how to get back on the sugar-free straight and narrow

How does your healthy lifestyle fare when you go through busy periods? Two friends I was chatting with each had opposite approaches to food when under stress. One ate more, the other ate less. One comfort eats, the other forgets about food altogether.

This is interesting from a psychological perspective, but in the day-to-day, both of them admitted to having insurmountable sugar cravings. One outright stated she ate “loads” of sugar. She followed this up with, “but I think I actually need sugar.”

We had a good laugh after I pointed out that that’s exactly what an addict would say.

“I just need crack cocaine, I don’t care what anyone says. My body actually needs it to function.”

Here’s an interesting fact…

Your body does not need fructose for any of it’s chemical processes. Table sugar is 50% fructose. Furthermore, your body can produce the glucose that you do need from a diet of protein and vegetables. So you don’t really need the other 50% of table sugar either.

Fructose is addictive. Fructose messes with your metabolic system. It tells you that you need more food when you don’t. It spikes your blood sugar. It turns into fat which is dumped on your liver and elsewhere. It ages your skin. It gives you mood swings. It affects your hormones/monthly cycle (if you are female). It causes/worsens autoimmune diseases. It feeds cancer cell growth.

So comfort eater or not, if you are addicted to sugar, you will have a tough time fighting the cravings – all day, every day.

During the past two months I have had a challenging time with food. My husband has been plugging away at his dissertation and two other essays. It was a hibernate-and-just-get-through, kind of time. Especially since I’ve had a two-month-long cold. I seem to have about four to seven days’ respite in between viruses. Grief can do that to you.

There were hardly any commitments in the diary, low expectations of ourselves and each other and not as much home cooking.

Anyone who has quit sugar knows this is disastrous for anyone with clean-eating intentions.

What happened? I lost my flow. I didn’t do a Sunday cook-up and create stock and leftover meat for another meal. I didn’t make a batch of soup that usually does a couple of lunches or a dinner. I forgot to order our veg box a couple of times. Half the time we barely had food in!

The inevitable occurred… I ended up buying more pizzas, eating more bread, and my veg intake dwindled.

I did not feel good and my clothes were getting tight.

If this happens and I am utterly aware of my bad food choices, then I want to change them. I don’t want to waste money on clothes I shouldn’t need. But I’m not just tight-fisted, I also DON’T FEEL GOOD. I feel my best when I’m in a good phase of eating clean and I can’t forget how it feels.

My husband and I went to Paris for the weekend just gone. It was delightful. I indulged more than I would ordinarily (heck I had dessert every day). But I had to experience the chocolate mousse at Chez Janou… (they have a huge bowl of it which they dump down on your table and you help yourself!) I asked for citron on my pancake and they put sucre on too. I’m too polite to ask them to re-make it. I had to try the pastis aperitif that probably had sugar in. I had to have several glasses of champagne when visiting my friend and her family, whilst we enjoyed the setting of their Parisian apartment.

Okay, I didn’t have to. But I wanted to. I did enjoy it all, but here’s the thing:

I paid for it. BIG TIME.

On my recalibrating days this week I had an almighty headache. Oh the headache. I also felt exhausted. I thought I was ill and then I realised. French coffee may have been a contributing factor but I think the headache was actually, dare I admit it, sugar WITHDRAWAL. Argh. I also could feel the extra chub.

Was it worth it? Possibly, it was a one-off weekend (as much as I’d like to tell you trips to Paris are a frequent fixture). But I will remember it next time and perhaps make SOME different choices. Because my body felt that wrong afterwards.

How do I handle setback seasons or weekends, and get back on track?

  1. I don’t beat myself up.

Nothing is more demotivating than telling yourself how rubbish you are. You’re more likely to reach for more dairy milk if you push yourself into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t dwell, you’re not perfect. Accept that, learn lessons, and move forward.

  1. I make treats part of my lifestyle.

The reason I wouldn’t do a specific diet is because everyone seems to experience the same thing, they put the weight back on as soon as they stop sticking to it religiously. If I can’t enjoy a takeaway or a glass of wine or some dark chocolate or even a big fat slice of birthday cake, every now and then, I wouldn’t enjoy life. The good thing about quitting sugar and recalibrating is that you just don’t want that stuff much. If I were to have some cake, it would be very small and I couldn’t handle hardly any icing. So I don’t need to have that awful battle. I am in control as my body will tell me when I’ve had too much and I always regret it. I also make fructose-free alternatives so when I fancy a biscuit or a chocolatey, gooey something, I can enjoy it without knowing I’m compromising my health. I made a chocolate milkshake that just had a banana as the sweetener and my non-sugar-free friend said: “it’s actually amazing how nice this is given that there’s no added sugar.” It tasted like a chocolate milkshake. I lack nothing. (Except candy floss, haribo, and meringue).

  1. I do some more exercise to help with my mindset.

Exercise helps me feel more positive and in control. I come back for a run or walk feeling great that I’ve done something good for my body. That propels me to make more choices that are good for my body, i.e. with food. But don’t make the mistake of thinking exercise ‘makes-up’ for bad eating. I heard a feature on Radio 1 recently about how they want to change food labelling to how long it would take you to burn off the calories. A pint of beer would take a 30-min fast-paced walk to burn off. A can of coke, 40-minutes. That is just what you’ve drunk!! If you throw in a chocolate bar, a sugar-laden sauce for your evening meal, with pudding after, a high-carb lunch and you’d probably need to walk all afternoon. Plus the sugar still has the same impact on your blood sugar and liver. Exercise or not.

  1. I try to make feeling good and being healthy my goal, not getting back my shape.

You know, I think the fact that women’s body’s change so much over our lifetime should perhaps tell us that maybe we need to learn to be okay with this. I am not great at this myself. I’m often squeezing my post-children-paunch, wishing I could just slice it right off. Feeling discontent with my body just makes be more obsessive about food in a way I don’t like. But I don’t just mean changes from children or ageing. I mean week by week, month by month. When things are stressful and busy you are bound to put on a couple of pounds. You may manage to avoid eating rubbish but the stress-hormones released make you more hungry. You may not sleep as well resulting in less fat-burning. Seasons come and seasons go could be changed to: a few pounds come and a few pounds go. If you’re aiming to stay exactly the same for your entire life maybe you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Learn to love yourself. It is a choice. Not an easy one, but one you can make.

  1. I recalibrate.

I wholeheartedly recommend doing the 8-week programme if you want to reclaim your health and feel in control of your diet. The 8-week programme helps you to quit sugar with recipes, shopping lists, and meal plans. It’s all there for you to follow. Then once you’ve recalibrated you will feel different about sugar and won’t crave it in the same way. If you do end up eating a slice of cake or having a bad weekend it won’t take you 8 weeks to recalibrate again, just a day or two. After our Paris trip I started the day with two boiled eggs and a green smoothie. I had soup for lunch and chicken, salad and potatoes for dinner. I did have a croissant and a fructose-free homemade biscuit. But all-in-all it was an almost completely clean day and I felt better for it and have kept it going.

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