Confession | I’m Not Sure I Can Give Up Sugar

Author: Miranda Eason

If you read a newspaper (an actual paper one, or online version) you can’t fail to have noticed that sugar is the latest ingredient to go on the avoid-at-all-costs list. Among other things sugar, we’re told, is more addictive than cocaine, increases your risk of heart disease and cancer, makes you fat and ages the body and causes wrinkles (is it wrong that this is the one that got my attention?).

The poster girl for the kick-the-sweet-stuff movement is Sarah Wilson, who quit sugar for two weeks in January 2011, mostly because she was short of a topic for a column she was writing for a newspaper at the time.

Her energy, skin and health (she has an autoimmune disease which is exacerbated by sugar) all improved so dramatically she decided to keep going, said goodbye to sugar forever, and has since written several books on the subject, started a website and documents her healthy life on her blog, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Phew.

Sarah just turned 40 and looks so healthy and happy (check her Instagram @_sarahwilson_ for evidence) I’m inspired to try quitting the sweet stuff too, but at the same time the more someone tells me not to do something, the more I want to do it and, quite frankly, I think life’s too short to deny yourself the odd treat here and there.

I didn’t used to have a sweet tooth, always having a starter rather than a dessert, and choosing cheese over chocolate every time. But a stint as a wedding magazine editor, and the regular deliveries of cupcakes that came with the job, changed all that. At 4pm without fail I would get that familiar energy slump and reach for whatever sweet treat was to hand.

Now I work mostly from home it’s easier to avoid cupcakes (although I can’t walk past Ladurée without going in for a rose petal macaroon or two) but a rummage through my fridge and kitchen cupboards reveals that my diet is still surprisingly heavy on the sugar.

My day starts with a bowl of porridge topped with honey, dried fruit and a glass of fruit juice. Honey, dried fruit and fruit juice are all on the eliminate-for-good list.

Lunch is usually a Covent Garden soup (no sugar in that, I just checked) with oatcakes (which contain palm fruit oil, hmm, sounds sugary) and cheese, liberally topped with chutney. The second ingredient listed in the chutney? Yep, you guessed it, sugar.

Midway through the afternoon I’ll have a cup of tea with a fruit and nut bar. I dread to look at the ingredients but, here goes, on top of the dried fruit, they contain sugary crisped rice, glucose syrup AND honey. Oh dear…

Dinner varies but if I go out and there’s a crumble or a cheesecake on the menu I can’t resist, although I’m happy to share. I have no idea how much sugar is in a custard-drenched crumble or fruit-topped, biscuit-based cheesecake. I’ll just assume a lot.

The one thing I’m doing right is drinking red wine, as opposed to any other alcohol, but I’m confused as to whether I should be giving up alcohol entirely anyway, or having a regular glass of red for a healthy heart and to lower my risk of cancer. I think my head might explode at this point…

So, that’s where I’m at. Although I like the sound of the benefits of giving up sugar, I’m not sure I can kiss the sweet stuff goodbye for good. Maybe I’ll start with two weeks like Sarah and see how I get on…

Have you tried giving up sugar? How hard was it? And what benefits did you see? Do share below.

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Born in Yorkshire. Lives in East London. California girl at heart.
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23 thoughts on “Confession | I’m Not Sure I Can Give Up Sugar

  1. Ooooo! This is my life right now! Prompted by said newspaper scaremongering I decided to give up sugar but found the whole process quite confusing until I found Sarah’s book while in the supermarket. Shopping for nuts and avocados – my new diet staples!

    Sarah’s main target is fructose which is one of three types of sugar (glucose and lactose being the others) and there is very little fructose in beer, wine and clear spirits so she says they’re definitely ok to stay on the menu!

    The way I’m doing it is to avoid all added sugar, fruits and veg with too much sugar and refined carbs. However, because I want this to be a lifestyle change and not a fad diet my lifestyle will dictate that sometimes I’ll be in the market for a piece of cake – which I’ll have. I just try and limit that to once a week.

    This is what I eat normally now – oats, yoghurt and berries for breakfast. Tuna or chicken with green salad (including avocado because it’s very filling), either some peppers with houmous or some pistachios as a snack and then some sort of protein and veg for dinner – which is easy to share with my boyfriend so we don’t have to have separate meals.

    And it was the anti ageing that drew me in as well! I would recommend giving it a go in all honesty. I go running and I thought I’d find it really hard to do a long run if I’d only eaten salad and nuts for lunch but I actually ran my furthest (5.5 miles) the other day and could have kept going.

    Xx

    1. First of all I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who was drawn in by the wrinkles and body-ageing stuff! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience Jennifer, I’m even more inspired to try quitting sugar now. Oats, berries, hummus and avocados are some of my favourite things to eat, I reckon I can do this! Also good to hear that it hasn’t affected your energy for running. I’m thinking about signing up for my first ever 10K in May (eek!) so will need to start training soon… x

  2. A friend of mine went on a detox in January and gave up sugar, gluten, dairy…and what sounded to me like everything delicious in life. I cooked for her a few times and actually found it was easier than I thought – and pretty tasty as well!

    But it was the ‘sugar free desserts’ that have put me off. We made some ‘healthy brownies’ made with cacao and sweet potato. Everyone seemed to be raving about them so we thought we would give it a go. The cacao smelt a bit like rabbit food to me, and the smell of the mixture before it was cooked had an adverse effect on my very sensitive gag reflex but we ploughed on regardless. In hindsight we both agree we should have seen it as a sign. They were horrible. It taught me that there is absolutely no substitute for chocolate. I have substituted my daily pudding for fruit most days (I know DAILY is bad isn’t it), but weekend is treat time and sugar filled because I just know I can’t give it up without a substitute that I actually like. Much respect to those that do though!! xx

    1. Yeah, I’m not really on board with sugar-free desserts, although when I did yoga teacher training last year we had a cake that involved beetroot and it was surprisingly good, but that could have been because we hadn’t had dessert for about a week and a half at that point… x

  3. Drastically reducing chocolate and pudding and processed sugars is pretty easy IMO and standard as part of most healthy eating plans. But there now seems to be a wholesale shift to the view that anything-remotely-sweet-is-the-devil-incarnate. It’s the fruit and honey that is my stumbling block.

    Before my wedding I lost 3 stone and felt more vital than ever and I attribute this in part to the high calorie slow-release home-made granola I have every morning that is full of honey and dates (and oats and seeds and nuts). I have a cox’s apple every day. And a yoghurt. I can’t give these things up. There’s already a massive list of things-I’m not-allowed-or-I’ll-become-a-beast and I’m fed up of adding to these contraband foodstuffs!

    I agree with Jennifer, “I want this to be a lifestyle change and not a fad diet” and for me that means finding a shade of grey that works with my lifestyle and is sustainable in the long-term.

    I’m no nutritionalist, but I strongly suspect that as with everything it’s just about finding a balance, and as long as I’m walking the dog every morning and doing a class at the gym each night, I’m not going to berate myself for a few pieces of fruit and a bit of honey and a slice of carrot cake at the weekend!

    1. Mmm, carrot cake. It’s got carrots in, it got to be good for you, right?! Honey, nuts, dates and so on would be so hard for me to give up, and also the hidden sugars in savoury sauces. Looking at the labels on stuff in my kitchen cupboards I was really surprised at some of the things that contained sugar. I think you’re right though, balance is key. And taking a different route so I don’t go past Ladurée…

  4. Before my wedding in September, my husband and I did a few months of clean eating. We still ate a little meat but only organic from the butchers and a couple of times a week. I cut out dairy, caffeine, almost all alcohol (not my beloved glass of red wine though), no packaged food, no sugar, no gluten. My skin was glowing, I lost my bloat, I lost a few pounds but most of all I felt great. However, post-honeymoon was dark, cold and Christmas and I have slipped back into old ways (3pm chocolate fix). I think this way of eating does work but it requires effort and time, and determination to keep it up.

    I also agree with the other comments that you have to allow yourself something of what you want, and I am not giving up fruit! So all in all, balance is key.

    1. It’s so hard to eat healthy in this weather isn’t it? I crave stuff like sausage and mash, fish pie, basically anything involving mashed potato, and crumble, absolutely any kind of crumble. I’d find it hard to give up fruit too, watermelon, cherries, strawberries, all on my stuff I love list! x

  5. Sugar has always been my biggest downfall. I don’t drink much, I can easily avoid “fatty” foods and genuinely enjoy vegetables, salad and fruit.

    However, I simply can’t avoid biscuits, cake and sweets as the temptation is too great, and yet I know it makes me feel crap, my skin dull (and dry) and now with all of this scientific research into how it effects ageing (it’s the sagging as much as the wrinkles that bothers me!) it’s an even bigger issue that it ever has been.

    It would be super if I could have just one “treat” and stick to that – but I can’t, I actually get irritable if I feel like I’m denied (the fourth) chocolate digestive.

    I think I need to take some of your guys (excellent) advice and just get myself off the sugar train by trading the really bad stuff for sweet yet healthier alternatives.

    I am definitely going to have a look into Sarah Wilson and her findings.

  6. Here you go – these are the sugar replacements that have kept me sane this year!
    – nut butter for that salty-sweet satisfying hit. Meridian is the best (no palm oil or sneaky added sugar) and I love the almond one
    – if you have honey on yoghurt/porridge, try spices instead. I love porridge with half a chopped apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
    – avoid too much fruit, make it the right kind and make it count (really savour the flavour!). Berries are low GI and high fibre – I’ve been addicted to blueberries, cherries, raspberries
    – COCONUT. Coconut flakes are delicious and a handful makes a very satisfying snack. Ditto stirred through oats/yoghurt/almond milk/raspberries. Also handy for sugar-free baking
    – Sugar free/non-sugar chocolate. Carpo deli at Piccadilly do 88% chocolate that’s actually recommended to diabetics. I also love IQ and Ombar chocolate which is made with coconut rather than dairy
    – Greek yoghurt – full fat to avoid added sugar – is amazing. Even more so if you have an ice cream machine…

    It depends how far you’re going (I have limited to 1 piece of fruit a day, no dried fruit and no sugar alternatives eg stevia, agave) but if you’re just doing no refined sugar than Deliciously Ella (deliciouslyella.com) will be a TREAT for you. So many truffles, brownies, cheesecakes all for no-sugar diets!

    Here’s some recipes (inc a crumble!)
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052206085/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052203781/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052154251/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052134981/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052134982/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052134978/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052128495/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052117219/
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/174303448052078065/

    G’luck! Alice x

    1. Wow, thanks Alice, especially for the crumble recipe! I love coconut and cinnamon and Greek yoghurt and I’ll make it my mission to track down some Meridian nut butter this weekend. I’m doing this. I’ve just realised I’ve been sugar-free all day already by accident, I might just keep going… x

    2. Alice, this is amazing! I’m so tempted to at least try to cut down on sugar now even if I don’t give it up completely x

  7. I’ve been on a low sugar diet for over a couple of years now. I don’t really find it that difficult to stick to but I definitely find the more I have the more I want. Over Christmas I ate a lot more chocolate and I found it quite hard to cut it out afterwards.
    I’ve been quite shocked at how much sugar there is in everyday items like bread. I now find I get a sugar crash a few hours after a sandwich which is annoying as I love bread.

    1. I love bread too, it’s basically not safe for me to be seated within reach of the bread basket when I go out for a meal, no one else gets a look in! It’s good to hear that it’s not too difficult to stick to, I think like anything it will be the first couple of weeks that will be hardest and then when it becomes habit it’ll be a little easier.

      1. Snap… I become frightening when white bread is near. I also find it a slippery slope for the other “white carbs”

  8. Did anyone watch the Horizon programme on Fat vs Sugar? If not, it’s still available online if you want to watch it… It basically showed all the research surrounding fat and sugar and the mix of 50% fat and 50% sugar in foods, it turns out your body has no ‘off’ switch for half fat, half sugar foods (e.g doughnuts, chessecake etc), and it is not somethnig naturally made in nature. It came to the very balanced conclusion that any ‘fad diet’ that made you cut something out completely (e.g all fat or all sugar) then your body wouldn’t be able to function as it does naturally, so it goes back to eat well, in moderation, attempt to eat healthily and exercise. But to concentrate on a balance.
    I’m on a high protein diet, but still eat ‘good carbs’ e.g. fruit and veg and find that the lack of potatoes and bread really helps but I still really miss cake and chocolate, so I am trying to remember the advice of the programme and we’ll see how it goes…

  9. Hello, I’m a nutritionist and am firmly a believer of eating (and drinking!) everything in moderation. You can still lose weight and have gorgeous skin while indulging in a couple of glasses of vino a week and eating a cupcake or two. You just need to eat healthily the rest of the time. I too suffer from an autoimmune condition, and for me as with my clients, it’s all about balance. It’s human nature to desire what we can’t have, which is why when we tell ourselves we’re cutting out all sweet treats, eating them is all we can think about! If they aren’t banned but permitted in small amounts, it’s far easier to exercise control and avoid binging. And let’s face it, it makes for a happier, more social life :).

    1. Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts Ali. You describe me exactly, the minute I’m told, or decide I can’t have something, I can’t stop thinking about it! It’s good to hear that you support the everything in moderation approach. I think cutting down on sugar, but allowing myself the occasional treat, is the way forward for me.

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