Monday, 11 July 2016

3 Years Avoiding Sugar, And Yes, It's Still Hard

I follow quite a lot of healthy eating bloggers on social media.

And I see them, in their posts, choosing to stay away from that chocolate fudge cake at parties and packing their own spinach egg muffins in their handbags instead, in case they get peckish. 

Green smoothies, dairy-free, gluten-free and refined sugar-free bakes. It all looks so easy. 

And I look at them and I wish I could be like them. Because even though I no longer buy that pile of glazed doughnuts glinting at me in the shopping centre, it doesn't mean I don't look over at them, lovingly. 

Yes, for me, things are still hard after three years of AIP and paleo. 




Before I went paleo in 2013, I was a complete sugar addict. Yes, I was vegetarian and then vegan for a while, convincing myself I was being healthy by not eating meat (all that saturated fat you see). 

But I baked three or four times a week. I always had a freshly made cake on the kitchen worktop. The girls took chocolate brownies in their school lunchbox every day. I'd walk to the local corner shop and buy 5 or 6 chocolate bars to eat in one afternoon, in front of the telly, before the school run. I'd feel lonely and go out and buy a tub of ice cream and eat the lot. Instead of buying a single caramel-filled doughnut for a treat, I'd buy a dozen. And eat most of them in one day. There were whole weeks where I don't think I ate a single vegetable. Seriously. 

It didn't help that my entire childhood was driven by sugar. Chocolate bars, fizzy drinks and even an apple flavoured pizza (yes, really) made appearances before I was a teenager. My Grandad would take me to the local market and buy me huge bags of sweets that I could snack on in the car on the way home. I used to go to my Dad and tell him I was hungry and he'd nod to the pile of cheap family sized chocolate cakes in the kitchen and tell me to go and eat some. 'Some' often turned into the 'whole thing'. 

Since I was a child, sugar was a way to celebrate - specially iced cakes and cookies on special occasions. It was a way to tell someone you loved them - chocolates, sweets. Sugary foods became hard-wired in my brain with love, affection and a way to treat and love myself. In fact, as I shoved yet another sickly-sweet whipped buttercream-topped slice of cake into my mouth I'd always say 'you've got to treat yourself.' It was my catchphrase.

So when I discovered that sugar might play a part in my psoriasis patches and decided to give it up completely, things didn't go down too well. My brain was just hard-wired on the stuff. I'd go out for a meal - I'd be good and order steak and a salad - but I'd always cave in at the cookie dough cheesecake and 'chocolate-flavoured sauce' for pudding. It was almost like I'd eat the main meal as an appetiser, while I drooled over what I'd have for dessert - the main attraction. That took some time to beat. Knowing that it caused the awful symptoms I had afterwards helped me kick it to the side, eventually.

But if you're thinking that for me it's easy to look over at people enjoying chocolate cakes or plunging their fists into tins of chocolates and grabbing handfuls of the brightly-coloured wrappers, it's not. 

If I don't eat sugary foods, my actual craving for them magically disappears. 

But the temptation is always there, even though I know what it does to my body. If I have no sugary foods in the house, it's happy days. If my husband brings home a packet of cookies for the kids as a treat, I have to have really strong words with myself not to go near them, just because they are available. Do I really want to be grumpy and irritable for the next few days? Do I want to be stuck in the house again, ill? Do I really want to start the sugar withdrawal all over again, and the itching? The answer is usually a firm 'nope'. 

One thing I will tell you though, after years of caving in and eating sugary things, is this: the thought and fantasy of the sugary food is usually better than the actual food will taste there and then. 

Here's an example.

My neurologist told me that if I ever felt a migraine coming (I get severe migraines where I lose my sight and one side of my body goes tingly and numb), it might help to eat something sweet. So I was stuck in a leisure centre, watching my daughters in their swimming lessons, when I felt one strike. Probably the thundery weather we'd been having. My thoughts started to become muddled and confused, I felt less alert, and the familiar dull ache started at the base of my skull. I didn't have my migraine pills with me. Making a decision between being able to drive home or being stranded there with the girls for a few hours at least, I walked to the vending machine in the reception area and, realising there weren't any healthy options (ironic in a sports centre, right?) bought a chocolate bar that used to be one of my absolute favourites. I've had dreams about this chocolate bar. I bit into it, closing my eyes. 

And it didn't taste ANYTHING like I remembered. 

It tasted kind of like oil. Sweet oil. I couldn't even say that it tasted like chocolate. After all that time avoiding sugar, my tastes had changed. It wasn't actually that pleasant at all. But it gave me a boost and I was able to clear my mind and drive us all home. 

So yes, I realise that I don't actually LIKE the taste of sugar. Sugary foods don't taste like they used to. In larger quantities, they hurt my body and flare my digestive issues and psoriasis. But, my brain is still somehow wired to see sugary foods as a treat, an indulgence and something for a special occasion. There's still a strong psychological bond between me and sugar, even though out of sheer willpower I generally have the upper hand  on it these days.

But avoiding it, even after all this time, is still pretty hard. 

How about you? Do you have problems avoiding sugar? Are you still tempted by sugary treats even though you eat well? Let me know in the comments or talk to me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.




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