I consider myself well-informed about nutrition, I usually cook meals from scratch, enjoy a varied diet, and understand how to read food labels. I know that most sauces, cereals, and yoghurts will have added sugar (particularly those labelled low-fat) and so I deliberately buy the least processed versions, or just make my own. I also disgaree with the idea that adding honey, or maple syrup is better than adding sugar and have been disappointed in the past by sugar-free cookbooks (Davina I'm looking at you) where every recipe seems to include a boatload of syrup instead. I even limit how much fruit juice I drink because it provides more sugar, and much less nutritional benefit, than eating the whole fruit.
So what was the problem? I was great at looking for hidden sugars, great at trying to avoid things that had been unexpectedly sweetened. Unfortunately, my issue is when it comes to the not-so-hidden sugars, the things that are quite obviously supposed to have sugar in, the chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sweets, and yes even those syrups and honey. While I would be sure not to be caught out by surreptitious sugar, I didn't have the same reservations for food that I knew was packed full of the stuff, and whether I was baking my own or buying it off the shelves, I couldn't leave it alone.
I've always had a sweet tooth, and food, particularly sweet food has always had an emotional element. Bad day, have a biscuit, good day, have some chocolate, celebration, eat cake, trip out, not a treat without an ice cream. Food has been so ingrained into every aspect of life, for me it is an incredibly social thing, and I tended to experience most events and emotions with a side order of sugar. I have long-joked that I have a pudding-shelf, by which I meant that however full I was, I always had room for dessert. Not only that, but I would very often say, at the end of a meal, that I "needed" something sweet. This has always been fascinating to The Husband, who enjoys chocolate and biscuits too, but with a completely different attitude to me. While he loves eating out, and going for celebratory meals, he eats when he is hungry, he doesn't crave sweetness for its own sake, and though he can chomp through a packet of biscuits while watching a film, he can also leave well alone for weeks at a time.
For me, I've never had the willpower. If I know there is something sweet in the house, I didn't need much excuse to raid the cupboard. Being home on maternity leave had brought it to a head somewhat, a couple of biscuits with each cup of tea (having to eat everything one-handed was an added justification), a few more if he went down for a sleep, a few more if it had been a tough hour. Even though I have been doing more walking than I have in years, often five or six miles a day, as well as regular runs, I knew my snacking was incredibly unhealthy. Additionally, now T was starting to eat meals with us, it was feeling particularly hypocritical to be tucking into to sugar-laden snacks while knowing I wouldn't dream of serving him the foods that I was relying on to get through the day.
My only exceptions were pre-bought savoury foods, such as breads, pizzas or curries, and my cereal, which is low in sugar but not without added sugar. As I said, I try and pick better options of these kind of items anyway, and I knew that for me, this wasn't the problem I was trying to address. After a discussion with The Husband we also agreed to an incentive, of a small amount of money for each day I succeeded. to treat myself with at the end. However The Husband also cleverly suggested that if I were to lapse, he would receive any of my earnings to that point!! I did a chart, resplendent with clip-art, stuck it up in the kitchen, and diligently set about marking off each day.
And do you know what, I did it. And I really didn't struggle. I think once I knew it was off the cards it just flicked a switch, and I could happily open the cupboards that had anything off-limits in without so much as a craving. What I found hardest was when I was poorly and I wanted builders tea with sugar, and mugs of honey and lemon. Otherwise, I went on quite happily. I did find that I became less hungry during the day, running round with T meant that if I couldn't raid the biscuit cupboard I'd quite often just grab toast or oatcakes. I also felt like I ate well, there were still trips out for fish and chips, cheese scones at the garden centre, cooked breakfasts at Ikea with my mum and T, pizza nights, the cookery calendar challenge. I still enjoyed food, and cooking, and even baked a cake for a friend without licking the spoon! I could also enjoy the pleasure of sitting and getting to drink a hot cup of coffee in it's own right rather than just using the drink as a receptacle for biscuit dunking.
The thing that has stuck with me most, is that we had a lot of celebrations during the 60 days. Easter, Mother's Day, our family holiday, a night out with The Husband for dinner and a film, trips out with my parents and countless movie nights at home. None of them felt any less special, or any less enjoyable through lack of sweet treats, and it was so refreshing to realise that having a good time isn't contingent on having a "treat" to eat. Similarly, there were plenty of sleepness nights, rough days, and low moments, and with the exception of missing my cold remedies, it was liberating to find that these moments passed just as quickly without inhaling a handful, or three, of hobnobs (the chocolate variety), I actually felt generally better because I didn't have the sugar induced highs and lows to go along with them.
So it has now been just over a week since I finished the challenge, and what has happened since? I have treated myself to some beautiful new calligraphy equipment, pens, watercolours, ink, and a light box, and also a nutribullet with my earnings! I have also started a new challenge, having enjoyed the sense of achievement and the positive changes it brought. But the big question is about the sugar. Health wise, I didn't notice much difference. I lost weight over the 60 days, which wasn't the reason I did it, but wasn't a surprise when I knew how many snacks I would be cutting out, and it finally took me to my pre-pregnancy weight which felt like a good goal to reach. Interestingly, although I wouldn't have said I noticed any changes during the 60 days, since I've reintroduced sugar, my skin and stomach seem to be flaring up, but only a little. I haven't continued to exclude it entirely, for all I don't think too much sugar is good, I also think that ruling anything out completely (unless for health reasons) is not the route to a happy life. I genuinely feel though, that I have changed my relationship with it. We have a cupboard full of Easter eggs, and I have been able to have a taste, and wrap the rest up and put it back, which is a completely new for me. I have also avoided having anything during the day, unless I've been out for a trip somewhere.
In the last day or so I became aware that I was tempted to reach for the chocolate because I was tired, or the pile of washing up looked daunting, or just because I felt like a pick-me-up. I was able to reign it in though, and when I do have something sweet I feel like I able to savour it in small amounts, even the biscuit served with a coffee in a cafe tastes much sweeter and I enjoy it all the more for that. Do I consider it a success? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Without hesitation. However, I hope that I don't get to the point where I need to. I hope I can continue to eat sweet foods occasionally, like today where I went out and enjoyed a meringue with my Grandad, without suddenly needing to raid the cupboard mindlessly. I wouldn't ever want to live completely without a pudding now and then, I love my food too much to never be able to sample a dessert menu! But I also feel like I have dissociated sugar from being a reward, and an emotional crutch. Food will always be part of celebrations for me, I love cooking, baking and sharing food with those I love, or eating out as part of a special occasion. It will always bring me joy, but now I look forward to making memories that don't all centre around eating, and look forward to knowing I can handle bad days and low moments in a healthier way.
Thank you for reading all of that, if you made it to the end! I'll be back soon to tell you about my next challenge, as I've realised it might be more reader-friendly to do it smaller chunks! Do let me know what your thoughts are, are you the proud owner of a pudding-shelf? Here's to good food, happy celebrations, and a sweet life, with and without added sugar!