Maryland cookies are my kryptonite. I’ve never been able to say no to a creme egg, just looking at a pack of skittles makes me salivate and oh my lord, the things I’d do for a slice of Battenburg. But the problem is, I can never just have the one slice.
I’m the kind of person that will eat an entire pack of 5 creme eggs in one sitting or run out of tea to dunk in before I run out of biscuits. I’ll come right out and say it, I’m a sugar junkie. When it gets to the 4pm weekday slump I dive greedy little fingers into the biscuit tin and it’s a downwards spiral from there. I fill myself up on sugar but the feeling fades fast, I crash and do it all over again.
I’d tried to give it up so many times but every time I had the smallest taste I just kept going back for more. I needed to get my act together so I decided to take on 31 days without the sweet stuff - cold turkey. Here are a few things I learned in the process.
Natural sugar is still sugar
A little chat with a nutritionist taught me that natural sugar like honey, agave and even FRUITS still counted as sugar. Apparently your body reacts to them in the same way that it would with white sugar so I had to give these up for the course of my challenge as well.
I was told to eat yoghurt and berries if I got a real sweet-tooth-ache or an apple paired with nut butter. Apparently eating the sugar with protein helps to slow down the sugar in your blood stream, meaning that you don’t get any sugar spikes or extreme energy changes. This was going to be one looonnng month.
Prepare for the mood swings
Sugar has the power to make us feel seriously good. So no surprise that when we cut it out completely, we start to feel not so good. For the first week of my challenge, I felt horrible. I ditched my morning gym sesh because I didn’t have the energy to lift my head from the pillow. Feelings of anxiety started to creep in and on more than one occasion I burst into inexplicable tears.
After doing a little research I learned that withdrawal symptoms like this were common. When you cut out sugar, your body slows down completely because it doesn’t want you to waste any precious energy, which means you can feel stressed, jittery and low.
It’s hiding everywhere
You might have seen one of those documentaries with preachy American men talking about how sugar is hiding in all your favourite foods – well, annoying as it is, even here across the pond it seems that smug vegan and his documentary are right. The stuff is EVERYWHERE. From almond milk to shop bought bread, the places that it is hiding have completely thrown me and I accidentally slipped up because of this on more than one occasion.
If you’re going to bin sugar, you’re going to have to pay some serious attention to labels. And speaking of labels…
They are sneaky as hell - because sugar isn’t just called sugar. It comes under the guise of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, maltose and rice syrup to name just a few. And sometimes labels will stick more than one of these ingredients in their food.
That diet coke ain’t helping
At one point I became so desperate for my sweet fix that I turned to diet drinks. I’m not usually a fan of fizzy drinks brimming with aspartame but at this point, the cravings were real and I needed something to get me through. The problem was that drinking fake sweet pop only made me want sugar even more than I did before.
Eating sugar makes you friends
The worst part of cutting out sugar? Turning into an unsociable sugar snob. It isn’t until you start saying no to every pint of cider, biscuit or slice of birthday cake that you realise what an intrinsic part sugar plays in our culture. I found myself constantly explaining to people why I wasn’t partaking in their sugar consumption and when I turned up my nose to a smoothie because of its fruit content, I got more than one odd look.
It’s really not worth the pain
But the most important thing I learned from this month? It really isn’t worth the hassle. Not that I don’t still think sugar is evil and I should probably curb my addiction. But to put it frankly, cutting out sugar just made me feel a little bit shit. I missed out on having fun with friends, I lacked energy and not eating a banana for a month because of its high sugar content is just plain crazy. The problem is that when we cut something out completely it’s too easy to start obsessing over it. And that’s what I did. If possible, I think I wanted it more because I’d decided it wasn’t kosher.
It might sound basic but the lesson I’ve learned is that moderation is key. Since ending my challenge I’m back on sugar but I’m not going as mad as I used to. Just like it’s not too healthy to go on a mega binge with sugary foods, I don’t feel that it’s healthy to completely restrict myself.
From now on, I’ve decided to start eating like a French woman (and I don’t mean a twenty pack and 12 black coffees a day). They eat pastries and baguettes, cheese and red wine and never seem to put on weight. Why? Because in France, food is just food. It’s not bad, it’s not good – it’s food. So from now on I’m going to stick to eating real, wholesome food most of the time, with a few chocolatey treats thrown in.