And it was magnificent aka how to kick sugar effortlessly and without tears

(As soon as I typed that title,  the Bon Iver song ‘Holocene’ filled my head, and now will for days.  Again.  But it’s such a gorgeous song, it’s worth it – and if you get the chance to watch the video, please do.  Let yourself be taken to Iceland for a little while. )

So I’ve been quiet lately, but that’s because I took a step back to unravel my head to figure out why I was developing a full-blown eating disorder, and how to prevent it.  I realised I needed to fix my relationship with food.  If you have a good relationship with food, you will be neither overweight nor underweight.  Fact.  Inescapable fact.  I’ve known that for a long time and I reminded myself of it.

So how to fix my relationship with food while still shedding the excess weight that is undeniably not good for my body?

Step 1:  be patient 

Blake Lively recently did something I admire – she put out there that she’d lost 61lbs in 14 months.  I liked her for that.  I have previously seen her berate the Yummy Mummy movement that pressured women into getting their bodies back within 6 weeks of birth.  I like her for holding out against it.  I like her for sticking to her guns and losing the weight over a reasonable timescale.  Weirdly 61lbs is what I’d like to lose (it was less when I began this blog, but then I kept on bingeing …).  So I’m doing a Blake Lively.  I’m planning to give myself 14 months to get back to myself.  That’s hard, because I so hate carrying this extra weight that I want it gone NOW, so I want to restrict, and ferociously!  But I recognise all that will do is keep me stuck at this weight, or indeed increasing.  After all in the last 8 months of restrictive dieting, I’ve lost precisely 0lbs.  In fact, I’ve gained.  So:

Step 2:  make peace with myself

I’m forgiving myself for getting fat.  And now I’m going to treat myself with tenderness and care.  No more berating myself for being fat, greedy, worthless.  No more war on myself.   The best thing about this is I now have mental energy to expend on more worthwhile projects than loathing myself.

Step 3:  eat for health, not weight

What does that mean in practise?  As I found, everything.

In the first place it meant that instead of punishing myself by dieting, I was embracing myself, saying I was worth caring for.

Secondly, It changed the foods I chose to eat.

It works like this – if I’m dieting, it’s quite possible to fit a bar of chocolate into my macroes/carb count/calorie count and still be on track.  Hell, I could have a cheat day and fill it with pizza, ice cream and Coke.  In fact, lots of diet gurus encourage me to.

But if I’m eating for health rather than weight, suddenly the perspective shifts, massively and profoundly.  If I’m eating for health, the only possible response to a bar of chocolate is ‘Why would I put that shit in my body?’

Job done.

I realised it would also be helpful to

Step 4:  Stop weighing myself and instead be guided by how well a food makes me feel

Not weighing myself can be tough – I worry that without the scales to chastise me, I won’t stay on the nutritional straight and narrow.  And without the scales to tell me how good I’ve been, how will I know when to celebrate?  But I also know that if the scales have bad news for me, that can lead to ‘F**k it!  I’ve tried really hard and got nothing back for it, so I’m gonna have that block of Dairy Milk!”;  and if they have good news for me, that can lead to ‘I’ve been really good and done really well, and everything’s under control so I’m gonna treat myself to that block of Dairy Milk!’

Aside from that of course, fat loss and weight loss are not the same thing and my scales are not sophisticated enough to tell them apart.

Step 5:  Stop binge eating

And then, suddenly at that moment, as so often happens, I stumbled across exactly what I needed – the website Eat Like A Normal Person, written by a former binge-eater, and specifically this page How anti-smoking guru Allen Carr saved me from obesity.  I didn’t read the whole site, I just fortuitously stumbled on this, about being in the midst of a binge:

We don’t stop eating, because our body never receives the signal that it has got what it needs, because it has not.

Often, nearing the end of a binge, when I’m already feeling bloated and sick and the sugar high has kicked in and my heart is pounding and the adrenaline’s flashing through my veins and I’m starting to genuinely worry for my heart, I’ve found myself thinking ‘I give up.  I’ve eaten everything bingeworthy in the house and I’m still not satisfied’.  And that makes me desperately upset, because I know I am going to pay a very high price for what I just did – and yet it never actually hit the target.

Reading that quote made me realise – my body is not recognising all that crap as food, because it is not food;  and therefore it is not sending me that ‘stop eating now, it’s all good and thanks for that dose of essential vitamins and minerals. I’m happy, go play now’.  I realised that if I can binge it, it’s a non-food.  Your body simply won’t let you binge proper food.  How much cheese could you actually eat in a sitting?

The only exception to that is nuts – I can eat my way through a 500g bag of nuts and at the end feel bloated, heavy and somehow still not satisfied.

I guess nuts do not have everything in that my body wants.  In fact, when I thought about it, very very few foods alone are capable of providing absolutely everything your body would require from a meal.  This led me to realise  –

Step 6:  no mono-meals

If I’m eating nuts, I must eat, say, raisins with them.  I mustn’t eat anything alone – every food must have at least one companion.  And it works.  I automatically reach satiation at a reasonable point of consumption.

Step 7:  Kick sugar to the kerb

And between realising that I wasn’t binge-eating sugar because of anything that was in sugar, but precisely because of what was not in sugar;  and that if I wanted to treat my body well and eat for my health, there was no way I would put sugar into it :  I just stopped eating sugar.  Just like that.

So here’s a thing I’ve learnt.  Sugar addiction is all in the head and you can give up all kinds of sugar effortlessly and without cravings.

I was reading an interview with Russell Brand – an ex-drug addict – and he said that occasionally, even though his life is immeasurably better now he’s off drugs, occasionally he’ll still envy himself when he was a junkie:  because then he had drugs.

I understand that regret, and that is all you will feel when you stop eating sugar.  That vague ‘But what will I do now when I want to comfort myself or celebrate?”  As I’m learning myself, you will find the ways – but every day that you wake up and don’t have to crawl out of that pit of food hangover+self loathing+despair is consolation enough.

I do very occasionally still eat a few squares of 85% dark chocolate with some almonds – but as there is distinctly no sugar rush to be had from that and that very dark chocolate has nutritional benefit, I’m fine with that.  I do now also always keep big, juicy oranges in the house – although I only feel a desire for one every few days.

Step 8:  welcome fruit back into my life

Over a decade of low carbing led me to a terror of fruit.  And yes, I realise now, how weird it was I’d made a decision I could allow some chocolate into my life but not fruit.

That was partly because if I ate fruit alone, after about 15 minutes I’d get so faint and unable to focus I felt ready to fall over.  I don’t know why, I only know it’s so – I know my eldest son responds to fruit the same, and I know we’re not alone.

However, we can both eat a bar of chocolate alone and instead get a sugar rush which gave us energy for a while.

Somehow rather than taking the decision I should therefore eat fruit but only with meals, my rather tortured thinking led me to exclude fruit.

Contributing to that decision was the argument against modern fruit – that it has been bred to be bigger, juicier, sweeter than anything our ancestors ate.  It is indeed nature’s candy and far sweeter than nature intended.  So I accept that I shouldn’t over eat it, after all sugar is sugar – but fruit undeniably has nutritional benefits, so it stays. And anyway, it is a part of

Step 9:  eat as wide a variety of foods as possible

And so I’ve kicked sugar and stopped bingeing.  Just like that.  It wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t protracted.  It didn’t require counselling, it didn’t require a programme and I’m no different from you.  I believed I was powerless against it, I believed I was trapped in it.  Turns out it wasn’t.  I had the keys all along.

I’m still a bit greedy sometimes – but as anyone who has binge-eaten knows, there is a world of difference between going back for seconds and binge eating.  I don’t always go back for seconds anyway;  partly it’s that I’m having such a fabulous time experimenting with new recipes as part of my intention to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible, that sometimes when a new recipe is freshly out of the oven and turns out to be lipsmackingly, groaningly fabulous I scoff the lot.  That’s human.

So I think I have some work to do on the greedy – but as a woman who now no longer smokes, drinks, takes drugs or eats sugar I think I’m gonna be a bit kind to myself about that, and …

Step 10:  Never punish myself by restricting if I’ve been greedy

And I trust myself that as I acclimatise to this new world of mine, even the greediness will subside and even though I still have bouts of greediness, my cupboard currently holds every kind of nut – because I love nuts – and raisins, dried apricots and dessicated coconut for cooking; and of course, some very fine 85% dark chocolate.  And I am allowed to dip into them for snacks.  Occasionally I still over-eat them – and when I do, the very next day I go out and stock back up on them.  I absolutely refuse to keep anything out of the house that is pleasurable and nutritionally valuable as if I’m a naughty, greedy child who can’t be trusted around food.  It’s important that I learn to have these foods in my life as a matter of course, as a part of my normal daily world.  Only then will I stop investing them – as I have, and still to an extent do – with a power and danger they do not inherently possess.  I love these foods and they are good for me and so they are now a part of my life and will remain so.

For the record, I am losing weight – but I know that because of the way, and which of, my clothes now fit; and because I move more easily.  Occasionally I look at my scales and think ‘weigh yourself’ – but I don’t, because I know that way madness lies.

And I have to tell you this, because I will never forget this moment –

Having realised all the above, I went nervously out and bought myself a bag of extra special, huge, juicy oranges.  I brought them wonderingly home.  I selected the most beautiful and I peeled it, sliced it into bite-sized pieces and lay them into my loveliest white porcelain dish, as if they were jewels.  And they were.  They glistened vibrant, bright and delectable.  I took them into the sitting room and then, alone and without distraction, I took a fork and one by one ate all of the pieces, my first guilt-free fruit in a decade.  And I have to tell you.

It was fucking magnificent.

Poisons & Plan B

I’ve long noticed that everybody has their poison, their thing that will kill them if they don’t keep it in check – be it alcohol, nicotine, drugs or food.  I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t – except, curiously, my father.  He gave up smoking 40 a day the first time of trying, cold turkey.  I’ve rarely seen him drink, the idea of him on drugs is like Donald Trump doing Modern Dance and he was an astonishingly healthy eater way before there was such a thing.

I was born in 1964 and throughout my childhood we were not allowed fizzy drinks, chips, white bread or sugar.  WTF?  I grew up in the UK into the 1970s.  Those things were the national diet!  Believe me, I felt it keenly.  Occasionally when he was absent, my mother would bring a sliced white loaf home and we five children would each squirrel away a few slices.  I used to hide mine under my pillow and steal mouthfuls of bliss over the next couple of days.  The only exception to the no-junk rule were birthdays, Easter and Christmas;   and I looked forward far more to the opening of the solitary tin of Quality Street than to my present.  To this day, Christmas to me is a tin of Quality Street.

It might or might not be that being forbidden these foods is the reason why all his children have become overeaters;  except for me, who didn’t struggle with my weight – until now that is.

It is almost certainly the reason that I have never had a filling;  but I don’t think the consolation of never having had a filling is sufficient prize to make up for a childhood devoid of  pleasure.

My Dad would always keep a packet of digestive biscuits in the cupboard and we knew never, ever to touch them.  For his birthday, we were allowed to buy him a bar of dark chocolate, which it would take him a fortnight or so to consume in disinterested squares.

A few years ago I commented in passing that he didn’t have a sweet tooth.  He erupted, not with anger but with feeling.  He had a terrible sweet tooth.  That’s why he never touched sugar, except to allow himself 2 digestive biscuits every day;   and what’s more, he savoured every square of that delicious dark chocolate to make it last as long as possible.  He didn’t start with the sugar because he knew if he did, he’d never stop.

So it turns out that even my father has his poison.

My mother was a huge overeater, and consequently obese, though not morbidly.  She was on a permanent diet but never lost a pound.  She would deprive herself and then binge.  Sound familiar?  She was addicted particularly to sugar, and consistent with her genetic inheritance (her family is riddled with Type 2 Diabetes) she developed the T2D that killed her at the age of 64.  She didn’t really drink and she never smoked a cigarette in her life.  Her poison was food.

My eldest brother was killed by his alcoholism.  He was quite ludicrously beloved by the Gods, 6.2″ tall with blue-grey eyes and sunkissed blonde hair.  He fufilled his ambition of being a navy pilot (he flew jets off aircraft carriers) by coming top of his intake at training college in 3 out of 4 areas, and so at his passing out was invited to sit at the top table with Princess Anne.  He was married to a beautiful solicitor.  And then he began drinking.  Fifteen years later he died alone, single, unemployed in a council flat and it was a few weeks before anyone realised.  Alcohol was his poison.

It broke my heart in a way that it will never unbreak, and I have been teetotal ever since.  If I’m being honest though, I was never a big drinker and it was no particular hardship to walk away from alcohol.  That was not my poison.

Despite being a student in Manchester from 1984 – 1987 (UK readers will remember that as Madchester, which makes what I’m about to say all the more astonishing) I never touched drugs.  I had absolutely no interest in them, not then, not now, not never.  I moved in the same circles as people whose names you’d know and drugs were all around me.  I was offered them continually and continually refused them.  I just didn’t want to know.   Drugs were simply not my poison either.

And yet from a very young age, I fell in love with nicotine and – except for when I was pregnant – smoked heavily and continuously.  I’ll be honest.  I loved smoking.  I loved every mouthful of every cigarette.  Never was a cigarette smoked unloved.  I loved the ritual, the taste, the sensation, the action.  But, recognising that I’d had a good run with my beloved tobacco but it couldn’t last for ever, I gave up cigarettes for an ecigarette 3 years ago with minimal discomfort and actually came to prefer it.  It was, it turned out, not the delivery vehicle that was important to me;  I didn’t care how I got my nicotine, so long as I got it.  Nicotine was my poison.

However, when I injured my jaw joint and trigeminal nerve last year, taking in nicotine caused the nerve to jolt and send my scalp and facial muscles into spasm;  which was both painful and frightening.  It was as if someone had applied a very powerful hoover to my head and was trying to suck my face off.  Under the circumstances, giving up nicotine was not so hard.

I am now realising though that while nicotine was my poison of choice, I always had a back up plan, a Plan B.  Another available poison.  Another way to kill myself.

Food.

 

To sweeten or not to sweeten

This is such a huge issue.

Sometimes I think, ‘It’d be easier to give up sugar altogether’, so I resolve to do that.  And I mean it.  And I last a week and I’m proud and I’m going strong and then I’m out shopping and I’ve bought and am eating a block of Dairy Milk.

Recently there’s been a brigade claiming you can cut sugar out of your life without actually giving up sweet things.  What they actually mean is you quit processed white sugar and fructose.

Fructose cannot be processed by the body except by the liver, and what happens to it there is not good.

According to Giuila Enders’s great book ‘Gut’, a third of Germans are fructose intolerant. Did you even know that fructose intolerance was a thing?

Of course, fructose is found naturally in fruit but not many would suggest you quit fruit altogether. Just be aware that the fruits on offer today have been bred to be bigger, juicier and sweeter than our ancestors would have known. Crab apple anybody? Also, fruit is available to us all year round now – and that is a very recent and unnatural development.

So. You’ve quit sugar and replaced it with any number of ‘natural’ sweeteners – Agave, Stevia, Date Syrup, Maple Syrup.  And you’re offered an array of tempting recipes in which to use them and told these treats are healthy.

Agave syrup was the darling of the natural sweetener world for a few years there – until it was realised it was high in fructose.  How embarrassing for all those healthy cookbooks claiming you could use it freely without repercussions.

Hmmmmmmm.

It may be that some sugars are less damaging than others.  Some do contain less fructose  than others.  Some are less processed than others. However, they are all sweeteners and no matter which way you look at it they will not do your body any good.  And if you’re me, once you’ve started on something sweet and sticky it’\s very hard to stop, no matter how natural the sweetener.

There does seem to be an innate human desire for sugar.  If you don’t believe me, just look at this photo, taken 250ft above ground:

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The honey hunters of Nepal may be the most famous (and the most fearless) but you’ll find similar trials being endured to secure sweetness around the world.

Humans love sweet and with good reason.  It’s incredibly calore dense, long lasting, easy to store and will provide an intense burst of energy – and in our hunter-gatherer past that would have made it fantastically useful for, say, catching that deer.

However, our difficulty is that desire for sugar is still there – only in a world where sugar is everywhere, freely available, cheap and you don’t need to scale a 250ft cliff to get it.  Our appetite for it is then no longer kept in check by limited availability, and the more we eat of it, the more we want it.  Sugar in all its forms is as addictive as hell.

I watched my mother being destroyed by Type 2 Diabetes, but no matter how sick it made her, she would still put honey on her toast.  She knew … and yet she couldn’t help herself.  She had never smoked a cigarette in her life – it was sugar that killed her at 64.  Never doubt the addictiveness of sugar.

I read Susie Orbach’s ‘On Eating’ a while back,  and I’m thinking yes, this Intuitive Eating lark sounds great. I just eat whatever I want and in the end I will stop seeing some foods as bad and will stop craving them;  but then I get to the bit where it says, ‘However, if you know a food is a trigger food, avoid it’.  Ah.  I see.  So I can’t actually eat whatever I want whenever I want.

So what’s the answer?

I find I can give up sugar for about a week – and then the craving for it seems to silently and seamlessly take over the controls, and guide my body into obtaining and devouring precisely what it wanted all along.

So I’m thinking there should be a sugar hit built into each 3-day-cycle of my Defatting programme – that way, every few days the craving for sugar is pleasurably satisfied and hopefully kept under control, thus averting the craving sending me out in the driving rain at 10.55pm before the local Spar shuts.

Perhaps a measurable and controllable sugar hit is the answer.

I love the Co-op’s own 85% Dark Chocolate, eaten with almonds.  The mixture of the two just does it for me.  Now obviously, that’s not too dangerous a combination, and gives me my sugar hit regularly in a way that isn’t damaging.

Also, low glycemic fruits like berries and cherries (both of which I’m going to keep in the freezer) can make appearances in smoothies – like my Berry Smoothie (still to be posted) or my Instant Cherry Pie. The only sweetener I will use is Whole Earth, Sweet Granules with Stevia, which will make an appearance in my Protein Chocolate Bark.  It sweetens convincingly without leaving a nasty aftertaste or spiking my blood sugar.  I make no scientific claims for it – you may prefer, and your body may prefer, another or none.

Sweetness really is an inexhaustible topic and it has now exhausted me so I’m going to close this post, but I will make further posts about it when I come across interesting developments that might be useful.