Monday, 13 January 2014

Less sugar, more myself

Sugar. People go crazy for it, and I used to be completely addicted to the stuff. And I mean addicted. 

Image courtesy of Dennis.B /
Less than a year ago my sugar intake was through the roof. Don't get me wrong, I considered myself to be quite healthy. I ate dried fruit with my breakfast, I drank fruit juice and smoothies, real fruit as part of the '5 a day', low fat snacks, didn't eat sweets and didn't take sugar in my tea. I was doing everything right as far as I was concerned, and only had the odd sugar-laced treat now and again. Most of what I considered a healthy way of eating turns out to be the opposite, which I've discovered more and more over the past few months on my way to a [almost] sugar-free life. 

A bit of background. 
I began looking into my diet ever since leaving university a few years ago; I had started suffering on an almost a daily basis with stomach cramps, which my doctor eventually declared must be irritable bowl syndrome [or IBS], which seems to be a generic term bandied about for any bowl problems that cannot be medically explained. As anyone who's been diagnosed with IBS will know, it doesn't get any easier from there. My doctor, with all her best intentions, prescribed me with antispasmodic drugs and told me to avoid anything that seemed to make it worse. This seems like a logical and fair request, but in reality is nearly impossible when you don't know what it is that is causing the problem. Every time I ate I got a bout of paranoia, making every meal a stressful event. Stress is another common IBS trigger so this didn't help the situation. 

So, I tried my best to cut things out and see what happened. This made eating with other people difficult and a lot of the time I came across as just being fussy. My friends and family couldn't keep up with what I could or couldn't eat and I found it hard to know what I should avoid and for how long. It was all complete guesswork.
Eventually, I came across a book called The Harcombe Diet by a woman called Zoe Harcombe. I'd never picked up a diet [weight loss] book before, but mum recommended this and mum knows best, so I gave it a go. Plus, I was desperate! 

The first phase of the diet, 5 days long, is a full detox. No sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no caffeine, no potatoes, no mushrooms, no fruit and various other no-nos. THIS WAS HARD, but I felt amazing afterwards and as it was only 5 days it was manageable. It was a much simpler task to cut out everything at once than to pick and choose at random what I thought might be causing the problems. 

After the 5 day detox, during which I felt like I had flu, you're supposed to add things in one at a time to see what happens. This is your basic exclusion diet method. To cut a long story short it turned out processed carbohydrates, chilli, caffeine and mainly sugary foods were triggers my problems. I went from having a diet of dried, fresh and juiced fruit every day to almost no sugar and my IBS cleared up practically over night. 

The reports in the news last week confirmed to some extent what I've already been telling people. Articles were splashed across the headlines shouting about how sugar is the real culprit in the obesity epidemic. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but my personal experience is that I lost over 1 stone when I gave up sugar, dropping a dress size without actually meaning to! Whilst I'm back eating most things that the detox cuts out, I still restrict my intake of sugar [including fruit], caffeine and processed carbs and as a result it's been easy to keep the weight off [it's been over 9 months now]!

During my sugar-free journey I've been shocked by the amount of sugar hidden in packets and jars of food. Dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, ALL SUGAR. Essentially, anything ending in -ose. As pointed out in the news articles, most [if not all] low-fat food has added sugar to make up for the taste and needless to say I'm back to full-fat eating, which tastes GREAT. There are sugar substitutes but those can also be triggers for IBS so I was forced to make almost everything I eat from scratch, and tackle my sweet tooth in the process. I feel so much better for it.

The true test was Christmas. I indulged a little in the festive period and noticed a big difference in my energy levels dropping when I'd had sugary food. It also gives me a serious headache, so I'm back to my [almost] sugar-free life once again. My biggest regular treat is dark chocolate, usually 85% or above; much less sugar than milk choc and as a bonus is supposed to have health benefits!

It's not something most people want to hear, but no matter how much you wish it, sugar is not our best friend. My January challenge to you is try giving up sugar for a full 5 days. It's only 5 days and your body will thank you. That's 5 days, in a row. Easy, right? Let me know how it goes...

1 comment:

  1. (I approve of the comment 'mum knows best'.....I would like to think so, but I'm not infallible!!)