Sugar – A Bittersweet Love Affair

I stopped eating cakes and sweets three weeks ago; mid-December and the Christmas festival of gluttony soon to be upon us. I decided that all the sugar in the little sweets I eat in my restaurant could not be a good thing, especially since my daily intake was slowly increasing.

My body still has withdrawal symptoms and cravings for a sugary hit, but I won’t give in, even throughout the Christmas period. I did have a slice of cake the other day because it was one of the team’s birthdays. I think it’s OK to celebrate when it’s a collective occasion – like a birthday – but you should follow your body’s instincts. I made him cut me a small slice but I felt the sugar high and the sugar low more than I had previously. It felt rough.

To be fair, I’ve never been one to over-indulge. The balanced habit kicked in about 25 years ago when I was consulting and spending most of my time living out of hotels. The team at the hotel tried to encourage me to have a three-course meal every night “because it’s on expenses.” I’m sure they were thinking of my wellbeing at the time, or maybe their revenue? I remember sitting there one evening having dinner at my table-for-one and ordering dessert. I looked around at other business travellers and noticed some looked quite overweight while others were very trim. I observed this over the course of a few weeks and asked a few what they did. My sample wasn’t very large, but I concluded that there was a group of people – all overweight – who “lived on expenses.” They used it as a free ticket to the indulgence buffet. The trim business people had access to the same “free” expense ticket but adopted a different mindset. They might have a glass of nice wine, and occasionally a special dessert, but they focused on the bigger picture – that being on expenses was not some form of free meal ticket and they still respected themselves and their health. Being “on the road” wasn’t their life, it was just part of the overall picture. I decided to be like that second group.

The main benefit

I lost 2 kilograms in 3 weeks and my weight is more stable and feels more comfortable. I was not overweight, but felt I was carrying a couple of extra kilograms. Part of the weight loss is attributable to stress around my businesses, but part is completely due to the removal of the crappy carbs.

The main difference I feel is more alertness and overall energy. My mind feels sharper and I also feel lighter and quicker on my feet. My body does not feel as sluggish as it did a few weeks ago. Waking up is still a struggle, but once I’m out the door I’m pretty much operating at a steady pace all day with very few peaks and troughs, which is a plus considering the crazy hours I work (80+ hours per week, every week). Remember that I don’t drink caffeine either.

Why bittersweet?

Sugar is sweet for sure, but it’s like a drug. You need bigger highs to sustain your addiction and the crash is bitter indeed.

Sugar is proven to have long-term negative effects on the body – look at diabetes for one, and cancer links for two. It can also rot your teeth and fructose can overload your liver. Not a good recipe.

You’re the only one you’ve got

More importantly, your body is the only one you’ve got.

You can take your car in to be fixed – have a carburettor changed, swap out a wheel, change the exhaust when it rusts – but you can’t do that with your body. And the more toxic crap you put in your mouth, the more chances something will go wrong before it should. I’ve not been a saint all my life so far, but if I clean up my eating I will win the rest of my days. And that’s a sobering thought.

Sugar is one piece of the jigsaw – there are many others in the food we eat because much of it is processed and, in some way, denatured or packed with additives to help preserve or enhance the taste. And manufacturers are getting sneaky with sugar – they are using different names, pseudonyms to hide it. Here are just a few:

Barley Malt, Beet Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cane Syrup, Caramel, Corn Syrup, Carob Syrup, Demerara, Dextran, Dextrose, Diastatic Malt, Diastase, Ethyl Maltol, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Galactose, Glucose Solids, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin, Muscovado, Rice Syrup, Sorbitol, Sorghum, Sucrose.

You’ll recognise a few of these, but you can see there are quite a few sneaky ones you would probably pass over as “blah blah blah” when you’re reading the ingredients. If you’ve got sugar in the top three ingredients list, you’re probably better moving along.

Go Further: Clean Eating

If you’d like to know more about Clean Eating, I recommend Nikki Sharp’s book on the subject which you can buy here (currently free at the time of writing).

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