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Quitting Sugar–Continuing the Experiment

September 12, 2012

Last week I wrote about my experience with “I Quit Sugar” and I reviewed the 8-week plan. It’s been about three weeks since I finished the plan and I’m at the point now where I can choose whether I want to continue to be sugar-free or not.

I enjoyed being totally free of sugar and it made me feel great, but life is too short not to have a sweet treat every now and then, so I’m not committing to never eating any ever again. However, this weekend I overdid it a bit too much, which reminded me of all the reasons why I wanted to break up with sugar in the first place.

In Sarah Wilson’s e-book she actually says that it’s good to try something sweet to see what it tastes like and how your body reacts. I’ve been having a small bit of chocolate fairly regularly, and it tastes fabulous and makes my body feel like I’ve given it a wonderful treat. This weekend was the first time that I tested it with more than a little bit of sugar.

It started with half a small fruit scone, which was really quite tiny and no big deal. I love scones and that one was a particular good example. So far, so good. On Sunday morning I did a tough tempo run on an empty stomach, so I was quite hungry afterwards. I had a sensible breakfast of porridge, banana and peanut butter, but I was still very peckish afterwards. There was cake on offer, and after an inner battle in my head I decided to have a slice. Only I didn’t put in on plate and sit down to savour it with a cup of tea, instead I scoffed it down in the kitchen like I felt guilty about the act. It was a lovely cake that deserved more respect.

A bit later in the day I picked at some more cake when we went to visit family. Again, it was a little bit here and there instead of actually settling down to enjoy it. At dinner I totally stuffed myself and ate nearly a whole punnet of cherries for pudding. Fruit is totally fine, but it was like I was forcing it in my mouth just because it was sweet.

When I got home I was still full, but the box of sugary cereal that was on the shelf was calling to me and I gave in. A small chocolate made it to my mouth just before going to bed. It wasn’t easy to go to sleep with a cloying sweet taste in my mouth and a heavy stomach.

I refused to berate myself for falling off the bandwagon, so in the spirit of treating the whole thing as an experiment I took close notice of what the effects were. First of all, as I mentioned I didn’t sleep well and I had some weird dreams, which could be totally unrelated, but interesting to note. When I woke up in the morning I had a horrible empty feeling in my stomach, which I get every time I over-indulge in sugar. I had a hearty breakfast to fill up the gaps, but I still needed an extra snack later in the morning to keep me going.

I was really, really tired in the morning and didn’t perk up until I had a latte. The combination of caffeine and full-fat milk took the edges nicely of my sugar-hangover. I actually did feel hungover, even though I hadn’t touched any alcohol all weekend.

My skin has broken out too, especially around my jawline. I hardly get spots anymore thanks to a regular skincare routine, but a few always appear after I’ve had too much sugar or alcohol. I have a burst blood vessel on my nose as well, which means that I’m channelling Rudolph a few months early. I’ve noticed that I get more redness when I’ve over-indulged.

One of the most disturbing things is the lack of control I felt around sweet foods that I wasn’t even enjoying eating. Part of this might be my body’s physical response to sugar and the sugar crashes that I was experiencing, but it was partly a mental response and the fact that sugar felt like a forbidden food – the “all or nothing” effect.

I’ve now had a few days where I’m back to being sugar-free and I’m starting to feel normal again. I feel better when I’m not stuffing my face with sweet things, but the deal I’ve made with myself is that when I really want something sweet I will take the time to really enjoy it. Hopefully that way I will feel satisfied and be less likely to chase the next sugar hit.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 7:39 pm

    I do wonder with these programmes whether to an extent they set us up for a complicated relationship with certain foods. Bear with me on this one: if you hadn’t started this programme, and been really strict with limiting/avoiding sugar for so long, do you honestly think you’d have gone to town on that cake and the other treats all at once? Because to me you had a good relationship with food prior to the sugar detox – you enjoyed a bit of cake, savoured it and moved on. But the process you’re describing now sounds like some of the behaviours I exhibit around foods that contain sugar (or, you know, peanut butter…) – guilt, shoving in food without paying attention, the whole day going downhill after one ‘indulgence’ or slip? I’m not equating your day with my disgusting binges, far from it (!) I just see warning signs very easily and I never, ever want anyone to develop that kind of relationship with food. It’s always been there for me because I’ve been an outsider and very depressed and lonely my whole life – using and abusing sugary food was my only mood-lifter pre-running. But you’re different – I wonder if either by cutting out sugar you inadvertantly lowered calories and with your training amping up your body went a bit out of whack and said FEEED ME around calorie-dense foods, or simply by making sugar so scant/forbidden it suddenly became a bit of a compulsive/transgressive process to eat it?

    I know exactly what you mean about the hangover effect, the emptiness, everything. It happens to me when I OD on anything, not just sugar. But I wouldn’t sacrifice what you had before for a permanent all/nothing sugar swing – I hope I’m not overstepping the mark here, I’m just always a little guarded and cynical with these programmes because so often I’ve seen them have a yo-yo/backlash effect.

    Take care ❤

    • September 12, 2012 8:21 pm

      You haven’t overstepped the mark at all! A lot of what you say is true – certainly I think I was over-hungry on that occasion and should have eaten something (some shot blocks or something) before running. In general though I think I’ve been eating enough and my diet has become more varied because I’m not so drawn to sugar.
      Perhaps I wasn’t explicit about it here, but before the quitting sugar experiment I would go overboard on sugar fairly regularly, not bingeing, but enough to make myself feel a bit crappy. I don’t want to give up sugar completely for precisely the reason that I don’t want to make it taboo or something with guilt attached to it. Reflecting on how overdoing it made me feel physically is useful, but even more useful is reflecting on it emotionally, so I’ve made a deal with me that I will savour sweet things.

  2. September 12, 2012 8:32 pm

    Funny you mention the sugar-hangover; I suffered one after a full blown chocolate gorging on Saturday … I had to take ibuprofen and everything. It also took me a few days to recover and I had to fight hard to keep cravings at bay, I did cave in on Sunday night but not badly and I’m back to normal now.
    I find it a weird reaction to have such an intense almost physical craving for sweetness once you start even knowing the after effects are dire; when if I stay away from sugar I feel energised and great but I still do it to myself!!!

  3. September 12, 2012 10:01 pm

    I’ve been trying to cut down the sugar lately, and have been lots more strict with it since I’ve turned paleo: the only sugar the moment is through fruit, and occasionally honey. What I find with sugar is the more you have, the more you want, and the longer you can manage without it, the less likely you are to have major sweet cravings. I don’t plan on never having sugar again, cos I love cake!, but I do think trying to eliminate it most of the time is the best way, because it is addictive.

  4. September 13, 2012 5:41 am

    That’s so interesting that you noticed the effects straight away like that… I really need to cut down sugar, it’s my worst eating habit.
    I’ve been there with eating the silly amounts too; one Christmas day, I ate about half a pan of fudge and remember in the evening, stuffing in Roses when I wasn’t hungry, didn’t want them particularly and didn’t even really enjoy them! The key, like you say, is to sit down, savour it and really enjoy it; I know downing stuff like that just makes me feel rubbish and I don’t get any benefit!

  5. runningcupcake permalink
    September 13, 2012 6:22 am

    Well at least there are some lessons. I think getting over hungry is the worst- I know that is when I am most likely to have something quick and sugary (and like you say, eat it quick instead of sitting down and enjoying it) but I am better at not getting to that point now!

  6. September 13, 2012 9:23 am

    I definitely get a hangover with sugar, particularly waking up the next day feeling sick, with heart burn and a head ache. It’s just when I go overboard with it, and like you I have no issue with eating something a bit sugary as long as I savour it and I’m not just mindlessly shoving it down.

  7. September 13, 2012 9:57 pm

    As I’m doing a sort of sugar-cleanse I found this post really interesting to read. I’ve definitely had days in the past, particularly when I’ve been feeling a bit down, when I almost gorge myself on sugar, having sweets/chocolate/cake etc several times a day and then feel awful afterwards.

    I think it’s great that you didn’t get annoyed at yourself and just treated it as an experiment, whilst I think it’s good to cut back on sugar I definitely don’t think one should start to associate it with guilt! You have such a balanced view of food and health which I really admire 🙂

    Having given it a lot of thought recently, I’ve decided I’m not going to cut added sugars (i.e. not fruit) permanently but I want to make sure I only have one little sweet thing a day and then keep proper treats like cake for once or twice a week.

  8. September 16, 2012 11:37 am

    I get sugar hangovers too. But I like what you say, life is too short not to have a sweet treat every now and then.

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