Going sugar free

So after sorting the two things that sucked up most of my energy throughout 2016 I decided, along with the positive changes in living arrangements and work life that, in 2017 I now have the headspace to address other aspects of my lifestyle. The first one is my physical health.

So I did some research. I have tried many different ways in the past to make my diet healthier, however, with all the conflicting information it is sometimes difficult to work out what is good for you and what is not. There is the clearly advisable idea that everything thing is good for you in moderation, but what is moderation? I’ve tried weight watchers in the past, quite successfully, but lost touch with all the various updates and “new ways of thinking”. I’ve completely overhauled my diet and strictly followed the rules with Slimming World. I’ve even straight up denied myself anything “nice”. However, one thing I have learned is that low fat often means high sugar. Not something I really used to care about if low fat meant lower numbers on the scales. However since meeting Ben, he’s a type 1 diabetic, I have started questioning more of the diets I used to blindly follow.

Just because the scales are going down now, what does that mean for the future? You often see campaigns advocating how many portions of fruit and veg you should eat – which is changing still. You also have the fat haters that substitute everything with low fat, man made synthetics. But this cannot be good for you.

I am no expert and I am by no means well read on the topic, my research and interest are purely personal with the aim of creating an achievable lifestyle change that doesn’t feel like I am denying myself entire food groups that I will inevitably give up on in two months.

Two months is definitely my limit. That’s why, when I saw a friends Instagram post on the 8-week blood sugar diet my immediate thought was perfect! Two months and then I’m sorted for life! So I bought the book and began reading. With a history of Type 2 diabetes on my side of the family and the concern for how much sugar Ben and I eat without thinking it became clear that:

  1. This was not just a two-month thing
  2. This would benefit us both in the long run
  3. Going to be really bloody hard until I learned the rules

Before I continue I should make it clear that Ben does not follow the diet strictly or at all in some cases. However what he does do is eat his evening meals with me, albeit slightly larger portions, and is more conscious of the choices he makes throughout the day in order to keep his blood sugars more stable.

Week 1

The premise of the “diet” – I don’t like that word as it suggests that it is purely for weight loss thanks to the stigma and commercialisation of the “diet” industry. I like to think of it as the detox period before a lifetime of healthier eating and attitudes towards food.

For the initial 8 weeks, you eat 800 calories a day focusing on the reducing the number of carbohydrates (sugar) you eat and then after that you follow the 5:2 approach with a focus on Mediterranean style recipes. It was the first stage where I fell down, a standard day used to follow something along the lines of:

  •    6/7 Strong coffees with semi skimmed milk (sugar) and one sugar (sugar)
  •    Scrambled eggs on toast (sugar)
  •    Homemade chili with pasta (sugar)
  •    Low-fat yoghurt (sugar) and fruit (sugar)
  •    Sausage (sugar) casserole with rice (sugar) or pasta (sugar) or baked potato (sugar)
  •    Low-fat yoghurt (sugar) and fruit (sugar)

This was a diet that had when followed, provided a happy relationship between my bathroom scales and me. It was also a diet that until recently I thought was pretty healthy. Until you look at the sugar content of a standard day. Now, as the book states, sugar in some forms is better for you than others and carbohydrates aren’t something you can simply disregard as they come in different forms. What is clear though is that sugar is an increasing problem and one that most people aren’t aware of. This would explain Ben’s struggle to keep his blood sugars level throughout the day and would also explain the random (not so random) peaks when we thought we’d been “eating well”.

So day one arrived and I’d already made the decision that for the 8 weeks I would follow some rules:

  1. In the beginning start as a model pupil
  2. Accept that there will be days when 100% isn’t possible
  3. Adjust “treat” days as much as possible in order to not deviate too much
  4. Don’t give myself a hard time
  5. Always start the day on plan even if I know I will have to deviate at some point later in the day
  6. Track not just weight but also how I feel – from skin and hair to my emotional state

Day one ended with a bang – quite literally. My head felt like it was going to explode and I couldn’t think straight. Going cold turkey suddenly felt less of a good option. 

Day 1

Breakfast: Green vegetable omelette (1.5 eggs, broccoli, onion, asparagus, and mange tout)
Lunch: Home made chili minus the passata and this time no side of rice or pasta. Instead small sprinkling of cheese
Dinner: Chicken and salad with a small spoonful of coleslaw
Drinks: Black coffee no sugar and lots and lots of water

I had stuck to the plan though. So after an early night I awoke Tuesday feeling determined once more and day 2 ended with a smaller bang after upping the water consumption. Day 3 started with an 8lb loss! Now I know that this new regime was not all about weight loss, but this certainly helps with the motivation. By day 7 I had lost 11lbs, the headaches had ceased and my skin, I was certain was looking better.

I am now three weeks into the diet and can definitely say I feel so much better. There have been days when I literally daydreamed about chocolate and burgers, chutney and cider, however, there have been more days when I haven’t experienced that mid afternoon slump when all you want is a nap.

New experiences

I have deviated from the plan twice. Once with an afternoon tea that I didn’t manage to finish and still kept my drink to mint tea, and once with my sister and Ben when I ate the contents of a burger, but no bun and only a couple of fries. And it was these days that I learned the most about my body and what I have been eating. On both occasions, I gave myself the option to eat things off plan and on both occasions, I did it in a measured way. However, after so many days on a sugar “detox”, the one thing I hadn’t prepared or planned for was the side effects. I felt shattered and my stomach felt like it was churning, I was sluggish and generally felt groggy and irritable. After the afternoon tea I even woke up with what I would describe as a hangover – but there was no alcohol?

These were definitely the days that highlighted to me the effects that sugar has on my body. I know that the book outlines the effects and explains them, in some cases, in more detail, but you do always think, I’m not like that, I don’t eat THAT much. How wrong I was. I had gotten used to the sluggish tired feeling that I experienced every day and had completely stopped noticing it. After three weeks of greatly reducing my sugar intake, I can now definitely say I notice the difference.

So I plan on continuing for the final 5 weeks, making tweaks as I go in order to find ways to eat the recommended level of carbohydrates, protein and yes, finally FATS! I have actually bought recipe books and have cooked dishes I would never have dreamt of before. I wont lie, I am looking forward to the 5:2 level of restriction, however the changes that I can already see and feel in myself certainly make the 8 weeks on 800 calories worth it. And if the research is believed I am hopefully setting myself up for a more sustainable and healthy future.