LOVE OR OBSESSION
6 months ago, just looking at that photo of the cookie cake would have incited me to get up and go to the fridge to find something sweet to eat and, if I hadn’t found anything, I likely would have made something out of whatever sugary ingredients I could find in the house. It’s interesting how addictions to substances such as alcohol and cocaine are widely recognised as a problem needed to be dealt with yet, sugar addiction which is much more widespread and causing all sorts of physical and psychological issues, goes mainly unnoticed.
From a young age, I would always opt for the sweet treats like chocolate, rather than crisps or chips and, the idea that these foods were a treat stayed with me into adulthood. Just as some will opt for a glass of wine at the end of a long day to help unwind, I would sit to eat a healthy savoury meal, full of vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, only to then raid the cupboard and stuff my face with as much sugar as I could handle and, sometimes more. Why, because I deserved it! I had worked hard all day and deserved a treat. At least, that is what I would tell myself.
REALISATION AND UNDERSTANDING
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I began to realise the hold that sugar had on me and on several occasions I tried to give up sugar, only to go back to eating it with a vengeance. During my first attempt, I gave up all refined sugar, only allowing myself fruit, raw honey and dried fruits for 21 days. I managed not to touch any refined sugar, which I was very pleased about but, I gorged on dates, prunes, raisins and fruit salads with all of the above mixed in. The fact that sugar, although not refined, was still very present in my diet, meant that once I allowed myself to have my cake and eat it once again, nothing much had changed, I hadn’t even come close to ‘kicking the habit’. My second attempt saw me survive 40 days without refined sugar. Yet, the same process followed as I still allowed myself fruit and dried fruit. After this, I gave up on the idea of living sugar-free, believing it to be too hard and focusing on how much I would miss eating hot chocolate fudge cake, cookies and ice cream (if all together on one plate, that would be all the better!).
It wasn’t until several years later, having moved to Spain and meeting a new group of like-minded friends, that I finally managed to give up sugar for good. A friend and I made a pledge to go sugar-free for 7 days, the big difference this time was that we decided to cut out all sweet foods, including fruit. The 7 days went past relatively fast and we decided to extend the pledge to 30 days. To begin with, I felt hungry, no matter how much I had eaten, it wasn’t an empty stomach kind of hunger, but a craving and needy type of hunger. One that taunted me for hours after finishing a meal. After a few weeks, the physical cravings subsided but, I still craved sweet foods. I began to realise that my addiction was not only a physical one but, a psychological one. The sweet treat was feeding something else embedded in my psyche, the little girl that believed she deserved a treat. To help subside these cravings I turned to my beloved, homemade hazelnut and almond butter. Eating a teaspoon after a meal helped get me through the tough days.
During this time a new ice-cream café opened up across the road from my house, boasting an array of chocolate chip, cookie dough, caramel filled flavours. On completing the 30 days, I decided to head to the café to try a small tub. It tasted amazing! On finishing the small portion I felt satisfied and went to bed happy, believing I could have my cake (a small piece) and eat in (in moderation). A few days later I again decided to indulge in a sugary delight but, this time that feeling of dissatisfaction appeared, that wanting more even though I had eaten enough. It was then I decided, to take sugar out of my diet for good.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
This was 6 months ago. I’m not saying I having been magically cured, sometimes the desire to indulge appears but, it’s hold on me has gone. I feel liberated and, there are many beneficial side-effects: my clothing fits better, when I train I see results much quicker and I gain strength faster, my skin is clearer and, most of all, it will help me to live a life with a healthier, happier body. There are no magic pills when it comes to giving up sugar, it requires planning and support from those around you. I recommend doing it with a friend or friends, making yourself accountable by telling everyone what you are doing and if you slip up, start again, and again, and again, if that is necessary. It is easy to use a slip up as an excuse to go back to old habits but, once you feel the changes a sugar-free life creates, it will be so much easier to stay strong.
THINGS THAT HELPED ME:
- Starting with a friend
- Eating more healthy fats (avocado, nuts, nut butter, coconut oil)
- Eating more vegetables – to fill me up
- Going out for a walk after dinner
- Setting short-term goals
- Eating nut butter when I craved sugar
- The support of my friends