7 weeks without sugar

It has been seven weeks since I committed to quitting sugar. Since the first January my total sugar intake includes one slice of fruitcake, half a ginger biscuit and 3 bowls of porridge sweetened with honey. There was also some sugar in a sneaky supermarket pasta salad and some fruity cocktails on a night out. Not bad going in my opinion, so how should I be feeling? If you search “stop eating sugar” into google, this is the first article that comes up: http://www.prevention.com/health/what-happens-when-you-stop-eating-sugar. So I want to explore how this might match up with my own experience…

1. Your heart will do a happy dance.
Your risk of dying from ticker-related trouble will plummet threefold, according to research from James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Mid-Atlantic Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO. Why? “Added sugar chronically raises insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate,” DiNicolantonio explains. “Within a few weeks’ time, you might expect to see a 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol and a 20 to 30% decrease in triglycerides.” Your BP would head in the right direction, too, he says.

I couldn’t possibly comment on this one. I can’t say I have ever measured my cholesterol levels or anything like that. It’s nice to know that this will probably be an effect I guess.

2. You won’t have to borrow your teen’s acne cream.
Good-bye, midlife zits! Systemic inflammation is a known acne trigger. And sugar—wouldn’t you know it?—is inflammatory. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when non-soda-drinkers consumed one 12-ounce can a day for 3 weeks, their inflammation levels increased by 87%. Give up the soda and other sweetened drinks and you might not need as much of that expensive concealer, the research suggests.

 

Let’s apply this point to someone in their late twenties rather than middle age. This is probably the main reason I decided to quit sugar. Much as I would love to say that I have seen a major difference, unfortunately the changes are so subtle. My skin does feel softer and smoother but breakouts are still occurring. Here are some before and after pics:

 

3. You’ll sidestep diabetes.
Eating added sugar promotes the buildup of fatty deposits around your liver. These deposits contribute to insulin resistance and undermine the work done by your pancreas, which normally stalls the production of insulin, says Robert Lustig, MD, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. In a study of sugar consumption in 175 nations, Lustig found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, compared with 150 calories from protein or fat. So swap that sugary granola for a handful of nuts, pronto. 

Again, I couldn’t possibly comment. More good news I guess.

4. You won’t have to fake smile.
It’s normal to be cranky for a while if you ditch sweets. (After all, they’re the foods we usually rely on for comfort and a quick hit of energy.) But once you’re over your sugar fix, you’ll feel better than ever. A Columbia University study found that women who eat a diet high in added sugars and refined grains are more likely to experience anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.

 

I am enjoying a more consistently optimistic outlook on life compared to a habit of self pity and general pessimism.

5. You’ll sleep when you’re supposed to (for a change).
The crash from a sugar high leaves you with mid-day sluggishness and an itching need for a nap. Also, added sugar triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which interferes with slumber, Lustig says. Give up added sugar, and you should be more awake and alert during the day, and also better prepared to catch some z’s come bedtime.

This was another big reason for going sugar free. I have never had a problem with falling asleep at bedtime but have always battled against the need for a snooze during the day. Sadly, I can’t say that I have noticed a change here.

6. You’ll remember the name of your boss’s husband.  
Battling brain fog? Sugar may be to blame. One animal study at UCLA concluded a diet high in added sugar hinders learning and memory. Over time, eating lots of sugar may actually damage communication among your brain’s cells, the study shows. So when you’re eyeing the doughnuts in a morning meeting (damn that co-worker with a birthday!), tell yourself you’ll be sharper without the sugar

Have you ever lost your train of thought mid sentence? I find this to be a regular occurrence and I am disappointed to report that there has certainly been no recent improvement in this area.

7. You’ll finally lose that extra 10 pounds.
While you’ll probably replace some of those sugary calories with other foods—like trading a sugary granola bar for a handful of almonds—you won’t be eating as many calories overall, Powell says. Scaling back your sugar habit by 200 calories a day could help you drop 10 pounds in 5 to 6 months. Now that’s sweet!

Finally a point that I can confidently confirm! I have definitely noticed a drop in my weight. I can’t evidence this with figures because I don’t own a weighing scale but my clothes feel looser and my stomach is looking much flatter. This isn’t something I set out to achieve however, amongst other subtle, subjective and frustratingly immeasurable changes, it’s nice to note that there has been at least one definite effect from quitting sugar.

So in summary, my skin is looking a little bit better. I think I am happier. I’m still struggling with generally low energy levels. I certainly have not noticed an improvement in my memory skills but I have definitely lost weight.

Until next week,

Alice x

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Week 6, sweet temptations!

I have another cold. I think this is the 4th one since the start of 2017. At this point I should probably mention that I am attending placement within a class of 4 year olds (a notorious breeding ground for cold viruses) so it would be unfair of me to point any blame in the direction of the new diet. How could I? All I’ve done is quit sugar and upped my vegetable intake! I should be feeling on top of the world! Perhaps I would be if I didn’t keep coming down with illnesses. Needless to say I have not stuck to my resolution of going swimming every weekend. I think that would be a bit unfair on the other swimmers and also I just don’t want to. I have walked to, and or from, placement every day though, so I am fitting a comfortable amount of exercise into my routine.

Today I want to moan about how difficult it is to avoid sugary temptations. So you’ve done your food shopping for the week and you’ve confidently avoided the confectionery aisle. You queue up to pay and the creme eggs are directly in your line of vision but it’s okay because you’ve also picked up a bag of mixed nuts to snack on on the way home. Nice one, you’ve passed the supermarket test. The next day you arrive at work and immediately come face to face with an open tin of cookies which some one has kindly brought in for everyone to share. You realize that actually you are a bit peckish and so you go and snack on some bread that you packed yourself for lunch. Temptation avoided. You’re the best. It’s break time now and another kind soul has picked up a box of celebrations for everyone (they were on offer and she thought it would be a nice treat) This time you are directly offered a chocolate from the box. You could politely decline (“Oh go on, take one! Why not?”) but perhaps you’re worried you might seem rude so you take one, maybe two (“Take another, there’s more than enough!”) and put it in your pocket “for later.” Meanwhile, you go ahead and finish that bread roll you started earlier. It’s lunch time and you are so ready for that hot stew you packed. You wonder why there wasn’t a slightly bigger thermos size available. You would have definitely bought the bigger size. You try to ignore the two tiny sugar bombs in your pocket. Luckily you remembered to pack your favorite fruit. Yes! Another win. Home time and your blood sugar levels are at an absolute low. How annoying that you needed to stay an extra hour today. On the way home you throw away your pocket chocolates (they had melted anyway) and keep your head down as you pass the places that sell sweet baked goods/hot beverages/artisanal food/general confectionery. Congratulations. You made it home. In approval of your iron will power, help yourself to a slice of that super rich chocolate fudge cake that your housemate baked to pass the time  a carrot.

Perhaps not everyday is this tough but truthfully a lot of them are and so anyone taking on the sugar free challenge and managing to remain strong in the face of temptation for however long deserves a hearty pat on the back. Conversely, anyone finding it hard to refuse the sweet stuff should seriously not beat themselves up about it. Sugar is proving to be very difficult to avoid…

As for me, I’m really starting to bend the initial rules. My intention was to avoid anything that could be considered to be a desert. No natural sweeteners. No dried fruit. My reasoning was that a) I wanted to be able to control my cravings better and b) I had made a deal with my boyfriend that if he quit smoking, including all substitutes (for example e-cigarettes) then I would quit sugar and all sugar substitutes. But recently I’ve been indulging a little more. Yesterday I added a little honey to my porridge. Today I baked banana, walnut and blueberry muffins. I followed this recipe but substituted the honey for more banana and added blueberries and walnuts:

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I stopped feeling guilty about eating these when I realized that, if anything, the other ingredients just lessen the sweetness of a banana by itself and that fruit is totally acceptable. They are a wonderful thing to come home to after a day like the one above! I’m still working on how to justify sweetening the porridge. Right now I consider it to be compensation for all the colds I have been getting!

All the best,

Alice x

Weeks 4 and 5, no added sugar

For the past two weeks I have been questioning my new healthy lifestyle resolutions. Am I doing something wrong? Surely I should be enjoying a smug sense of well-being/a clearer and more positive outlook on life/beautifully clear skin/all of the above. Over the last weekend I had yet another nasty cold which distracted me from my resolve to go swimming at the weekends. I had an unmistakable break out, which I think might have had something to do with having a cold, and noticeable mood swings which, for me, means sudden, but persistent, irrational irritation without obvious cause. It was in these moments of annoyance that I felt most sensitive to cravings. My brain was just begging for a serotonin hit. I am proud to say that I managed to remain strong and successfully avoided the sweet stuff…until Friday night when, at a friends leaving do, I treated myself to a burger with goats cheese and CARAMELIZED ONIONS along with some fries and a couple of fruity cocktails. I regret nothing. It was delicious. The next day I was expecting some sort of sugar hangover (having read a few blogs from other sugar quitters) but the worst I experienced was a constant twitching eyelid and that was not necessarily the sugar’s fault.

It might sound as though I’m disheartened and that I’m about ready to quit quitting sugar but the truth is, overall, I think there have been some subtle positive changes. My hair feels thicker, I am feeling more motivated and most importantly I am really enjoying testing my willpower and taking control of my lifestyle. I wake up over two hours before I need to arrive at placement so that I have time to eat a nutritious breakfast, prepare my own lunch and to walk to work. It’s not the most scenic route, for most of the journey I’m walking alongside steady traffic, but it’s a solid hour of gentle exercise in which I can contemplate my thoughts or listen to podcasts before beginning my working day. I’m also so lucky to have a talented and supportive boyfriend who has made it his mission to ensure that this is the standard I come home to everyday:

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The squash is stuffed with bacon and quinoa btw

As cliche as it sounds, I am enjoying a new sense of freedom that comes with control and maybe I’m imagining it but maybe, slowly, my skin IS getting ever so slightly better?

So yeah, I’m going to stick at it for a bit longer. I’m toying with the new goal of six months but let’s see how it goes for the next three weeks.

Alice x