That Sugar Stuff

So, my latest obsession is clean food.

A few weeks before Easter this year two things changed my life.

1. I did a webinar with Mindvalley Academy (I do these regularly – great place for ideas and doing good work on yourself). This particular webinar was on the Wild Diet, which is Eric Edmeades’ variation of the paleo diet. It really got me thinking about all the things in the western diet that are not “real” food.
2. Then literally a few days later my 11 year old had 3 friends for a sleepover and That Sugar Film was on TV. I escaped upstairs to watch this documentary that I had been meaning to see since it came out (meanwhile the boys stayed downstairs watching something that wasn’t a documentary and eating something sugary, no doubt!!)

My brain was on fire! How much of what we consume is (1) not something that my grandparents, let alone our cave man ancestors, would recognise as food and (2) packed with sugar, even when it is supposedly ‘healthy’. The food industry is huge, well it has to be, the global population is huge, but this means that their marketing power is absolutely immense. What happened to That Sugar Guy in his film was really frightening. If you haven’t seen it, what he did was put himself on a diet of consuming so called ‘healthy’ foods for 2 months, whereas before he barely ate any sugar. These healthy foods were things such as juices, low fat yoghurt, muesli bars, etc. He did not eat stuff like lollies or icecream that we all think of as high in sugar and therefore ‘unhealthy’. He maintained the same level of exercise as he did previously. What happened was he gained a lot of weight – that was both visible and invisible. Even worse his liver got to the point of near-failure. This was all in 2 months!!

I had the TERRIBLE realization that I was literally poisoning my children.

Now, I would have previously said that my kids had a pretty healthy diet. I was very strict on fruit and vegies. I bought wholemeal bread. I make cakes with wholemeal flour. They were only allowed soft drink and lunch orders once a week. They were NOT allowed Coca Cola under any circumstances.

Hang on, go back…I made cakes. Yes, I was brought up on ‘afternoon tea’ as an after school ritual. A milk drink (hot milo in winter, cold milkshake in summer) and a homemade (always, remember this was the 70s & 80s!) sweet treat – cake, slice, biscuits.

I had carried on that tradition in my own family home. After school I would delight in giving my kids exactly the same fare. If I was too busy with work we might buy something from Baker’s Delight instead, and I would always have an ‘emergency’ stash of chocolate biscuits in the pantry. As my oldest entered high school I had added fruit salad to the menu because otherwise it could be difficult to get his requisite 2 pieces of fruit into him – peer group pressure on eating lunch (I assume).

However, even worse, most nights my boys also ate dessert. Now this was where I deviated from my upbringing. When I was a child we very seldom got dessert. It wasn’t encouraged. It just wasn’t thought of as a part of a normal meal. My brother and I loved those rare winter’s nights when we got chocolate pudding! But we probably did get sick of Pears in Red Wine in summer (pear tree in the back yard, 70s/80s remember?!)

When my kids were younger I was stricter on dessert. My youngest probably missed out completely on a regular basis because he would refuse to eat his dinner! Dessert would be yoghurt or something similar. But as they got older and were getting their own dessert there was a lot of icecream being eaten, or somehow the emergency stash of chocolate biscuits was always required.

It is also very important to mention that I am a natural sweet tooth myself. A treat for me has always been something sweet – a vanilla slice at a café, or some dark chocolate on the weekend, or my own baking, because that’s the absolute best of course! Giving my children pleasure from eating sweet things seemed a normal part of being a good mummy to me…until April 2017, when I realised all the harm that this sugar was potentially doing us all.

Around the same time I had had several get-togethers with girlfriends where we had all bitched about our tweens and teenagers and I now realized that evil sugar was almost certainly having a big impact on behavior too. That Sugar Guy experienced quite extreme impacts on his mental and emotional wellbeing during his experiment as well. He became very easily fatigued, he became irritable and even felt that he really wasn’t thinking very clearly much of the time.

Remember, this was just before Easter…really bad timing for my kids. I banned sugar. Well, banned is probably too strong. I refused to buy any more food products containing cane sugar. I decided that I wouldn’t just throw out everything I already had in my kitchen containing sugar – that was too much waste, both financially and, well just plain waste – #WarOnWasteAU. But I wasn’t replacing it.

The Nuttella ran out first – I almost had a revolting 14 year old! He refused to try all the delicious alternatives I did buy – cacao peanut butter, cacao coconut spread, etc. The jam ran out and you wouldn’t believe the whingeing about the sugar free jam that replaced it, even though it did soon get gobbled up because the only afternoon tea item I would consent to bake were scones (minus the teaspoon of sugar the recipe required). Luckily Anzac Day came around and we still had all the ingredients for Anzac biscuits, which my 14 year old made himself (they were delicious too – very professional!)

A mind re-set was required in my home on the concept of afternoon tea. The first week that we had run out of all the emergency packets of biscuits I did a big shop for other delicious, sugar-free alternatives. I stocked up on cheeses, nuts, dips and fruit (I was continuing the fruit-salad tradition). It actually wasn’t a big issue. My 11 year old has a friend who isn’t a big eater and he was over one day after school – lack of sugary treats not noticed! My 14 year old goes to boxing near his school a couple of nights a week and is too late for afternoon tea, so not a problem there. The cashews all got eaten – of course they priortised the most expensive nuts!

Eleven year old keeps commenting that there are no ‘good’ snacks in the pantry any more. But I am very confident that they are going to get used to it. Their brains will be re-wired to not expect sugar all the time.

What I have been most amazed with is myself. I literally do not want to eat sugary things because all I can think about is how bad for me they are. Just so you know, as well as being a sweet tooth (well probably because of!) I have been a calorie counter for much of my adult life. I did the 5:2 Diet for more than 2 years and lost around 7-8 kilos to get me to what I had always though of as my ideal weight, and then maintained this weight through fasting at least one day a week.

I got used to fasting days but they were never pleasant. I would always fast on a Monday, because let’s face it, Monday is everyone’s least favourite day of the week already! On a fasting day I would get up with a groan! On a fasting day I would also not do any high intensity exercise – I might do a yoga class and walk a few kilometres but no meta-fit or weights. When I first started fasting this seemed a bit counter intuitive to me (being a high activity person) but I was determined to lose weight so I stuck with the program.

Having moved into full time self employment this year I had decided to do 4 days low calorie (<1500) and 3 days not counting each week. This was quite manageable. For me the key was not eating before 9am, so effectively a mini fast over night of 13+ hours.

Now for the last couple of months I have been largely sugar free and have maintained my ideal weight without any other calorie counting. I don’t worry about having fat, especially good fats from nuts, avocado, olive oil. I don’t buy ‘low-fat’ products (except for milk because I just don’t like the taste of full cream). This is all great, but what is most remarkable is that I just don’t want to eat sugar. I have stopped thinking of something sweet as a treat, and now instead I think of it as literally a poison. Why would I want to poison myself? I take VERY good care of my body in most other ways, I do a lot of exercise, taking care to do strength building – weights, pilates, yoga as well as cardio, I drink lots of water and I do lots of reiki. It just doesn’t make sense to feel good about eating something that is bad for you. My logical brain has really latched on to that, thank goodness!

The next chapter in this story will be the other half of my clean food program – about organic food and avoiding additives. From this the first part of my story though, I would love it if you would take away the fact that the human body is actually designed to have sugar infrequently, and if it gets sugar often it becomes addicted. Eating sugar tells your body to store energy, because early mankind only had access to sugar in summer and needed to eat up when it was plentiful in preparation for the long winter when not much food of any kind was around.

At the very least reduce your sugar intake. Read labels – sugar should not be in the top 3-4 ingredients and preferably not in most products at all – especially when it is something that you think of as savoury such as bread or tomato sauce or crackers. Substitute natural sweeteners instead like maple, rice or agave syrup in baking and desserts. Use less sweetening than a recipe suggests, and most of all treat sugar like the rare treat our bodies know it as. It is actually a lot easier than you think – it just requires a re-set of your sweet tooth.

I have not actually banned my children from eating sugar entirely, they are too old for that, but if we barely have it at home they will be a lot more healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally. I keep telling them they will thank me for it one day!!

I am constantly looking at new ways to help my clients improve their wellbeing, and I have always asked them how good they think their diet is but then have only been able to have fairly superficial, supportive conversations with people who admit that their diet is less than ideal. If you are interested in working with energy – and you must be or you wouldn’t be reading this – just remember the most basic human biology that you learnt at school; food is the energy that you put into your body.

Starvation is one of the biggest killers because unfortunately in western society today you can be malnourished even if you are overweight, because you are not feeding your body the nutrients that it needs to survive, and thrive. If you really want to improve your wellbeing you need to ensure that you are providing your body with the good energy that it needs, and equally importantly, that you are not then poisoning your body with things that it does not need, and cannot break down and use. Food is such a simple medicine and as an adult you are the one who has complete control over how much you can heal yourself, from the inside, with your diet.

Of course Reiki can help enormously too. Because of its significant benefits in combating stress and anxiety Reiki can provide enormous support to anyone who is trying to change habits, including improving their diet or changing weight.