Sugar-free

One day at work almost two years ago, I realised I was eating way too much sugar. I work 14 hour days, sometimes for 6 days a week, and my colleagues and I always got by with a bowl of lollies on our desk. The day I realised I was eating too much sugar, I told two people I was working closely with, that I wasn’t going to eat the lollies anymore. They laughed and said I could never do it.

The next day, I arrived at work to find a bowl of lollies on my desk. Not just any bowl, but a bowl about the size of a hubcap (no exaggeration). It was full, with every sort of sweet lolly you could find; jubes, Sherbies, Redskins, Milk Bottles, Bananas, you name it, it was there. My stubborn resolve kicked in, and I was more determined than ever not to eat the sugar. That particular day, we were working from 9am until 11pm, and I watched my two colleagues slowly eat every last one of those lollies, and by 9pm, they were feeling sick, lethargic, and I was feeling great. Not tired at all. I was so proud of myself for not eating a single one of those lollies, and the next day I came in to work, to find a bowl of dried fruit and nuts on my desk.

Since that day, I have only eaten the occasional sugar. I avoid it most of the time, except when at special occasions. And I always regret it after.

But what’s so bad about sugar….

Well, I’m no expert, all I know is how my relationship with sugar has always been bad for me.

Many years ago, a naturopath told me that my excessive eating of sugar was what was causing my eczema. I trusted her, so took a month off sugar. I felt awful. I had no energy, felt like I was hungry all of the time. I couldn’t cope at work so I headed straight back to the nearest chocolate bar. It got to the point, I couldn’t work in the evenings without one.

I knew deep down that sugar was the cause of a lot of my energy problems, as well as the eczema, but although I would regularly cut down my sugar, I never stuck with it.

Not long after that memorable day at work with a hubcap of lollies on my desk, where my resolve finally outweighed my love of sugar, I heard a podcast of David Gillespie, author of (podcast available here). The light bulb moment for me, was he said that your average tomato sauce has more sugar than chocolate topping. I realised then, that even when I had been steering clear of the obvious sugars, I was still getting it in most other processed foods.

From that moment on, I decided to read the label on everything I ate. I limited myself to only products that contained less than 5g per 100g of sugars. Unlike David Gillespie, I still ate natural sugars that came in whole foods, such as fruit and honey. For me, this has been the best nutritional decision I have made in my life. I no longer crave sugar, and when I eat it, I feel disgusting. 

Recently, some leaked guidelines from the World Health Organisation (see news story here) stated that the recommended daily intake of sugar would be reduced to 5 teaspoons per day. Many people would get that just in their average bowl of cereal. When I told my husband, he realised that he’d already had his quota for the day by the time he had finished his muesli, a meal many consider to be a health food.

I’m not an expert by any means, but the guidelines I use for maintaining a low sugar diet are:

  • I don’t eat anything with a label that has more than 5g of sugars per 100g
  • Sugars found in fruit don’t count, as long as the whole fruit is eaten
  • Honey can be used as a substitute
  • I allow myself the opportunity to have desert on Christmas day, and taste the foods I make, also birthday cake is allowed once a month (who am I to stand in the way of celebrating someone’s birthday)
  • Halve the sugar found in most recipes (except when making jam), or use honey as a substitute.
  • When eating out, I eat low sugar options, but sometimes dressings etc may contain sugars that I don’t stress about.
  • I never ate fast food before, but if I did, I would have had to stop that

These guidelines have worked well for me, and when I find that I have a lapse (which I do sometimes), I usually regret it as the sugar makes me feel really sick.

So, what has happened for me since that day, two years ago. My eczema is gone (except in periods of high stress, or minor sugar lapses), my energy is much more constant and I find losing weight much easier. There has been some challenges, however, since I started running. I have to find more creative ways to fuel my runs and keep my daily calorie intake up so that I can maintain my energy during long runs.

I’d love to hear other people’s stories of how they cut sugar out of their lives, and I challenge anyone to try limiting themselves to 5 teaspoons of sugar (25g) per day for one day. Just try it, if you can stick to it to a few days, you’ll start to feel great.

Share your stories in the comments section below.

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