6 Months Sugar Free – was it worth it?
6 Months Sugar Free – was it worth it?
6 Months Sugar-free – was it worth it?
At the moment this blog is published, I am celebrating 6 months free of refined sugar in my diet. And that is a big step for me, the longest continuous time I’ve ever been off sugar. So was it worth it?
I’ll detail more about what I did and didn’t exclude a bit further down. But let’s start with a why because without a why, it wouldn’t have happened.
There is quite a bit of history for me around sugar and this is not the first time I’ve taken a break from it.
In March 2023 my father died and one of the things that was on his list of ill health was Type 2 Diabetes. There is a familial pattern to it, my cousin on my dad’s side also had it before his death last year and just like my father, he also died of cancer. My father also had COPD and significant heart disease to add to his list of life restrictions. All 3 of us had psoriasis.
What I find most interesting is that the majority of my father's illness was lifestyle-induced and accelerated. The cancer, heart disease and diabetes are all diseases of lifestyle. And to put it mildly, he was sedentary and ate a terrible diet, and just like me, had a really sweet tooth. Which a lot of modern research would suggest is both natural in humans and can be significantly exacerbated in trauma, as our chronically stressed bodies look for fast sugars to help muscles and brain cells fuel to keep running for the danger that they believe is always just about to get them, but in our modern world, rarely does.
I’d known for the previous 18 months (let's face it, since the 2020 pandemic began) that I was overconsuming sugar again. I had put on weight and my energy and mental functioning were not as good as they had been, nothing terrible, but I could see it creeping up. This wasn’t helped by the fantastic bakery opened on the Hawarden Estate Farm shop, which used a lot of local and organic ingredients, so I told myself, it was better (when really it was bad, just everything else was worse, especially at the rate I consumed it).
It wasn’t age either, I’m 48 as I write this and now fitter and healthier than I’ve been in 10 years.
As a colleague of mine said to me many years ago “There are no real diseases of old age, only extended bad habits!” Thank you, Patrick, I’ll always remember that and I’ll keep trying to refine my habits (far more than my sugar) until I see that into old age.
So when my father died, I, in my anger and grief, that I couldn’t fully feel, I started comfort eating big time, giving myself permission to eat more cake (I LOVED a good cake) and chocolate and unsurprisingly I felt worse, got more tired and could see the weight going on, in just 2 weeks!
Thankfully I managed to see this relatively quickly and encourage myself to stop it. I went cold turkey right there and decided that I didn’t want to avoid my feelings, that I would rather let them come up and express themselves and get through them, rather than build a cakey layer over them that was just going to take me down the same path of illness as my father if I wasn’t present and honest with myself.
I decided just to take a few weeks off, something I’ve done many times over the last 23 years since I learned that I didn’t metabolise refined sugars very well due to trauma and illness-induced issues with my digestion. I would always feel better for the breaks and then invariably let the odd bit of cake or sugar creep back in and before I knew it, it was most days I was having something, right up to the point where I was making evening trips to the shop to get sugar for that blood sugar crash I felt often twice a day.
But this time something was different. Maybe it was the willingness to be present with my grief and feel and really acknowledge what I was experiencing, maybe it’s just that in many other ways in my life I’m very healthy, I’m not really sure. But whatever it was, there was something about this break from sugar that felt different.
I was grateful that my partner fully supported me and joined me on this journey, something she admits she was also in a cosy habit with, enabled by Captain Sugar Lover here, and I can report she also feels the benefit of it. Amazing how the culture of a behaviour can be so pervasive and lead us into temptation with something we KNOW (come on you all know don’t you?) is bad for us, and yet we still choose it. And don’t ever kid yourself to believe that you are not choosing it, even if you are subtly unconscious of it.
The effects on our dopamine, other hormonal and neurotransmitter (messenger chemical) systems and our gut, refined sugars are pretty devastating, including a range of disturbances to our sleep, menstrual and menopausal cycles (if you are female) brain functioning, inflammation cycles, cortisol (stress hormone) levels and much more, it’s criminal. And I believe that if we discovered refined sugar and what it did to the body today, it simply wouldn’t be legal.
This time I didn’t go through any withdrawal like I have before. The first time I did this in late 1999, it didn’t feel like I was partying, it felt like hell. But this time, perhaps due to the subtle grief I was feeling (I’ll talk about the passing of my father and the feelings around that in another blog), which I didn’t manage to really let out for 4 months, it just felt easier and right.
In the first few weeks, I still had 2-3 occasions where I had some jam and 1-2 where I had honey. I’ve not excluded fruit at any stage, mainly because I eat it whole and know it’s a great source of many beneficial things and I rarely have more than 1-2 bits a day. Plus I wasn’t craving anything. I was careful to increase how much I ate, having more veggies and good quality protein and after the first 2 months, I also started a herbal extract program to help with some other factors I wanted to look at. I continued to exercise at the same rate and work and other aspects of life, while very busy and occasionally stressful, were generally good. I don’t really have any ultra-processed foods and cook most stuff fresh and organically anyway.
But I wasn’t overtly missing the sugar and I wasn’t having the cravings I’d previously had, I just felt kinda like me but a bit flat. I put that down to the grief.
I didn’t even lose any weight in the first 4 weeks, which was pretty disappointing, to be honest, then from week six it started dropping off. And then combined with a few more diet refinements I made in conjunction with my herbalist, it really started coming off and I’m now the lightest I’ve been in at least 10 years.
My energy has remained much more consistent, although always been pretty good, partly down to how I try to pace my work and significantly down to my LifeForce Qigong practice, which I credit for keeping me healthier than perhaps I should have been considering my past sugar habit.
I didn’t see any changes in sleep as I’m generally really good in that department anyway.
The biggest change in my body was my inflammation and bowel. I’d had for a very long time, chronic low-level inflammation and back pain, that I could dispel with Qigong and regular Bowen Technique sessions, but always came back and I was getting to the point where it was always there, getting worse, and I would make a grunt or groan from the stiffness almost every time I got up from sitting for long periods. It would also mean that when doing garden work or in the allotment, my back would ache pretty quickly and take a few days to recover. I’d always put it down to having back problems that I’d been managing for over 20 years and the added load that was created by the car crash I had in 2013.
But it turns out the thing that was making it the worst, was…….. you guessed it – SUGAR.
It still aches occasionally, especially after several hours of labouring work, but the recovery is so much faster, minutes to hours rather than days. Plus the congestion I was feeling on my right side under my ribs, which I thought was a liver issue, turned out to be serious inflammation in my large bowel, now 6 months in is 99% gone.
So 6 months after giving up, was it worth it?
Am I thinking about going back to it?
Certainly not right now. I feel that I have got to a really good place in my health and it’s worth more to me than the fix of a cake or some chocolate and as I’m not craving or desiring it, it’s not hard to keep going.
I not going to say never. I don’t know that it’s healthy to give myself such unbending rules, there can be so much pressure and we often just criticise ourselves for even minor infractions. So right now I’m happy to keep it out and just see how I feel.
I hope that I can continue to support the benefits that come from a diet free of refined sugar as it seems that it is a physical root for many modern lifestyle diseases.
And if my father taught me anything, it’s don’t be like him. I don’t want to suffer like I saw him suffer and believe that there was nothing that could be done, when in reality he didn’t try, despite my efforts to encourage him.
The dominant culture he immersed himself into was all so wilfully ignorant and in denial of the harm they do themselves, that he was happy to go along with it as it didn’t require any change or discipline from him and he could just keep going to the doctors, getting more medication and then moaning about why he wasn’t only not getting better, but was continuing to get worse.
So let my father be your teacher too, that immediate gratification to avoid your feelings will eventually and significantly contribute to your death and you’ll suffer like hell along the road.
Make the changes now and do everything you can to stay healthy.
Prepare for Wellness as you age, not ill health, we become the thing we practice the most.