The Sweetest Thing : my month without sugar

How much refined sugar do you eat? Now this question is similar to the ‘how many units of alcohol do you drink’ one that doctors always ask you and which everyone without fail fudges.

How much refined sugar do I eat? I like golden syrup on my porridge, have one lump in my coffee, I make sugar laden cakes regularly and have a weakness for cheap chocolate. I would hazard a guess that the answer is : a lot.

Some days I am fueled by sugar, it gets me through the hunger pangs at elevenses  and the mid afternoon energy slump, but I never considered it particularly unhealthy in the context of my overall food intake. Generally my diet is good, mostly plant based, almost exclusively homemade, so I accepted the sugar intake as just one small hiccup in an otherwise pretty healthy lifestyle.

It was not until my cranial osteopath, in his quiet way, mentioned that my adrenal function was overworked, putting strain on my pancreas and increasing my anxiety levels. He suggested mildy that I might want to try and cut out refined sugar for a while.

The idea was frankly horrifying.

However, I am nothing if not an obedient patient and I can never resist a challenge, so a week later,  at the end of January, I began my self imposed month off the sweet stuff.

Day one was hard. Facing my sugarless coffee, I weighed up my breakfast options.

The idea of porridge on it’s own or worse still, with some dried fruit (the devil’s own food) on it, was not appealing. Plain buttered toast felt inadequate. I settled on plain puffed wheat with milk and cinammon. It wasn’t bad but could have used a spoon of honey.

It was then that I realised the fundamental flaw in my plan. I had not done any research or prep work. Devoid of sugar options, my food options felt ludicrously narrow.

Working from home at my kitchen table, snacking features heavily in my daily schedule. After spending the  morning balefully opening and closing cupboards looking for something to eat, I spent the rest of day furiously making hummus. At least I would have a snack option for the next day.

Day two I was more optimistic. I had hummus now, so how could I fail? This optimism saw me right through until mid-morning when my husband arrived home clutching a bag of doughnuts, only realising his mistake when seeing my crestfallen face. I still think that I should recieve some official recognition of the Herculean effort it took to watch that bag of doughnuts sit on my kitchen counter until they were finally demolished by the rest of the family over the course of the next few days.

By day three I was ready to jack the whole thing in. I was constantly thinking about chocolate, I was hungry all the time and I wanted to throw the bag of doughnuts at every member of my inconsiderate, sugar eating family. I made a deal with myself, try and last just one week. One week will be enough.

By the end of the week, I hit a turning point. I had managed seven days, why not keep going? That weekend, my husband won a sponge cake at the rugby club raffle, I found it easy to refuse a slice. I had fallen in to more regular eating patterns, limiting snacks to Greek yoghurt with strawberries or the ubiquitous hummus. I had stopped craving chocolate and before I knew it, I was halfway through the month.

In week three, I had a slight blip. We had people round for dinner and rather than be a diet bore and refuse to eat pudding with them, I ate a small slice of the lemon tart that I had made. Instantly, I felt the effects of the (frankly tons of) sugar that was in the dessert. My whole body started to tingle, from my scalp to the tips of my fingers. I fizzed with the sweetness, felt euphoric for a few minutes then crashed with a pounding headache.  It was my only foray into refined sugar for the rest of the month.

Over the four weeks, I experimented with sugar free baking. I made some truly disgusting flapjacks using agave syrup and dates and some delicious biscuits with coconut sugar and raw cacao powder. However, mostly I just removed sweet things from my diet altogether.

By the end of the month, I was happily eating plain porridge in the morning, my former golden syrup topping entirely redundant. My tastebuds had adjusted to the lack of sweetness.

It is now just over five weeks since I started the no sugar challenge. I don’t know if I feel healthier overall, but my nerves certainly feel less jangly. Some changes I will keep, like coffee without sugar and not dipping into the children’s biscuit stash, however, Easter is approaching and whether I can resist the double whammy of hot cross buns and Easter eggs remains to be seen.



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