Friday, May 12, 2017

word of the week









You might have seen this recent post where I casually dropped in about having not eaten sugar for 60 days. As anyone who visits this blog regularly, or follows my instagram feed, will know, that isn't quite as casual as I made it sound, having a penchant, as I do, for all things sweet. This is quite a lengthy post, as I wanted to write this out so that I could reflect on my experience, now that I'm just over a week since I finished, so apologies for all of the words (particularly if you're visiting from word of the week, as I realise this is much longer than usual!)

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.




I always tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to things, and this was no different. I initially thought about giving up chocolate for lent, until I realised we had got my Grandad an afternoon tea and a chocolate making workshop which was on Ash Wednesday, so that scuppered my plans a little! Instead I started on the Thursday and decided to extend it to 60 days. I ruled out everything sweet, with the exception of whole fruit, but even then I ruled out having it as dessert, as I wanted to be sure I was addressing the habit of needing something sweet after a meal. I accepted that naturally occurring sugars such as fruit sugars and milk sugars were fine as long as I didn't start cooking or pureeing the fruit, to make some kind of dessert or sweet smoothie. Honeys and syrups were a no go, and I also ruled out crisps and popcorn so that I wouldn't turn to a different snack, as well as alcohol, fruit juice, and flavoured coffees and hot chocolate.

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!



The Reading Residence

24 comments:

  1. Well done for managing to complete your challenge and glad you didn't find it as difficult as you thought it might. I've been trying to reduce my sugar intake but I'm still guilty of resorting to a sugar fix when I'm tired even though I know that the sugar highs and lows won't really help so much with that. Well done too for managing to break your habit of needing sweet treats and that was a good idea of your hubby's to give you the added incentive. #WotW

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    1. Thank you, I'm trying hard to not fall quickly back into reaching for a sugar fix, and the added incentive definitely helped! xx

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  2. Well done on completing your challenge ! it does have so many health benefits doesn't it. I have type 2 diabetes which makes me crave sugary things all the time, I'm cutting down gradually but it's a hard slog. #WotW

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    1. Thank you, and good luck with cutting down too. I am really noticing the difference I feel now I have reintroduced it, so will be trying hard to keep it to a minimum xx

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  3. Well done, what a brilliant challenge. It's interesting to see how you related sugary things to your emotions. I'm pretty sure that it's a myth, because you can still be happy without sugary things. I certainly don't feel happy after a biscuit tin raid, in fact I feel quite miserable. I've given up sugar too, but I'm still having sugary substitutes like honey. I've also given up dairy which I found pretty easy apart from the cheese, I gave up grains and beans too but that didn't work out so good, so I've gone gluten free instead. I'm trying to improve my auto-immune system so although it all seems pretty drastic I have health reasons for doing it. I do think that when you start to look at the food you eat in this way it's very eye opening. The amount of 'easy' food available is so full of stuff that you don't realise is in there and can be very bad for you. Thanks for a really interesting read. (And some lovely photos too) x #WotW

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    1. Thank you Anne, and thank you for visiting. It's so interesting, I think it is perfectly possible to be happy without sugar, but I also think emotionally, something sweet gives a mini endorphin rush when you first have it, which is why it then becomes a cycle, and definitely I agree that afterwards it is possible to feel quite miserable. I hope your dietary changes help with your health, and thanks for your lovely comment. x

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  4. Well done for making it through the 60 days, great willpower. I think I'd have to be like you on this, all or nothing, otherwise it sneaks back in, doesn't it? I think shifting your mindset on things is the big difference x Thanks for sharing with #WotW

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    1. Thank you, I have rubbish willpower unless I do something like this, it definitely is all or nothing with me! Trying to stop it sneaking back in is proving more testing than the challenge! x

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  5. Well done you! What a great challenge.
    I am so bad when it comes to sugar especially fizzy pop but I have cut down a lot this year.
    #WotW

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    1. Thanks Kim, fizzy drinks are something that I can take or leave, but I think once you get used to having them they, too, become a habit! x

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  6. Well done! I don't have a sweet tooth myself (savoury snacks all the way for me) and still have an Easter egg in the fridge that I can't be bothered to eat. However I think if i looked into what I eat I would probably find a lot more sugar than I imagined! I think after 60 days you have broken the cycle where you reach for sweet things with out of habit as much as anything. #wotw

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    1. I'm hoping I have curbed my sweet tooth, I would like to be able to not be bothered to eat sweet things, as then I know I am only eating them when I really want them, not just out of habit. Thanks for visiting x

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  7. Wow what a brilliant idea! After years of trying to sort out my IBS which, through the help of a lovely NHS Dietitian, I'm almost there. Since then I've now stopped losing weight and have consumed more and more biscuits, some cakes and other chocolate snack bars, I'd avoided those for years unless I made my own. My weight is slowly creeping up now and I'm still constantly hungry, this is partly because we have dinner so late to suit everyone.
    I've chatted it over with M and we both wish to cut back. I don't know what the teens will think, the eldest gets up late and grabs 2 'snack items' to eat as he sets off for the bus to college. I'll give the teens a weeks notice to cut back on snacks then will have to lock them away. We have a walk in pantry so they walk in whenever they're hungry. They stick to 1 pkt crisps a day but go over the 3 total snacks a day. They used to make a sandwich after school. Perhaps that would be best to encourage them to return to that. Especially as we're eating the equivalent of up to 24 snack / biscuit / cake items a day between the 4 of us. Scary! I'm glad you shared this info, it's made me think. Thanks Cathy x

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    1. Thank you so much, and good luck with making the changes, especially if it improves your health. Also I hope the teens find the adjustment bearable!! Thanks for visiting x

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  8. 60 days! Well done you. I'm guessing it got easier as time went by. I try and cut back. Setting myself rules - cook from scratch rather than buying which works for me. If I know there are treats in the cupboard, like you say, I can't resist. If I don't buy then I can't eat them. I know I'm setting a better example to my children. Now a days, I'd prefer a bowl of strawberries rather than a chocolate cake. #wotw

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    1. I do enjoy cooking from scratch, which helps, but yes I agree it's having the treats in. I'm hoping that by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables with my little boy we can enjoy the natural sweetness rather than reaching for a biscuit! Thank you for visiting x

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  9. in this house, we have ice cream shelves ;)

    so much of this resonated with me, Katie. well done on your challenge and awesome that you've made this healthy shift for yourself...physically and (just as importantly) emotionally.

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    1. The ice-cream shelf sounds familiar too. Thanks for visiting Michelle, and for your kind comment xx

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  10. what a well balanced approach Katie x well done xx

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    1. Thanks Tess, hope you are well xx

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  11. Well done that is an amazing achievement. I'm trying to cut down sugar as I have been told I'm addicted and last week found it really hard. So hard that I put a pound back on but like you mine is associated with feelings and reward etc. I haven't been brave enough to remove it from my tea yet. Perhaps I can reduce it by half ;0) #WotW

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    1. Thanks Jane, and good luck with your attempts to cut down. I stopped drinking it in my tea for lent one year, and found that once it had finished I didn't want to start again, more out of stubbornness than anything else! xx

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  12. What an amazing feat! I always wanted to do this but I am still not in that place where I can. Your journey sounds amazing. #wotw

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  13. Well done! I greatly admire your will power and determination. Bread is my downfall, it is my comfort food, and funnily enough I was mulling over the idea yesterday of a 'bread fast' for a pre-determined number of days. Having read about your experiences I may give it some further consideration. I do like the idea of the chart, and of course the rewards! X

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