I Quit Quitting Sugar / Make Up Your Own Mind

Yoghurt is a health food, right?
I have an interesting, push/pull relationship with sugar. As my friends and family well know, I love baking and jump on opportunities to fire up the oven and throw about sprinkles in Alexandra's Bakehouse (a fictional building). At the same time, I've  probably read more than the average person about the toxic effects of sugar in the body. I'm totally aware of this contradiction. It bothers me a little - I feel somewhat hypocritical, but mostly I feel okay about it. I have no interest in eschewing sugar completely.

I have tried 'Quitting Sugar' in the past and found it to be tough. There are occasional cravings to overcome, yes, but for me, the problem lies more in having that boring drip of a ban lingering over my head, as well as grappling the prospect of not being able to enjoy an occasional birthday cake, cocktail, Christmas rum ball or Easter Egg, until the end of time. Lastly, as someone who loves to bake, I find the idea of giving up the creative possibilities of cake and icing, quite sad.

There are many Quitters out there who take an all-or-nothing approach to cutting out sugar. David Gillespie is one such advocate, and his books were my first source of information on the topic a few years ago. I take my hat off to people who manage to completely cut sugar out of their diets; they are unarguably doing their bodies a favour, however...(and here is where Gillespie and Co would jump down my throat):

For every person who has managed to completely eradicate sugar and who is confident with the idea of avoiding sugar til the grave, I am positive there are greater numbers of mere mortals such as myself, who can't grasp a life of sugar abstinence. Are we, the mere mortals, just to accept the sickly fate the Quitters want to cast upon us, or can we strike a different balance?

I follow the 'Sweet Poison' Facebook page because Gillespie posts some interesting links, but he, and many of the commenters on his page express an all-or-nothing approach that I find quite intollerant (well meaning, maybe, but even so) and offensive to anyone even tiptoeing on the outskirts of the Sugar Quitting clan. They're not about reduction, they're about total compliance. I just don't find this rigid approach helpful or relevant today, especially when education about sugar is still relatively new. Change can be gradual, too, can't it?

Over the past five years or so I have made many changes to remove incidental sources of sugar from my diet. These changes have been gradual, the product of my reading, but are not part of any particular plan. The result is that I now have a pretty low sugar intake, most days, without it being an effort. Many people still don't realise the amount of sugar they are consuming on a daily basis, from sources such as flavoured yoghurts, juices, certain types of alcohol, bread, sugar in tea/coffee, condiments, 'health' foods such as muesli bars, cereals, protein/weight loss shakes, etc. I can't count how many times I have told my Dad that his 'healthy' yoghurt is full of added sugar! I also can't believe that growing up, fruit juice and cordial were staples in the fridge! I come from a pretty healthy family, but the awareness of the dangers of sugar just weren't around then.

Because of my awareness, I have a relatively low sugar intake most days, but am definitely not living sugar-free. I'm aware that it's not good for me, but I still enjoy it sometimes (I'm human), I just don't eat a lot of it. I'm not trying to say my approach is the best - I know that no sugar is best, but for us mere mortals, removing some sugar is definitely better than doing nothing at all. It's a good place to start if you're just becoming aware of the negative effects of sugar (including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, susceptibility to weight gain, depression and PREMATURE WRINKLES!)

With complete respect to those who choose to consume no sugar at all, from my personal experience, I find that the act of totally banning something is a sure-fire way for me to crave it. This is where the Quitters would tell you that you need to go through a detox and then you won't crave! You know what, that may be true, but I just don't want to live my life with that restriction on my shoulders. I don't want to feel like I've failed if I have a Freddo Frog; I just want to shrug it off and move on. They say sugar is addictive, and yes, it causes an addictive loop response in the body (have sugar, want more sugar) and it pays to be educated about that (beyond my detailed scientific explanation) but I disagree with assigning power to sugar by using the word "addiction". If it's really so addictive, how come I can override it so easily? It goes a little something like this:

Self: "I want a Twix".
Other Self: "But it will make you fat and give you wrinkles".
Self: "'K, bitch, no Twix."

I would rather eat well most of the time, with room for some treats, and battle a few cravings occasionally, than live with a ban over my head. Poo that. My Nanna lived til 85 and she weren't sugar-free, mate. I have sugar cravings sometimes but they don't rule me. I think part of the reason for that is my gradual removal of stupid sugars from my day to day diet.

I am totally comfortable with the idea of having an occasional treat midst an otherwise nutrition-filled diet.

There are some special issues at play, though, and the Quit Sugar books I've read haven't properly addressed the subject of Emotional Eating. They don't address that many people have an emotional attachment to sugar, not just a physical "addiction", and they don't address the root causes of emotional eating. There is a major difference between enjoying a piece of birthday cake with a group, and sneaking out to buy secret chocolate for secretive consumption. Last year I attempted the I Quit Sugar 8-week program (got to 3 weeks) and during this time I had to deny dessert at my friend's wedding. While everyone else tucked in and enjoyed, I felt sorry for myself. That was a low moment #thirdworldproblems. I have no interest living life in such a painful way. But again, it's one thing to enjoy the occasional social treat and another to eat junk to deal with emotions. I have a proneness to emotional eating, so it's usually the days when I am trying to squash an emotion (stress, fear, anger, embarrassment, etc.) that I will crave the secret chocolate bar. I am going to talk more about Emotional Eating in a couple of days.

Anyway, my point of this post was to throw in my two cents' on the subject of quitting or avoiding sugar, as someone who 1) Has a loving attachment traditional baking 2) Has read a lot on the dangers of sugar yet chooses a reduced not banned approach 3) Has attempted quitting sugar a couple of times 4) Has suffered wedding dessert-related trauma as a result of avoiding sugar.

It's my stance that, no matter how bad sugar might be, no single approach is going to work for everyone. If someone feels they can avoid sugar completely, that's great, but if you feel that a more flexible approach will work better for you overall, that is your prerogative, and I'd say you're pretty smart for knowing yourself well enough to know what works for you. Haters gonna hate. I do believe that people should make the effort to educate themselves on the dangers of sugar and try to cut back. Read your labels. I am always trying to be more mindful about this, and yeah, sometimes I have to pare back on the baking. You are still going to see cakes and biscuits on here, I'm still going to bring them to your house (unless you ask me not to), but they form an occasional and small part of an otherwise healthy diet. Go ahead and accuse me of trying to have my cake and eat it too - I will totally agree with you.

Tomorrow: Coconut Bread

If you're new to the Toxic Sugar 'thing', here are two books I'd recommend for a good foundation understanding of the issues:

Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat
David Gillespie: Sweet Poison, Sweet Poison Quit Plan, Big Fat Lies

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