Monday, 5 January 2015

What It Really Feels Like When You Give Up Sugar

Sugar.

Depending on which statistics you read, it's in around 80% of the processed foods we buy. And I'm not just talking about fruit juices, sweets and biscuits. There's a very good chance that there's sugar in your breaded fish and chicken, on your oven fries and in the sauces you slather over your burgers. It's in pasta sauces, mayonnaise and pie fillings, too. Don't believe me? Then check the label. Look for 'sugar', 'dextrose' or 'syrup', for a start. It'll most likely be in there somewhere. 


You hear a lot these days about celebrities going sugar free, their glowing smiles beaming out from the front of their next cookery book or magazine cover. They look amazing - glossy and fresh. But what's it really like when you give up sugar? 



Sugar, photographed through a macro lens.
Photo by Lauri Andler (Phantom), Wikimedia Commons


I gave up added sugar as part of going 'paleo' last year. And it was difficult. The first day, I didn't notice much except I had the most intense Mars Bar craving EVER in the evening before bed - so I drank a cup of camomile tea and went to sleep. 


The next day I woke up with a dull headache and a temper like a moody Neanderthal. It wasn't so much 'snappy turtle' as 'teeth-baring sabre-toothed tiger.' I convinced myself that it was the sugar. Drinking herbal tea helped, as did snacking on a banana, whenever I felt the cravings hit. I thought THAT day was bad. 


And then I woke up on day three.


I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn't focus on what needed to be done. It was a struggle to get the packed lunches sorted out for the day, let alone remember what time I had to be and where, and what else needed doing. I dropped the children off at school, went home and dragged my arse back to bed for a snooze. All I could think about was chocolate. I was tired and groggy for most of the day. Mostly because no one would give me chocolate. But then it all started to wear off. And no one could have prepared me for how it would feel when it did. 


As my mind cleared at about teatime on the third day, I noticed that I was now calm and rational about things I would have been anxious about before. I felt somehow lighter - not physically, but mentally - and I felt happier. I didn't fancy chocolate at all - not even a Mars Bar. In fact, if you took a Mars Bar out from its wrapper and waved it under my nose I wouldn't have wanted it. It was like a switch that had turned off inside my brain. It was almost like it had forgotten what craving sugar felt like. In just under three days.


When I thought about it, I'd been gorging on sugar non-stop my whole life. Sweets and chocolate as a kid. Cheap, oily Easter chocolate that didn't actually taste nice, but it was sweet so I ate it anyway. Cereal bars and crisps in my packed lunches. Endless Drifter bars and sugary coffee at college. The 2 litre bottle of cola I'd have in my room at university in case I got thirsty while I was studying. As an adult, I'd buy myself chocolate bars, ice cream or cake as a 'treat' - pretty much every day. So I imagine that when I gave it all up, for the first time in 36 years, my body - for a while - didn't know what the hell to do. 


Giving up sugar was very difficult, especially as my family were still eating it. I'd pass on pudding if we went out for a meal, and decline the offer of a biscuit with a cup of tea at a school meeting or friend's house. The first couple of days weren't too bad - but over time, as more plates of biscuits and chocolate cake were offered to me, it started to become more difficult - and, I'll admit, I did cave in a few times. But then the grogginess and fogginess returned and the whole process started again. Eventually, you think: what's the point? I'll have this sticky toffee pudding now and I bet it would be lovely but then I'm going to be like a walking hell for the next three days and I've actually got too much to do this week.' So you leave it. It's just like a hangover, but it lasts three days. Yep. You don't want to go back there.


We're living in an age where there are rising levels of obesity. There's increasing instances of type two diabetes. There are also loads of chronic health niggles that people just put down to 'oh it's just me'. You'd be surprised. There's lots of stress, anxiety and instability. All of that seems to be on the rise. And we're eating more sugar than we probably ever have before. In That Sugar Film, being released in Australia later this year, Damon Gameau ate a low fat, high sugar diet for 60 days and was told he was on the road to fatty liver disease. 60 days, for goodness' sake. I mean sugar's even in our shop-bought fishfingers and breaded chicken. Add oven chips and baked beans and you might as well be eating pudding. 


All I can say is that I haven't had a headache for about a year, I've lost a ton of weight and I'm more sparkly and alert than I think I've ever been. I also see the world through calmer, less frantic eyes. I'm not always fresh and glossy like the celebs on the magazines, but I'm much better emotionally and physically than I used to be. 


Think you're just one of those 'stressy people'? It might possibly just be the sugar. 


Have you ever given up sugar? Would you like to? Anything else you want to know about it? Let me know in the comments...