What the sugar issue has taught me.
I am currently on a sugar reduction experimental regimen because I watched ‘That Sugar Film’ and it had an impact.
The film wasn’t the first time that I’d been told about the evils of sugar. I had booked myself into a private nutritional clinic back in 2013 when my guts stopped working and had the ‘lay off sugar’ talk then. Only she didn’t just call ‘it’ sugar, she called ‘it’ ‘carbs’ and I was put on a low carb diet to improve my gut health, boost my good gut bacteria (which I’d had tested). A variant of Paleo. Paleo – oh so trendy.
My drastic carb reduction diet worked a treat for a while and it has seen me off gluten ever since – a big call for a bread fan – my guts started to work again and I was much brighter and bushier tailed but the overall diet was too hard to keep up and so I went back to gorging on gluten-free lollies and chocolate whilst avoiding bread. It was a yummy diet and I did feel and function better but I had largely missed the point of it……
But one thing that did come out of my initial rendezvous with sugar was that I was now switched on to the fact that sugar might well be a problem.
With interest sparked I continued to tune into the sugar debate:
* I read ‘Sweet Poison, why sugar makes us fat’ by David Gillespie (although I can’t remember much of it, maybe I read it in a sugar haze)
* I purchased ‘that sugar film’ book at the dentist a few months ago.
* I noticed that when I ate lots of sugar I had been starting to feel physically hot and a bit weird (?)
* I also noticed how eating too much sugar affects bathroom habits.
* I also noticed that sometimes I just NEEDED sugar and I’m not the kind of girl who wants to NEED anything, except for a cuppatea and somewhere dry to sleep maybe.
So when the film finally reached Apple Iview I was primed and ready.
Since watching the film last month there have been several more programs on the TV here in Australia about sugar that I have watched with interest especially as program after program seemed to be confirming the view that the dramatic rise in sugar consumption across the western world is driving up the levels of metabolic disease. It made perfect sense to me given that sugar consumption at current levels is extremely un-natural and was un-heard of 45 years ago.
I have been alive for 40 years.
My whole life has been sugar-coated.
I was already part of an experiment.
Ok so with my scientific head on I can look back at my ‘reality’ over the last two years and see my bias building towards the adopting of a mindset that sugar-is-bad-full-stop.
As a scientist I am aware of how bias blinds you and tends to lead you into avoidance rather than problem solving and as such I wanted to challenge my own bias towards sugar being evil. I felt the need to qualify and flesh out this mindset.
The white-coat side of me wanted to take a decent step back from the film, TV shows and books and test some of the facts that had been banded about.
Was all sugar bad because if so, there goes my fruit bowl and milky tea.
What about the gluten-free pasta, pizza and my beloved English fish and chips (fish grilled but chips definitely deep-fried). Too carb centric?
I also wanted to see just how much sugar I was eating as I found it hard to believe the 40 spoons a day hypothesis put forward by ‘that sugar film’.
And finally I wanted to see how I would FEEL if I became more conscious about my sugar intake and ultimately how I would feel physically and mentally while actively reducing the sugar I ate.
I had lived my whole life as part of the sugar industries experiment and grown up with adverts about fat making us fat. Now it was time to take control and become my own experiment!
Phase 1: Becoming Aware:
This lasted about a week. A week of me gorging on 20 spoons of sugar at a time and then forgoing a sensible lunch or dinner. I was eating around 25 spoons of sugar a day on bad days and 15 or so on good days. OK it wasn’t the 40-a-day highlighted in ‘that sugar film’ but 20-25 is high and not great. The thing that got me most was my breakfast of yoghurt on pancakes with fruit was a serious 7-10 spoons of sugar hit and my snacking got me the rest of the way there. Also the fact that there are over 20 spoons of sugar in a Dairy Milk really made me feel ashamed of myself.
Next was my ‘becoming aware’ of the health guidelines. I didn’t want to take my lead from a film as I felt that was quite un-scientific so instead I looked up world health organisation figures and found they recommended 12 spoons a day as probably OK but 6 as Ideal.
I vowed to set my daily sugar limit to 6 spoons.
I was now ready to do it.
My 30 day sugar experiment – 6 spoons or less.
So I began tracking everything about myself using a couple of different aps that I downloaded plus a diary that I updated daily. Here is what I found:
* Physically during this experiment I suffered extreme headaches early on. I also had a few days of buzzing with energy one minute then flailing around the next and also had a couple of hot flashes and generally struggled to control my body temperature. I also had a slightly upset tummy.
* Mentally I wasn’t prepared for the low and empty brain feeling that descended upon my at day 10 ish and lasted for two weeks. I tend to never get depressed and so it was a new experience for me to feel so empty inside. In my diary I wrote ‘I feel sour, like all of the sweetness has been drained from my life’ and I guess it had been for a while….
* Sticking to the 6 spoons a day was easy when I realised that the sugar that mattered in the guidelines was ‘added sugar’ or ‘sucrose’ and not lactose in milk, fruit sugars (well, that would matter in juices or if I gorged on sweet fruit but 2 a day is fine) or carbs to the level that I generally eat them given the exercise I do.
* There is added sugar in almost all pre-packaged foods so I’ve been doing a lot more cooking and have come to the conclusion that I need a bigger fridge for all of my veggies.
* I don’t miss chocolate and lollies in my waking hours but I have had a few ‘sweet’ dreams which has been a bit odd.
So what have I learned from this?
I wanted to share this with you as during the process of becoming sugar aware, growing in concern about sugar and then working out how to take action I have realised that this step-by-step process is important whenever we are presented with information that we feel might affect our health or wellbeing. I can see parallels with the paraben issue, mineral oil, SLS, silicones, fragrance and the list goes on.
There is enough evidence piling up to say that too much sugar is a very bad thing for our health and I could have very well just decided to say ‘well that’s it, I’m just going to cut it all out’ as it is absolutely true that our bodies don’t need ANY sugar. However, that would be very hard work and one could argue that the burden of doing so (and of living in a world still obsessed by sugar) could impact our mental health to such a degree that AVOIDING sugar becomes more of a risk than the risk of eating a little bit now and then.
Again I have seen this heavy burden impacting people in my cosmetic world.
But yes, I know that some people can cope just fine with extreme avoidance but I’m guessing those people are few and far between.
Reading through my diary of experience over the last few weeks I’ve noticed how I’ve searched and searched for a single set of facts to put me straight on this issue. I just wanted to be told how much sugar was safe – just give me a number and one simple explanation!!!!! Again I see this approach in my cosmetic consulting day after day – ‘just tell me which preservative to use and how much’, ‘just tell me which solubiliser works’. And just like my clients I had to come to the realisation that this is a complex process, that humans are all different and that 6 spoons is a target value that may be great for one but terrible for another. I have to do my own leg work and apply the facts and figures based on my metabolism, lifestyle, goals and additional risk-factors.
And lastly I realised that I went into this sugar experiment thinking that it was simple – sugar is the problem, reduce it and problems go away – only to find out that yes, sugar is a problem but there are layers and layers of detail in the bigger picture of our health and over-simplifying the science of nutrition or boiling it down to just one chemical is not wise. Again, I see parallels in my formulating work! Many of the answers and ALL of the beauty is in the detail.
So there we have it!
I embarked on a personal journey to re-balance my relationship with sugar and ended up seeing my consulting work and the problems of my clients through different eyes.
Isn’t life wonderful
And yes, I’m still sticking to 6 spoons or less a day.
And I feel great.