Nine months ago, I quit sugar on a whim.
“If the celebrities on Sugar Free Farm can do it, so can I,” I thought. “They’re not better than me. I may not be famous or a British person, but I’m a human being, dammit, and that HAS to mean something in this day and age.”
But what started as a carefree publishing stunt turned into an enormous challenge full of dangers but also delights that quickly took over my life. But it doesn’t have to be like this for you. Here are some things you should know – and I wish I had known - before you decide to take the sugar free plunge...
People will treat you like you’re in a cult
As part of my stunt, I gave up everything the sugar free farmers gave up – sugar, processed food, refined carbohydrates, low fat products, soda, booze, juice – for two weeks. I saw a lot of benefits and felt pretty great.
But the problem with finding something that helps your life change for the better is that you tend to want to talk about it. And you tend to want to talk about it like you’re in a cult - like you’ve found this magical thing that would help people if they only had the courage to take their blinders off to see that their lives are a lie.
Surprisingly, no one likes that kind of attitude. They’ve got their own mountains to climb and they don’t need some unbelievably handsome man telling them their life could be better.
The lesson? Keep it to yourself. This might seem cynical, but nobody cares about you and what you’re trying to achieve with your life unless you’re Ellen DeGeneres or something. Then they’re REALLY interested. “Ooh, Ellen, please tell us more about how wearing vests made you a better dancer.” You see what I mean.
People will treat you like you're in a cult because you're probably saying and doing things that most people find suspicious and scary and annoying
Remember that time you got a drink with your friend who had just come back from her yoga retreat in Bali and she was all Buddha this and finding my centre that? Remember that smug look on her face that made you want to get the bill as soon as she sat down? Remember how she said, “You have to go to Bali" even though she knew that you were up to your eyebrows in gambling debt?
That’s going to be you now.
Whether it’s doing yoga, quitting sugar or “experimenting” with Scientology, there’s a certain tone people take when they’ve discovered something that works for them. I’ve adopted that tone when I talk about being sugar free and so will you.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve caught myself saying in public:
“No sugar in my coffee, please.”
“Get that gelato out of my face.”
“Orange juice is poison. Poison!”
“Sugar created Donald Trump!”
“White sugar is a by-product of white nationalism.”
As you can see, I am out of control. But if being sugar free is wrong, I don’t want to be white. I mean… right.
Quitting sugar isn’t a gimmick – you are in it for the long haul so get comfortable…
Until I quit sugar, I only used the term “lifestyle change” ironically. “On my way to the fudge store for a lifestyle change,” I’d say.
“Took the car to the mechanic for a bit of a lifestyle change, if you get my meaning.”
“I’ll have an extra-large popcorn, an extra-large Diet Coke, six pints of Ben and Jerry’s and a lifestyle change, if you don’t mind.”
It was bliss.
Well, that doesn’t happen anymore. I’ve become a person who says “lifestyle change” and means just that. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve completely changed my lifestyle. I cook my lunch most of the time, I don’t eat cereal anymore and I break into a sweaty panic when I see people drink juice.
… But you don’t have to do it 100%
Here’s my dirty little secret about being sugar free: I’m not sugar free. I regularly eat sugar. But it’s all natural. Fruit, pure maple syrup, pure honey – they’re all okay in moderation. And if a label indicates that sugar is not one of the top ingredients in a product and the sugar content is less than 5g/100g, that is generally also good to get into my body.
What’s more, I follow the 80/20 principle. I am “sugar free” 80% of the time, which means that I try never to eat sugar but if I’m up against a wall and there’s coconut sorbet at a restaurant, for example, I’ll allow that to count for my 20%. Same with wine (the drier the better) and beer.
You won’t feel like some kind of crazy pumped up superhero high on life
That just doesn’t happen. It’s true that once you detox from sugar initially, energy levels are recalibrated and you might feel like you have more energy. But it won’t give you superhuman strength or the power of invisibility.
I did, however, stop crashing at 3pm every day. Because I didn’t consider myself a sugar addict, I didn’t think that would happen for me, but here we are. Turns out my body was asking for sugar every day at that time.
Of course, my brain does crash every day at around 1pm, but that’s because I’m a caffeine addict. One problem at a time, you guys.
The weight loss is real and it is wonderful
I don’t know you and I don’t know your life. Maybe you want to quit sugar to be healthy or to “stick it to the sugar man”. I did it because I wanted to look good. As the saying goes, “If you don’t have good looks, you don’t have anything.”
It’s a long, incredible story that I’m saving for a #bookdeal, but I was pretty fat growing up and that mentality has never left me. I’m unhealthily obsessed with looking and feeling a certain way. Are my goals unreasonable? Maybe. Do I have body dysmorphia? Probably. Have I whispered the words, “I want to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club” to no one in particular on a crowded train? Absolutely.
Before I quit sugar, I had hit a plateau in the quest for my beautiful bikini body. Now, while I don’t look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Troy or Seven or Fury or even The Big Short, I have lost about 8 kg and that’s pretty good.
The cravings won't go away and you will eat "bad" sugar again at some point
Quitting sugar certainly made me realise that I am a remorseless sugar addict capable of doing terrible, terrible things to myself. And for the most part, that doesn’t happen anymore.
Anything with a lot of sugar of any kind is now unbearably sweet to me. I can’t handle more than 4 or 5 grapes and I certainly can’t consume more than tiny amounts of something like cake. Even certain restaurant sauces taste way too sweet.
But like any hard drug, it’s hard to have just a little bit, even after I’ve mostly kicked the habit. Sometimes a tiny taste of dark chocolate will be all I can handle and no one gets hurt. But other times, that tiny taste turns into an impromptu 11:30pm trip to 7-Eleven for a pint of ice cream that will be eaten in the dark, over the sink, accompanied by a choked moan-slash-growl.
But that kind of binging is usually followed by weeks of corrective eating. My body simply can’t support that kind of sugar devastation anymore.
It feels great to actually achieve something for once instead dragging myself through life like a dead-eyed automaton.
Maybe you’re the kind of person that runs around, getting stuff accomplished all day. I am not. I set a lot of goals and my To Do List is extremely long, but I am easily seduced by the instant gratification promised by social media, organising iTunes and Hugh Jackman in anything.
So it feels particularly good to have made a big change and stuck with it.
For my next challenge, I will attempt to quit watching Homeland.
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Watch Sugar Crash at SBS On Demand: