In late August I stumbled across a Facebook post from Live It, Do it! that caught my interest: Sugar Free September.
I didn’t hesitate. “I’m in”, I thought.
As it turned out “we were in”: My Hubby (owner of the sweetest tooth in the North Island) joined me in the challenge to not eat any food containing refined sugar for 30 days.
Fast forward to now: We did it. I did it! I had no sugar for the month of September. I’m super thrilled to be able to type those words, because, you see, I suffer a little in the ‘stick-ability’ department, it’s a real personality design fault. I have wonderful and admirable intentions, but when it comes to food, I have about as much willpower as I do when I call into a MAC store “just for a look”… So I’m pretty proud that I stayed firmly on the wagon and not a morsel of refined sugar passed my lips. As for Hubby? He can polish his halo too!
I’ve been staggered by the interest from lots of people about how it’s been to give up sugar for a month. Most people said “I couldn’t give up sugar”, but generally, people were mildly curious about what we ate (“gosh, sugar is in everything, isn’t it?”) and mostly folks were curious how we found it (that’s a big open question!). So here’s a bit of a run down on last month. But, before I get into the nitty gritty, I need to set the scene a bit:
- I DO NOT HAVE A SWEET TOOTH. Offer me dessert or a cheeseboard, I’m all over the stinky blue and figs. Ideally washed down with a glass of Port. Bring it on.
- I NEVER drink sugary drinks. I have a glass of orange juice about four times a year. I couldn’t tell you the last time I drunk “full fat coke”.
- I do have a slight weakness for Whittaker’s Chocolate, but I’m not a fan of lollies (except milk bottles and Haribo).
- Whilst I churn out the baking, I can happily pass on it. I have been known to make a packet of Tim Tams last two weeks (one a night to accompany my cup of tea).
Why have I been trying to cut down on sugar prior to September? Two reasons: Firstly, weight related (I suffer from Shrinking Jeans Syndrome) but, secondly, for health reasons. Look, you’d have to be living in a deep underground cave (with no wifi) to have missed the recent sugar storm raging on in the media. Everyday I feel like I stumble upon a member of the Anti-Sugar Police waxing lyrical with ’10 Disturbing Reasons Why Sugar is bad for you”. I’m not going to witter on here about why sugar is bad for you – that’s been written 100 times over. If you’ve just emerged from underground: Google it. Or, better still, if you reside in NZ and you missed Nigel Latta’s programme on ‘Is Sugar the New Fat’, check it out. It’s been touted as the most influential piece of NZ telly this year.
Yes, cynics might say that it’s simply sugar’s moment. Saturated fat has certainly done it’s time in the spotlight thanks to the Low-Fat Police. Gluten-free and Low GI, yup, they’ve had more moments of glory than you can poke a stick at, so, surely, it must be sugar’s turn? Maybe. But the science behind the ‘stuff’ doing the rounds in the media is incredibly thought provoking and in recently months it’s had me seriously reviewing how much sugar we’ve been consuming in our family. So, when Sugar Free September came along, I figured this was the kick up the bum we needed. I was also curious: I’ve been following the Weight Watchers programme on and off for 20 years. I’m exhausted with it. I’m sick of the plan, the concept and frankly, given my jeans don’t fit on a frequent basis, an intelligent person would suggest it’s not working and advise me to try something different. Yes, Weight Watchers has worked for me in the past: But I always put back on what I lose. So I was up for culling refined sugar from our diet.
What was our zero sugar approach for September? In addition to eating no refined sugar, we also seriously reduced our carb and fruit intake (Weight Watchers taught me to fill up on fruit because it was ‘free’ in points, but I used to eat a sh*tload of fruit and remain hungry). Also we said “no thanks” to any food that had more than 5g of sugar per 100g. We also avoided foods that ended in ‘ose’ (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose; These are all forms of sugar).
Just over a month down the track, we’ve been really surprised, no, amazed, by the side effects. Here’s what I personally experienced:
- Flawless skin: Improved skin texture (no zits, a healthy glow, if I do say so myself, my skin is looking tip top).
- Zzzzzzz: I’m a crap sleeper and since I hit my 30s I’ve struggled to go to sleep and stay asleep. Just between you and I, I’ve had a few battles with being addicted to sleeping tablets. Interestingly I’ve slept better in the last 5 weeks than I have in years.
- Energy in abundance: I wake in the morning full of energy (and no grumpiness!) I’ve also been waking naturally before my 6.30am alarm. Usually I drag my ass out of bed.
- No more demon unleashed: My moods are, um, more constant. I just don’t have the peaks in moods I now realise I had before. I feel calm….
- We’ve been churning through the loo paper: If you don’t like too much information, skip this bullet point: My bowels have been incredibly regular. I’m talking up to four times a day, sometimes more. ‘Nuff said.
- Ciao ciao sweet cravings: I used to go wandering in search of a chocolate hit mid afternoon and I fold like a cheap pocket knife at the sight of chocolate biscuits. Now, 3pm comes and goes – I don’t notice. Equally, I used to eat dinner and ‘need’ something sweet. That’s no longer the case. In general: I don’t crave a sweet hit. Full stop.
- My energy levels are consistent. No more highs and lows throughout the day.
- Focus: My attention span is cooking with gas. I feel like I’m a lot more productive at work. I’m less prone to distraction.
- No snacking: I’m eating less, mainly as I’m not getting as hungry. I used to take morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea to work. I always felt like I was always hungry (I used to frequently take worming tablets, wondering if that was the problem!) Now I just take a packed lunch to work. No snacks.
- I’m not ravenous. I used to leave work at 5pm with the shakes and feeling ‘hangry’. I’d get home and reach for whatever was at the front page of the pantry to whet my appetite until dinner. Now, I have breakfast at 7.30am, lunch around 1.00pm, dinner at 6.00pm. This is a massive change for me.
You’ll note weight loss isn’t listed above as a side effect. Yeah, I’m a tad disappointed about that, I’m not going to lie. I lost 2-3kg in September, however a little bit of that has found me again. Looking back over my diet last month I made a couple of rookie mistakes: a) I went nuts on nuts and b) I did a fair bit of baking that was, whilst sugar free, full of dates and honey. Consuming lots of a) + b) are not particularly conducive to weight loss in the quantities I was consuming them! That said, I’m not sure I would have made it through the month without bliss balls or paleo bark. Even as someone with a savoury tooth, these refined sugar-free treats kept me on the straight and narrow.
The upshot is, I really enjoyed how we ate in September. The food was delicious. It was utterly liberating to eat vegetables fried in oil, or butter… Butter! I haven’t had butter since I was a teenager. Happy times. I also loved trying out new recipes and getting out of my comfort zone. I know it probably doesn’t seem like it from the outside looking in, but I get stuck in a rut with food and churn out ‘same same’ dinners, just like everyone else. I’m a Mum, I work full-time and my job is generally quite full-on. I often don’t have the capacity to think too much about food during the day and when I get home at night sometimes it’s a half-arsed dash to get something, anything, on the table fast. I have been known to dish up cereal for dinner more than once. Sugar Free September forced me to be more organised, create a meal plan at the start of the week, shop to the meal plan and spend time on the weekend doing preparation for the upcoming week. Whilst this was VERY time-consuming, it was fun and my creative side loved pottering in around in my kitchen thinking up sugar-free recipes.
Lets talk about the downsides. Physically, or emotionally, there were none for me. I experienced a minor headache for the first few days, as did my Husband. This could have been related to a sugar withdrawal. The main downer is what I’ve mentioned already, the time involved in planning and preparation. One Sunday I spent six hours getting my life sorted for the week. If you do sugar-free seriously, and we did, everything needs to be made from scratch: Muesli; salad dressings; mayonnaise; pesto; marinades. I made paleo-bread (this recipe is fantastic). I made sure there was always an abundance of protein available to make salads or for quick dinner options (like pulled pork, or roast chicken).
Shopping for groceries seems to take double the time, admittedly this is probably as I’m still getting my head around what to buy. Most weeks I visit three different food stores to gather all the food I need (or rather, I think I need!). Oh, the joys of living in a small city! Shopping also takes longer as I’ve become mildly OCD at reading the back of food labels! Even my eight year old son has caught the fever, I found him examining the back of a flavoured milk drink in the supermarket, he returned it to the shelf in disappointment, declaring it “terribly high in sugar!” (he asked for a salami stick as a treat instead). Another downer was struggling sometimes knowing just what the hell to cook. Luckily there’s an abundance of wonderful cooking blogs and websites out there to assist with thinking outside the sugar square!
It’s been an eye-opener. Big time. Sugar, I’ve discovered, yes, it IS everywhere. Even savoury foods you’d think would be safe are actually sugar traps: Marmite; pickles; canned beetroot; jars of mustard; hummus; even cans of tomatoes…
Time to wrap this up, this has turned into a long post (and you know me, there’s still more I want to say!). I feel good, damn good, and even though my jeans haven’t magically become looser, I want to continue with ‘Operation Sugar Reduction’. The more I research and learn, the more I’m convinced that sugar is a seriously bad idea. So, to help me for the next wee while with this mission, I’ve signed up for Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar programme. Cooking without sugar is like learning to cook all over again. I’m a novice and I’ve just found my training wheels and I sure as heck don’t want them to fall off! I’ve been doing the I Quit Sugar programmefor two weeks and I’m loving it. It’s an education and a god-send. You can read about their programme here!
Lastly, lets talk about my blog. The conclusion that I want to banish sugar for “a while” has posed a bit of a dilemma for me with this blog and it’s caused me to fret. You see, my approach with the foodie side of this blog is that nothing is off limits… My food approach is about balance and moderation. Hmmm, I’ve done a bit of a U-Turn on that, haven’t I? Look, you’ll still absolutely see recipes on this blog, but you’ll be seeing recipes here, for the next wee while at least, that contain a noticeable reduction in sugar, or zero sugar. I realise I may lose some blog followers and I’m at peace with that. This blog is my hobby, my ultimate happy place. It has to fit in with my life, my passions and beliefs. If I’m not authentic about my blog, if I’m not sharing a piece of me with you, there’s no point. On the flipside, I’ve loved hearing from people who said beautiful things during Sugar Free September like “you are inspiring me. Keep going”. These comments make me grin from ear-to-ear and they spur me on. So thanks to all of you that jollied me along and supported me, you are fabulous 🙂
Oh, was there any food that I am missing? This is the other question I got asked a lot. Yes. And it might surprise you what it is… Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Bugger the Tim Tams.