I quit sugar. Yes I did. Join me! (Part 1)

Image via Saida Online

I have a sweet tooth. Stuff that, I have a whole mouthful of sweet teeth. Truth be told, I've never been one of those people who can "just have a little bit" of sugar.  Put a block of chocolate in front of me and I'd struggle not to eat the whole damn thing. My problem isn't hidden sugar. It's that (prior to quitting) everyday, EVERY day, I battled the desperate urge to scoff a muffin, or some chocolate or a cinnamon scroll, anything, anything sweet. On most days, I'd eat a pastry in the morning, sometimes another small sweet treat in the afternoon (I'd forget about my morning dose, you see), followed by a little chocolate after dinner. I simply couldn't function without sugar. All this was making me feel fuzzy, hot, irritable, and hungry (I had to eat every two hours or I'd kill someone). 

So two months ago, I quit it. All of it. And it's turned out to be one of the best moves of my life. Since quitting sugar I've grown calm, stable and energetic. My skin has improved and I'm no longer bloated. And yes, I'm free.

But it's not even really those benefits that should be tickling your interest. It's this - that an increasing amount of research is unveiling sugar as a toxin. Sweet poison. And at the levels we consume it today, it's doing us more harm than we care to think - making us fatter, depressed, and sick.

I've been doing a lot of reading about this over the past few months, going through lots of research papers, and learnt a lot. I'm going to write a whole series of posts about sugar over the next week, but in a nutshell, this is the deal:

Sugar makes us fat and sick, because sugar = fatty liver = insulin resistance = metabolic syndrome, obesity, cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
Sugar, table sugar, is 50:50 glucose and fructose, and it's the fructose that's the major worry (although glucose isn't entirely guilt free). Specifically, it's the unique way our body processes fructose. Unlike glucose, fructose is not released into our bloodstream to be used up by our cells for energy. It heads straight to our liver, the ONLY organ in our body that can process it. Here it undergoes a complex metabolism that, in short, ends in the release of triglycerides (fatty acids) into our liver. Bluntly, it's converted into fat. Very quickly. Fatty liver is what induces insulin resistance (IR), the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

IR may also be the underlying cause of many cancers. The problem, researchers say, is that IR leads us to produce more insulin, which actually promotes tumour growth.

And finally, sugar (in fact all carbohydrates) raises the type of LDL cholesterol that is bad for us, the small dense LDL, which is nice n' 'sticky' and therefore gets stuck in our arteries. 

Sugar makes us moody and depressed
Sugar (again, the fructose in it) causes cortisol (our stress hormone) to be released into our bloodstream, which interferes with the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in our brain that helps us to bounce back after unhapiness. Without it, our temporary sadness (over say, a loss of a pet or a job) can end up in long-term depression or anxiety (we simply can't bounce back).  Antidepressants are designed to target the serotonin pathways in our brain. Interestingly, carbohydrates also affect our serotonin levels (and they too are addictive).

It supresses our immune system
We've known this for decades. It's complicated, but it's to do with how glucose competes with vitamin C, which is needed by white blood cells to do their job. For this reason, people being treated for cancer and other immune conditions are given strict instructions to stay off sugar. 

It weakens our bones
Excessive sugar intake increases the acidity level in our body. To help neutralise the acid levels, our body draws calcium from our bones and teeth, eventually weakening them.

Sugar makes us bloated
I can vouch for this personally. Until I gave sugar the flick, I suffered from terrible bloating and pain almost daily. The problem lies in that bacteria LOVE sugar and thrive in a gut full of it. Their 'feeding' process ferments the sugar, releasing gas as a byproduct.


And consider these facts:
  • We don't have an 'off switch' for fructose, because we're not designed to eat it this way - refined and with no fibre. In our caveman days, we consumed fructose in miniscule amounts via the ocassional berry or honey drop. 
  • Sugar changes the way our brain recognises energy, and makes us think we're starving when we're not.
  • Sugar is addictive. It's complicated, but in short it targets the same part of the brain as heroin and morphine, interfering with our dopamine and serotonin (happy hormones) levels causing us to become dependant on it to feel good. Tests have shown it to be even more addictive than cocaine.
  • Our body processes sugar in much the same way as alcohol. It's "alcohol without the buzz". And we know alcohol is baaad news.
And these:
  • Maybe a spoonful of sugar once in a week isn't a problem. But the reality is that we are eating much more than that. Sugar is in everything, and you can't escape it by avoiding sweet foods. If you eat crisps, tomato sauce, curry paste, yoghurt, dips, pasta sauce, crackers, bread, then you're eating sugar without even wanting to.
  • One study showed that sugar-sweetened drinks can increase blood fat levels and cause inflammation in healthy young men and women even at low to moderate levels of consumption (25% of total energy which is the maximum suggested by the American Dietary Guidelines) over a two-week period.
  • We're a generation obsessed with low-fat foods - yet we're fatter and sicker than ever. 
  • In fact, low-fat foods are worse. They're worse because fat tastes good, and when food manufacturers cut the fat, there are only three ways they can make their product taste good cheaply - artifical flavourings, salt, and you guessed it, sugar. 
  • Refined grains, particularly white flour, have pretty much the same effect on our bodies. When I quit sugar, I quit refined grains along with it.
And this:
  • Along with all these health effects, sugar farming has a massive impact on our environment. Intensive use of water and agro-chemicals leads to soil degradation, water pollution and loss of natural habitat (and the wildlife that live there).

What's alarmed me almost as much as all this, is that none of it is new news. Academics have been trying to raise these facts in public for decades: Frederick Banting in 1923 (who incidently shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin), Haven Emerson in 1924, who connected the dots between the rise in type 2 diabetes with the increase in sugar consumption after the birth of the soda and candy industries, John Yutkin in the 1970s (who was shunned by his peers because his sugar hypothesis went against the dogma of his day that dietary fat caused heart disease - still alive and kicking today), and more recently Robert Lustig, the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, who in 2009 gave a lecture called 'Sugar: The Bitter Truth' that made its way onto YouTube and now boasts over 1.7 million views (despite the fact that it runs for 90 minutes). Why all this research got pushed aside in the early days is largely due to politics. Always politics (the sugar and corn industries are propped up by governments here and in the US). Lustig's lecture is a must-see. Watch it. I watched it and it enlightened me.

So then, how did I quit?
Cold turkey. Yiiip. For me, that was the best, the only, way. Along the way, I learnt a few tricks and tips that I want to share with you, in case you're thinking of doing the same. Of course there are other more easy going ways to quit, you don't have to do it cold turkey! For most people it's best to ease into it, slowly but surely.

Does this mean forever?
For me, I think yes. You, you don't have to view it as forever. When I decided to quit, I wasn't thinking too far ahead. I was just thinking, "for now". As it's turned out, "for now" has turned into "forever, probably". Truth be told, I don't actually feel like eating sugar anymore. Not now that I feel this good without it.

I highly recommended Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar ebook (Available here for $15) and David Gillespie's Sweet Poison, Why sugar makes us fat. Gillespie is who inspired Wilson, who inspired me. Also try Nancy Appleton's Suicide by Sugar.


For now I want to leave you with these thoughts:
  • When you quit sugar, life is sweeter. EVERYTHING tastes sweeter. Your tastebuds adjust and you can really taste food, and the natural sweetness in it. Two weeks after I quit, I ate an orange and I swear to you I thought I was eating sherbert it was the sweetest damn orange ever picked.
  • Believe it or not, something changes in you and you crave healthy stuff. True.
  • Your skin improves.
  • You won't feel sluggish after lunch (it helps if you also avoid refined grains - they have much the same effect on your body as sugar).
  • You'll waste less money on buying snacks.
  • Ladies, you'll find your PMS symptoms will improve dramatically. Particularly if, like me, you normally eat sugar like there's no tomorrow during that god-awful time (can you see the viscious cycle this can cause?).
  • You discover a whole new way of eating that will help you lose weight and feel great. 
  • And this is the winner: You discover a whole world of sugar-free sweets that mean you can enjoy sweet food without feeling guilty. Now wouldn't that be sweet. 

Again, over the next few weeks I'm going to post about all the wonderful things I've discovered about quitting sugar, tips on how to do it, and the deal with different types of sugar (brown, raw etc), sugar alternatives, fruits and honey. I've also got a few sugar-free recipes to share that'll make you forget all about the white stuff. Yay!

17 comments:

  1. I eat whole blocks of chocolate too ....maybe I should join you.

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  2. Kim, a pack of tim tams wouldn't last two days in my house previously! Join me! It's fun :)

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  3. i am intrigued. i am scared but i think i need to do this too!! i will come back and read your next posts on the topic. thanks!

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  4. I quit sugar once, only for a week & I felt fab! But now it seems so hard :( Do u quit fruit too?

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  5. Hi Melissa, it's great you were able to quit for a week and felt the benefits! Know that your chances of quitting increase with every attempt (like smokers). Maybe a slower-paced process would suit you more next time, rather than cold turkey? (it had to be cold turkey for me, it was all or nothing) I'll be posting some tips soon. Keep an eye out for it :) On fruit, whole fruit isn't a problem in small quantities because of the fibre content, which slows absorbption of the fructose. I didn't touch fruit for the first two weeks just to let my tastebuds adjust, but after that period I reintroduced fruit, 1-2 pieces a day, mainly low-fructose varieties like berries. Experts recommend up to 2 fruits a day.

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  6. Like you, I have to do cold turkey or I'd be on the bandwagon again. Am finding that even the substitutes tend to trigger a desire for more.
    Ideally for my body, I should only eat meat, veggies, eggs and cheese, but it's a bit difficult to stick to that - I keep trying though...

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  7. I've been sugarfree for 6 weeks after reading Sweet Poson by David Gillespie and recently "I quit sugar" by Sarah Wilson. I went cold turkey as not a big sweet eater and have found it quite easy and feel alive, wonderful no longer bloated and foods taste wonderful. Also lost 3 Kgs along the way. Sugar is definitely the enemy, not fat and the trick is to know how to read a nutrition label.

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  8. This is sooo interesting. I am definitely a sugar fiend and think I am going to be buying that book. Look forward to reading more about this.

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  9. Yeeup -i'm goin cold turkey too! Today is day two, I can usually last without sugar for a few days, but we'll see how I feel in a week :S

    It's difficult when you live with a boyfriend with a sweet tooth and who's in denial that he's a sugarholic! (He tried to join but gave up today when he walked past some chocolate).

    I'll be reading your blog for tips and tricks - i'm also writing about my experience too over at my online home if you wana check it out.

    Blogging def helps keep you in check with this kind of thing :)

    Keep it up!

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  10. Maria...reading your blog has inspired me to seriously give this another try. I have known I had issues with sugar since I was 13. I am now 61! At different times in my life I would "give up" sugar to facilitate losing weight...once lasting 18 months. I began to feel sorry for myself not being able to indulge in all those things I love. I gave in and had something on my birthday and, as they say, "that was all she wrote". That was about 15 years ago! Have not been able to control it since. I feel miserable! Thank you for the information...which really is not new...but encouraging to read that someone else has made it to the other side and found freedom from a hideous addiction!

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    1. Hi Ann, lovely to hear that this blog has revived your goal! I've been without sugar for 7 months now. I feel fantastic and would never go back to my old ways. On occasion (very occasionaly), yes, I do have a slice of cake with sugar in it, or a bit of chocolate, if it's a super special cake or fancy choco. I like these things and don't believe you have to abstain completely forever to live a healthy life. For me, going through the process of quitting sugar is about regaining much-needed control over your consumption of it. When you do, you feel that the power is in your hands, not the biscuit's! It means I have to consciously control how often I indulge in something sugary, but I haven't had a problem at all doing this since I quit. Mostly I enjoy home-made sugar-free treats that are healthy and tasty, and I don't crave the sugary crap I used to eat. Good luck Ann, I can see it's been a month since you left this message but I hope you read this reply, so you can read I'm wishing you all the best! You know you'll thank yourself big time for it!!

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  11. Hey cool post :-). I quit sugar cold turkey too. Now 13 days ago. Lost 2 kgs and don't look bloated anymore. Used to have muscle stiffness in the morning, which is getting less now too.

    A question though: what is the effect on the body exactly? Can I expect to keep on losing excess weight? What does it do with skin? I have the idea my skin is working out some toxidity as a result of me quitting sugar... Any other effects I should be aware of?

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  12. Found your blog when I googled David Gillespie. I started avoiding sugar last May (2012)by going 'cold turkey' and have never regretted it. Then people told me about David's books,which I borrowed from the library, so now I understand the science behind my decison.I've had interest from readers on my blog about giving up sugar and some have joined me.

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  13. "So two months ago, I quit it. All of it. And it's turned out to be one of the best moves of my life. Since quitting sugar I've grown calm, stable and energetic. My skin has improved and I'm no longer bloated. And yes, I'm free." this is really good news.

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  14. I just found your blog today & I'm really enjoying your articles. I've been toying with the idea of quitting sugar altogether (after unsuccesfully trying to just cut it down), but I've been too lazy about it. However, I think you've given me the boost to go for it! Fingers crossed!

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  15. This is very important to quit eating more with sugar content food. It is much healthier to avoid eating this kind of food if you want to live longer.

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  16. Thank you so, so much for this post. I am also a daily consumer of "something sweet". I've always been slim, healthy and looking younger than my age until 5 years ago when I started to become fatter by day and also started to have skin issues, bloating and stuff. I'm sure I can stay away from sweets if I put my mind to it, the only problem now seems to be the unsweeened morning coffee, maybe some stevia will do...hehe. cold turkey it is! Thank you again!

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