EIGHT weeks ago I quit sugar. Why? To see if I could. Apparently sugar is more addictive than any other drug and it had its claws in me, big time.
While I believed I was healthy - I don't drink alcohol or coffee, eat chips, biscuits or lollies - I was partial to something sweet after dinner (dark chocolate or ice cream usually) and when that 3pm slump hit, I would get out the tin of Milo and a spoon.
So I decided to do Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar eight-week program.
Start to cut back
During this first week, Sarah suggests you start to cut back on all sugar (fructose and glucose) and refined carbohydrates.
I'm not a cut-back type of gal - I'm all or nothing, cold turkey, let's just do it. So instead of cutting back this week, I cut out all sugar from the outset. I found this wasn't as easy as I thought because I didn't realise how many products have added or hidden sugar in them.
Before embarking on this program, my daily menu was often porridge with dried fruit for breakfast, crackers, sandwich or leftovers for lunch and meat, veges, salad, pasta, stir-fry or fish for dinner. No fructose meant no dried fruit in my porridge. So for breakfast, I had plain porridge, sugar-free crackers with cheese for lunch, and meat or fish with veges or salad with lemon juice for dinner.
After five days, I was feeling really good.
I had already lost a kilo (although losing weight wasn't the reason I was doing this), my skin was really clear and I was sleeping better.
Then day seven arrived along with dizziness, tiredness and weakness. I felt terrible. I was clearly detoxing.
Operation eat fat
Week two of Sarah's program is Operation Eat Fat, where she recommends you curb sugar cravings by eating more fats and proteins such as nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, avocado and eggs.
I've always eaten full-fat dairy believing whole foods are better for you than low-fat varieties (which have a higher sugar content to compensate) and I've always included nuts and seeds in my diet.
My 92-year-old Grandma passed on her homemade muesli recipe to me a few years ago: rolled oats, bran, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and dried fruit. Over the years, I have adapted her recipe adding LSA, psylium, chai seeds, linseed, coconut oil instead of olive oil and tripling the variety and amount of nuts.
My meals during the first week had been bland and boring. I was keen to start eating more exciting sugar-free meals.
So I made a batch of my muesli but omitted the dried fruit and honey and ate this in the mornings with Baramba Organic Natural Yoghurt.
Because I quit all sugar in week one, I was having some bad cravings by week three. I could have slaughtered a block of dark chocolate had one been unfortunate enough to cross my path.
So I experimented with some baking. I used to make a Stephanie Alexander baked cheesecake.
Sarah has some great sweet treat recipes in her cookbooks so I took a little bit of Stephanie and a little bit of Sarah and created a hybrid sugar-free cheesecake.
I used Sarah's base suggestion of hazelnut meal and dessicated coconut and Stephanie's recipe filling of cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, cornflour and lemon juice. Instead of sugar, I used Stevia. And I didn't use as much Stevia as it suggested (1/10 of the weight). I used ¾ of this and I'm glad because the cheesecake was quite sweet and I found the Stevia left this aftertaste in your mouth. It was nice, but I won't be making it again in a hurry.
Face the demons
In her program, Sarah says you will start to wonder why you are doing this about now.
Not me. I had seen changes so phenomenal - my skin was glowing, my head was clear, I was sleeping better and my digestion had improved - that I don't want to eat sugar ever again.
Come week four, I found I could taste the sweetness in everything. I made bolognaise with a roasted capsicum and couldn't get over how sweet the capsicum was.
Get creative and detox
Instead of having chocolate or ice cream after dinner, I started drinking licorice tea during this program. I found it was naturally sweet - sweet enough to feel like I was having a treat after dinner. But it still wasn't the same…
Following Sarah's advice to "get creative", I made a batch of chocolate crackles. Sugar-free, of course. I'd never made chocolate crackles before so I found a recipe and quickly discovered that Rice Bubbles are full of sugar. Eventually, I found a small bag of puffed rice that was just that: rice and nothing else. At home, I melted coconut oil instead of copha with a little bit of glucose. Sarah says glucose is an "okay" sugar substitute when baking. I didn't use much, though, given how sweet I was finding everything. I then mixed this with the rice puffs, the cocoa and some dessicated coconut and put them in the fridge. Yum! Now I had a real treat after dinner.
Adding some sweetness
Sarah recommends adding a little sweetness such as low-fructose fruit in week six. So I started eating a few blueberries or raspberries with my muesli.
Recovering from lapses
Thankfully, I didn't have any lapses. Even when the desire for dark chocolate would consume me, I would distract myself with a walk or a few tablespoons of shredded coconut.
During this week, I experimented with making one of my favourite gluten-free cakes sugar-free. But I knew the minute I had to put the batter in the blender that it hadn't worked out well. The problem with substituting sugar with Stevia in some baking is that it doesn't act like sugar does. In this recipe, the sugar and egg yolks need to be creamed. Stevia doesn't cream. So I bought some rice malt syrup and will experiment with that instead.
The last week of the program and I feel like a new woman. I don't know exactly how much weight I've lost but I'm down at least a dress size, maybe two which wasn't one of my objectives but just goes to show what sugar does to our bodies.
So if you're looking to recharge your health, perhaps shift some stubborn weight or just prove to yourself you're not a slave to sugar, this program certainly works.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.