I have a secret…it’s easier than you think. When I embarked on my self-guided 8 week "I Quit Sugar" program, the challenge seemed insurmountable. As a self confessed chocoholic and a fructose addict with a 6 piece a day habit, the prospect of success seemed bleak and the thought of no molten chocolate fondants, no sneaky lunchtime trips to Haigh’s, no blueberry, banana smoothies and god forbid, no pineapple! for 56 days stretched scarily before me.
Thankfully, the first two weeks of the program is designed for you to wean yourself off the white poison. This step was crucial in ensuring that my body did not go into apoplexy. It is worth mentioning that whilst I gave up all refined and processed sugars, I also gave up fructose. Fructose is the natural sugar in fruits and honey. The recommended daily intake of sugar is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men, which equates to about 2-3 pieces of fruit per day. I knew I needed this program when I was finding ways to put strawberries and blueberries into my salads so I could get a fix.
Common cries when the IQS conversation is raised: Why would anyone want to quit sugar? It’s in everything, it tastes great (5 out of 6 rats surveyed preferred sugar over cocaine), it’s quick, easy and accessible, your body needs it, what am I going to eat at 3 o’clock, it’s just too hard to give up. There is a reason that when you get cancer it is recommended you restrict your sugar intake or eliminate it altogether. The consumption of sugar not only increases your cancer risk it is proven that cancer often feeds off sugar and results in the growth of tumors. It is also true that many infections within the body are sustained and worsened by the consumption of sugar. We are all familiar, almost complacently so, with the link between sugar, diabetes and obesity but for me the cancer argument is the only one you need. This was motivation enough to take a serious look at my food choices and remove my over dependency on sugar.
I was interested to learn through my research that the reason we can endlessly consume sugary foods and drinks is because sugar blocks the signal to the brain that tells us when we are full. So we continue to eat like an unsupervised Labrador until the bottom of the Nutella jar is reached or our owner pries the jar from our shaking hands. Sugar affects brain function, the ability of your body to regulate hunger and in case the cancer didn’t scare you off the link to Alzheimer’s might. I don’t know about you but the thought of Alzheimer’s…sorry, what was I saying?
So I wont bang on about it anymore, you are smart people. I know you get it. Now, on to the important matters, what can I bloody well eat then? It won’t surprise readers of this blog that I start the day with the Sugar Free Green Smoothie. Spiking your blood sugar levels first thing in the morning is not what anyone needs, instead the coconut water and cinnamon in this smoothie will help regulate your blood sugar. If you are eating out for breaky, choose a savory option like baked eggs or an omelette and skip the bread, there’s usually sugar in there too.
Morning tea is usually a trip to sugary purgatory, particularly if you are at a work function where it would be more likely to have Jesus himself pop in than there be a sugar free option provided. Being prepared is the salvation, having pre chopped veggies and nuts will ensure you don't weaken and inhale that danish quicker than the speed of light. My faves are in the pic below, not all at once though! At morning tea I have capsicum or carrot with hummus and in the afternoon I eat cherry tomatoes with some unsalted almonds & cashews. My new go to though is celery with natural organic peanut butter made from 100% roasted peanuts, or you could use any natural nut butter you like. I may be late to the celery and PB party but I am making up for lost time.
If you can make your own lunch I would highly recommend it. There are endless combinations of salads that you can make with enough protein and carbs to get you through the day. The only trap here is the dressing. I was surprised to find out that balsamic vinegar is high in sugar. So now my dressings are lemon juice with olive oil or macadamia oil. Often I just go with the lemon juice. If you are dining out, just ask to sub their dressing for a splash of olive oil and lemon. I haven’t come across a cafe yet that won’t do it. If you crave sweetness right after lunch, order a peppermint tea or coconut water on ice.
So you’ve made it to 3 o’clock, the vending machine hour. No need to panic because you have your snacks with you. Enjoy them and be sure to drink plenty of water to aid digestion and give you a feeling of fullness. What’s that, as you were running out the door this morning you forgot to pack them? Keep calm, just find the nearest grocery store or juice bar – buy those cherry tomatoes and cashews or get a fresh squeezed veggie juice.
It’s dinner time, you’ve had a long day. I get it. You just want to throw a packet sauce in the pan with some chicken and veggies and be done with it. Wrong, almost every packet sauce, bottle, box or jar will have sugar in it. Before you start the program you need to check all the food in your fridge and pantry for sugar-laden items and give them away or throw them out. Having temptations lying around the house is a recipe for disaster. Dinner will usually consist of a protein like salmon, steak or chicken with veggies, lentils, chic peas, rice, quinoa or gluten free pasta. The possibilities are endless when you use whole foods and make your own sauces.
Who doesn’t want a bar of chocolate or 3 after dinner? I know I used to. It was no surprise then that dessert has been the biggest challenge for me. I identified this looming weakness early and beat it before it beat me. I got creative; I searched ideas for sugar free desserts and came up with my own healthy recipes that, as I complete week 6, can truly say I have embraced. Brie, pumpkin, sweet potato, coconut, chia and cacao have become my new key ingredients.
This week I was allowed to reintroduce low fructose fruits like blueberries. I haven’t. I just haven’t had the need to. They are even in the fridge and I have not touched them. The headaches of week 4 have gone, as have the dreams of ice cream and Cherry Ripes. I have adopted a new way of being. I am no longer reliant on sugar. Come the conclusion of the 8 weeks I can resume normal intake of fruit and sugar, 6 teaspoons or 2 pieces of fruit, per day. My go to these days is a cacao protein ball in the afternoon.
What this experiment has taught me is to be more creative with my food options and to not eat purely out of habit. Trust me, you find out whether you are really hungry or just bored when your snack options are largely vegetable based or require some effort to actually make them. You don’t just chow down on carrots during a movie unless you are legitimately hungry, unlike a traditional dessert, which you always have room for in that second stomach, no matter what.
This is not to say that I will never have another choc top or a fair crack at a dessert buffet, I enjoy a good dessert and always will. The food porn photos will also continue, hooray! The difference now will be that I will really savor those desserts instead of them being at the end of a long line of all day sugar consumption. It also means when I make desserts I will be better educated about what I can use instead of white refined sugar, such as rice malt syrup, apple puree or stevia to name a few.
For anyone worried about energy levels during the program, don’t be. I have kept up my daily exercise – running, weights, Interval training, cardio, yoga and cycling. Even managing my 3rd fastest 5km run. If all of the above doesn’t fuss you but weight loss does, I have more good news. I have lost 5% of my body weight since I started and feel so healthy, light and clear headed.
Sarah Wilson, is the founder of I Quit Sugar and she along with others such as the documentary makers of films such as Hungry for Change, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and Fed Up are doing a valuable job in raising awareness of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption.
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