Sugar is a touchy subject for me. This is because I am without a doubt, unequivocally, dependent on it. When the ‘sugar’ debate is raised I am the first to jump to its defence. We need sugar! It’s essential for cell function. It’s from a plant, it can’t be that bad. I can keep going. My arguments are weak at best, at worst, completely wrong. This has led me to a place where I allow far too much sugar into not only my diet, but my children’s too. When the new World Health Organisation recommendation is 6 teaspoons per day, and a 40gram serving of dried mango has 7, I have some thinking to do.
A few months ago I posted my story on how Lola, my then 5 year old, refused to open her mouth at the dentist. My repercussion was banning sugar of any kind from her diet, until she went. I clearly remember thinking that I would never fight that fight again because it was so incredibly hard, and not just for her. She was moody, grumpy, teary, didn’t sleep well, and I am only now realising why.
She was detoxing from sugar!
For someone who has studied both mental health and alternative health, I feel like a complete halfwit for not realising this sooner. If I’m honest with myself, I actually feel a bit like an addict. I have fooled myself into ignoring what I can see right in front of me. I don’t want to see the effects sugar has on the kids, or me, so I carry on anyway, too chicken to make the change.
When I was a teenager and had bad skin, I mentioned to my dermatologist that I had noticed a correlation in how much sugar I ate and how bad my skin was. He told me categorically, that I was wrong. There is no connection. I knew that I was right, but I wanted to believe him, so I did. A couple of years later I started taking my cycling training more seriously, and recognising that my body was doing strange things when I ate too much sugar, I cut it out. Instead of sucrose (normal table sugar) I ate fructose (fruit sugar), ladled it into my tea, poured honey on my (sugar free) bread, drank ‘diet’ soft drinks and bought sweets that had ‘non-nutritive’ sweetener instead of sugar. I could pour into the details of how those sweets upset my stomach, and played havoc with my moods, but what came next was worse. I got cancer. A malignant melanoma. While this may have absolutely nothing to do with my diet, we will never know. I have liked to argue that it didn’t, but I have always had my niggling doubts. There is now a definite correlation between both sugar and non-nutritive sweetener, and cancer development. My doubt only grows. Your diet is you. It’s what fuels your cells and grows your muscles. How could there possibly be no connection?
A couple of months after I ‘gave up’ sugar, I ‘accidentally’ drank a frulata – a milkshake with fruit in it. As I stood up with my friend to leave the coffee shop I almost fainted. My head was spinning and my vision was going blotchy. I had to lie down in the restroom for half an hour before I could see properly again. I knew then what sugar was capable of. But being the sensible 20 year old that I was, I decided the best thing to do was increase my sugar levels so this kind of thing didn’t happen again. My avoidant self decided cutting sugar out of my diet was obviously not good for me, instead of acknowledging that it was the having it that was the problem.
Fast forward 10 years. I am plagued by the same ‘sugar spots’ I had as a teenager. They appear after a sugar binge. I am also plagued by the feeling of ants on my brain. This too is after a sugar binge. I get sore throats and feel like I’m coming down with something the day after eating a handful of sour worms – this happens without fail. Too much sugar makes me unable to think clearly and my body feels lethargic, but at the same time irritable. This is helped only by the intake of vast amounts of water. A binge can be 1 chocolate bar or the icing on a cake. It doesn’t take a lot, or so I thought.
Two nights ago we watched a movie called That Sugar Film. I’ve been wanting to watch it for a while, not because I really wanted to see it, but because I know my system is fighting what I am putting into it.
I know I need a change, but I have been resisting. I have been resisting my whole life.
Watching this movie was eye opening. It’s an entertaining documentary by Damon Gameau as he records the effects of a perceived ‘healthy’ diet, eating foods that are low fat and made with ‘good’ sugars. What blew me away was how quickly his health deteriorated once he started eating this perceived ‘good’ food, and how easy it was to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without eating any ‘junk’. Trust me, you would be dumbfounded.
My head was in a whirl, and I decided it was about time I worked out how much sugar we were spooning into our diet. What foods was I packing into my kids’ lunch boxes under the guise of it being ‘healthy’? I’ve always encouraged dried fruit of any kind, just keen to keep up their fibre intake. Turns out this isn’t such a good idea. Fruit juice – incredibly high in sugar. Health bars – sugar. Smoothies – sugar! Whether this sugar is fructose or sucrose, it doesn’t really matter. That is something I didn’t know. Both are absorbed as easily as each other, both cause your body to spike insulin production, and both cause crashes once the sugar is carried out of your blood stream. I had always thought fruit sugar was ok, and it is, but in small amounts. Turns out the amount of fruit sugar we consume in our food is far from ok. If you start reading your food labels, you will notice sugar is added to almost everything. I don’t want to regurgitate the movie for you, but I found it incredibly interesting, and it is something I would highly recommend watching. What I do want to say is that I can relate to almost every symptom from excitable highs and moody lows, to a foggy brain and inability to concentrate. I spend my days looking forward to my next ‘high’, a warm cup of tea (1 sugar please), a comforting cookie (3 sugars) or some chocolate after dinner (anything from 3 sugars to 10 sugars in one sitting! – depending on my mood of course). I recognise this in my daughter; her behaviour is as I remember mine being. What I am struggling to grapple with is how to teach your children that although they desperately want sugar, it is not good for them. How, because I as a seasoned 33 year old, am still not able to fully accept it.
I have decided that it is time I made a life change. Just writing that down makes me nervous. It makes me realise what a hold sugar has over me, and that in itself is terrifying. I don’t want to never enjoy a piece of birthday cake or a warm apple pie, but to get to the once off enjoyments, I have to break through the everyday crutches. I can’t appreciate a subtle sweetness because my mouth is desensitised to the awesomeness of natural flavours. I add sugar to everything, and if not sugar then salt. We’ve joked about it for years, but I know it can’t be a joke forever, not if I am to raise healthy, stable, energetic children. I know the next few weeks are going to be ‘less enjoyable’ simply because my body is recalibrating. Finally though, I think this is something I want to work towards. I’m terrified I might give up, cave to my current sugar cravings, but what kind of recovering addict would I be if I gave up on day 2!
A very interesting side note from the movie:
Despite keeping his calorie intake exactly the same as it was before undertaking this dietary change, Damon gained almost 10kg’s in 2 months. This taught me something else I did not know – all calories are not made equal.