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Why (and how) I’m (almost) Quitting Sugar

Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio Ice Cream

Did you know 100 years ago we ate about 1kg of sugar a year, and nowadays we eat nearer 60kg of sugar a year?

That’s a pretty scary statistic. Especially given all the health problems prevalent in society. 

Following some health concerns the boyf and I are making some big changes to our food consumption, and hopefully a lifestyle change. It’s been a big 180 on the way we normal enjoy food. And ‘enjoy’ is usually the operative word when it comes to food, with us. We love food. A lot of our memories and dates and fun times are created around food. We have high standards, love to cook, and love to eat out. But that has to change.

So how does one go about changing their food routine? 

For the past month or so I have been significantly reducing the sugar I consume.

This is the major part of our diet change along with a few other tweaks. For at least three months we intend to completely cut out sugar (or reduce it to the tiniest amount possible), specifically fructose sugar, a type of sugar that seems to be in nearly everything we usually eat. Along with the sugar we are cutting out any artificial sweeteners and are seeking to essentially recalibrate the sweetness levels our bodies are used to. Sound crazy? Well, yes. A couple of months ago if I’d read the same thing I would have thought I was nuts. But that’s why I’m blogging this now. I’ve discovered something awesome.

Mackeral and Aubergine Salad

The first couple of weeks 

The first step was to research exactly what we needed to cut out at first and make a list. We have a simple YES list and a NO list – they’re pinned to the wall in our bedroom by the door so we can’t forget.

As you might expect, the usual suspects are out – sugar, processed foods, takeaways, saturated fats, processed wheat, white rice, white potatoes, dairy, processed meats (goodbye sausage and bacon), fruit juice, fried foods, cereals, etc etc etc Actively encouraged are – fish (especially the oily kind), eggs, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, fresh vegetables, wholewheat and whole grains (but limited amounts), chicken, turkey, lean pork, tofu and soy milk.

So the first two weeks of this diet were a huge shock to the system. We were often left wandering what to eat as we were left with a limited variety of ingredients that weren’t usually on our food repertoire. Breakfast was particularly hard. We spent a lot of time wandering around the supermarket reading all the food labels and realising that most of the shop was filled with sugar-laden products that we couldn’t eat. It was tough.

The book

Then, just before Blognix, as we were dashing around Costco and I spotted this little book with a cute cover. It’s called I Quit Sugar for Life by Sarah Wilson. I thought I’d discovered some secret little gem of a book (although I’ve since realised that she is actually rather well known).

I-Quit-Sugar-for-LifeI’ve not read a book so quickly in ages! It was marvellous. Sarah Wilson has done loads of research and the science made total sense to me. I’m not into diets, I’ve never been on one, and I’m much more interested in the science of food and how it interacts with our bodies.

The scariest part is how most of the major national nutritional bodies and researchers are sponsored by the big sugar companies. It’s in their best interest that we are addicted to sugar. It’s one of the biggest industries in the world. Remember how for years we were told fat was bad for us so we all started eating low-fat food. Well, take a look at the low-fat labels and you will see that the product is laden with sugar. Because they need to replace the flavour of fats with sugar. But the difference is, fats (the good kinds, of which there are plenty) have nutritional value and our bodies need them. Sugar (particularly fructose, the main sugar added to our foods) has no nutritional value or benefit to our bodies whatsoever.

It’s a sodding conspiracy!

Anyway, before I get all Michael Moore on you….

The book was a really great way to think about how I was going to manage this new way of eating. It’s a total shift in mindset and understanding how to choose our meals. I really recommend the book. It’s beautifully laid out, the chapters are detailed in helping you think about a non-sugar diet. And the author takes a pragmatic approach to healthy living (you’re not going to get told off if you have the occasional treat). The book is available on Amazon (disclosure: below is my affiliate link, thank you if you decide to purchase through that. I would have blogged about this anyway. It makes no difference to the price you pay but I might get a tiny percentage of the sale.)

 I Quit Sugar for Life: Your fad-free wholefood wellness code and cookbook   

Food planning

As I mentioned above, shopping for food that contains no sugar, wheat, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, etc is pretty tricky.

I won’t lie, it’s been hard work.

Most of the options on sale at the supermarket are a no-go. And reading packet labels is now second-nature. We no longer order takeaways, and eating out involves some serious planning ahead.

But we’ve found that as a by-product of cutting out these ingredients we’re actually eating a lot more fresh food. We can eat poultry and fish, lots of fresh vegetables and we flavour food with herbs and spices.

The key to eating this way is food planning. We are being more conscious of the food we have at home, as ordering a sneaky takeaway if no longer an option. We have stocked up portions of fresh chicken and fish in the freezer. We’ve managed to hunt down pure rye bread. And we have a constant supply of eggs.

I am working out new ways of cooking the food that we can eat and we are starting to collect a list of new recipes. Sure, sometimes our experiments are going wrong. I made an awful slow cooker chicken stew the other day. But then I created the most incredible prawn curry last week. So it’s coming in waves.

We’re hoping to create a full two weeks or more worth of meals to keep the nutrients going and our tastebuds excited.

When it went wrong

I’ll be totally honest with you. This hasn’t been plain sailing. We didn’t give up sugar and been a huge success story (although I’m feeling pretty pleased with my progress so far). There have been times when we’ve ‘treated’ ourselves. But the difference this time is, we felt it. Really felt it.

For instance…

Our first week, for a full 7 days we cut out almost all sugar, I think I was down to 1g a day. We were eating lots of fresh food, reducing our carbs to just one meal a day. And cut out all snacks.

After this first week, we’d run out of our original supermarket shop. It had been a full-on weekend of working and we were tired. So we decided to treat ourselves to our favourite Chinese takeaway. We were soooooo excited.

But it tasted weird. Almost plastic-y. And the next day we both felt awful. We felt sick, sluggish, our tummies hurt and we both broke out in spots.

We had been turned off our favourite. And we finally felt why it was bad for us to eat these things so much. That was a huge turning point for us.

I realised that I was poisoning my body with eating too many toxins. By eating really nutritious, fresh food I was able to really feel what my body really needs.

Treats

That’s the thing about treats. Once you start changing your diet to a healthy, wholefood diet your body and tastebuds kind of recalibrate. The sweet foods and treat-y takeaways from before taste different.

And that’s the thing… treats should be treats – only to be consumed on special occasions or once in a while – not on a daily basis. 

My attitude to treats has totally changed. Treats shouldn’t be a daily dessert after dinner. Or a daily afternoon slice of cake. Treats are occasional, a couple of times a month maybe.

Besides, a lower frequency of treats makes me much more excited about them.

Keeping track

A key part of making this change of eating habits happen is using the MyFitnessPal app. We have both set up accounts and now track our daily food intake. The app on the phone is excellent and I can quickly add food as I go through the day. It’s helped me track my food intake and it gives me a rough idea of the calorie make-up of food. It’s fascinating and certainly appeals to the scientific part of my personality.

But in terms of this change of diet, it’s helped me be more mindful in my eating habits.

For instance, if I eat a particularly large lunch, I’m aware of how many calories I have left for the day that would be considered healthy to eat. This helps prevent me from over-eating. And I’ve become a lot less likely to unnecessarily snack, as I’d much rather use my calories on a nice meal.

The progress so far (how I feel)

It’s still early days. I’m not one for seriously dramatic change to diets. And I don’t believe in being overly restricting in diet. It’s not healthy for the mind either. So whilst I’ve been pretty disciplined most of the time, I don’t get down on myself when I have a little treat or fall off the bandwagon.

I’m finding that I am listening to my body a lot more. I am more aware of changes in my body. I quickly notice the difference food is making to my body.

Overall, I am more mindful of how I eat. I stick to three meals a day. And by tracking my calorie intake I am not overeating.

In the past couple of weeks, I feel less bloated, more alert and I’m sure my tummy is less pronounced that it was.

So I’m quite pleased with how this change in eating has taken me so far. Thus, I felt like I wanted to share on the blog what I was up to.

If anyone is interested I might share some of the recipes I’m coming up with at the moment. You know me, still looking for great tasting food.

But the general conclusion is that I am looking to quit sugar for life. And I am very excited for this healthier approach to food.

Congratulations if you managed to get through that rather lengthy post! I’d love to hear what you think and if you’d like to know more.

  1. Looking forward to reading through more. Excellent blog.Truly looking forward to find out more.

  2. A very interesting post – I’ve been considering something similar recently. I’m determined that me and my husband don’t eat many processed foods, but I’m still very aware that our sugar intake is probably quite high. Thanks for posting this – I’m going to monitor what we eat and see what the results are. I’d love to see some recipes – especially what you eat for breakfast? 🙂

  3. Yay I’m so glad you guys are getting stuck in to this. I’ve been sugar free for a couple of months now and my relationship with myself and food have improved so so much! It was Sarah Wilson’s books that were my wake up call – although I have to ask, what made you cut out dairy?

  4. I’ve been a big advocate of not eating a lot of sugar for years. Despite all the cake posts I put out, they don’t have that much sugar and I’m the person who won’t eat a lot of foods when out because they have been messed with (too much sugar, fats in the wrong place, huge amounts of salt).

    You’ll feel a lot better for it 🙂

  5. I am following Slimming world at the moment and I’m stunned at how much rubbish we are taught to think of as ‘free’ or ‘good’ eat as much as you want food.

    Artificial sweeteners in yoghurts etc, Smash, sugar free squash but no freshly squeezed fruit juices, or cooked fruits, no nuts or seeds, Frylight, which is full of absolute rubbish, instead of EVOO. I have decided that as its working I am avoiding some of the terrible things and as soon as I reach target im going for healthy rather than weight loss.

    With regards to your chicken casserole, can I recommend never using chicken breasts in a slow cooker, always go for thighs, I have not had a nice slow cooked meal using breast fillets… ever. They go dry and they taste awful, without fail.

  6. If you have Netflix you should watch ‘Hungry for Change’. I found it so interesting! It turns into a bit of a sales pitch but it’s really worth a watch! x

  7. I find this interesting. I think lowering your intake of sugar and processed foods is a very good thing. I think eating healthier is good but I think it needs to be a less loaded conversation. I think you hit this balance well here in how you talk about it. I would like to make some small changes, but we are making some and it helps.

  8. as a (serious) sugar addict this is so, so interesting.

    i’ve had the odd month, usually pre-holiday, when i’ve cut out sugar & had ridiculous cravings. BUT. after 3-4 days they go & i’ve felt so good on just fruit, veg & other good stuff! i always swear this time is it & i’ll stick to it but so far…

    so this was just what i needed to read!

    becky,

    accooohtrements.wordpress.com

  9. Towards the end of last year, I found that I was constantly itching. It was especially itchy across my shoulders, calves and thighs. This went on for a few days and I would wake up at night and would scratch till it bled. In the end I had to go to the doctors, something I never really do. I must have impressed him with the amount of bloody scratches over my “beautiful” carcass.” He took samples of skin and sent them for analysis, and gave me some cooling cream that did bugger all! Sometime later the skin analysis came back, nothing found.

    I then decided to think about my habits and what may be the cause. I am by now way fit and healthy, typical bloke, and my food intake was very sugary! Anyway I was desperate, so I decided to make changes to my diet. The easiest thing I could do was to cut out puddings and sweet snacks. Almost immediately the itching started to ease.

    In a short period the itching stopped, but my craving for sugar did not. I would every so often have a pudding and within hours I could feel my calves starting to itch again.

    So came the onset of Christmas, I decided to make my new years resolution early. I decided to cut out all puddings and sweet snacks. Now seven months in I do not itch anymore!

    I have also noticed that Chinese food was a favorite, I now have a dislike for some of the dishes that I used to love. I think, but am not really sure, but I do think that I am also less tired during the day.

    Now and again sometimes when I eat a little later I feel the itching starting again, when I look back I do realise that maybe the sauce was a bit on the sweet side etc.

    To me anyway, SUGAR IS A POISON!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Johnny! You’re absolutely right, sugar is a poison and our bodies don’t like it. It’s just that most of us aren’t aware that it is sugar causing so many issues. I am definitely feeling ‘lighter’ since I’ve changed my diet, and that’s not just a weight thing.

      1. Going off topic a bit, but I found out the other day that if you go to a certain (maybe more) Chinese restaurant you can ask to have it made without MSG. So is Monosodium Glutamate another poison?

  10. I’m doing the same and had a similar experience with having my favourite takeaway (curry) and feeling quite unwell after. It really does make you realise what is and isn’t good for your body.

  11. Great post! I’m also considering cutting out sugar as I’ve been suffering from ridiculously low energy levels for a long time now. I didn’t eat meat for 6 weeks and whilst my digestion improved my energy levels stayed low. Sugar & dairy products may well be the culprit…

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