In January 2011 I quit sugar. It started as an experiment, but my energy, skin and wellness changed so dramatically, I kept going.
I stopped eating sugar – in all its forms – because I’d been told by specialists and nutritionists for years that I should. I have an autoimmune disease (Hashimotos, a disease that attacks the thyroid and mostly affects women over 30) and sugar flares my condition terribly. Some even argue sugar causes the disease in the first place. Anyone with a compromised system simply cannot afford to have their stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), their neurotransmitter levels (dopamine), or their insulin levels tipped off balance by sugar. It’s a hard, cold, but oddly motivating fact!
So was the fact I was short of a topic one week for the column I wrote in a Sunday newspaper magazine at the time. I committed to a fortnight off sugar, to see how it went. As I say, the effects were immediate and I shared my story with my readers in the magazine and on my blog. This whole I Quit Sugar journey then dominoed from there.
To be frank, I was addicted to the stuff. I was a covert addict, though, because I’d convinced myself I ate “healthy sugars”: honey in my chai tea, dark chocolate every afternoon and sweet treats after dinner. But as I soon learned, sugar is sugar, whether it comes from a beehive or a sugar cane field.
So how much sugar was I actually eating?
- Three pieces of fruit a day.
- A handful of dried fruit on my muesli or in my porridge.
- A teaspoon or two of honey in my tea.
- A small (35g) bar of dark chocolate after lunch.
- And, after dinner, honey drizzled on yoghurt or dessert (if I was out with friends).
A conservative day would see me consume more than 25 teaspoons of sugar.
It was time to face the facts. I was eating way more sugar than we’re designed to eat. Sure, the other ingredients mixed in with the sugar in, say, a muesli bar or a piece of fruit, were good for me. But the chemical composition of sugar – whether it’s in a mango or a Mars bar – remains the same. And it’s highly addictive. Even though I was eating MUCH less sugar than the average person, and many would say my diet looked very healthy, I was still consuming too much.
I’d had enough.
I was done with riding the roller-coaster of sugar highs and lows and my obsession with my next fix. And I figured it was time to at least try eliminating sugar. Just to see…
Plus I’d gained about 12kg as a very annoying side effect of my disease. I was keen to try a new way to shift it.
I experimented. Gently.
I told myself I’d try it, just to see what might happen. I was petrified about living even one day without a sweet treat. What would I do when I got my 3pm slump? How would I cope when I was out with friends? How would I reward myself? Viewing my new vow as a curious experiment somehow seemed less committed.
Once I quit though, my decision seemed to suddenly threaten everyone around me. They made disparaging comments and told me it was all just a fad diet. Why the vocal antagonism? My theory is that my decision held up a mirror to them, reflecting back their own uncomfortable, guilt-laden and very attached relationship to sugar.
And where am I at now?
Today I’m still off the sugar, I’ve lost the weight, no longer have 3pm slumps and manage my disease much better. The reaction I get now from those who learn of my extended experiment is different.
Mostly people are genuinely curious to try it for themselves. They’ve heard about the studies that show sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and the ones that link our over-consumption of the stuff to modern diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and cancer. And, of course, they’ve read about the research that links sugar to obesity. We’re eating less fat than ever before, we take out more gym memberships than ever before, but we’re only getting bigger and bigger.
Could it be that sugar is making us fat… and sick?
Wondering if you should quit? Click here to read more.