It’s day two. I’m lying on the couch with the mother of all migraines and I’m so desperate for a ‘hit’ I want to peel my own skin off with my fingernails.
No. I’m not coming off heroin; I’ve just given up sugar. Apparently it’s as addictive as any narcotic and right now, I believe it.
Studies of sweet-toothed lab rats have shown that a lolly-guzzling rodent experiences similar changes in the brain to those seen in people addicted to heroin or cocaine.
Princeton University researchers say that rats deprived of their sugar hit show visible signs of withdrawal. Their teeth chatter and they retreat away from the open area of their maze and huddle in the dark tunnels.
I’m definitely huddling. And ever so slightly homicidal. If I ran across a toddler eating a gingerbread man right now, I’d probably… never mind.
I’d quite flippantly said I would give up sugar for a month.
“Let’s raise some money for the animals,” I said, while discussing fun end-of-financial-year things my partner and I could do with our animal-friendly shoe business.
Fun, I said.
What an idiot.
I’ve always had a sweet tooth and was starting to get anxious little pangs about diabetes, so I wanted to cut back on sugar anyway. But knowing that my willpower is weak and feeble, I needed a more glorious reason to quit. I love animals, so a fundraiser was a no-brainer.
“It’ll be great. I can entertain everyone with stories about how much I’m suffering,” I told my partner glibly.
I imagined instagramming photos of me pouting beside a slab of my sister’s famous vegan lemon slice or ogling a frosting-topped cupcake. What I didn’t realise was how much ACTUAL suffering would be involved.
The physical withdrawals were brutal. I had a splitting heading for a week and on two of those days, I had a migraine and couldn’t move. During this period, orange juice was my methadone.
After about ten days, the physical cravings abated. That’s when the emotional cravings kicked in. I realised I had all kinds of habitual emotional triggers for eating sugar. These included having coffee, doing grocery shopping, watching a movie, Friday night, having a boring meeting at work, the 3pm slump of doom (especially on a Wednesday). Words can’t describe the fierceness of my emotional need for sugar. It was so powerful, it felt like a relationship break-up. I actually grieved for it.
It’s now been 26 days (at time of writing) and I have just four days to go before I can once again get back on the sweet, white powder. But am I going to do it?
On day two, as I lay on the couch in misery, I was surprised by the little voice in the back of my head saying, “I want to go for a run. Get off the couch. I need to do something.”
On day three, with my head still pounding, I sat at my desk buzzing with energy. My feet tapped restlessly all day and after work, I walked an extra 2km along the river instead of catching the tram home from the office door.
I dropped my daily coffee intake from three mochas to a single cappuccino because I couldn’t stand the taste of the unsweetened coffee. I thought I would suffer from caffeine withdrawals but I didn’t. In fact, at 11am and 3pm when I’d normally be nodding off at my desk and popping out for another mocha, I was feeling more alert than ever. I realised it was the sugar I’d been craving, not the caffeine, and far from perking me up it was actually making me more tired.
I’ve been sleeping better this month too. Instead of getting home tired at 6pm and dozing on the couch, I don’t get sleepy til bedtime. And I wake up feeling – well, not tired.
Like I’ve actually slept.
I’ve also lost weight. Quite a bit, in fact. I can see my cheekbones again and my clothes feel looser. I’m can fit into some of my favourite outfits again.
And on top of all that, we’ve raised several hundred dollars to help stop animal suffering!
Once upon a time, sugar was a rare treat but we’re now completely surrounded by it. You’d be amazed at the food items that sugar is lurking in; like peanut butter, pasta sauce, savoury crackers and “healthy” cereal. The average Aussie now consumes about 50 kilograms of sugar a year. FIFTY KILOS A YEAR! EACH! No wonder we’re all getting diabetes!
My sugar fast has definitely made me re-evaluate my diet. Sugar is supposed to be a “sometimes food” but I was eating it every day. I got so used to feeling tired and sluggish that I started thinking it was normal. It isn’t.
I resent that I am addicted to something that was not only sucking the energy out of me every day but was also slowly making me fat and putting me at risk of a raft of potentially fatal health conditions. And I resent the fact that I’m emotionally hooked on it too. What a sweet, sweet, deadly scam!
I’m convinced that sugar is poisonous to the human body. After just 25 days without sugar I feel reborn. But I really like it and that’s the trap. When this month is over, I’m going to celebrate with a little cupcake – I’m not a Puritan. But I’m going to stop at one. I’ve decided to limit my sugar intake to Saturdays, and during the week I will stick to a healthy unprocessed diet. I know it’ll be hard but I love all this extra energy and I love my new, leaner body.
So sugar, I’m sorry but I’m breaking up with you. You’re not long term relationship material. The best I can offer you is a little flirting on the weekend.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like going for a run and maybe doing a bit of clothes shopping for the slimline new me!