Giving Up Sugar When You're A Total Puddingaholic
I have always loved pudding. It's the best part of any meal, let's be honest. I'm not talking about fruit salad or lemon cheesecake or even trifle either, I'm talking about my one true love; chocolate. Those who know me well will know that I don't discriminate when it comes to choccie desserts (or snacks, or breakfasts..!), but the ultimate pud for me has got to be one of those incredible melt-in-the-middle chocolate puddings. They make my heart sing and my blood sugar rocket, what's not to love?! However, despite my previously held attitude that life's too short to not enjoy sweet treats (or just things that make us happy in general), I started to realise that my relationship with the old cocoa bean may have been getting out of control. The more I thought about it, the more I noticed that I would justify eating chocolate in pretty much every possible scenario; chocolate as a reward, to celebrate with, to drown my sorrows, as a pick-me-up, to share with friends, the list goes on. Even after this mini epiphany, I still wasn't that worried and tended to laugh off my addiction, until I came across I Quit Sugar For Life by Sarah Wilson. The book talks about detoxing from sugar for eight weeks in order to reset our appetites back to their natural state, before we started bombarding them with refined sugar at every possible opportunity. This made me think that even though I was eating tons of sugar every day, I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually remarked upon the physical effects of what I was putting in my body. I had eaten my way to a tolerance for the white stuff that hindered my ability to know when to stop.
One of my favourite things about Sarah's brilliant book is the way that she frames the whole concept of cutting sugar as an experiment. Being the chocaholic that I am and always have been (my dad grew up in a sweet shop and my Italian grandad's family were ice cream makers – it's literally in my blood, OK?!), it had never crossed my mind that I'd one day be able to give it up cold turkey. I guess all it took was a glowing Australian TV presenter to gently suggest that I give it a try! There is something hugely freeing in knowing that I'm just testing myself to see how far I can go, rather than holding myself up to some seemingly unachievable goal with loads of strict rules. I've now made it to six weeks on the detox and as weird as it is to say this, I don't even really miss chocolate!
Although I'm really proud of that and I hope to have kicked my habit for good, I think an even more important lesson that I've learnt through doing this has actually been how to avoid hidden sugars in savoury and even so called “healthy” foods. I was guilty of not paying that much attention to labels in the supermarket, but for the last six weeks I've had to read every one in detail to figure out if passes the test of containing less than 5g per 100g of “Carbohydrates of which sugars” (obviously the lower this number, the better). Of course all puddings and sweet drinks are off the table, but I also discovered that more or less any processed food is likely to contain well over that amount.
I now shop more much sensibly and economically too, favouring regular visits to independent grocers' over big shops at superstores. My cooking is also way more adventurous now, purely because I was able to be lazy before and fall back on pre-prepared stuff that I didn't know (or want to know) was chock full of sugar under many aliases. To my delight, I can still eat as much cheese and as many eggs and avocados as I could ever want! It's funny how I've been eating absolutely loads of fat yet seem to have lost half a stone, I wonder why that could be?!
Another thing that I'm really grateful to understand better after looking into a sugar-free life, and that will come in handy forever whether I continue with it or not, is WHY excessive sugar consumption is actually bad for us. As I understand it, it basically comes down to the presence or absence of fibre in the sweet things that we eat. The best example I found to explain this was in an excellent, shocking and sad documentary called Fed Up. The film highlights the problematic messaging prevalent in western culture about calories, because, as it turns out, “a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie”. They show a child drinking 160 calories' worth of soft drink and then eating the equivalent calorific value of almonds. On drinking the fizzy drink, his blood sugar shoots up and his liver goes into overdrive and immediately converts the fructose into fat. This also triggers the production of insulin, the sugar storage hormone that can also prevent signals being sent to the brain to tell us that we're full. On the other hand, when he eats the almonds, his blood sugar level rises more gradually and his liver is able to process the sugar as it's released. That's why real food helps you stay fuller for longer and doesn't cause you to crash within hours of eating it. This is also why we should always eat fruit whole, to get the benefit of the fibre that keeps our liver in check and blood sugar under control. Even though fruit juice retains some of the vitamins of the fruit it's made from, without the fibre you may as well drink a Panda Pop (telltale sign of a 90s kid right there)!
So, if you're a cocoa enthusiast like me and you're wondering if life without chocolate is even real life, I can confirm, it is! You can give up anything you want to give up, all you have to do is decide it one day and then keep on deciding it every day after that. Trust me, I always thought I had little to no will power but I've got this far so you definitely can too!*
*Obviously I am no nutritionist and every scientific finding about sugar and our health should be scrutinised before taking any action in your own diet. The key is to listen to your body and of course seek professional medical advice where appropriate.