Three months ago Healthista editor Anna Magee gave up sugar and began a 90 days of no sugar blog charting the many ups and downs. On her final day she reflects on the surprising benefits
90 days ago I decided to give up sugar. I wanted to know what the fuss was about and to experience first hand all the benefits that anti-sugar campaigners had waxed lyrical about to me over the last 18th months since sugar became Public Enemy Number One. I didn’t quite believe them, so I tried it myself. 30 days seemed too little, a year seemed too daunting. 90 days would give me enough time to really see the difference.
There have been some good moments, like the time I realised my skin looked better, even in terrifying day light without make-up. But these have been outweighed by the many superbly low moments and grumpy meltdowns as I realised I habitually ‘used’ sugar to plaster emotions such as anger, loneliness and boredom or to self-medicate tiredness. I didn’t even know I did it but devoid of my sugar fix I had to feel the feeling (which was awful but did eventually go away) or find something else to do. It did get better but the effect was in no way instant.
Now, it’s over. Oddly enough, I had fantasised about this day on and off throughout the challenge. I would book brunch at Hotel du Chocolat and have a three course meal featuring chocolate at each stage and little else. How I would inhale two Magnums – my former drug – in a row to reward myself.
But today is day 90 and the weirder-than-weird thing is I don’t want any sugar. What’s utterly beyond comprehension is that I am pre-menstrual and all (only a couple of months ago I was climbing the walls needing a sugar fix pre-period). My challenge over, all the world’s sugary wonder has been granted back to me and now I feel like, ‘Sugar? Meh!’ – a bit indifferent. Could it really be that when it comes to sugar, the less you eat, the less you want?
Don’t get me wrong, I would probably love to indulge in a gorgeous creme brûlée at a fancy restaurant if I really wanted it, but right now I don’t. The thought of eating sweet things makes me feel a bit ‘Ewww, too sweet.’ I have even stopped having vanilla essence or stevia on my yoghurt and apple in the morning and discovered that yoghurt and apple actually tastes really delicious on its own, devoid of the overpowering flavour of sweet that allows no other taste to co-exist with it. Once added, the taste of sugar – whether it’s bona-fide white stuff or stevia or vanilla essence or agave or honey or whatever – dominates the taste of everything. Before this odyssey I was so hooked on it, I didn’t care.
Now, the billion-dollar question is: will I keep it up? Will I what. But perhaps not for the reasons you might think. Weight loss for example, has been negligible. I didn’t need to lose weight and right at the beginning, noticed a three pound weight loss. But that soon evened itself out as I found myself eating more real food at meals instead of sugar between. I am still eight stone ten, the same weight I have been for years. But there have been so many other surprising benefits that will keep me sticking with the no-sugar thing (bar a bit of birthday cake now and then). Here are a few:
Surprising benefit #1: OMG I am a nicer person
This hit me like a breeze block about a week ago. Without the cravings and the emotional ups and downs that I used to get on sugar, I am calmer and nicer to be around – even the husband agrees. I’m now convinced sugar has a profound effect on our emotional life. On the one hand, I was medicating myself to feel better with Galaxy bars and peanut M&Ms. I felt better for about five minutes and then, like a kid with their sugar fix, I was sad and cranky less than half an hour later. We see it happening in children, why can’t we see it happening in ourselves?
Surprising benefit #2: Wow, that’s what a good night’s sleep feels like
I now wake up before my alarm feeling rested and refreshed and having fallen asleep after about a page and a bit of reading. Not good for the mounting book collection on the sideboard but fantastic for my day to day functioning.
Surprising benefit #3: Whoah! Sugar hits the brain like a hit of cocaine
More of a discovery than a benefit but on the two occasions I fell off the wagon and had some sugar, I felt the ‘hit’ go from my mouth to my brain with ping-like efficiency. This stuff is strong.
Surprising benefit #4: Is that my skin’s mojo I can see again?
My face has developed a new luminosity that it hasn’t had since I was around 28. It’s Sunday and I have just woken up. I have no make-up on. Sorry if this puts you off your breakfast but here’s a pic taken on my computer to show you. I can’t quite get over how much better my skin has been since giving up sugar – all the dehydration I used to get on my forehead and cheeks has gone and been replaced with a new plumpness. If nothing else keeps me off sugar, this will.
Surprising benefit #5: The chocolate and ice cream cravings have gone but I do occasionally think of cake
Cake was never my thing. Too spongy and dense. I was always a chocolate or ice-cream girl. But now, the idea of my formerly beloved Magnums and Galaxy Bars feels too sweet. Yet I do occasionally fancy the thought of sharing an amazing piece of designer cake with a friend. I guess that’s more about the ritual and connection of sharing something sweet and having it really mean something rather than having sugar simply to keep my bad moods at bay. I imagine this is a bit more like what having sweet things were for in my grandma’s day: a cause for celebration rather than a daily habit.
Surprising benefit #6: My body gets treated better
Early on in the blog – day 4 – I realised that slathering every bit of myself in various deliciously smelling bath gels, creams and oils was a great replacement for eating sweets. Something about the smell of luscious things and the act of rubbing them on myself filled that ‘treat myself’ gap left by Lindt balls being off limits. It’s made me rethink the idea of a treat to be honest. If a treat ultimately makes me feel like shit – as my sugar roundabout was doing – and turning me into the crankiest woman on earth then how much of a treat is it really? Certainly not much of a treat for my partner, colleagues or those on the other end of the phone who caught me on one of my sugar come-downs.
Surprising benefit #7: You want sex more
I am nearly 45. I work full-time and run a business and a home and have mortgages to pay and yadder yadder yadder. It’s safe to say that sex isn’t something on my daily to do list. I used to find myself really fancying it every couple of weeks. But about six weeks ago I was oddly drawn to a little back box I keep under the bed on a night when the Hub was out. I’d long forgotten about this box, which contains one of Anne Summer’s finest merchandising triumphs: the rechargeable latex Rampant Rabbit with seven speeds and a rotating head. It’s superbly effective. I now use it much more regularly and I have found myself actually wanting to have sex more often. Needless to say, the husband is a strong supporter of keeping up the no-sugar thing.