How To Quit Sugar When You’re As Addicted To It As I Am
The Debrief: It’s *maybe* possible
From the clean eating teachings of glam foodies like Hemsley + Hemsley and Deliciously Ella to Davina McCall espousing a sugar-free lifestyle, it’s clear that renouncing the sweet stuff is in vogue (first wheat, now sugar; I wonder if we’ll continue like this until only people who really like chia seeds can survive).
Unfortunately, suggesting the concept is more than just a social media fad, various health authorities are recommending we reduce our sugar intake to combat the obesity and diabetes crisis.
And Jamie Oliver, a man who incidentally often confuses himself with a health authority, has leapt on to the bandwagon, with a new programme titled Jamie’s Sugar Rush set to air in September on Channel 4 (I hope it’s not like the channel’s original Sugar Rush series but with Jamie Oliver added into it – that would be weird).
Despite benefits reportedly including clearer skin, feeling a bit more zen and increased energy levels, I never imagined I’d consider the regime myself. After all, I’m a sugar addict and as my dad said on the phone, ‘Oh no, no, no – you’ll get serious depression from doing that, Gwen’.
But while my at-least-one-chocolate-bar-a-day diet didn’t throw up any serious health problems, it wasn’t without its downsides: I once ate so many Minstrels I gave myself a mouth ulcer and my moods were incredibly, well, swingy.
So before I scoffed at any more at pictures captioned with a sugar-free hashtag, I thought I’d see if the benefits linked to cutting candy worked for me. Here’s what I learnt from three weeks of deprivation…
It’s a complete minefield
The first thing to remember is that sugar isn’t just in Victoria sponge, tubs of Nutella and white paper packets labelled ‘SUGAR’. It’s lurking in bread, rice and pasta and fruit too. Oh, and alcohol. Ouch.
I start virtuously, aiming to eliminate ALL sugar EVER: fruit free, carb free, everything-else-that-tastes-nice free. I last approximately one and a quarter days like this before becoming concerned that the diet will actually kill both me and my bank balance (smoked salmon and posh nut medleys were really my only sustenance at this time).
Turning to excerpts of Davina’s 5 Weeks to Sugar-Free and the website Iquitsugar.com for advice, I realise that neither actually recommends cutting out sugar completely. They just reduce it and name their sites/books misleading things that panic the general public into buying loads of salmon.
Still, I follow their advice more closely, eliminating just the obviously sugary stuff, boycotting processed foods, and sticking to wholegrain bread, rice and pasta. I try not to drink alcohol other than dry wine (developing a daily drinking habit I’ve never had before).
You’ll miss it most at 4pm, no, 10pm – wait, sorry, ALL THE TIME
I expected to pine most for my beloved sweet treats late afternoon when everyone in the office is rustling their hand around in a biscuit packet. I was right. But then again, I also missed it when I woke up and wanted to top my morning bowl of porridge with its customary saccharine shingle. I missed it after lunch, post dinner and when I went out for a friend’s birthday drinks and had to give the Prosecco as wide a berth as I’d give poison.
I thwarted the unwanted consequences of these moments – such as being unable to do anything but scroll – by arming myself with sugar-free snacks. My favourite of these was peanut butter (the wholesome, sugar-free variety) spread on to rice cakes, subsistence that happily makes me feel like an upper middle class child being given an after-school treat by a well-qualified nanny.
Red wine is THE number one substitute
To combat the ‘I simply cannot sleep unless I eat a chocolate mousse’ train of thought, I started drinking red wine as a nightcap. This is entirely commendable, seeing as Iquitsugar.com suggests that a dry wine is reasonably low on sugar. I have included the link in case you feel sceptical about this.
As is cheese
At 17:13pm on the third day of the diet, I note in my Gmail drafts that I'm ‘flagging but pleased with cheese’. As I recall, I had just discovered that the diet improves radically when one has a block of Manchego to the left and a packet of Carr’s water biscuits (which definitely contain only water) to the right.
Seriously, I think, let them eat cake. I’ve got a rudimentary cheese board next to my stapler.
Know your supplements
Before I started the regime, I read about a useful sugar substitute that I remembered as being called ‘Styriza’. However, when I searched for this online I was perplexed by the way Google kept suggesting a tweak to my spelling and recommending articles about left wing politics in Greece. After perusing various articles about Alexis Tsipras, I realised that the product was actually named Stevia.
This, it turns out, tastes almost exactly the same as sugar and can be used in its place when you’re baking. Agave syrup is also yummy, but unfortunately, the blogs tell me that this is basically just as naughty as eating normal sugar. Still, maple syrup is less hated on, so squirt this directly into your mouth and smile.
It’s fine, but not forever
I realised through this experience that nearly every worthwhile relationship in my life depends on cake and cocktails and I have no desire to change that. I’m wary of diets that intrude on one’s social life, so I wouldn’t recommend cutting sugar out forever. Quite simply, it makes everything just that bit less fun.
Still, it’s not a bad thing to try, if only to remind yourself that feeling ‘a bit tired’ does not mean you have to eat chocolate digestives until your teeth hurt. My energy levels did seem to balance out a bit and my skin looked passable for about four days straight (unprecedented). Even better, I could ramp up my consumption of things like potatoes and bacon guilt-free, which I feel is almost certainly what Ella and Davina are going for.
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