It makes sense that I should begin my blog with my very own Sugar Free Journey. What were the reasons I decided to reduce and then eliminate sugar from my diet? Perhaps more importantly, were the results what I expected? I will attempt to explain all here.
I was a 34 year old stay at home mother of two young children. I was really active, walking every day twice a day on the school run for over 2 miles not to mention the extra ‘pop to the supermarket/toddler group/post office’ journeys, all on foot. On the days I carried a pedometer I would always exceed 12,000 steps and sometimes reach as high as 18,000+ steps.
I was eating a ‘healthy’ diet and I had started exercising regularly. Yes, I was pushing a pushchair around all day but I couldn’t understand why I had such tired, aching joints, extreme lethargy (my two were good sleepers), frequent headaches and why I generally felt so unwell every single day.
On some days I couldn’t concentrate, my memory was awful, I would put the milk away in the cupboard and the cereal in the fridge – I put this all down to ‘baby brain’. I was assured by other mothers “once your memory’s gone, it’s not coming back. I still have baby brain and my youngest is 9”. I also suffered with itchy, blotchy skin, bad tummy aches and had been to the doctors and hospital countless times about this, eventually emerging with a diagnosis of ‘IBS’.
I spent a lot of time at toddler groups and other toddler based events, all of which are fuelled by cups of tea and custard cream biscuits. I was addicted to having a hit of something sweet for energy as the lethargy was so bad that I could barely function. I needed a sugar hit about an hour after every single meal. But I didn’t think anything of it – it’s what we all do, isn’t it?
Over the years I had already started eliminating things from my diet that I had found out, through research, could be harming me. MSG and ribonucleotides are the most notable, they are flavour enhancers that can be found in many products but are used in many crisp flavourings and cooking sauces. I would sometimes suffer with red skin rashes, similar to hives, and these disappeared when I cut out those additives.
I had also started adding nutrient rich foods into my diet in an attempt to improve my wellbeing – brazil nuts for energy, more fruit and veg for vitamins, Greek yogurt for probiotics, green leafy veg for iron. It helped, but not much.
As I felt so groggy most of the time I began researching more, convinced that there was another reason, something else I should be eliminating. I must have read something about a sugar detox because I decided to give it a go for a few days, even though I was pretty worried about how I would manage and what on earth I could possibly eat instead.
I tried 3 days without sugar. Those 3 days were filled with cravings, but I did it. I didn’t feel too different by the end, but I was glad I had tried it. When I did eat my first sweet treat within 3 minutes I got a headache. It was then that I realised that cutting out sugar had done me good and I decided to try again.
The second time I eliminated sugar was a few weeks later. I didn’t rush into it, instead I waited until I was ready. I decided to try a week and was scared about how to manage for that long. But I wanted to try to see if I could feel any benefits after a longer period of time. I managed it using nothing but stubbornness and sheer willpower. The cravings were intense and by the end of the week I started feeling slightly ‘clearer’, nothing more. We had taken the children out to eat, and I shared a dessert of chocolate cake and ice cream with my daughter. As soon as the first spoon of ice cream hit my tongue I had a sharp, piercing pain around my eyes and in my forehead. It was a massive shock, I hadn’t expected that one spoon of cake and ice cream would affect me so badly.
I knew that I needed to try to eliminate sugar more often. It wasn’t how I felt during the elimination week that drove me, it was my body’s reaction to the sugar when I ate it that did. The next time I tried a sugar free week was October 2014. I had recently gone back to work part time, and I had warned my colleagues about my plans. I was to do 7 days and that was all, when it reached Sunday night I said to my husband “I suppose I can eat something sweet now, the week is over”. He replied that he would try cutting out sugar for a week too, and that he would start the next morning so I decided to carry on avoiding sugar so we could do it together.
My husband managed just half a day without sugar! I continued avoiding it though, I don’t know why, maybe I didn’t want the sugar headache, maybe I wanted to see what, if anything, would happen.
Sometimes my cravings were so intense that I would stamp my feet at work sat at my desk and squeal in annoyance, then overeat with ANYTHING provided it wasn’t sweet. Thankfully I work in a very friendly office! When invited to my colleague’s 40th birthday tea and cake in the neighbouring room, I reluctantly went in clutching a little tub of oat cakes in case the cravings became too much.
Perhaps I’m really stubborn. I had been chatting with my nephew, who is a type 1 diabetic, about how he manages his food, insulin, sugar levels and the reasons for it. It had got me thinking, if he needs to keep as constant blood sugar levels as possible throughout the day then don’t we all? Isn’t it bad for our bodies for our blood sugars fluctuate so dramatically too?
As time went on I started feeling good. My tummy aches became less and less frequent, my skin stopped itching and the lethargy and aches and pains gradually subsided. I would substitute sweet snacks with fruit, peanut butter on corn cakes, nuts – anything that I knew contained little sugar and would keep me going for that little bit longer until my next meal.
After a while, I would put my usual portion of food on my plate and be unable to finish it. I remember looking at the food, perplexed. Why am I full up? I had been used to feeding myself so well during pregnancy and when the children were young because you never knew when you would next eat a meal in peace so it was a strange thing to leave food on the plate.
As the weeks passed, my desire to snack reduced dramatically. My cravings were not as strong and appetite had dramatically dropped. If I treated myself to anything sweet my cravings would increase. I still baked cakes but I would use half of the amount of sugar, and barely eat any myself.
It wasn’t until our summer holiday in 2015 that I realised how much I had got used to living sugar free. I had fully intended to try every single dessert in the hotel buffet every evening but when we got there I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t fancy it. A couple of times I chose the most delicious looking cakes and would try a bit but the headache would come back immediately. Instead I chose watermelon, cheese and nuts every night and I never felt better. I still ate 3 full meals a day, but it was the first time in my life that I went on holiday and came back thinner than before.
Since then, avoiding sugar is not anything I have to think consciously about doing. if I do eat something that my body decides is too sweet I have a pretty violent reaction to it – either headaches, stomach aches or heaving as if I need to vomit. I do have the odd craving sometimes, but it’s nothing I can’t handle and I have a massive list of alternative snacks and hacks to tackle even the strongest of cravings.
I wake up early, and I feel awake. I go to bed and have no trouble sleeping. My memory has improved, I have a clarity of mind that I never remember having before. I can learn and retain information with relative ease. My body feels great and looks good. My tummy aches are very rare and I have the stamina to keep going all day, including two back to back exercise classes on some days. I haven’t even tried, and I’ve lost weight mainly around the stubborn ‘mummy tummy’ middle. People often tell me that I look well, and that I am full of energy. Because of this I couldn’t ever see myself going back to eating sugar – I feel great, the most alive I have ever been.
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