Sunday life: I quit sugar

Posted on February 27th, 2011

This week I quit sugar (part 1)

* Dear reader, most of you have read my “I quit sugar” posts over the past few weeks and are probably wondering ‘why’s she going over this again’? Well, this should give you an insight into the turn-around times in publishing. I wrote this Sunday Life column at the same time as my first post. It just takes this long for it to be subbed, fact-checked, laid out, printed and distributed. It’s a nice little refresher for those of you who’ve been following things on this blog…If you’re new to this blog, you can catch up on other “I quit sugar” posts my interview with David Gillespie is here, the reasons why sugar makes us fat here, how I quit sugar here and some breakfast ideas here.

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It’s not that I’m a sugar junkie. I’m just wedded to the stuff in a tortured, forever-self-moderating way. As a kid, growing up in a drought-ravaged backwater as part of a social experiment in subsistence living (which largely consisted of skirting the breadline and tending goats), we didn’t eat much sugar. Sometimes, though, Dad, in a scene reminiscent of Charlie Bucket with his gold-foiled slither of chocolate, would bring home a Chokito bar and split it between us. Invariably we’d wind up spinning the ceiling.  And so it was I got a highly attached taste for the stuff and its maximum (!) fun times (!) effects.

As I say, I don’t eat a lot of sugar. But it’s a struggle not to. I do seductive things like convince myself that a slug of honey on yoghurt every night is wholesomely Nigella Lawson-ish – annoyingly cloying, but not harmful per se. But the trouble is, if I get even a wafer-thin taste of sugar, something wild and wooly comes over me and I have to eat the whole damn upside-down almond meal and pineapple loaf. Sugar does that; it makes us demented and we turn into Mirandas, as one friend said. Remember that Sex and The City scene when she dumps a cake in the bin, then douses it in water so she won’t keep eating it?

I’ve avoided quitting sugar for ages. Mostly because I’ve known it means never touching it again. One French study found it’s more addictive than cocaine. And must be treated as such. But lately it’s made me crankier, puffier, foggier, sicker and more attached than normal. I’ve reached saturation point; it’s time to become a nice person again.

But why quit, you might ask? Sugar’s natural. Well, yes. But so is petroleum. And surely you don’t mean fruit and honey? Yes, yes, I do.

Here’s the deal. On Friday I met with David Gillespie, author of the authoritative  Sweet Poison, Why Sugar is Making Us Fat. Seven years ago Gillespie was obese and obsessed. He did his own fanatical research (he’s a lawyer!) and concluded sugar is what makes us fat (and puffy and cranky). Without changing any other aspect of his lifestyle he quit sugar permanently and lost 40kg. And never gained the weight back.

But let’s be clear – it’s fructose that’s the enemy. Table sugar is half fructose, so is the sugar in fruit. Honey’s 40 per cent fructose and agave is 90 per cent. Now here’s the untechnical gist of the matter: every single molecule we stick in our gobs has a corresponding appetite hormone that, when we’ve eaten enough of said molecule, tells our brains “OK kiddo, we’re full now”.  Our bodies are good that way; we’re designed to eat only as much as we need.

Every molecule, that is, except fructose. Odd you might say…

This is because back when we were cave people, sugar was both highly valuable (as insta-energy for chasing wildebeast) and extremely rare (a berry here and there). Thus we evolved with no fructose “full switch”, so that when we did stumble on a berry bush we could gorge ourselves stupid (and store it as insta-fat). Our digestion and metabolisms haven’t changed in 130,000 years. Our sugar intake, however, has. In just 150 years it’s gone from 0kg to about 60kg a year.

But here’s part two of the dastardly deal. The way fructose is converted in our bodies means it’s not used upfront as energy, but converted directly to fat. It also becomes, as Gillespie says, “porridge in our arteries”, leading to cholesterol and cancer. And the rest. “Eating fructose is like eating fat that your body can’t detect as fat,” he says.

I’ve been off sugar since last Monday. The hardest bit has been going through the tedium of witnessing how often my psyche lunges for it. I reach for it to calm myself, to reward myself, to fill awkward pauses between activities. In it’s absence I’ve been like a dog chomping at an imaginary mosquito.

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher used to overcome a fear of losing something (food, shelter) by periodically going without it for a chunk of time, “with the object of seeing whether it was worth going to much trouble to make the deficit good”. I guess I’m doing the same. I shall report on the results in a few weeks.

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  • Mrs Bok

    Hi Sarah, sugar gives me terrible eczema, makes me cranky, puffy – but I’m addicted all the same! After following your blog I tried giving up on sugar. I last about 7 hours! It’s so hard to avoid as it is in absolutely everything…so even whilst trying to avoid it, it’s very hard to do so. I’m encouraged that you find it hard to but you’re still trying.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Truth be known, I had some dates today. Just thought I would to see how it felt. Didn’t do much for me, which is SUPER weird. I really can recommend trying the methods I’ve used (eating fat and protein). Keep trying!

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  • Sharon

    Ever since I read the series of articles you wrote about wanting to quit sugar and the reasons to do it, I’ve been really, reaaaaally cautions towards it. I am thinking of lowering my level of sugar intake. I won’t go as far as you so as to quitting absolutely, but definitely being much more moderate. I’ve been looking like crazy at the ingredients list of so much stuff to find if there’s any sugar, AND THERE IS. In so much of the food we consume, even crackers! CRACKERS.

    I was telling my family all about it the other day. I described to my mother the feeling of… trason I felt, because so many things we bought were made with sugar without us knowing. Then, twenty years from now, when I have diabetes or something, I won’t even know why, but it could easily be from all that hidden sugar I was eating all along.

    All this topic has been incredibly eye-opening, so truly, thank you. I will be on the lookout for your next posts. This article was great, and so was your video interview with David.

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  • http://thechocolatefigsf.com Sarah

    yes, you have opened my eyes as well. having abstained from the little sugar i used to eat (raw honey, maple syrup, dried fruit) when craving sweets, i actually find that i don’t crave it at all anymore. and when i do splurge on a date&nut bar, of all things, i get a RUSH like no other and i’m hungry again right away. it really is amazing.

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  • http://aliceromance101.wordpress.com Alice Shaw

    In a craving laden moment today I allowed myself a milk bottle lolly from the kids’ stash, after being off sugar for 2 months. Mother of God that thing was sweet!! I only had one when normally I would have eaten until my teeth were zinging. I also bought myself a chocolate, but I haven’t eaten it yet. I actually had an apple instead. I feel better for not bingeing on sugar all the time but I don’t know that I will be able to give it up forever. I’m just taking each day as it comes!

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  • Lorrae

    I went cold Turkey on sugar nearly 2 years ago and dropped 7 kg in the blink of an eye – and I wasn’t over weight, by any means. [Was 65 kg -dropped to 58] The funny thing was, I’d tried many times before and failed. It wasn’t an intentional feat. I suffered a mini nervous breakdown and throughout that time and felt that I developed a physiological aversion to sugar. My body no longer needed it, or could tolerate it.I felt so much better without it – more energy, less mood swings and generally less tired.
    I am “back on ” sugar now – though haven’t regained the weight – bonus.

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    Alice Shaw Reply:

    The difficult thing for me is that I don’t feel like the small amount of weight I have lost is in proportion with the huge amount of junk I have given up eating. Makes it hard to stay motivated.

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    Lily Reply:

    Alice I think the big thing is not to do this to only lose weight – do it to stop poisoning your body. The weight will come off. I didn’t get the huge first week drop that others reported, I was so tired, cranky, headachey and even constipated ! It took everything in me to persist and the weight is coming off slowly and steadily. If I restricted my kilojoule intake or increased my exercise it might come off quicker – but I don’t want to “diet” with all that implies. I feel better, drink heaps more water, and the cravings do go. My 10 year old son went to a party yesterday with sugary food and commented on the drive home “Mum I am so thirsty after eating all that sugar”. That moment was worth it – the kids are aware of what it does to them not only because they have read it – but they have felt it.

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    Jason Reply:

    Hi Lorrae,
    I’d like to know why you decided to eat sugar again. Also, why do you think you haven’t put on weight since doing so? Cheers..

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  • http://www.centralcoastseachange.com Tracey from Central Coast Seachange

    I’m getting withdrawal symptoms just reading this post. I use CSR’s low gi sugar in my cooking and in my coffee..not that it is really any better but makes me feel like I’ve made a stance against ”bad sugar’.’
    BTW, how’s your bike riding in high heels going up at Byron Sarah? We need an update.

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  • Struggling Girl

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m a bulimic who is struggling daily with bingeing and purging. Sugary food and carbs are my downfall and after I read your post (the first one where you talked about quitting sugar), I decided to give it a shot to see if I quit sugar, I would stop bingeing and then feeling guilty after, make myself throw up ‘magically’. I’ve been sick since I was 15, 7 years later I am still sick, I’ve tried all sorts of recovery (InPatient, Pyschotherapy, Hypnotherapy…) However, this new plan to quit sugar and carbs completely it hasn’t been going that well. I eat mainly protein and vegetables for breakfast and lunch, then come dinner come, the urges come back and hit me so hard, I end up bingeing on carbs (bread) again. I don’t eat much fats as I’m still scared to eat them. I’m at a lost now because my episodes of b/p have become worse after I started the new plan. Do you have any advice for me? sigh

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Try eating more fat. It’s been working for me. Fills me up. I don’t feel like carbs. I know the late-night “need” for “something”. Have some cheese or macadamias…it needs to be an indulgence food, but fatty proteins won’t see you going back to the pantry over and over. Also try going for a quiet walk after dinner. x

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    Recovering Bullimic Reply:

    Dear Struggling girl,
    For me the food, sugar addiction wasn’t what kept me on the b/p cycle it was the purging. I realised that what I loved (but hated) was throwing up – the release of rage & anger which I had kept so still by being a ‘good girl’ all my life. I realised that a successful purge (ie all food eaten, out again) created a numbness, euphoric state, a bliss & a peace that allowed me to lay still without any negative thoughts rushing through my head…. yes eating the sugar and carbs was compulsive (for me they were the easiest things to throw up) but not the reason for my bulimia. It sounds like you’ve created another set of rules (ie no sugar/carbs) – that are too easy to break (eating a mere morsal is very easy) – therefore self hatred sets in you eat the whole packet, container, loaf – & for me the anger around all this guilt was purged violently down the toilet. I wander if for you the addiction is also in the purge?

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Dear Recovering Bulimic,
    Very good questions. And I agree, and eating disorder is often tied up with rules that act as triggers for punishment (and prompts for the anger and the rage). To this end I can only ever suggest meditation. Always meditation. I promise. Slowly slowly it helps to replace the old habits.
    x

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    Mia Reply:

    Dear Struggling Girl

    Much love to you, I dont know what you are going through and couldn’t imagine how hard it has been for you. However, I have struggled with the self-hatred that comes along with a narcotic addiction, so I know a little of addictive behaviour and the complications that can arise because of it.

    The thing that helped me, apart from this blog and all the wonderful advise within, has been Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I am not sure if you have tried it when you said you had tried many things, but I found this to help. And of course, as Sarah suggests, meditation.

    And dont beat yourself up. Take baby steps, always gently.

    Good luck. xx

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    Claire Reply:

    Hello,

    I really understand your pain and frustration as I too struggled with ongoing eating disorders. I am since recovered and what I really feel compelled to tell you is that, “it is not about the food”.

    Food is a distraction from allowing you to see the real you – from allowing you to come home to who you really are.

    I know you may be aware of this already but placing control around your diet will not help things at all. Sure leave out sugar and other chemicals that are poisoning your body but try and start really listening to your body, feeding it what it truly wants. Often we eat what our minds want, but if we truly listen to our bodies this is when real change come about and a truly loving relationship with your body can be built. Some days it may be protein for dinner and at other times it may be the carbs or fat..there are no rules and everyBODY is different.

    If you would like to chat feel free to contact me xx

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    Struggling Girl Reply:

    Recovering Bulimic: I think i’m just addicted to the whole binge/purge cycle and to me it becomes a form of ‘relaxation’, bingeing just blocks out all the frustrations and lonliness I feel even though I act like I’m fine in front of everyone and my family is not in Melbourne (I’m an int student). Then I purge because I have a fear of gaining weight on binge food. Its a horrible cycle. I think I’m just eating and throwing up my feelings and also perhaps I have quite a healthy diet which set me up for cravings, trying to include more protein in my diet now.

    Sarah & Mia: What sort of meditation do you suggest? I have tried sitting still and trying to calm my mind but I get distracted too easy.

    Claire: Its great to hear that you have recovered. Its always makes me believe that someday I will get out of this tunnel and see the light. How do you differentiate between what your mind thinks you should eat? and what you body really wants you to eat? I have a constant dialouge in my head dictating if I can eat this or that and it overwhelms my life constantly. Wish I could shut it out. I would love to have a chat with you. Wld you be able to leave me a email address? Thanks :)

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Yes, please have hope – I promise there is an end to the cycle and that comes with self love. It is possible!!

    In terms of differentiating what to eat, basically I eat only when I am hungry. When my body is truly hungry I will then feel into my body, m ystomach and ask do I feel like something crunchy, sweet, salty – meat or vegetarian? If I’m feeling like eating half a pizza or a block of chocolate I know this is what my mind wants and I begin to ask myself what is missing from my life that needs to be filled – where is the sweetness I lack (I have a meditation process / self inquiry that I do).

    The key to my recovery was not putting limitations around myself. If you feel like having a big sandwich full of carbohydrates for lunch have it and stop eating when you are full. The amazing thing for me was that when I stopped putting restrictions around myself and stopped counting calories, carbs, protein, fats etc I began to naturally gravitate towards healthy foods anyway.

    This recovery did not happen overnight, and it does require work and at times some discomfort – but what could be more uncomfortable than having a ed. The good news is following certain guidelines (my love guidelines :-) ) I recovered in less than a month.

    Remember you are not alone – you are never alone and you will find your way to inner happiness. Email me anytime at cloudcatcherclaire@gmail.com

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Claire that’s generous of you!

    Mia Reply:

    Meditation doesnt have to be hard work. I just sit, and whenever thoughts try to come into my head I dont hold onto them, just let them go. I too struggled at first, with distraction and anger and frustration coming up as soon as I started. Believe it or not, I once had the image of Tyler Durden from the Fight Club movie riding a giant penguin through my brain