‘don’t give up giving up’. Now, I need a drink and a refreshing glass of iced water will do nicely.