Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sugar and me

Oh god, this is going to be a hard one.
This feels like admitting to a drug problem or an eating disorder. I suppose in a way it is both.

For as long as I can remember I've been addicted to sugar. Growing up in a house where a packet of Smarties was a once-a-week treat shared among the 4 of us, I craved it like nothing else. I was the one begging the school friend for a biscuit from their lunch box. I was the one collecting random coppers to buy penny sweets. I was the one who in college, my sister laughingly pointed out that when she borrowed my jacket the pockets were full of sweet wrappers. (Peanut M&Ms, Jelly Tots and Minstrels in rotation, or all at once). Sigh.

I'm ashamed and embarrassed about my addiction to sugar. Apparently if it was discovered as a "food" now it wouldn't pass the FDA's approval. It is more addictive than some class A drugs. And yet it's added to commercial baby foods (yes, read the labels, it's classed "grape juice concentrate" and a host of other "natural"-sounding names). It's in nearly every processed food we buy, including crisps. And until last week I'd resolved to a lifetime of feeding my addiction while simultaneously ignoring the issue.

I'm still in denial that I'm cutting down. I'm telling you here, but in my head I'm still telling myself this is just a short-term experiment. If I was to really state the fact that I'm working towards a sugar-free future I'd have a massive piece of cake tomorrow and forget all about it for another few months. So I'm pretending this is just theoretical, ok?

"Always have the cake", "Life is short", "Everything in moderation" are things I regularly say to my clients. I don't do cold turkey, nor self-denial and I have no willpower. So I have to cut things down so slowly, tricking my manipulative brain that it's not really happening. But two weeks ago I was eating the equivalent of a bar of chocolate a day, and sugar at every meal in some form or other.

I'm still not really sure what my diet looks like without it. So I'm working on coming up with substitutes, things to replace sugar which will still interest me without being "rabbit food". Yes I will eat salads, but I'll do so as an educational exercise, I never really crave them.

And yet a week ago, I stopped eating sugar. I still ate a little, but my whole diet changed overnight. I am suffering withdrawals, I have no energy, I'm sleeping for an hour or two every afternoon, I am fatigued. I have felt anxiety and palpitations. I've also had a flatter stomach, I fit better in my jeans and I can't crack my thumb knuckles any more (sugar causes my joints to inflame, part of my autoimmune disease).

I have started intermittent fasting too. It just felt like an instinctive thing for me. I used to justify a carb-loaded, sugary breakfast (pancakes with maple syrup, porridge with sugar and nuts, toast with jam) as I'd been breastfeeding through the night and needed the big meal on waking. Only I didn't. I started noticing I was eating but not hungry for it. So I decided to wait until I WAS hungry, which was closer to noon. I tended to eat a lot late at night right before going to sleep (yoghurt, toast, chocolate) and was then having breakfast around 9am, not giving my body much time to digest and get hungry again. So I've now cut out the late-night supper (I don't count a cup of tea) and I'm skipping breakfast, making a gap of about 15-16 hours between my evening dinner and my brunch.

You can google intermittent fasting for all the benefits, and I have to admit I thought it sounded like an excuse to skip meals / disguise an eating problem when I first read about it. But having tried it I can say it's working for me right now and I'm happy to continue as long as my body wants to. I guess when it comes around to my next period I will be too hungry in the morning NOT to have breakfast on waking, so I might eat early those days, and delay the breakfast again once my period is over. I'm not making any hard and fast rules because I don't do well with rules of any sort.

And sugar, where does that leave you? I'm determined to get back to my pre-baby weight which means losing about 7lb more. It's been over 2 years since I gave birth and I'm just DONE with making excuses. At the end of the day I was eating too much and that's why I'm not back into all my clothes yet.

This is coming at a difficult time for me as we have a family member critically ill and we are under a lot of emotional stress. My usual reaction would be to reach for the sugar, or the bread. Without that crutch I'm having to face my emotions raw, cry it out and feel the weight of grief in my chest for real. It's a tough time, but I'm determined to push on through and not take the easy route and "eat my feelings" which was my default for so many years.

I also want to eliminate the final signs of my autoimmune disease (psoriatic arthritis). When I walk my big toes crack. They always have. I thought it was normal for me. Only once did they stop cracking and it was during my second pregnancy when my diet was really "clean" for an extended period. I think I naturally went off sugar for a few months, or at least cut it down to a minimal amount. Once they stop cracking I will know the inflammation in my body has reduced and I'm at the optimal level of balance.

It's thanks to the I Quit Sugar books lent to me by a friend (but mentioned to me by another friend last year) that I've become aware just how bad my addiction was. For a week after reading them I continued to eat sugar normally, but I mentally clocked each mouthful and was really awakened to the amount I was consuming. Then last week I just seemed to stop it overnight, without really deciding to do so. I think I just went from meal to meal deciding to not choose the sugar option, and to have something else. In the last week I've still had a little chocolate, and made a batch of ginger nut cookies (and ate most of them) but there's a difference in my outlook, and I didn't feel I really NEEDED them.

I'm trying to include more fat in my diet, in the form of cheese, olive oil, eggs and yoghurt, this is a great tip to give satiety and reduce cravings. I bought a large bar of my favourite chocolate today as a movie night treat, and have only eaten half. Before I'd have had it all plus something else.

So things are 'a changin' around here. I will keep you posted. It is early days yet. Oh another big change: I'd had a stubborn deep spot on my eyebrow from about 2 months ago, it's suddenly gone. And I treated myself to a new lipstick today to celebrate, what exactly? Not a week off sugar, because I've still eaten it, but a week in a new phase, feeling finally in control of sugar and of myself.

Where are you and sugar? Please let us know,
Nee x


  1. Hi Niamh, I love reading your posts, so honest and I can totally relate. Amelia Freer is an author who has made me question sugar and I give up refined sugar every so often. I have been 3 months sugar free and never felt better. At the moment I need to start over. It's hard but so worth it. Keep going

  2. Thanks so much Corinna. I've not come across Amelia Freer, but I will check her out this week. I'm impressed you give up sugar regularly, I hope that will be me in time! Thank you for your comment and the support, it means a lot x


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