The acceptable face of addiction? #sugar #sugarfree

berliner-17811_1920I attended an industry awards event this week with a client. For a large-scale ‘rubber chicken’ lunch (500+ seated) the food was unusually good. We began with a delicious sweetcorn soup accompanied by a delicate and tasty crouton dressed with sour cream mousse, chives and a sprinkle of popcorn flavoured with lime (very imaginative). That was followed by succulent suckling pig with all the trimmings, including a piece of very nearly crispy crackling (quite the achievement for a large-scale service).

Dessert was offered – another pretty plate of some kind of mousse and sorbet mix, with shortbread. I don’t know what it was precisely, because I didn’t eat it.  When coffee arrived, it came with a bowl of unctuous looking chocolate truffles, which I duly passed around the table.  There were puzzled glances as I not only refused dessert, but passed the truffles around without dipping into the bowl. When I explained, I don’t eat added sugar, which rather excludes me from mousses, shortbreads and anything coated in chocolate, jaws dropped in amazement and breaths exhaled in uncomprehending awe.

That’s the kind of response to which I’ve become accustomed over my added-sugar-free months.

It didn’t happen over this particular lunch (probably because my dining companions were clients and their business associates, several of whom I was meeting for the first time), but in addition to stunned silences and sharp intakes of breath, what usually follows is The Temptation Game.

It’s that moment when the sugar-eater needs you to join them. They need you to succumb; they need you to be powerless to resist temptation.  Because that’s the whole point of sugar – isn’t it?

Typical Temptation Game responses to my too-restrained (in their opinion) added-sugar-free status include:

Just this once won’t hurt.”

“Oh, go on, just the one – treat yourself!

“It’s only got a little bit of sugar in it”

“It’s not sugar, it’s honey/agave – that doesn’t count!” (Yes. It does.)

If anyone used those sorts of phrases to encourage a drug addict to score, or an alcoholic to hit the bottle, we’d be horrified. But sugar is the acceptable face of addiction – and that makes it okay to push it.

I know, not everyone regards sugar as physically addictive, but just try and give it up yourself before you take issue with me.

One day I might (but only might) let a very, very little of the sweet stuff back into my diet, slowly and very, very carefully. But for now, with at least 30 more excess pounds to deal with, and a compelling desire to do whatever I can to limit my risk of type two diabetes, I’m quite happy with my uncompromising approach to desserts, confectionary, cookies, cakes and other sweet-treats.

And whilst I don’t at all mind the looks of uncomprehending awe, I’d be happier if I didn’t have to keep on justifying myself and politely rebuffing the tempters and temptresses, when a platter of what other people think I should be incapable of resisting, lands in front of me.

There you go. Grumpy Old Added-Sugar-Free Woman signing out for the weekend.

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Dietary Heresy – or New Wisdom? #functionalmedicine #sugar #fat #carbs #cholesterol

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A quickie post today: I thought I’d share a few of the websites and influences that I’ve found helpful in shaping my attitude to food and health in recent months.  One or two of the understandings I’ve arrived at, having read some of the material available on the internet and in books, are beginning to catch a wave – it seems they’re not such crazy notions after all.

Sugar – what people generally call either free sugar or simply added sugar (ie, not the sugar found naturally in whole fruits, for example) – is an unhealthy and unnecessary dietary additive and the root cause of the so-called Obesity Epidemic. It may be tasty, but it’s addictive, it brings long-term harm and lifelong weight challenges, and we don’t need it.

Simple Carbohydrates – I’m thinking pasta, white rice, bread – should not be the foundation stones of the average meal. They convert to sugars far too quickly and mess with the body’s insulin regulating mechanisms. Particularly if you’re overweight and want to lose excess pounds, or you have type two diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, ditch those simple carbohydrates.

Fat – is not the enemy. In many, many forms, fat is more friend than foe, and should be an essential component within a healthy diet. The food industry has got rich persuading us that low fat products, processed and stuffed with additives and sugar, are healthy. This is more than misleading.  Dairy fats have much to commend them, and so-called healthy fats in nuts, oily fish, olive oil and avocados, for example, are an absolute must.

Cholesterol – which Big Pharma has gone into overdrive to persuade us is killing us – is natural and normal and for the vast majority of us, does not need to be controlled by drugs.  Statins are a con being perpetrated against vast populations of healthy people, for profit.

Great reference sources and health heroes

Action on Sugar http://www.actiononsugar.org  is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.  Spearheading Action on Sugar is one of my dietary heroes, Cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra http://doctoraseem.com.

Diet Doctor https://www.dietdoctor.com seeks to promote natural health. Focused on LCHF (Low Carb High/Healthy Fat) approach, the website is an enormous practical and inspirational resource, particularly for those battling weight issues and diabetes. It promotes what began as a revolutionary approach a few years ago (carbohydrate reduction, the happy consumption of fats), but which is gaining considerable credibility in the medical community and beyond.

Dr Mark Hyman http://drhyman.com is a practicing physician, prolific author and advocate of the power of Functional Medicine. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Dr Hyman has written extensively on issues around fat and sugar.

Dr Malcom Kendrick https://drmalcolmkendrick.org Practicing GP and author of ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’, Dr Malcolm Kendrick throws light on the lies, damned lies and statistics that surround the demonization of cholesterol, the pushing of statins to almost anyone over the age of 50, and the ways we are made to fear eating just about any foodstuff you can contemplate. Great blog and real insights into how statistics can misdirect, and the difference between correlation and causation.

Insightful videos, podcasts and films

The Big Fat Fix

http://www.thebigfatfix.com

Addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases.

That Sugar Film

http://thatsugarfilm.com

In this revealing film, Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. The results are shocking.

The Truth about Sugar (BBC Documentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4LzSH9qU_Q

Even-handed documentary on how much sugar there is coursing through our everyday foods.

Dr Mark Hyman on Eating Fat to Get Healthy – with Lewis Howes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWBKJsJtk0

An interview podcast, Dr Mark Hyman talks passionately about why eating fat is the key to weight loss.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, I’m hardly the expert. But I personally have found each one of these websites (and their wealth of resources and links), health heroes and videos an excellent source of information and insight.  They have shaped my new eating and lifestyle habits, helped me towards a weight-loss of over 70 pounds in the last 13 months, and helped me to become healthier, happier and more energetic than I’ve been in almost two decades.

Tick-tock Tick-tock

doctor-1149150_1920I’m a generally positive person, so when I began my healthier lifestyle journey six months ago, I attached to it a number of positive motivations – like seeing myself slender, in stylish clothes, healthy, active and energetic, being noticed by the sort of man I might like to be noticed by – that sort of stuff.

But the thing that’s most compellingly underpinned my currently successful (so far) attempt at adopting a healthier lifestyle (after so very many failed attempts over the years), is not a positive, but a negative motivation.

Not something I want… but something I don’t want.

I’m in my mid-50’s and people – too many, I fear – within my circle of family, friends and acquaintances, are beginning to succumb to what are known as the diseases of middle age; that’s chronic conditions like high blood pressure, blood clots, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancers, auto-immune conditions, and so on.  (Notice I’m leaving out high cholesterol – that’s because I personally don’t believe that high cholesterol is a disease, or something that needs to be cured.) As somebody in the lower reaches of morbid obesity (BMI over 40), I was in the high risk category for all the above.

I was getting away with it though. I didn’t have any signs of any of those conditions.

Yet.

But the anxiety was growing in me – the time-bomb was ticking ever louder. Eventually (mainly due to episodes which it isn’t necessary to relate here) my anxiety reached the point last summer when I could no longer ignore it. My palpable fear was that I would one day in the not-too-distant future find myself in the doctor’s surgery, being given bad news about one of those diseases of middle age, and realising that I might have avoided said bad news if only I had adopted a healthier lifestyle and taken control of my weight.

Now I’m not stupid. I know I can be greatly reduced in weight and greatly healthier and more active, and any of those diseases could still strike me. But it’s about minimising my risk. And even now, just around one-third of the way to my ultimate goal (no longer morbidly, just plain old obese), my fear has begun to recede. And I know that once I get my weight into the correct zone and my body consistently more active and in better condition, I’ll be able to stop feeling guilty of the simple sin of failing to take proper care of myself.

 

The Bitter Truth about a Sweet Tooth

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For decades, losing weight has been all about cutting fat. ‘Official’ health guidelines directed us to ditch the full-fat milk in favour of semi- or better still, skimmed milk. Butter was demonised and we were told it was better for us to smear synthetic spreads across our bread. Low fat products filled the supermarket shelves and most of us were unaware that once the fat was excluded, in order to endow them with any taste, they had been packed full of… sugar. How is any of that better for us?

You’ll probably be aware that the official guidelines have recently undergone a seismic shift. Fats – especially good fats are IN, and sugar – despite the protestations of the food industry – is now OUT. Sugar has been rebranded the biggest dietary evil of our time.

Let me pin my colours to the mast here. I believe this to be absolutely true.

I’m not presenting myself as an expert on the matter. But I’ve been persuaded of the arguments and benefits by reading and learning from sources such as:

  • Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it; by John Yudkin
  •  Sugar – The Bitter Truth; a lecture available here on YouTube, given by Robert Lustig
  • Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease; by Robert Lustig
  • Action On Sugar (website here) and Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra (website here)

The arguments are, believe me, compelling. Sugar rewards you emotionally, but does nothing for your body, and it was undoubtedly a major factor in my weight gain – and that’s not even taking into account the whole diabetes issue and a host of other damaging outcomes. The information is all out there – Google it.

Some time ago I had already significantly reduced my intake of chocolate, mainly because I realised I was addicted and was consuming far too much on a far too regular basis. I know. I know. People think I’m mad, but for the last three years, I’ve eaten chocolate at only two times of the year, for a couple of weeks at Christmas and Easter. Four months ago, along with a host of other dietary changes, I resolved to cut it out altogether.  I took the decision not to re-introduce it for Christmas 2015.  I’d enjoyed having those two indulgent periods of the year to look forward to, but they had rarely lived up to expectations and I’d become aware that for me, chocolate no longer filled the emotional hole it was supposed to fill.

Cutting it out resulted in a substantial reduction in my sugar intake, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t like sweet pastries and I  don’t crave cakes particularly, but I have a weakness for biscuits/cookies, sweet cereals and a variety of confectionary.  I had the killer Sweet Tooth.

Ah… biscuits/cookies… If I had them in the house, I would easily eat 4 or 5 with every cup of coffee. When I stopped buying them, there were days when I would prowl the kitchen looking for something – anything – sweet to plug the gap. But that passes fairly quickly, although I do recall squeezing spoons of toffee sauce one evening!  But the truth is, the less of the sweet stuff you have around you, the easier it is not to consume it.  And once the cravings diminish, you’ll be amazed, and you’ll wonder how sugar ever had such a hold over you.

There were two sweet things that hung about for a little longer… (1) I struggled with a nice, healthy bowl of porridge – I couldn’t enjoy it without a big squeeze of Golden Syrup and (2) I was still consuming sweetened yoghurts. Neither of these seemed particularly bad to me (it’s amazing how you can delude yourself, isn’t it?) – after all, I was eating porridge, and yoghurt, wasn’t I?  But they had to go. Now I can enjoy porridge with a sprinkle of salt (yes, really!) and some blueberries or banana, and I’ve replaced sweetened yoghurts with my favourite creamy indulgence – Fage Greek Style (ahem, full fat) yoghurt, packed with friendly bacteria, which is utterly sublime.

What surprised me most was how both my compulsion and my taste for sweet things has gone. I don’t miss anything – and that amazes me. Cravings disappeared quickly and on the one or two occasions when I’ve had a small taste of sweet, out of politeness or because I didn’t want to be too pedantic about it, I’ve found the taste… not pleasant. Sweet is now… too sweet.  That, my friends, is massive – the fact that once you’re no longer slamming your taste-buds with a tsunami of sugar, they don’t cry out for it, and when they get it, they don’t much like it any more. Massive.

It’s become so obvious to me that we are trained from childhood and endlessly influenced by advertising and the media, to crave sugar and regard sweet things as treats.  Now there are savouries which I regard as treats – although my goal is to ‘treat’ myself with other things, not edibles.  But, as they say, it’s a journey.

I would encourage anybody to take a run at this. Like any addiction, it’s tough at first, but eliminating sugar has so many positive effects on the body, that it’s worth persisting.

I’m not, as I mentioned, totally pedantic about it. My focus was on eliminating the main sweetened food groups – cakes, biscuits, breads, cereals, confectionary, deserts, sweetened drinks and fruit juices (but NOT whole fruit) – and avoiding added sugar in processed or ready meals, mainly by avoiding processed or ready meals. Doh. If there is sugar here and there, as there is, say, in salad dressings and other condiments, I’m content to overlook this. But at a guess, I believe I must have eliminated 95% or more of added sugar from my life, and I’m happy with this.

The anti-sugar lobby began to find its voice last year. Now it must demand that food manufacturers lower the quantity of sugar in their products – and it can’t do that without support from the general public. It’s bound to take some time. I would urge you not to wait for the food industry to catch up. By far the easiest way to reduce your own sugar intake immediately is to turn you back on those highly sweetened products.

Oh, and one small piece of advice. If you decide to begin this process, don’t just put or throw away the sweet stuff in your cupboards… douse it with washing-up liquid first!