When I first noticed the idea of Sugar Free September on the I Quit Sugar website, I posted a link on social media with a random thought that perhaps I could give it a go. A friend responded that since I'd managed to give up social media for Lent, this should be easy.
That friend probably didn't realise just how much sugar I was eating/drinking on most days. A 500ml bottle of Coke has 10.5 teaspoons of the white stuff in it, and I was drinking two most days - plus chocolate, ice cream and the other usual suspects. In her I Quit Sugar books, Sarah Wilson recommends that you check the labels of foods, and avoid anything with more than 5g of sugar per 100g. That rules out about 90% of what you'll find in the supermarket, including a lot of fruit - grapes are mostly sugar, for example. Bananas are around 50% sugar - and as they get more brown, their sugar content increases.
Although I started this adventure on September 1st, I did begin cooking meals from the books and avoiding sugar a couple of weeks earlier. But September 1st was when I stopped drinking Coke, and really avoiding sugar. There have been a couple of "slips" but generally, there has been little fructose in my diet.
So what have I been eating? Breakfasts have been smoothies with things like plain (full fat) yoghurt, cucumber, celery, coconut water, berries (one cup per 2-3 portions so not a huge amount) and coconut oil. Lunches have been home made soups or scrambled eggs with ham, mushrooms etc added. For tea, I've mostly had chicken or steak with steamed vegetables - because I'm a bit pants at forward planning. There are loads of recipes in the I Quit Sugar books, but really it's not so hard to come up with something that doesn't have sugar, once you get your head around it.
These are some of the clever tricks I've learned from the book:
- Really the only thing I've been using to sweeten anything is rice malt syrup. A few people have mentioned agave nectar, which is a favourite of health food shops everywhere - but agave nectar is 70-90% fructose, and fructose is what I am aiming to avoid with this exercise.
- Cooking for one can prove a problem, but a great way to get around this is to make use of the freezer. Sarah Wilson is a big fan of "par cooked & frozen" veggies - where you steam the vegetables for a couple of minutes, plunge them into cold water to halt the cooking process, and then freeze in portion-sized bags. My freezer is full of broccoli, kale and carrots just waiting to be thrown into whatever I'm cooking.
- If you've made something (anything) a little more runny than you hoped, you can add chia seeds to it and wait a few minutes - they soak up huge amounts of liquid so will make your liquid thicker.
- Replacing sugar with fat means you don't feel hungry, and don't have to miss out on things tasting good. If I have a craving for something sweet after dinner, the advice is to eat some cheese.
Monday and Tuesday were hellish; I knew to expect some withdrawal from sugar, but was expecting a headache. What I actually had was two days where I just felt so mortally tired and drained of energy, it was all I could do to slump in my chair and type out the bare minimum of work. On Monday I actually had a nap. I felt awful. On Thursday, I felt like I had the worst kind of hangover - you know, the kind where your insides are shaking and you're not entirely sure you won't pass out. On Friday though, I woke up feeling a little more alive. I had a headache from Friday to Saturday, but that has gone too now and I feel a lot better.
For me, the worst part is in the evenings; I'm not hungry, but I habitually go out to the kitchen, looking for something to eat. The few times I have "slipped" this week have been in the evenings. And I've noticed the effect immediately. For one thing, the food I ate didn't taste half as good as I expected - much the same way as one craves a McDonalds but when it arrives in the cardboard carton, it doesn't look or taste the way your brain was telling you it would and you kind of resent having been lied to. The experience of eating it is not as heavenly as you imagined it to be, back when there was no chance of you being able to have what you wanted. That sort of thing. I didn't feel too great physically afterwards either. Again - much like a McDonalds.
This last week, I had intended to exercise more, to drink loads of water, to be all fit and healthy. What actually happened was that I felt dog rough, and on some days I barely even took 5000 steps. I did go for a long walk on Monday morning, but regretted it by mid-afternoon when I just wanted to crawl under my duvet and hibernate. After that, there was precious little in the way of exercise.
I've come to the end of my first week, and I find I've lost 3.5lbs without really noticing or trying.
I started this because I knew I was eating too much sugar, and that I needed to do something about it. I did have a thought at the back of my mind that I would probably lose a little weight - but I wasn't expecting it to be this quick or easy!
I would like to add here that I know 3.5lb is a lot, and one is not supposed to lose weight quickly for various reasons. I also know that usually, when I've tried new regimes before, I've lost weight purely because I've eaten less - because I couldn't eat the nice things I wanted to eat, I couldn't figure out what to do so I would skip meals. I've not done that this time around, though. I've eaten loads. When you do something like this, you always get the naysayers who will pick holes in what you're doing. Calorie counting has been such a massive part of our culture for such a long time, entire generations have been born and died believing that calorie counting is how one loses weight. So I expect to get people telling me I should be keeping an eye on my calories, or not eating fat, or eating more fruit, or whatever else.
The thing that concerns me now, is staying way from the sugar and keeping this momentum. I'm terrible for starting something new, and sticking at it for a week or so before giving up. I honestly don't think I could have even started on this without the Slimpod MP3 I've been listening to every night for the last 12 weeks. Before, the idea of standing in the kitchen preparing batches of soup and vegetables, of making a roast chicken on a week night just for the hell of it, would have seemed bonkers. With just S and I at home, and with S getting her main meal at nursery 4 days a week, I never really saw the point in bothering to cook proper meals and didn't often bother. I will write a proper post about the Slimpod another time.
Meanwhile, off I go to embark upon week 2. My freezer is filled with lovely food, as is my fridge, and hopefully this week I will have some energy to exercise too!